Friday, December 23, 2011

The Joy of Christmas

For years I'd heard how amazing this house was and finally we got to see....

Some gently busy days have been enjoyed around here lately. My sister came and created a new yearly tradition - Gingerbread house making. We learnt a lot.....about wall thicknesses, importance of even cooking for even strength.....different strengths of different house designs and how many lollies a two year old can inhale from a bowl if you look away for two minutes! So much fun and such lovely time with a special aunty.

Those stockings were completed and a little trip to the post office saw them on their way to their new home. I must say it was a little hard to let them go. However, when a call came through the next evening from an ecstatic friend, it all felt worth while. When you spend a long time lovingly stitching something it can be hard to give it away but when you then hear pure joy in the voice of the receiver you remember what Christmas is all about. To be told that these stockings would surely be a special part of two children's Christmases for many years to come has been one of the loveliest experiences of this festive season.

With this as our centrepiece......

And a Little Pickle ever willing to help......

We've been enjoying lots of shared meals like this.

My Christmas baking aspirations were lofty. Some elements were curtailed but some new things and some old favourites were achieved. My first ever shortbread turned out quite well and was made to my MIL's (mother-in-law) recipe on request from Mr Pickle.
The biscotti from last year had to be repeated after the first batch disappeared in two days and before any gifting. Leftover gingerbread dough from the houses became biscuits.
I then also went in for a bit of confectionary making. For several years I have admiringly and longingly looked at the Peppermint Bark made here and successfully tried it - delicious!!
I also spotted a simple Fruit and Nut Chocolate square recipe and knew that would be popular on the Christmas table at mum's.......if it doesn't get gobbled up before then.

There was one late night Christmas baking session but I did manage to realise that rolling out pastry to start making mince pies at 9:45pm was a bit silly. There's no reason why we can't have New Year mince pies and the mince will certainly be tasty after an extra week in the fridge melding its flavours.

I have filed away the knowledge that Christmas plans and preparations need to start much earlier next year if I really do want to maintain a peaceful, calm lead up throughout the whole of Advent whilst also having all the nice elements I envisage. So, having not done that this year, it has been a valuable exercise in carefully assessing which were the things that i wanted to keep:

- making some handmade decorations
- doing some Christmas baking for gifts to friends, teachers, neighbours etc
- leaving room for some sewing for others that could generate a little bit of Christmas revenue
- taking time......with each other....for myself......with Mr Pickle
- moments to just let the Pickles run, play and be unencumbered by adult plans and rushing
- staying away from all busy Christmas shopping places

Despite not getting all the decorations I had hoped to create made, we acquired several lovely ones through kind friends and two lovely ones made by Oli's preschool teacher and given to each of them. Little Pickle in particular was so proud to hang his paper bird on the tree, the teacher is a very special person in his life and it will be so nice for him to rejoin the preschool next year.

 Last night Big Pickle and I set off on an exciting adventure. Every year I have looked forward to going on an outing to enjoy some Christmas lights but as the Pickles go to bed quite early it hasn't been possible before. Daylight savings means it doesn't get dark until well after their usual bedtime and though I'd hoped to take Little Pickle along too he was yawning and begging for bed by 8pm.

There were a couple of houses nearby that I knew would have nice lights but really there was just one house I wanted to take him too. In a nearby suburb, an Italian gentleman called Mario fills his whole front yard with lights. An tunnelled archway dripping in fairylights, trees bedecked in multi colours, stars and sleighs all lit up. That is all but a backdrop to his true masterpiece. Mario fills his garage with an absolutely amazing miniature world. Beautiful little figures all busily doing their work in the village, women sewing, men hammering steel beside glowing fires, pizzas going into stone ovens. There are streams and pools with water running, a scene of pre-Chris Pompeii with a glowing volcano looming over it...... so much wonder in one space.

Standing by as we marvelled at it all was Mario, beaming at the joy on the faces of his visitors. This wonderful man, who made the whole scene himself, has been erecting it here in his garage for over 10 years. He adds new pieces each year after his trips home to Naples or family there send him things if he can't make the trip. This will definitely be an annual pilgrimage for our family now.

My sister and her family have been coming since before he had the village back when he had the amazing array of lights in the yard. They arrived while we were there and Mario greeted each of the children and marvelled at their growth and change since the last visit. His wife quietly circulated with a silver tray of lollies and his daughter and grandson watched on from chairs on the verandah.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's a long way to Bethlehem....

So, having admitted in the last post that I have left my run to Christmas a little late for decking our halls thoroughly in handmade Christmas adornments, I'm continuing to stitch my way through the days as the Pickles and I follow Mary, Joseph and the donkeys journey to Bethlehem through the stories in this book.
Stocking number one is virtually done with all the hand-stitching complete and just the construction to go. I've decided to line it, partly due to a desire to hide the less than perfect back to my work and also because it seems more practical when considering all the little novelties and sweets that will spend time in there through the course of Audrey's many Christmases.  Somehow it makes me feel more harried rather than less to have one stocking done as they need to be delivered together so now I have that 'so-close-yet-so far' sensation. The name is done and I'm about a third of the way through the trees but there's a lot of work left on those and the deer has lots of detail.

I'm reasonable pleased with how the picture on this has come out. The birds started out as a very small photograph so it was a new challenge to try and translate this into a felt picture so whilst I can see many improvements that could be made and many bits that are a bit 'skew-wiff'  they are quite endearing.
Whilst every priority is being given to these two projects I can't quite let go of other projects destined for our own tree and walls.

I have two flags for the bunting shown in my last post done but am almost ready to concede that this will herald the joy next year rather than this.

 Today we got a good start on the Christmas baking too. Cranberry, cherry and pistachio biscotti and my first ever batch of shortbread. I'm also hoping to make some mince pies and would like to try the Peppermint Bark which is a Christmas staple for this family and also some fruit and nut chocolates.......and maybe some other things.

I've put alot of other things on my wishlist aside but still really hope to get the boys Christmas Eve pjs done and also their new shirts for Christmas Day....stay tuned for progress and details.
A case of chicken pox in the house this past week has been a very good lesson in slowing down and finding the joy and the calm in this time of preparation. Rushing through shopping centres or any kind of shops is a long ago memory of past Christmases for me and seems ever less relevant now that the Pickles are about. There is plenty to keep us busy right here and its nice to try and create a Christmas away from the glitz and the commercial Santa-ness that abounds in every shopping precinct.

Next year I hope to have myself better prepared ahead of Advent and we will read a story from in The Light in the Lantern each day (sadly this year we've had to play catch up a bit again) and I am hatching a plan that I'll need to start working on right away (making 2 - 3 things a month should get me there). As our own variation on the Advent calendar I'd like to have something to tie in with each of the stories which the boys can hang on the Christmas tree after we read the nights story......

So many other beautiful things to look at and be inspired by over here....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Tis the Season

The best laid plans do not always get us to where we may hope to be. So it is that I suddenly found that the festive season was upon us and my plans to make a set of handmade decorations for our tree was yet to even begin. Not one to be put off by a challenge I remain committed to producing at least some before we reach Christmas day.
The picture above is a bunting I know will look great over the mantel in the Christmas....? It is in progress with a couple of flags almost done. Perhaps we can herald the joy of the blessed babes arrival just in time...stay tuned.

So far we have two decorations and I'm very happy with them. The first was inspired by some I saw a friend stitching before Christmas last year and she kindly shared the pattern for the shape. There are three more of these cut out but they may not reach the branches till next year.
The felt bauble is inspired by this book which a dear friend kindly lent me. In a perfect world I would have made at least one for her to repay the loan but perhaps next Christmas for that too. I still hold out hope that I may be able to decorate the handle of what was to be her housewarming basket and has now become her Christmas basket but well, this seems to be the Christmas where I keep gently shifting the goalposts and moving plans to future dates.

I've been snatching every possible moment to do stitching or sewing of one kind or another and I keep adjusting and rearranging the list of most important projects but still refuse to admit I can't get it all done........out loud anyway.

On a hot evening last week we made an impromptu dinner visit to the beach. Whilst we have now become regular morning beach goers this was our first evening visit. A fish 'n' chips and icecream dinner and this awe-inspiring lighting made a big impression by us all. More summer evenings will be spent just so.

While the boys big and small played in the cooling shallows, I managed to squeeze in a bit of stitching. Two felt Christmas stocking were requested by a friend about a week ago. She kindly said next Christmas would be fine but I would love her to have them before this one ends so I'm carrying them everywhere with me and hoping I can continue to resist being tempted away to other (non-paying) projects.