Monday 4 November 2013

How to have a stress-free Christmas

Christmas is in the shops. Like Marmite - some love it, some hate it, but for many it's a time of worry and stress. The fear of getting in debt, stress of catering for large groups, having to buy so many presents and it all gets rammed down our throats in early October. Christmas is in the shops. Like Marmite - some love it, some hate it, but for many it's a time of worry and stress. The fear of getting in debt, stress of catering for large groups, having to buy so many presents and it all gets rammed down our throats in early October.

            I LOVE Christmas and I strongly disagree that Christmas is just for kids. I'm 35 but I still revel is it's magic ... the crackling of fires, mulled wine, stockings (not the sexy kind) and I still put a mince pie out for Father Christmas (and he eats it!) and I still listen out for his bells (and I'm convinced I hear them). It saddens me to know not all share my enthusiasm so in the true spirit of Christmas cheer, rather than show you how to make a stocking (of course I will, but nearer the time) your Christmas fairy would like to offer some possible solutions and suggestions to help you achieve the Christmas you want, and deserve. I know it's only November but you'll be making plans soon so read on ...

Problem: Christmas advertising ... 

In my humble opinion, the constant bombardment of advertising stresses us all out and has the potential to spoil all that's good about Christmas. I resent being told what food / presents / clothes I need and don't get me started on the Iceland adverts. The Christmas I want isn't anything like the Iceland adverts! The kids see all the new toys and games coming out, and it all gets added to their Xmas lists! It's the adverts we're sick of, not Christmas ...

Solution: Turn it off / dump it?!

We dumped our TV in a skip. It may sound extreme but life is far sweeter without it. We still watch films / TV series via our laptop, we just don't get dictated to in-between.  Now if this is too extreme for you perhaps get a virgin / sky package that allows you to record programmes and fast forward in between. When you're not watching turn it off. This way it's not constantly dictating to you and the kids also won't see EVERY single new toy that comes on to the market. 

Problem: The huge expense 

Christmas is a huge expense for most families. Once upon a time we were overjoyed by a simple orange in our stocking! Now it's quantity over quality. We think the more we buy, the more it shows we care. In my family, we used to buy each other SO many presents that we'd spend the ENTIRE day opening presents, with a quick break for dinner. No time to play, relax, fall asleep. All emphasis was on presents; most of which wouldn't get used, the kids would start shouting 'next' and worst of all we probably all got ourselves in debt to make that happen!

Solution: A family discussion

My family had a discussion and agreed that Christmas isn't just about gifts (even if the TV keeps telling us it is). We decided that in order to get our Christmas back we'd agree to only get each other one big present or three little things, maximum. Three thoughtful little presents rather than 20 random stocking fillers. Now we have a lovely day and the children are no longer brats and appreciate their presents more. Also ... the reason I  have never been in debt at Christmas is because I'm not afraid of buying from charity shops. Most of what I buy is in brand new condition but at a fraction of the cost. If you're not used to charity shopping read my guide The art of thrifty shopping and you'll be a master in no time!

Problem: Cooking for the 5000

Don't be a martyr. If you've got 15 people coming over to you for Christmas dinner, or even 6 then make life easier for yourself and ...

Solution: share the load!

If each couple brings a dish you'll have it covered easily and no-one has the stress of doing it all themselves. Family will be more than happy to help (cos they can do the same when it's their turn!) One brings starters, one brings desert etc ... OR get them involved on the day. It's nice having Uncle knobby peeling the spuds while Aunt Doris rear-ends the Turkey, and you can put your feet up while hubby washes up!

Problem: Ever expanding gift list 

Every year my gift list grows. Not just family but friends, acquaintances etc it's never ending. So when it comes to groups of friends, a simple way to ease the burden on everyone is ...

Solution: Secret Santa! 

Suggest a £5 / £10 / £15 limit, all put your name in a hat and each pick out one person to buy for. Everyone gets a gift and you're not all in debt. Remember, everyone struggles at Christmas so people are relieved to hear solutions like this so don't be afraid to suggest it. Another fun solution ... agree to pay for yourselves to all go an outing instead!

Problem: Dividing your time 

So many people run around like crazy on Christmas day, trying to see everyone so they don't actually relax and enjoy the day themselves.

Solution: Alternate 

We used to struggle seeing Hubby's folks AND my folks on Christmas day so we just told them we'd rather relax and have quality time with them so from now on we are going to alternate. This year we'll spend the Xmas with one set (and the other shortly after) then visa-versa next year. They're happy with that as they get more time with us too.

How to have a stress free christmas


Problem: Lumbered with Mrs Miggins 

       At Christmas many of us often end up spending the day with people we don't particularly like, or want to be with. Now this is the tricky one as Christmas is a time for charity and kindness. HOWEVER, it is also your Christmas and if you'd rather spend it with just your close family then you shouldn't feel guilty about doing that. There is a solution ...

Solution: The 'happy' sandwich 

Try this. You'll find it useful in ALL aspects of life. When you want to get out of something try the 'happy sandwich' ...  say something nice, say the bad news, then say something nice. You don't need to offer an explanation. When I wanted to get out of something I always felt I needed an excuse as to why I couldn't make it, then hubby pointed out you don't actually need an excuse. Simply say "I'm afraid we can't but thanks for inviting us!" Back to the happy sandwich ....

For example;  'Mrs Miggins we love having you over at Xmas but we're going to do something different this year, however we'd LOVE to have you over for dinner in the New year if you're free?'

Also Share with siblings! If you always have your parents / grandparents try saying to your other siblings .... For example; 'We always get to have mum and dad at Xmas so we thought it's only fair that you get to spend Xmas with them too! Let's alternate and we'll take them next year!'

Ultimately, our happiness is in our own hands. I love Christmas because I choose too. I make the most of all the lovely aspects of it, and try to ignore what I can't change. 
I truly hope this helps some of you to have a better Christmas.

Your crafty Christmas fairy 

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Friday 18 October 2013

The knitting and stitching show at alexandra palace

SO, last weekend my fellow crafters and I took the coach to The Alexandra Palace knit and stitch show. I was so excited I hardly slept the night before ( I know - I don't get out much). We sat on the coach and made our crafty shopping wish lists.

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Saturday 12 October 2013

AHC welcome video!! - feat special guest

Morning lovelies! 

I have a special treat today ... it's my FIRST video! It's a video of myself (and Ralphy of course) introducing A handmade cottage while giving viewers a bit of an insight into what AHC is all about. 

I hope you enjoy it! if you do feel free to comment and share with friends and other like-minded folk.

Have a lovely weekend,

JM & Ralphy the dog x

Please note: no Jack russells were harmed in the making of this film : )

If you don't see the video you can click here to view
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Sunday 6 October 2013

How to make sloe gin - 'the wintry tipple'

  Well last weekend I successfully made my first tipple of Sloe Gin! It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday and I can't WAIT to taste it while my chestnuts are roasting on a chilly December eve. Christmas will never be the same without this lovely wintry Liqueur and it's a lovely way to enjoy our bountiful hedgerows. It's far more satisfying to enjoy something you've gathered / made yourself than to get it from Tesco and I've no doubt this autumnal ritual will become a firm favourite in our household. It's easy to prep, easy to make AND you can blot out Xmas with it! (if need be).  So get the kids off their phones, grab your baskets (guys - your plastic containers) and enjoy a day in the wilderness together! 

Note - Sloe gin is a sweet berry liqueur and can be enjoyed on the rocks OR with a mixer ... perhaps Soda water or sparkling wine Kir Royale-style, so don't be put off if you don't like Gin. I don't but I do LOVE this drink.

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Tuesday 1 October 2013

A thrifty guide to growing plants & flowers for free

Good Morning autumnal lovelies, I just spent a lovely day in the garden, getting it ready for Autumn. I filled my brown bin to the brim and woke the neighbour's baby several times after walking face-first into spiders webs. But before the summer comes to a close I wanted to share some tips on filling your garden with beautiful flowers without spending a penny (literally that is). While some of you may relish an afternoon traipsing around Homebase, others may not (myself included) - and the following will not only save you money, it will also give you a far deeper sense of satisfaction and you'll love your garden all the more for it.

Sharing flowers with your neighbours

Now before you head out into the garden and start cutting back all your plants - (which I'm sure has therapeutic benefits and often reminds me of cutting Hubby's hair) stop, and take a look around. More often than not, ole Mrs Miggin's next door has let her plants go wild and they're clambering all over your side of the fence. But rather than hacking away at her prize Geraniums, why not entice them into your garden instead? For example - my shed was looking pretty bare and I really wanted a 'Santa's grotto' vibe so I enticed Mrs Miggin's straggly old bush onto my shed. I didn't even need to hold it in place (it had suckers!) and now it's almost completely covered and I didn't spend a penny. 

More tips for accumulating new plants for free

Collecting seeds .... 

At this time of year flower heads dry up and their seeds fall out or fly off in the wind. If you collect these carefully you can store them (in pretty little packets!) or sow them in Autumn  and you'll have have a flower-filled garden come spring! For more info check out this BBC Gardening article. 

Sharing seeds ...

Did you know there are seed swapping / sharing events? check out
Or browse the Internet to find one near by.

Transplanting ...

Or as I like to call it - Pulling them up by the roots out of your mums / mates garden and plopping them in yours, Easy peasy! Autumn / winter is a good time to move plants as they're dormant, but not all plants can handle a move so have a google beforehand to make sure.

Dividing plants ...

Certain plants get so big it helps them enormously if you divide them into smaller plants (chives for example) and not only does it help them, you also multiply your plant! Again, autumn is a great time to do this. However you might not want four of the same plant so why not do a swap with friends to get some new shrubs into your garden?! I've swapped a few plants this way so it's a win win all round. But do check beforehand as dividing doesn't work with all plants and some plants will look at you aghast!

Further reading ...

With a little thought we can easily save pennies. I love making arrangements just from wild flowers and plants I find in the hedgerows all year round and will be posting on this later in the year. In the meantime if you feel you need a little help in the garden I suggest  'The Thrifty Gardener'  by Alys Fowler. I don't usually recommend a book if I haven't read it but this girl knows her stuff so we're in good hands. But for now, get out there and start luring in your neighbours plants!

JM x

Note: Please note, I cannot be held responsible should you get into trouble for luring your neighbours plant into your garden. I suggest you only work with plants that are already hanging over your fence (so now your property) and refrain from pulling them over at 4am in the morning : )

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Monday 9 September 2013

The cottage guide to BLACKBERRY picking!

I LOVE this time of Year! When blackberry picking time comes around I get so excited. I do love summer but I love autumn more. It's such a beautiful time ... the colours, snugly blankets, fires, hot chocolate and BLACKBERRY AND APPLE CRUMBLE! we're also allowed to get a bit fat as we need the warmth : ) I realise I haven't talked about craft much lately but I'm just too distracted by the pick n' mix of berries in our hedgerows at the moment. Thanks to a glorious summer the bushes are jam-packed (see what I did there?) with fruit this year which means? ... 'one for me, one for the basket, one for me ...' 

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Monday 2 September 2013

Making Sloe gin - How to tell when Sloe Berries are ripe

So it's been a wonderful summer and the hedgerows are bursting with bumper crops this year ... 'one for me, one for Ralphy, one for me ...' I'm determined to make the most of mother natures bounty this year. So today I want to give you a heads up on the SLOE berry. It's not picking time yet but it will be soon so here's a guide to picking at the right time.

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Thursday 29 August 2013

Beauty & the egg - a natural face mask

Photograph by Binky Nixon

A natural beauty recipe

This remedy is a godsend and I've used it on countless occasions. It's especially good before a night out as it's a temporary facelift without the surgery. It works better than the countless creams I've tried and it's 100% natural. Botox in a shell (I kid you not.)

Tools required: 1 egg.
Prep time: none
Takes: 5 minutes

1.  For best result exfoliate before hand.

2. Take one egg, crack and separate the white from the yolk. (Dispose of yolk or keep for hair mask ... that's another post)  Give the white a quick whip (only for 10 secs or so) 

3. Slap it on ... pat it all over your face and let it dry. Soon you'll be transformed into a Barbi that's half your age! (err see disclaimer)

Note: Try NOT laugh when it's dry.  If you do it cracks and you'll get to see what you'll look like as an old woman. It's hideous ... but if you want to freak out your other half out then it's WELL worth doing.

4. Simply wash off. Feels just lovely.

For best results: If you have dry skin, follow with a 10 minute pure honey mask for ultimate moisturisation.


Disclaimer: you won't look like Barbi and you won't really look half your age but you WILL look better and appear younger looking as it does smooth fine lines in my opinion. Also I can't take responsibility if you're allergic to egg white. I suggest a test patch. Bear in mind it does sting a little when it goes on but that's normal, however if it's too uncomfortable wash it off.
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Monday 19 August 2013

Easy curtain tie backs!

Use a simple lace ribbon or pretty neck scarf to tie back a neutral curtain. Can add a lovely splash of colour and is easy to wash / change with the seasons  (I love lace in summer and something richer and heavier in winter) Now go have a cuppa while you peruse your scarf drawer : )

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Tuesday 6 August 2013

How to make a teacup candle

How to make a teacup candle - Photograph by Binky Nixon

What girly doesn't love a teacup candle. They are feminine, decorative AND they serve a function! (this is what you point out to loved one when you get told off for buying more toot.) They also make a perfect gift.  When hubby and I were married we made all of our decor by hand. There was a LOT of decor and it took 8 hours to decorate a beautiful Tudor barn. But that's another story ...

One of the things I made were 50 Teacup candles as favours for the womenfolk. It was my first time at making them, and I wanted to give them something they could keep and enjoy, and in years to come remember us when they're sipping tea from their pretty cup : )  It may sound like a huge undertaking but it really was much easier and far cheaper than you think. It was also fun, easy and hugely satisfying. Buying a ready made teacup candle can set you back £12 a cup, but to make it is pennies. So why not start collecting, and make some up ready for xmas!!?? your girlies will love you for it ... (and feel free to send one to me for giving you the idea : )

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