Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

The one with the choir December 23, 2012

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 4:47 pm

I can still remember my school music teacher, Mrs O’Loughlin. I was not one of her better pupils. Several of my friends took piano classes, or learned the flute, but I just stuck with the recorder, which was mandatory – and I wasn’t very good at it. (Having said that, I can’t remember anyone in my class being able to make the recorder sound anything better than passable.)

Fast-forward 25 years, and I’ve joined a choir. Back in my school days, there was only one reason to join the choir: they held choir practise indoors, at lunchtime. So if you joined, that meant one fewer lunchtime shivering in the cold each week. Even then, I opted for the playground rather than having to sing yet more hymns – it was a Catholic school and the hymn-singing was rampant. (Are children allowed indoors at lunchtimes these days? Once we’d eaten, we were booted out and not allowed back in until the bell rang – unless it was pouring down with rain, in which case we were allowed in the seldom-heated school hall.)

I love singing now, but all my singing is done at home, usually when there’s no-one else in. Last October, I went with my mother to see James, who played a series of concerts with an orchestra and choir. That was when I realised I wanted to sing in a choir – one that sang rock music, rather than the stuff you expect from a choir. There are a few rock choirs around, but that’s not what I’ve joined – there wasn’t one in a convenient spot for me. Instead I’ve joined a local community choir, where the music ranges from the Beatles to Christmas carols. It’s close enough to what I was looking for to make it worthwhile, but I live in hope of being handed the sheet music for something like the Pixies…

I’d been to two rehearsals before I found myself performing in front of a pub full of people this Wednesday. Daunting. Some of us were quite nervous, but we managed. (And with hardly any whiskey – one before, one after.)

That was quickly followed by a performance at the local railway station, where we sang carols to commuters during rush hour. They don’t sell whiskey at train stations, which is a shame…


Merry Christmas! December 24, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 5:12 pm

We’ve been having a perfect Christmas Eve. All the shopping was already done, so this morning we only had to venture out for the newspaper. I savoured this fact while we watched people milling around the shops with that vague hint of panic in their eyes.

While we waited for my parents to arrive for lunch, we listened to Christmas music (I am beyond thrilled with my recently-acquired Christmas music. I made a mix of alternative festive songs, featuring the Ramones, Caitlin Rose, Ryan Adams, Smashing Pumpkins, and so on, and it’s changed how I feel about Christmas music. Which is to say there’s a lot of it that I try to avoid hearing.) It wasn’t what you’d call a traditional Christmas meal, but it was stress-free and all the more fun as a result. We had pizza, and Nigella Lawson’s girdlebuster pie (which I had made last weekend). If you ever make this pie, do not cover it in clingfilm once you’ve poured on the butterscotch topping – the butterscotch will stick to the clingfilm, and you will spend ages trying to save it before the ice cream melts.

After lunch – also cheating on tradition – we exchanged and OPENED presents. On Christmas Eve! Outrageous! (Well, not in some countries. But certainly a cause for eyebrows to be raised here in England.)

The beautifully-wrapped presents you can see here came from my mother, and they were so pretty I was a little reluctant to open them. The one on the top of the pile is wrapped in a map from the little part of Switzerland we like to visit, and inside was a 1940s book about Switzerland. There was an inscription inside which made clear that it has been given as a Christmas present before, to someone’s father, back in 1946. Lovely to think that more than 50 years on, it has become a Christmas present once again.


Printable Christmas paper chains December 18, 2011

Filed under: Christmas,Crafts — lauravw @ 7:38 pm

I have a little Christmas present for you, wherever you are.

I can remember one Christmas in my early teens, I made what seemed like miles of paper chains to decorate my bedroom for Christmas. I made them from the pages of Smash Hits – British readers may well remember this fortnightly music magazine. I thought my paper chains were the bees’ knees – they were certainly an excellent complement to the silver tinsel Christmas tree I had (Woolworth’s finest…).

For you, I have upped the stakes a little and made two sets of patterns that you can download, so hopefully one of them will match your chosen Christmas colourscheme. You can also mix and match the sets.

I made myself a set this afternoon, and it’s a really simple project to sit and do – all you need is to print out one or both of the PDFs below, then cut up the strips and use glue or double-sided tape to stick them together. If you have children who could do with being occupied for half an hour or so, this is a good project for them.

Files to download:

Red and blue paper chains

Green paper chains

Thank you for visiting me here at Busywork this year. I love to get your emails and comments, and I’m grateful for your company. I hope you have a lovely Christmas, that all your baking turns out as you hoped, that Father Christmas makes it down your chimney without causing any damage, and that your relatives are on their best behaviour.


Christmas goodies December 10, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 10:53 am

The internet is awash with lovely Christmas things this year. My very favourite thing so far, which happens to be free, is Caitlin’s Rose’s Christmas song, You Never Come Home for Christmas. I have been listening to it on repeat, and while I’m the only one in the house, I have been singing along rather loudly. You can download it for free here. I was lucky enough to meet Caitlin Rose after her show in Nottingham earlier this year, and it made my week. If you’ve not heard her music yet, you can listen to it on her website.

I had already made a Christmas stocking containing a hot chocolate kit before I saw Megan’s latest project, but I wish I’d seen it sooner as it would fit into a Christmas stocking much more neatly than the things I put together. I will remember it for next year.

Technically this is from last Christmas, but it stands up to repeat viewings: the Simon’s Cat christmas tree cartoon. If you have ever lived with a cat, you will no doubt have experienced something very similar.

I am going to spare myself the stress that making this Yule Log would no doubt entail, but I have enjoyed looking at it. Perhaps I will buy one instead. I do plan to make Nigella Lawson’s Girdlebuster Pie though – I will let you know how it turns out.

And last but by no means least, my very talented friend Eloise has had tea towels made using her artwork. They are made here in England,which I find reassuring in these dark days when jobs are thin on the ground. Most importantly, they are lovely – I imagine most people wouldn’t dream of using them to dry their dishes!


Closer to Christmas December 9, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 10:46 am

Christmas started to happen this week, as far as I’m concerned. I went to a carol concert on Tuesday night (more on that another day) and last night hit the town for a festive meal out with friends. The same group of us went out for a meal this time last year, when England was covered in snow. That time, we left the restaurant at around 11pm to find that everything was white, and thick, fluffy snowflakes were continuing to fall. People were having snowball fights in the street. It was a difficult journey home – thankfully this year it was dry and bright.

In the interests of not always ordering from the same small range of drinks every time I go out, last night I asked the waitress for drink suggestions, and she came up with a good one: Disaronno and cranberry juice. It tastes like a cherry bakewell – but with alcohol.

I haven’t been spending all my time drinking: there has been good progress with the Christmas preparations too. The lights are up. Some of the cards are written. Things have been posted to far-flung places. All of the parcels have been wrapped (well, with the exception of a couple more that I bought this week. I find the problem with getting things ready early for Christmas is that I often end up spending more overall, because I continue to see things I think people will like, and so I keep buying).

I have even done some sewing: I made a Christmas stocking as a gift for a friend. I used some grey velvet fabric from Ikea, with red ribbon at the top. It is not very photogenic, for some reason, but in person it looks very nice and I am pleased with it (you can see it here). I’m going to fill it with hot chocolate mix, Flakes, and marshmallows. I based the shape of the stocking on this excellent free pattern from Denyse  Schmidt, but rather than a quilted stocking, I just made a plain one, with a cotton lining. (As ever when I try to make things with a lining, I sat for a very long time working out which way round everything needed to be sewn, so that when turned right side out there would be no visible stitching and everything would be facing the right way. It was a huge relief to get this right first time round on this project – I have had to unpick things and redo them in the past.)

I have a couple of other projects planned: some lavender pillows, and another free paper chain pattern for you. Like the Halloween paper chains I made, it will be a free PDF that you can print out, cut up, and turn into paper chains for your house/office. I have been consulting with my creative director (hello Mother!) on what patterns and colours to use, and will be getting to work on that over the weekend.


The white Christmas December 28, 2010

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 2:21 pm

We spent Christmas in Somerset, where the snow was very deep. In the days before we set off, we debated back and forth about whether to cancel our travel plans and stay at home instead, but in the end, the trains were running and the roads were passable, and so off we went.

Our journey from Nottingham down to Somerset took us through Derby, Birmingham, Bristol, and plenty of other places – and every single one of them was covered in snow.

Once we arrived in Somerset, we were able to go for snowy walks through the fields – it’s been years since I’ve walked through snow that deep! And the icicles were incredible – hanging from every building. I don’t think I’ve seen icicles like that since I lived in North Yorkshire as a little girl. When we showed my mum the photos, she said exactly the same thing. Here’s a photo of some of the icicles we saw – hanging from the church we went to on Christmas morning. (And here are the rest of my photos of snow-covered Somerset.)

I hope the snow and ice didn’t disrupt your Christmas too much. Now we’re safely back home in Nottingham, there’s not a snowflake to be seen. Happily all the icy pavements are clear now too – which means I can walk around freely, without fear of falling over. (I did manage to fall over in the snow in Somerset, but the snow was so deep that it cushioned my fall and so only my pride was injured.)

I’ve still got a few days off work, and I like to use the last few days of the year to tidy up around the house, getting rid of the clutter so that we can start the year afresh. I’ve been checking through drawers and cupboards to see what can be donated to charity shops, and I’ve decided to get rid of three of my earliest sewing projects: a couple of bags and a skirt. I’ve put little labels on them to indicate they were handmade here in Nottingham, and I hope they will find a new home somewhere.


The best laid plans… December 22, 2010

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 1:54 pm

I’ve wrapped all my presents. I have written all my cards. I’ve been on a few Christmas meals out with friends and colleagues and neighbours. So from a distance, our Christmas may look orderly and well-planned. But the weather has been making a nuisance of itself, with plans to see relatives being affected by the new batch of snow that arrived this week.

It now looks as though our original plans for seeing family this Christmas are going to happen (unless the weather holds any more surprises), but my parents, who were due to visit us today, weren’t able to make it – which means I am having to eat a whole tiramisu that was destined for them to enjoy. (Don’t feel too sorry for me – I think I will manage to get it down!)

Whatever your plans are, I hope Christmas turns out the way you want it to. And thank you for visiting me here at Busywork this year – it’s been lovely to have you around.





The end of the start of winter December 12, 2010

Filed under: Christmas — lauravw @ 4:24 pm

I feel like I have been hibernating. It’s dark when I go to work, it’s dark when I come home, and for two weeks, the pavements have been covered with ice and snow to such an extent that just walking to work or the shops is quite an effort. And the temperatures! It was minus 12 when I walked to work one day last week. I’ve been getting up a few minutes early each day to make sure I can top up all the birdfeeders, and I really worry about how all the birds and animals cope when the ground is frozen hard and covered in snow.

But on Friday, it all started to melt. By the time I went out on Saturday, it had all melted, and there wasn’t even a trace of the snow and ice left anywhere in our garden or on the streets surrounding us. I can now walk around freely, without fear of slipping on the ice and breaking a bone. It feels like it’s the end of a long dark winter, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is only the end of the start of winter – there is so much more of it to come.

On Saturday, that first snow-free morning, I went into Nottingham to do a tiny bit of Christmas shopping and to visit the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, to see their latest exhibition. I had hardly any shopping to do – I just felt like being amongst the atmosphere of the rush towards Christmas, without actually feeling swept up in it. I don’t know why I wanted to go to the gallery – the current exhibition is of modern art, and it’s not something I tend to get on well with. I was there early, and so for a time in one of the halls it was just me and the guide/assistant person. I decided to be brave and ask her to explain some of the pieces to me, since to my eyes there wasn’t a great deal of art going on. She was polite and helpful, and said there was one piece she would explain to me first, since that would help me understand the others. At this point I knew I was in out of my depth: she led me to what I thought was a blank wall, and started to tell me about the art on it. After a couple of minutes I realised that the wall had a long and very neat line cut into it. This was the ‘art’. And then it got worse: the line had apparently been injected with meat (I’m sparing you the gory details here, it was a lot more graphic than that). I’m sure to some people works like this send a very powerful message, but they are lost on me. I headed off to the safety of John Lewis instead!

This Christmassy photo shows my friend’s new kitten, making a good effort to climb her Christmas tree. I love it when other people’s pets are naughtier than my pet.


I know it’s too soon for Christmas stuff, but… November 23, 2010

Filed under: Christmas,Crafts — lauravw @ 8:46 pm

Amy Blackwell's festive cat creationsI am resolute in my view that it is not Christmas-time at least until advent begins, and even then I’m usually a bit slow off the mark in terms of putting up decorations and writing cards. I get cross when I see Christmas being celebrated too soon: town decorations being installed in October, mince pies for sale before we’ve even had Halloween, and so on. And yet… I have done most of my Christmas shopping. Already. So let me be among the first to wish you a happy Christmas (!), and then I can get away with telling you about some lovely Christmas projects I’ve seen around:

Amy Blackwell’s cat decorations, pictured here – I *love* these. I’m sure I’ve got some coloured felt somewhere around the house – though I suspect it’s in Halloween colours…

A simple Christmas bird garland over at Fabric Rehab. This looks relatively easy to make, and the end result is elegant – and it looks like the sort of project you could make with fabric you already have, thus sparing you from facing the shops in December.

The world’s smallest postal service, featured on Design Sponge – oh my goodness!

I also found some pretty stickers in John Lewis, which you can apply to windows to make them look festive. I bought a set of the bauble ones, for my mother to use in her house. She has glass double doors from the living room into the hall, so these will look really good there. (I couldn’t think of a good place for them in my home – we draw the curtains at dusk and so if I put them on our windows they’d be out of sight for much of the time we’re at home at this time of year…)

And in terms of Christmas shopping, I spent an evening pottering round the Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham, admiring some of the goods for sale at Lustre. It’s an annual event where you can buy high-end handmade goods. There’s a wide variety of stuff on offer – some of it not to my taste, but we’re all different I suppose… (I’m resisting the urge to name and shame, but there were some oddities for sale!). There were two things I really wanted to take home with me, but following a moderately expensive trip to the dentist that very morning, my purse felt a little empty and so I made myself choose just the one: a narrow woollen scarf, made in Scotland by Yungi. This meant I could not buy the lovely mug and plate sets being offered by Catherine Hammerton, which was a shame – but at the same time my kitchen cupboards are rather full and so I would have had to boot something else out to make room for one of those.

Photo courtesy of Amy Blackwell. Thanks Amy!


A very Victorian Christmas December 26, 2009

Filed under: Books,Christmas,Interiors — lauravw @ 11:39 am

Just before Christmas I was invited to a Christmas party at a friend’s house. I was very excited about this because they live in a Victorian house. It’s true that many people in the UK live in Victorian houses, butI think this is one of the few that are decorated to look like Queen Victoria is still on the throne!

I arrived to find a very sweet little home, with candles everywhere (which goes some way to explaining why my photos are so dark). Even the Christmas tree had real candles in it (inside tiny glass lanterns). The Christmas cards you can see on the mantel in this photo are Victorian, as was pretty much everything in the house – the bathroom fittings, the beds, everything. I’ve put pictures from the evening on Flickr if you’re curious. I loved how all signs of the modern world very hidden from view – they do have a TV, but it’s inside an antique cabinet, and cables and plugs are also out of sight.

This year I have been reading two enormous books about what life was like for the Victorians – The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed and Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain. I don’t know what it was that made me take a sudden interest in the Victorians, but I have enjoyed learning about how they lived.