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Lifestyle

Christmas Past – A Roof Over Our Heads

December 21, 2014

 

Christmas Past - Family Memories

My timeline is one of reminiscing this year and as I read Maggie from Foodborn & Bred’s memories of a tiny knitted stocking that hangs on her tree, my mind skips back eleven years ago to a time when our own children were small and life was quite different.

Taking some Dad Time

Taking some Dad Time

Instead of living in a cozy warm house Ian and I, along with our three children, two cats and a multitude of mice that were skittering around between the ceiling boards, were living in a damp, two roomed, mobile home in our front yard. We were renovating the old farmhouse sitting in front of us that we’d bought from our neighbour a couple of years before, our dogs sleeping in the shed until we had more space.

Far from the six months that we’d envisaged living in an aluminum box, there was hope that we might be able to eat our first family Christmas dinner in our stone built kitchen a full 18 months later, and we were working ridiculous hours trying to achieve that.

Our third child was conceived shortly after moving in to that caravan meaning that I was rearing three children under five in there with no running hot water.

While we adults slept on the floor every night for 18 months, a mosses basket beside us for our new-born, our two youngest topped and tailed in a single bed. I cooked our family meals on the two ring cooker and in a tiny portable oven, but whenever there was a frost, the cold water and gas pipes froze making life even more challenging. As soon as temperatures began to drop, condensation began to trickle down the thin glass windows and for months we couldn’t see out of them without wiping them down.

We had no bathroom inside so Mr G installed a toilet, a cold water hand basin and a ‘temporary’ shower in one of the outbuildings that in the end, became our bathroom for almost three years. The tank of the shower froze over too in the winter months – thank goodness for a kind friend who invited us around to her house to bathe every week.

With a week to go until the ‘big day’ and Ian working full-time, the walls needed painting, the wooden floor was still to be laid and varnished and the central heating system and cooker needed to be wired in and tested.

Christmas PastDespair was sinking in as temperatures began to plummet and we were talking about delaying Christmas Day… the children would never know… and all the while the mice continued to breed.

As if the self-inflicted stress levels couldn’t get any higher, and probably as a result of them, Mr G came down with a chest infection and our children became more hyper by the hour in the tiny sitting room, thoughts of Santa arriving in a few days time making them increasingly more difficult to entertain as solstice came and went.

Then two things happened. The Gerry Ryan Radio Show rang us just after 9am and we shared our story live on air. Gerry stuck his hand into his Santa Sack and we ‘won’ a DVD player, a pile of DVD’s, CDs, tee shirts and an expensive bottle of pink champagne that was hand delivered by the off license on Christmas Eve. The lift to our spirits at the generosity of a stranger was indescribable.

Secondly, between the two of us working ridiculously long days, we managed to tick off all the jobs so that the last coat of varnish went on the floor boards at around 4am on Christmas Eve morning. The wait for the varnish to dry seemed to take forever but by mid afternoon, I unlocked the door and showed our empty but sparkly new kitchen to our children.

With just four walls and a clean floor, they couldn’t believe the space. They slid and ran and quickly found all their toys that had wheels on, whizzing them around the smooth surface, their laughter and happiness contagious.

Between us we put up the tree that we’d found the day before ‘just in case’ we had somewhere for it, covering it with baubles and tinsel and egg carton decorations our older two had made at the rickety caravan table, surprising their Daddy that evening when he came home from work. The scent from the evergreen needles mingled with the fresh varnish and paint but the sun streamed through the clean windows, shining a light into the room that filled it with warmth and hope.

Santa came!Later that evening, with our children fast asleep in the mobile home, their stockings carefully arranged around the base of the tree, we crept out and began moving furniture into our sparkly new kitchen. A table and chairs, a high chair, a shelf unit, small sofa and coffee table, a toy box, fridge freezer and all the cooking utensils to cook our first turkey as a complete family.

We didn’t have a sink or tap until a couple of weeks later, but we didn’t care, we’d wash up in the caravan, or in a bowl on the table. The important thing was that we’d be warm and happy. As we stood back and admired the room, way after midnight, we felt complete.

First ChristmasOn Christmas morning when our children awoke, we took their hands and led them into their new home that for now was just one room in a crumbly old house. Their expressions were priceless as they took it all in – the gifts, the decorations, the warmth from the cooker as it was fired up for the first time to cook the first of many Christmas breakfasts.

Our First Full Family Christmas Dinner

Eleven years ago on Christmas morning, we moved into our new kitchen and never moved out. We swapped our cold floor bed for a warmer floor until bedrooms were ready many months later. It was almost two years after leaving our rental accommodation that we ran our first hot water tap indoors and as a result, have never taken water for granted, nor the pleasure of climbing under the covers onto a warm mattress, finally ridding ourselves of foam cushions and air beds…

As a result of our experience, we always feel grateful that we’ve been able to put a roof over the heads of our family, even though it’s taken every last cent of our money and years of our time, something our children may never, truly appreciate until perhaps, they have families of their own.

Instead of posting Christmas cards this year, we’ve donated money to the Simon Community. Life was difficult for us in this early years but we had a roof over our heads. An unacceptable amount of people wont have that opportunity this Christmas.

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts and articles, I really appreciate you doing so and hope that you have a wonderful time over the next few weeks during the festive holidays. See you in the New Year!

Greenside Up Christmas

 

If you enjoyed reading this post you might like to read some other Christmas memories shared in Dr Hows linky and join in if you have some memories to share.

Xmaslinkybadge2

Travel

Multi Sensory Gardens, Darkness & Light

December 18, 2013
Stolen Child Garden by Mary Reynolds

Stolen Child Garden by Mary Reynolds

We usually visit gardens by day but there’s one series of gardens that simply must be seen during the winter darkness and they’re at The Delta Centre in Carlow.

Delta Centre SculptureFrom the 7th to the 22nd December the twenty multi sensory gardens are lit up with sparkling lights, helping to create a magical place that appeals to both young and old alike.

Delta Centre SculptureIf you wish, you can take a map or follow a trail game that can help you find your way along the pathways that weave their way through the themed gardens. Alternatively just meander around and try not to trip up as your eyes dart from the skeleton trees to tall sculptures that entice you to touch and feel their varied textures, however cold your fingertips might feel on a winter’s night.

Whilst the interconnecting multi sensory gardens will fill you with inspiration during the rest of the year, during the cold December evenings they’ll leave you with a sense of wonder that once experienced, will never be forgotten.

Delta Sensory Garden LightsThe Delta Centre provides training and multi sensory services to adults with intellectual disabilities and all funds raised there help to support their services. As such there’s a small admission fee to the gardens of €5 for adults, €4 for concessions with children free and they are open until 7.00 pm for the Christmas light show and Craft Fair.

Delta Centre TreesWhen you’ve finished wandering around outside and can’t wait any longer to warm up, you can pop into the very reasonably priced Christmas craft shop that’s bursting with garlands and decorations before heading into the café for hot drinks and sticky cakes to round off your evening.

Delta Centre Christmas Decorations

I last visited the multi sensory gardens in December 2008 with two young girls aged five and eight – five years later their memories are of fairy like enchantment.

This time around my visit was with two groups of community gardening adults who have informed me that not only did they thoroughly enjoy the experience, they can’t wait to go back for a daylight trip to see the spring daffodil display.

For more information about the Delta Sensory Garden light show, check out their website here and apologies for the photo quality which really don’t do it justice!

Lifestyle

The custom and making of Christmas door wreaths

December 15, 2013

wreathsI’ve been funded by Kilkenny Leader Partnership to tutor two community gardens during this past year and we’ve just finished the morning classes on a very festive note. For two days I was surrounded by ivy and spruce, laurel and holly which the gardeners wove into willow wound hoops and decorated with seed heads and cones.

I wrote a post last week explaining how to make indoor festive flower arrangements but as the gardening jobs outdoors are coming to an end, it was lovely to share a natural craft skill with all the gardeners in both Callan and Goresbridge, demonstrating how to make door wreaths to hang outside.  Continue Reading…

Lifestyle

How to make a natural Christmas flower arrangement

December 9, 2013

If you love Christmas, one of its many joys can be in the preparation. Taking a couple of hours out of all the hustle and bustle to make natural Christmas flower arrangements is worth the effort as it will not only give you a sense of satisfaction, but will fill your home with wonderful natural aromas that a fake display can’t replicate. The following ten tips will show you how.

How to make a Natural Christmas Flower Arrangement | greensideup.ie
How to make a Natural Christmas Flower ArrangementSetting the scene for an evening of natural Christmas flower arranging

I was pleased to be invited along to a festive flower arranging evening with community gardening friends and shown how to make Christmas flower arrangements by Helen Leidig, who’s home is beautifully decorated with Christmas themed, natural floral art.

Before I share some of Helen’s tips, picture the scene…. A cozy log fire, cinnamon scent and soft music in the background, a glass of welcoming hot port and cheese and crackers to feed anyone feeling peckish. Tables and chairs are piled with leaves and seed heads, baubles and twigs, the majority of which have been cut fresh from gardens during the day. As we begin our work, concentration fills our faces as we try a leaf here, discard a twig there until our creations are complete. Then the ooh’s and aah’s fill the room as we take a look at how others have used the same materials in completely different ways. There are certainly worse ways to spend a winter’s evening!

Although I make a Christmas door wreath every year (here’s a blog post showing you how to make your own door wreath if you’d like to have a go), the photos in this post show my first attempt at an oasis filled decoration.

How to make a natural Christmas flower arrangementHow to make a Natural Christmas Flower Arrangement

Equipment neededHow to make a Natural Christmas Flower Arrangement

Two oasis blocks
A narrow tray to rest the oasis in
Florists tape
Florists wire
Glue gun if you have one
Secateurs
Seasonal greenery and seed heads from the garden. We used Viburnum, Box, Laurel, Bay, Spruce, Aucuba, Hydrangea, Allium, Agapanthus, Twisted Hazel, Dogwood and Euphorbia among others.
Bling! Baubles and ribbons, candles and bows
Wooden kebab sticks and or candle holders

1. Wrap some tape around the oasis, securing it to the tray (this will prevent it tipping over) Then soak in a tub overnight, allowing the oasis to soak up the water naturally.

2. Take a deep breath and begin!

The aim is to arrange the flowers and leaves so that they seem as if they’re growing naturally in a garden. Imagine where shrubs and flowers are mixed rather than planted in uniform rows.  Start inserting leaves into the oasis at the ends and front of the tray, adding pine or spruce so that it spills out of the display. Use individual leaves and not clumps as they can be carefully arranged to positions you want them in.

Making our own natural Christmas flower arrangment is hugely satisfying and even more fun when made in the company of friends. Here's how to do it.3. Think texture, shape and pattern and try not to use more than four different types of leaves as you begin to build the base.

4. Then begin to fill in the top of the oasis. You need some height but avoid placing tall twigs or flowers in the middle. Either place them at both ends or on one side, leaving the middle for a candle if you’re using one.

5. Once you have the base leaves in place, continue to add groups of dried or fresh flowers and build up your display. You don’t have to pack every piece of the oasis. Any remaining gaps can be filled with moss to hide it.

6. Fir cones can be wired by discretely wrapping some florists wire between the cones then add them to the display.

How to make a Natural Christmas Flower Arrangement7. If you have one, use a glue gun to attach the kebab sticks to the baubles. Remove the tree hangers that will be fixed to them, then place a blob of glue in the opening before popping a large stick into it. I found the baubles will rest directly onto the sticks without the glue gun (I don’t have one) as long as they’re angled correctly and a small piece of bluetack will work too.

8. If you’re adding candles to floral displays, wire them to a candle holder or tape the base of them to kebab sticks first before arranging on the oasis to prevent them falling over and potentially causing a fire!

9. Finally add ribbon or subtle lights to your display then stand back and relax. Strongly resist the urge to pull everything out and start again, remember, this might be your first display and they can only get better!

10. Keep an eye on the oasis and make sure it doesn’t dry out, watering it carefully as and when it needs it.

Creating our own displays every year, whether it’s a simple door wreath, a table centrepiece or a window display can become a Christmas tradition. For many of us, time might have to be set aside to make them but once you begin, you might find it slows you down, helps you to unwind for a couple of hours and will allow you a bit of creative indulgence among the madness.

Do you make your own decorations or will you have a go this year for the first time?

How to make a Natural Christmas Flower Arrangement

Lifestyle

Ten Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

November 23, 2013
Irish Garden Magazine December 2012

Irish Garden Magazine – December 2012

Selling is harder than we think!

A couple of years ago I launched a limited edition Greenside Up seed gift range that was not only available in various outlets and online shops. The support and encouragement I received from so many of you, not only in terms of promotion and publicity, but also from feedback and sales was tremendously heart lifting. I was thrilled that they were so successful and that so many of you bought the seed gifts for friends, family as well as yourselves and not least that the seeds grew and produced so much produce!

Selling a product as opposed to a service was a valuable learning curve and gave me a much greater appreciation and insight into the retail business. Like so many small craft business’, I designed, developed, printed and made up the products myself. That was the easy part. As the two community garden groups I was working with found, getting out there and marketing, promoting and selling our wares takes a whole new set of skills as well as a tremendous amount of time!

Irish Made Christmas Gift Ideas

We are however, blessed in Ireland to be surrounded by hardworking people who continually create wonderful products and crafts that can enrich our lives – we just need to support them. Guaranteed Irish undertook some research in 2013 and found that if families spent €4 a week more on Irish products, the country would be able to create over 6,000 jobs. Imagine the change in people’s lives!

With that in mind, if you’re looking for ideas to help you find Irish made Christmas gifts for friends and loved ones over the coming weeks, here’s my own favourite Top Ten Irish made items, any one of which I’d love to see under my Christmas tree, and all fairly local to me.

In no particular order of preference:

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Purity Belle Antique Candle

1. Purity Belle Candles

I’m loving the ethos behind the Purity Bell range of candles available from their website. The candles are made from non GM soy wax, no palm oil is used and Cliona specialises in making them in recycled containers. Just look at these beautiful tea-cup candles. As a result of spotting these I’m constantly on the lookout in charity shops for china tea cups to drink my tea out of but I think Cliona has beaten me to them all!

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Zwartbles Rug

2. Zwartbles Rugs & Yarn 

I’m currently knitting away, making Christmas gifts with wool from the adorable black Zwartbles sheep that graze in close by Bennettsbridge, County Kilkenny.

If you don’t like your presents in kit form, how about becoming the owner of one of the 100% pure wool rugs designed by Suzanna Crampton, take a look at the Zwartbles.ie website here for more information.

3. Foxglove Lane Photography

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Foxglove Lane Photography

I’ve watched Catherine’s photographic skills develop through her blog over the past couple of years and was delighted when she began to sell her prints and cards online as it meant I could see them on my walls! Here’s the link to the Foxglove Lane website where you might find it difficult to choose just one image!

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Roisin Markham Art

4. Roisin Markham Art

I was aware that Roisin Markham from Wexford makes, among other things, exquisite textile art but it wasn’t until I saw her stunning display at the Wexford Heritage Park that I realised how beautiful textiles can be when highlighted in frames. This image is my personal favourite but there are several more. If you’re interested in purchasing one of Roisin’s pieces or finding more of her art, contact her directly creativedynamix1@gmail.com for details.

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Martin Marley Ceramics

5. Martin Marley Ceramics

I blogged about the moment I was prompted to buy an exquisite ceramic bowl made by Martin Marley at a pop up shop in Carlow last year. I haven’t tired of holding it or running my finger around its soft surface. If you’d like to see more of Martins work, contact him at Kilgraney House for details of stockists.

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Klaus Hartmann Pottery

6. Klaus Hartmann Pottery

Klaus’ pottery is designed and fired in both modern and traditional kilns from his home.  He has several pieces in his range, including cane toppers and plant markers for the garden, but for indoors I’m especially fond of his candle centre pieces.

Klaus and Heike (see below) will be exhibiting their wares at the National Craft Fare at the RDS on the 4th to the 8th December.

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Baunafea Willoworks

 

7. Basketry from Baunafea Willow Works

Heike Kahle’s willow work is well-known in the south-east and her basketwork is grown and handmade just two miles from my home. I’d be hard pressed to choose between any of her products as they are all extraordinarily beautiful and I’ve seen first hand the love and care that goes into making each and every piece.

Klaus & Heike are regulars at Kilkenny Farmers market on Thursdays if you’d like to see more of their work.

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Siobhan Jordan Art

8. Siobhan Jordan Art

The walls in our home are for hanging pictures and art and it’s just as well as Siobhan Jordan is another favourite artist of mine! I’m entranced by her quirky and fun yet unusual and detailed prints.

Check out her range at siobhanjordan.com if you’d like to see more.

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Bramble Cottage Metalworks

 

 

9. Ironwork from Bramble Cottage

Bramble Cottage Forge create bespoke pieces forged from iron and steel in nearby Castlecomer. I’m loving this bottle opener available from their Etsy Store – one item that’s a must in every household at Christmas!

Christmas Gift Ideas Made in Ireland

Jane Donald Sacred Messages Book

10. Sacred Ireland Book

Finally, no home is complete without a coffee table book and Jane Donald’s Sacred Ireland, Sacred messages would be a special one to buy or be given.

Printed in 2011 Jane’s book hasn’t lost it’s edge. Insightful messages coupled with beautiful  imagery of this ancient isle we live on would make this book top on my wish list.

It was difficult to choose just ten items for this post, there are so many beautiful products out there. I haven’t been sponsored or paid to recommend them to you but chose them for my own love of the products and that they all come from local friends, neighbours or business’ I’ve come across over the past couple of years.

Will you be making an extra effort to support and shop Irish this Christmas?

Food & Drink

Easy Rum, Chocolate & Pear Trifle Recipe

November 3, 2013

Halloween SundaeWhen recipes go wrong…

Is it just me or do you find that from time to time things don’t quite go to plan in the kitchen? Ingredients are forgotten, some are mistakenly doubled up, the oven might be at the wrong temperature or the wrong dish used.

I’m not ashamed to admit that as a multitasking mum my cookery goddess halo slips now and again. It happened recently when the 48 buns (I was quadrupling a recipe) I’d popped into the oven to share among the family for their Hallowe’en meet ups with friends, failed spectacularly.

I shared the photo on social media (you can view it here) – well why not show up our failures as well as our successes? Not surprisingly the comments were mixed. Seemingly there are a few of you out there who neither suffer the kitchen failures I do or are too embarrassed to admit to them… 😉

I’ve often posted about our attempts to reduce food waste and the thought of throwing away the ingredients of so many failed buns, not to mention the cost, was quite vexing. We were in for a surprise though. As I whipped the trays out of the oven under the assumption they were burnt beyond salvation, Mr G couldn’t resist picking some crumbs off the side.

“These are quite nice, don’t throw them away just yet, try one.”

I hesitated, my curiosity overcoming the sense of despair, then picked off some cake mixture myself. Mmmmm, they weren’t burnt after all! There was so much chocolate in the recipe it had darkened to almost black. Granted they hadn’t risen and several were still a bit runny looking, but we decided to wait. I didn’t turn the ‘buns’ out onto a cooling rack but left them in their trays overnight.

Surprise, surprise, the following morning, the cake mixture had set into a delicious, fudgey mix and their taste wasn’t compromised at all. The reason for the failure wasn’t the recipe (you can find it below) it was human (me). I’d added way to much water but apart from that everything else was business as usual. What a relief.

Clearly we wouldn’t be giving any of these buns away and there were way too many for us to eat alone, so on Saturday they metamorphosed into a Cheats Chocolate & Pear Trifle. This is a variation of a recipe made by a visiting close friend years ago and as trifle (or any dessert come to that) is such a rare occurrence in our household, I don’t have a problem buying all the ingredients and not making custard or whipping up cream myself…

Cheats Chocolate & Pear TrifleCheats Chocolate, Rum & Pear Trifle

Ingredients:

Rich Chocolate Cake – bought or made (see below)
Tin of pears in natural juice (save the juice if not using rum)
Carton of ready made custard
Carton of whipped cream
*Rum – a good enough glug to soak the sponge omit for a child friendly trifle
Sprinkles or grated chocolate to decorate

Method

Break the chocolate cake into pieces and line the bottom of a trifle dish or sundae glasses.

Pour the *rum or the pear juice over the cake.

Slice the pears and add a layer on top of the sponge followed by a layer of custard and a layer of whipped cream. Finally, decorate with grated chocolate or sprinkles.

This is what the buns look like when the recipe is followed correctly & decorated with multicoloured sprinkles for a birthday surprise…

Chocolate Birthday Buns

Chocolate Birthday Buns

If you’d like the recipe for the Chocolate Buns that have been adapted from a Nigella Lawson chocolate cupcake recipe, here it is:

Chocolate Bun Ingredients

110g butter
200g demerara sugar
1 free range egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoon cocoa mixed with teaspoon boiling water
50g 70% cocoa dark chocolate
100g plain flour
125ml boiling water

Method (makes 12 buns)

Preheat the oven to 180oC. Fill a bun tray with bun cases.

Cream the sugar and butter together (I use a food processor as I don’t own a food mixer) then add the vanilla extract and eggs until combined.

If you have a beautiful food mixer you can do all of this in one bowl, but I have to tip the beaten mixture out of the processor at this stage and proceed by hand.

Carefully fold the melted chocolate into the creamed butter and egg mixture, ensuring it’s all incorporated but not over beaten and add the cocoa powder mix. Gently add the sifted flour and bicarbonate of soda a spoonful at a time, alternating with a spoon of boiling water, folding the mixture together until fully incorporated. The mixture will resemble a liquidy batter.

Pour the mixture into the bun cases and place in the oven for thirty minutes. When cooked (under ordinary circumstances), remove from the tin and cool on a wire tray.

Do you have any kitchen failures you’re willing to own up to?

Green, Lifestyle

A short family story and the case FOR an artificial Christmas Tree

December 15, 2012

This week I bought an artificial Christmas tree and I’ve been trying to justify it to myself ever since. You see I’d never researched the old artificial versus real debate, the pros and cons if you like. We’ve always bought a real tree, that’s how it is. We adore the scent and the sense of bringing a real tree indoors at this time of year … deck the halls reverberates around our home.

Artificial Christmas Tree with LED Lights

However, this year has been different. This year Ian, my better half, aka Mr G. has been working away in the US – Albuquerque, New Mexico to be precise.

Other than a few brief weeks together in the summer, for the past eight months I’ve been home alone with the old farmhouse, our children, dogs, cats, chickens, our garden, my business, new seed collections, homework, after schools activities, the highs, the lows, not to mention the emotional hardship of single parenting … the list is endless but think you get the picture. We don’t have any family here so it’s just me and our three children aged 9, 12 and 14.. There are families all over Ireland faced with similar, difficult situations these days – it’s not just the young ones who’ve had to head off – it’s the husbands and fathers too – so I’m not complaining, there are many facing worse hardships in life than we are.

Christmas Decoration

Thankfully, that’s all about to change as this weekend Ian is on his way home, not only for Christmas but he’ll be staying put, which has added to the usual pre-Christmas excitement and flurry of activity. To welcome the return of their Dad, our children have been very keen to have the house decorated in time for his arrival.

All well and good decorating she says, but normally the fetching of the tree is a job for himself. I drive a small little Fiat with no tow bar, we have a double height sitting room and normally buy an enormous tree. How on earth was I to solve this problem?! I’ve managed  every dilemma and hardship thrown at me this year – punctures, crashes, shed and polytunnel doors falling off, no well water, sick dogs, sick children, holiday housesitters, plasterers, broken printers, broken mowers. Many situations have been thrown my way this year, but the tree? Oh heck, the tree. Not one to be thwarted, this week I headed in to town to see what was about – if I could find a tree I’d figure out how to get it home afterwards.

First of all I discovered decent real trees are scarce this year – they seem to be tall and thin, very small and bushy (perfect for a regular sized room but lost in a tall one) or worse, many looked half dead.

Secondly, Christmas trees in our neighbourhood are VERY EXPENSIVE. Locally they were looking for €35 for a four footer, garden centre trees average around €50 for similar, but worse, in Carlow where we normally source our trees – €75 to €100 for a 10 foot tree. Sorry Mr Tree Man, you may have sold 17 at €120 each last weekend but I’m not prepared to pay that for a tree that will be in my sitting room for three weeks. So, as a result of having to make too many decisions on my own, my wish to please my children (perhaps they’ll realise when they’re older just how much we try to please them) and of course to surprise himself (who still thinks he’ll be decorating the house when he returns) I decided that this would be the year we bought an artificial tree.

As a prudent shopper I trudged around every store in town that sells them, weighing them up, cost analysing etc. And came home empty-handed. Do I don’t I, do I, don’t I? This was a decision I didn’t want to make on my own.  Really – I’m.Done.With.Decision.Making. The tree would have to wait another week – we’d decorate the rest of the house.

What I hadn’t banked on was spotting trees later that evening outside the local hardware shop. “I’ll just pop in, see what they have”…low and behold the shop assistants were just putting the last few branches onto an 8′ bushy artificial tree. “It’s the last one ~ €80 as we have a sale” (equivalent was €160 in Carlow) “I’ll take it please” so they dismantled it, I paid for it and they carried it to my car where it fitted into the back no problem at all.

Thrilled to have finally made the purchase, the box was presented to the waiting children “oh, we wanted a real Christmas tree”

Arghhhhhhhhhhhh!

snow man Chritmas tree decorationWe unpacked the tree anyway, built two-thirds, realised we’d put it together incorrectly, dismantled it and rebuilt it again. We covered it in (sale price hence blue) vibrant LED Christmas lights and I’m burning eco scented candles for that Christmassy scent. It’s really a very pretty tree. Up on a table it’s 11 foot high. It ticks the boxes.

Until I made the BIG mistake of googling artificial Christmas trees versus real trees after it was twinkling away in the corner of the room. As someone who’s so passionately eco minded I suppose I should have known that artificial trees are made from PVC (a dirty product to make), some contain lead so people are advised not to hoover around them unless they have special filters, and children are advised not to touch said leaded trees for fear of contamination.  (Mine doesn’t have a warning sticker so I’m assuming all is well in that department at least). In all likelihood my artificial tree has also travelled thousands of air miles before it made it to my sitting room, having been produced in some far-flung country where workers are underpaid. Great. Everything I didn’t want to hear.

But I didn’t know that when I bought my tree. I thought it was a simple artificial versus real what are our preferences kind of decision,  not an environmental one. I was merely doing my best. Isn’t that what we all try to do? Isn’t that what I tell my children to do? Try. Your. Best. So ever since I opened up that page on my PC that answers every question at the tap of a few keys, I’ve been trying to think positively about my decision, to justify it and stop beating myself up about it. I have the tree now, like it or not. Therefore, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on why artificial trees aren’t so bad afterall:

  • I shopped locally. I supported my local store by spending my money with them. Shopping locally keeps businesses open.
  • This tree will be used for years and years and in all likelihood, will be passed down to one of our children. It’s highly unlikely it will make it to a landfill as we are shocking hoarders (we still have Telly Tubbies and Fireman Sam under the bed). By the time our tree is ready for landfill someone, somewhere will hopefully have devised a method of disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way.
  • We will no longer have the stress of trying to find a tall, real Christmas tree. Contrary to popular myth, finding a real tree is a nightmare. It usually involves hours of driving around trying to find a decent one, going back another day with an empty car (I’m clocking up the diesel that’s being emitted year after year with the trips back and forth)
  • There is almost always a disagreement over which is the nicest tree. We have never experienced the whimsical family day out with hot chocolate and Christmas songs, the one where we arrive at the local, snowy, tree plantation where we choose and cut a tree. There are none.
  • We can put the decorations up early. My children have been pestering me for the past two weeks to venture into our pick and mix attic. We can put the tree up after Halloween if they so desire.
  • It goes without saying the expense. At the prices mentioned above for a real Christmas tree, our artificial tree will have paid for itself in just two years. Should we find ourselves in the unlikely scenario of having a spare €50 around at Christmas, I’d sooner support our local markets and craft centres.

So the decision has been made, the job has been done and the house is full of light and cheer. We’re ready and waiting to welcome Daddy home, and now our new tree has been covered with baubles and candy canes, our children love it. I might even name it as it is the newest addition to our family and will be around for years, and years to come.

In the meantime I’m researching the possibility of planting a few small fir trees in our little woodland so that we can reduce our carbon footprint against this artificial purchase and at some point, we’ll be able to walk out the door, cut down a small tree and place it in the porch to greet anyone who visits.

I just hope he likes it 😉

Lifestyle

Christmas Tradition ~ Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2011

When our first child was born it was time to make up new Christmas traditions for our family. A combination of some old ones from Mr G’s childhood, some from my own and new ones created for our first and subsequent children.

Our eldest was born just three weeks before Christmas and reading the poem The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore to him as a tiny baby was one of our first new traditions. It’s a poem I’ve read with delight  every Christmas since, and no doubt will continue long after they’ve left home…

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St.Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads;

And Mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, 
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew in a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away, all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas, too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes – how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed, which I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk,
And laying a finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, And to all a good night!”