winter holiday

As each year ends and a new one begins, I find myself becoming two different people... one busy and bright, the other quiet and still. I have come to regard the dark days around the winter solstice as the turning point of the year rather than the human construct of the first of January, and so once the glittering rush of Christmas is over I am full of the sense of slowly moving forward, of newness and inspiration and the hint of green shoots.

The week before Christmas is like the first movement of a symphony: the major key, the bright notes, the excitement, the great crash and wonder of Christmas Day... and yet hidden away in the music is the quiet song that will come into bloom in the second, slow movement which begins to break through about today... the minor key, the mystery, the stillness, the calm quiet of the winter holidays. Then, the white light of New Year's Eve, the beginning of the third movement, double forte, the resolution of the music and the season, the start of all things new... that time is still to come.

So, the busyness and bustling, the making of mince pies, the mulling of wine, the sweet sentimentality of carols and the rustling of paper and presents is over and the 'other' me is here, sitting by the fire, listening to the snow melting, watching the twinkling shadows of the lights in the green depths of the Christmas tree branches, thinking, dreaming... and reading. Finally getting a chance to catch up with my favourite blogs, the newspaper articles I've saved and the books I've been piling up for later.

There has been so much of interest and inspiration to feast on... I thought I'd share a couple of links that have caught my attention over the last few days.

I discovered the wonderfully well-written blog Spitalfields Life only recently... an illuminating read on any day of the week but especially absorbing over the month of December as we have been treated to the tale of The Death of a Linen Draper, the brilliantly Dickensian true story of a horrible murder which took place in the east end of London nearly two hundred years ago in 1811. It's in ten installments and we are up to number eight today. Do go and read it, it's as good as a novel.

Another place I would urge you to visit is this great post, which I found via the lovely Greenolive. Holly at Decor*8 asked the question "What’s the one thing you’ve read recently that has resonated with you and made you think? Why?" There are nearly 100 responses... every one makes you think, all of them are thoughtful and wise, and many lead to new paths and directions. So many talk of love and loss, creativity and perfectionism, the way that the stillness of winter moves us in different ways... it is well worth reading through them, maybe a few at a time over the holidays. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from a poem by Lynn Unger, which seems to encapsulate the essence of what I try to do each day, and why:

Come down. Try to remember
a life gentled by daily acts
of domestic faith—the pot
set to boil, the bed made up,
the table set in calm expectation
that when the sun sets
we will still be here.

Wintry favourites from Flickr: 1. Untitled, 2. 2009 Ornament Swap - garland in window, 3. Winterzeit und Kerzenschein, 4. Untitled

winter light

In the few precious hours of midwinter daylight this week I have managed to find a little time for making, including these papier mache tree decorations for my best friend... a coat of Swedish Blue emulsion with initials and snowflakes in silver dry gouache powder mixed with iridescent medium... chocolates inside and all wrapped up in snowy white tissue paper.

I've also been doing some sewing, making market bags for gifts as well as costumes and accessories for the York Mystery Play we recently took part in.

Taking inspiration from here I spent an evening quietly snipping and folding, and now our front room has a rather 1960s feel, with big round snowflakes descending from the picture rails.

I have always loved to pile the house high with evergreens at Christmas, and as we are lucky enough to live in an area with many flats and student houses that have big mature gardens I have been out doing a little 'community pruning'...

( I locked myself out of the house taking this photo, not for the first time this week... the other two incidents were snow-related...)

I love the gentle, homely preparations for Christmas that run alongside the inevitable busyness... all the quiet, solitary occupations that light up the house and make it magical. Now we are almost ready and the next thing I know it will be Christmas Eve and I'll be getting up early to join the queue outside the butcher to collect our turkey, spending the day making fragrant stock for the gravy, bread sauce and chestnut stuffing, ironing the table linen and peeling sprouts as the rest of the family come and go, the rustling of furtive wrapping-up can be heard behind closed doors and the pile beneath the tree begins to grow. Lots of cups of tea, and carols on the radio.

Have a lovely Christmas.

morning surprise

Look what dropped through my door this morning... this gorgeous glazed clay ornament and beautiful card by Susan Schwake. Isn't it just the loveliest? It arrived as part of the ornament swap which I joined last month... lots of little treasures have been plopping onto the mat but this one has really made it for me... thanks Susan! Have a look at her lovely work, it is amazing.

Otherwise things are a bit of a pine-scented blur hereabouts. The tree is up and lots of things are ready, but also lots of things aren't. I have been making a few gifts but have to confess I always get stressed at this time of year and this one is no exception. I have been rather grumpy :-(

Never mind, it will all work out just as it always does, and there is the calm quiet promise of the new year just coming into view on the horizon with its call of new beginnings and resolutions... more art, more drawing, more time to create... yes please.

silver and gold

I enjoy making my own Christmas cards and try to make a batch most years, time permitting. This year I decided to make use of my stash of old Country Living magazines and turn some of their gorgeous photography to my advantage.

I spent a happy few hours with my circle cutter, a stick of glue and lots of lovely shiny ribbon... the nice thing about having one of each is being able to choose the card to match the person.

The beautiful papier mache pinecones are from Germany... not from Munich but from the lovely Carola at Boxwood Cottage. I covered them with silver leaf and have a few more still to do before Christmas.

Our Christmas cake this year has taken a departure from the usual icing-covered snow scene: as our family's chief cake-eater is spending the winter in the sunshine of Australia we decided to adopt a less tooth-splittingly sweet decorative approach. It's a little late for cake-making really... I wasn't going to bother, but suddenly got the urge. It's a wonderfully soothing and nurturing process of chopping, soaking, weighing, measuring, stirring and slowly slowly baking that always makes me feel serene and peaceful. The warm, sweet smell that winds its way up the stairs and fills the house is very good for the soul.

Also good for the soul are the incredible sunsets we've been having the last few days. After a short grey day of dampness and biting wind with all the colour leached from the landscape, suddenly the western sky is split with a vanilla light so piercingly bright it makes everything stop for a few precious minutes while you watch it gently and ever so slowly shift and fade away...