Happy Holidays

Dear Sam,

 

Mmm, the roast chestnuts  you were telling me about sound very tempting – I will add them to my Christmas shopping list!  Your post started me thinking about all the delicious aromas that we associate with Christmas and it’s also one of the themes of a book I’ve been reading lately, Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles.  As I mentioned on Instagram , I first read about it on Nikki Garnett’s blog, midlifechic and then ordered it from my local library.  It offers an inspiring view of winter as a season to be savoured and enjoyed rather than endured and, to help with this, it suggests filling the house with the scents of the season.

Evergreens, bay and hyacinths

christmas evergreens
Evergreens fill the house with the scent of the outdoors at Christmas

As well as the Christmas tree and evergreen garlands, Nigel Slater suggests using bay leaves, bay oil or candles and, my particular favourite, hyacinths.  If you haven’t planned ahead and planted your own to flower at Christmas, they aren’t expensive to buy, ready potted and in bud, and they’ll add colour and scent to the house for several weeks. I think they always seem like a promise of spring, which I can always do with at this dark time of the year.

As this is our last post in 2018, I’d like to wish you and everyone who reads our blog a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for the new year.  I will see you here again on January 18th. Until then,

Much love,

Claire

 

 

Chestnuts and paper chains

Dear Claire

 

I’m roasting chestnuts as I write – no better tradition at this time of year, when December is almost  upon us, the lights are twinkling in the windows and the snow is flurrying. I do miss the chestnut sellers on English street corners and their little blackened paper bags of steaming hot chestnuts. But since I can’t hop across the Atlantic anytime soon, this is my simple go-to recipe at home:

Preheat oven to 200C/400F

Carefully cut an x on the flat side of each nut, using a sharp paring knife

Lay the chestnuts, x-side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet

Roast for about 30 minutes

Cool, peel and enjoy

While I’m reminiscing, I’ve also been browsing through a book called Simply Tradition. It’s written by a friend of mine, Kierste Wade, whose children play violin with J. She writes a wonderful, inspirational blog, too, called Simply Kierste. In both places she has a lovely holiday idea for families – a Christmas Kindness Countdown Chain. I remember making paper chains with my grandmother when I was a child, and Kierste’s idea is all about turning this into a family advent tradition where you write down ideas for helping others on the strips of paper, and then add a strip to the chain each day as you put your ideas into action.

christmas-kindness-chain-3_edited-1-740x1117.jpg

Simple and meaningful. Just what the season should be all about.

Chestnuts are ready! I hope you can enjoy some too this holiday season.

Much love,
Sam

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear Claire,

 

We had our first snowfall here a couple of days ago – the perfect moment for your warming, spicy apple cider. Thank you for the recipe!

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. With everything that’s been going on in the world of late, I think it’s more important than ever for each of us to take a breath, give our time to each other, and remind ourselves of those simple things we’re grateful for.

I love this little children’s poem by Aileen Fisher:

All in a Word

T for time to be together, turkey, talk and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, hearth and holiday.
A for autumn’s frosty art, and abundance in the heart.
N for neighbors and November, nice things, new things to remember.
K for kitchen, kettle’s croon, kith and kin expected soon.
S for sizzles, sights and sounds, and something special that abounds.

That spells THANKS – for joy in living
And a jolly good Thanksgiving!

♥♥♥

I’m so thankful for our friendship, Claire!

Much love,
Sam

Happy Day of Happiness!

International Day of Happiness

Dear Claire,

 

I’m posting this a little earlier than usual this week, because today is the International Day of Happiness. And I wanted to share these ideas from Action for Happiness for some simple acts of kindness to make a difference to someone today:

  • Offer to help
  • Give away your change
  • Pay a compliment
  • Make someone smile

Here’s something that I hope will make you smile – a memory of that British childhood favorite, Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Happy, narrated by Arthur Lowe.

I hope you have a happy Happy Day – and happy spring!

Much love,
Sam

 

 

The season of giving

Dear Claire,

Happy Advent! I can hardly believe we are into December. Thanks so much for all those gift ideas. What wonderful ways to do some good – and extremely handy for me, as I haven’t even begun my Christmas shopping yet!

One thing I did buy, though, was a children’s Advent calendar. It’s from a grocery store here called Trader Joe’s, and I love the concept – each door suggests doing a simple good deed, and rewards you with a piece of chocolate.

Trader Joes Advent Calendar

Action for Happiness has a similar Kindness Calendar, which is printable or shareable over social media. This one could be for anyone, adults or children, and goes all the way through December. I particularly like the 26th – switching off digital devices and really listening to others. To me it’s a reminder to be present, when it’s otherwise so easy to get caught up in all the busy-ness of the season and let what’s most important pass you by.

I liked this article on the BBC website, too, about a Reverse Advent Calendar, where you create 24 numbered compartments in a cardboard box, or perhaps re-use old wine bottle carriers, and each day add an item that you can donate to a food bank or other good cause.

These are all such nice ways for parents and children and indeed, anyone, to remember others and spread a little extra happiness in this holiday season. I would love this to become a family tradition. And I wonder if the idea could be adopted too for other traditions at this time of year, such as the eight days of Hanukkah or seven days of Kwanzaa.

I’m sure we’ll be in touch again before Christmas. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy all your upcoming festivities!

Love,
Sam

Top ten ideas for gifts that do good

Dear Sam,

Happy Thanksgiving for yesterday!

I was thinking of you and how grateful I am that we can connect through our blog, too. I was delighted to hear that being kind is so good for us – that’s definitely a win-win situation.

Talking about being kind, the season of goodwill is approaching and I’ve been pondering the gifts I need to buy. This year, in the spirit of Staircase 9 17, I’ve looked for presents  which help people as well as (hopefully) making the recipient happy. I thought I’d share my Top Ten ideas with you today:

1. Buying seasonal supplies is a great way to support charities and this year I’ve ordered some cards from Book Aid and my wrapping paper from Alzheimer’s Society.

2. As well as buying online, it’s fun to keep a look out for presents at the craft fairs and fetes that are held before Christmas in support of causes close to home.

coffee Christmas

3. Gifts of food always go down well with my friends and family, so I’m planning to get some Manumit coffee, which supports victims of modern slavery. Lots of our local shops sell Fairtrade goods, too, and I might add in some biscuits, a couple of mugs and a pretty tea towel to complete the present.

4. As well as buying from charities I try to support local ventures, which help to make the area we live in more vibrant and interesting.  We have a couple of art colleges nearby and some of the students sell their work directly, so you can find a unique gift and help someone out at the start of their career.

5. I often give books as gifts and I noticed that there is a range of paperbacks for sale which support Cancer Research UK.  I also have my eye on Stressed, Unstressed, the poetry anthology produced by the ReLit Bibliotherapy Foundation.

6. Beautiful accessories are a favourite option for my friends and I like the purses, jewellery rolls and bags made by Lua, who work with craftspeople in Vietnam.

sebon

7. I love to give and receive lotions and potions and I found some lovely soaps produced by Arthouse Meath, which is a collective of artists living with disabilities.

8. We all have people on our present list who already have everything and the ‘virtual’ charity gifts like ‘give a goat to Granny’ have been popular for some time.  I like the idea of matching the gift to the person’s interests. One year I paid for stethoscopes for use in the developing world on behalf of my doctor parents and this year an option caught my eye for booklovers: to support the work of Chawton House Library (which is at the ‘Great House’ near Jane Austen’s home in Hampshire, UK) you can adopt a book  on someone’s behalf.

9. Another idea for those who seemingly have it all is tickets for an evening out. An ideal choice is a charity concert or film screening; you can find out what’s on by searching online or contacting a charity close to your heart to ask about forthcoming events.

 

coupon

10. And finally, why not offer a ‘voucher’ for some help? It can be anything you know the recipient would appreciate, from time to help sort through a collection of photos to babysitting for new parents. It’s easy to print a bespoke voucher and you can pair it with a suitable small gift like a lovely album for the pictures or a  bottle of wine for a pre-dinner drink.

Have you made a start on your seasonal shopping? I’d love to hear how your preparations are going.

Much love,

Claire

 

 

 

 

Kids and kindness

Dear Claire.

 

Happy summer! I  think this is the week when the children break up from school in the UK, though they’ve been out here for a few weeks already. Which means we’re at that moment when, after those first heady days of the holidays, comes a question that I’m sure you’ll recall: ‘What can I do?’

I just read an article in Parents Magazine here that had several inspiring answers to that question, and also speaks to the mission of our blog: How to Raise Happy Kids: Commit Acts of Kindness.

Another popular activity here for kids is to set up a lemonade stand. It’s a fun way for them to get outside, learn a few business skills, earn a little pocket money for themselves … and I know a few families where the kids pick a charity to donate half their profits to. There are plenty of helpful articles online about how to set up a stand, but I quite like this one: So You Want to Start a Lemonade Stand.

Of course, it’s just the ticket for someone who needs a little refreshment after a walk in the park, and the perfect opportunity to sell some of your bake sale brownies, too!

Love,
Sam

PS We’re off on our trip to Italy soon, so will look forward to catching up again when we’re back.