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.

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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

What a difference a day makes

Dear Sam,

 

Thank you for telling me about World Smile Day and for sharing your tip about thinking of things you are grateful for while brushing your teeth. I’m off to the dentist this week, so it’s not only made me feel happier but will keep me in their good books, too!

I don’t know if it’s because the weather starts to get wintery in October, but it seems to be a month that’s full of special days to help us motivate ourselves. The next one for your diary fits right in with our aim here of suggesting small steps to making a differenceMake a Difference Day.

Different ways to brighten someone’s day

It started in the US about 20 years ago and the idea is to encourage everyone to do something good for someone because small actions add up to big ones. It falls on the last Saturday of October (this year it’s the 27th). You can volunteer or help with a community project;  near me,  a litter collection is taking place and a Neighbours’ Lunch has been organised to help bring people together and tackle loneliness.  If you’re looking for something simpler to do, you could  improve someone’s day by giving them flowers or baking a cake.

We-can-all-make-a-difference-mug
My Alzheimer’s Society mug says it all!*

Of course, I can’t write a post called What a difference a day makes without thinking about the song of the same name, so here it is sung by Tony Bennett – with a glimpse of Kermit the frog to make it even better – enjoy!

Much love,

Claire

* The mug is available from the Alzheimer’s UK shop

 

 

 

A smile and three ‘thank you’s

Dear Claire

 

It’s the first Friday of October, so Happy World Smile Day! It sounds as though you’ll have had lots to smile about in Italy!

This is World Smile Day in a nutshell:

  • The image of World Smile Day is the smiley face 😊
  • The smiley face was created by Harvey Ball back in 1963, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • He designed it as part of a goodwill campaign during the merger of two insurance companies.
  • But 1999 he was concerned that the use of the smiley face had become too commercialized, so he had the idea to use it as the symbol of a day to celebrate happiness.
  • The goal of World Smile Day is for everyone to do one act of kindness that makes one person smile. And thus the world will become a happier place.

From kindness to gratitude

I was reading about something else recently that is proven to make the world a happier place – over a delicious cappuccino, as it happened – and that is the act of gratitude.

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Happy Cappuccino

This white paper on the Science of Gratitude, published last May by UC Berkeley, cites many research studies, one of them showing that people who wrote down three things that went well over the course of one week, and identified the causes of those good things, reported increased happiness a whole six months after the intervention!

So on this World Smile Day, perhaps it’s worth us not only engaging in an act of kindness but also beginning the practice of deliberate gratitude. And to help make it a habit, how about thinking of three things for which we are grateful each morning, during the very activity that enhances a smile – brushing our teeth!

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Smiley Smurf

Of course the Smurfs may or may not be one of them….

Lots of 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

 

 

What to do with clutter after you’ve cleared it?

Paintbrushes in a jar

Dear Sam,

I’m glad to hear the gingerbread went down well. I’ll look for some more recipes for us to try before long. Perhaps something savoury next time.

How are you getting along with cutting down on using your phone? I’ve just had an unplanned Digital Detox as we’ve been to see G’s Mum who doesn’t have Wi-Fi. I must admit, I enjoyed being away from the internet and using the time to read more, though I do seem to have slipped back into old habits now we’re home again. Perhaps the trick for me is to pretend I’m in north Wales.

Finding a new home for old furniture

Like you, I’ve been thinking lately about clearing some clutter. We’ve recently redecorated our bedroom and have had to part with some wardrobes and other furniture that was surplus to requirement. Although our local council will collect large items, I didn’t want them to go to landfill. They were serviceable but I didn’t feel confident in trying to sell them ourselves, so what to do with them? Fortunately, after searching online, I realised that the British Heart Foundation have a furniture shop nearby. They were really helpful; after sending them an email, they called me back to arrange for their staff to collect the furniture. They arrived right on time and were very professional. A couple of weeks later, we received a letter to let us know how much money the furniture had raised. Certainly better than sending it to the skip!

Your unwanted item might be perfect for someone

When something hasn’t been suitable for donation to a charity shop, the other option I’ve used in the past is Freecycle. I’m not sure if you have this in the US, but it’s a website where people can list things they no longer want or post requests for items they need, so you can also match your item to someone who is looking for that very thing. It can be really rewarding to pass possessions on to new owners; when my parents moved house we used Freecycle to rehome some large garden planters full of spring bulbs. They went to a gardening-mad couple who were thrilled with them, as the stone had aged beautifully in the time my parents had enjoyed owning them.

Window panes with snow
Snow is much more enjoyable when it stays outside the house.

I’ll be using Freecycle again soon, as during the recent wintry weather, two inches of snow ended up in our attic. Fortunately, we managed to clear it out before it melted, but it reminded us that we have far too much stored up there and now’s the time to sort it out!

Much love,

Claire

P.S I should also tell you about two acts of kindness during our renovations. We used a local carpenter and decorator and, accidentally, the decorator damaged one of our new wardrobes. Not only did the carpenter sort it out for us at no cost, but the decorator bought wine and flowers to thank us for our patience, and beer to thank the carpenter. Top customer service and all-round kind behaviour – big firms take note!