Fixing a hole and Lighting up the New Year

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This post began with a hole in the wall but more on that later.

New Year is rapidly approaching. At this time of year I love to light candles, which can symbolize, peace, hope and wishes for a new beginning, as well as remembrance of what has gone before. Candles also give a relaxing atmosphere to the home, especially if they are scented and can also repel mosquitos outside (citronella and lemon grass). Having candles on your table will make even the most basic meal feel special.

Candles are beautiful decorations for any celebrations. With the lighting of candles also comes the responsibility of avoiding any type of fire. Outside when it windy or there is a day of Total Fire ban, it is wise to put candles in an enclosed container, like a tulip shaped holder or a lantern. This is much safer than lighting fires outside in the summer.

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Inside you must be especially careful with naked flames. I like to put candles or incense in our fireplace for safety and any smoke will go up the chimney and not set off the smoke alarms. I can leave these without worrying that the house will burn down. If you have a fireplace candles look great in summer.

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In our front living room there used to be an old gas fire that became dangerous so we had it removed. There was now a shallow hole in the double brick wall. We wanted to fill this with a simulated log gas fire but could not find one small enough to fit the space. We were left with a wooden mantelpiece with marble surrounds and a hole in the wall. A decorative screen has been hiding this for several years.

The creative mind can work in funny ways. On Christmas Eve I suddenly had a bright idea about how to turn the hole into a feature. It is so simple I could kick myself and wondered why I had not thought of this a long time ago. I selected a couple of used bricks left over from our renovations, as well as a very old decorative cast iron vent that came from some relative and placed these in the bottom of the opening. With the addition of several pillar candles we now had a niche that creates the effect of a fireplace without the heat. This is great for summer and will also look welcoming in the winter. I put some old shells (collected by an ancestor in the 19th century ) onto the hearth as a reminder of the sea.

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There is a gap in the double brick wall at the top of the hole that acts like a chimney for the candle smoke so that this will not build up in the room. As the whole niche is made up of bricks with a marble surround, everything is flame proof. Pillar candles can build up a lot of heat so this is important. You should never put candles in an enclosed flammable space.

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It would be quite easy to make a faux fireplace from scratch. I’ve seen examples on Google image search that can be as simple as a brick ledge against a wall with a wooden beam placed high above to act as a mantle. Old reclaimed mantelpieces can also be placed against a wall with a fireproof ledge in the opening to hold candles. Just make sure that any wooden features are far enough away from the flames so that the mantelpiece won’t catch fire. To limit smoke use slow burning natural candles like soy or beeswax.

If you have nowhere inside to safely light candles, outdoors you could create a niche against a stone or brick wall, turn a large rectangular concrete planter on its side or end, or put candles inside a chiminea. There are so many creative ways to make safe candle holders.

Turning that useless hole into something fun has raised my spirits. It is good to solve an annoying problem before the New Year. Ellie and I will be lighting our candles in the niche, as well as in the fireplace, to farewell the old and welcome in the New Year. We wish everyone a bright and very happy 2018.

Kat and Ellie

Looking through a long list of songs about candles on Google, the number one song and probably one of the most uplifting is Melanie Safka’s Lay Down from Candles in the Rain, that she wrote about the Woodstock music festival in 1969. As it is the summer season of music festivals in Australia, here is a live version she performed on Dutch TV in 1970 with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, where she also tells the story of the song.

 

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Seasons Greetings

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Today is really sunny and I’m sure lot’s of Melburnians will be outside for their Christmas Holiday celebrations. December has been both very wet and warm this year in Melbourne and our garden has benefited. Everything is green.

Due to all the rain the Christmas Lilies came early and suffered a bit from the humidity but the Japanese Irises have gone berserk. Here are some photos.

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We did not put any presents under our tree for obvious reasons.

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Wishing everyone a very happy holiday where ever you may be.

Kat and Ellie

Memories Versus Minimalism

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Recently I read an article on a local paper that had suggestions about how to decorate your home for Christmas with minimal decorations. Although I like to reduce clutter, I think this is a step too far. Wiping out all the reminders of past celebrations, especially if it helps you to remember people who are not around anymore, is a little bit harsh.

While Ellie and I have some simple modern decorations in our family room, we still like to have a corner of the house devoted to tradition and to remember the good times and those who made them special. Many of the items that we use as decorations were gifts or  inherited from relatives or friends, such as the objects in the winter scene I created on an old china tray in our front living room. I had fun with dachshunds chasing a hare under an “ice” tree and happy Christmas geese who’d managed to dodge the pot.

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Hanging on a faux stag horn candlestick are some Santa balls that are reminders of a happy celebration with our mother. These were among the baubles on a large cut Christmas tree (a Monterey Pine) we decorated for a family party. I think we used every decoration we owned on that tree, plus some inexpensive papier maché ones we bought at a two-dollar shop. We dressed up in costumes from the 1890s that Ellie sewed or were put together from charity shop finds of blouses with mutton-chop sleeves. All our guests came in costume, including an uncle looking very dapper with a fake moustache, straw boater hat and striped blazer.

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Pillar candles and bowls of evergreen plants, like ivy, from our garden, decorated two tables, with an ivy swag running along the stair banisters. Ivy swags were also draped around the fireplace, with bowls of Cyprus pine on the mantelpiece. Below this hung colourful woolen Christmas stockings. As it was summer pillar candles filled the fireplace. We did not turn on the electric lights and used candles and old oil lamps as lighting. The only concession to modernity was a hidden stereo playing classic Christmas carols.

Ellie and I made the Christmas crackers (bonbons) from gold, silver and Florentine paper. Inside we included homemade crepe paper hats, small inexpensive gifts, like little wooden scoops, sets of dice or decorative bottle stoppers and some really terrible jokes. We had the traditional roast dinner followed by plum pudding and there was lots of merriment. It was one of the most enjoyable Christmas parties we have ever had.

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The candy cane also hanging on the candlestick is an old family decoration that came from our grandparents and brings to mind childhood celebrations with our father. I also made the large red heart from salt dough during a craft session with a friend. So many good times to remember.

Maybe I’m being sentimental but I don’t want to eliminate all of the past just to embrace the latest trend, which seems rather cold and the opposite of the festive spirit. Keeping some old decorations means you can still hang onto your special memories while you make new ones.

I hope everyone has a wonderful festive season.

Kat

I love schmaltzy Christmas songs and here’s a medley that includes a great version of Brenda Lee’s Rocking Around the Christmas Tree performed by Michael Bublé and Carly Rae Jepsen.

A “New” Recycled Christmas Tree

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At this time of the year I always like to cheer up our home with some Christmas decorations and try to be a bit creative by reusing old ones in a new way. I wanted a change from the music stand tree we have had for the last few years but buying a new one was the last thing on my mind, as recently Ellie and I have had a lot of expenses after dealing with our mother’s funeral costs. So what to do for a change without spending any money, as well as sticking to a recycling ethic?

I remembered that several years ago a small potted camellia tree had died because the roots had become pot bound and we left it too late to replant. It was a lovely shape so I cut off the dead roots and leaves and put it in the studio for a while to display some bird nests that had fallen in the garden. When I became tired of the clutter I put it in the roof because I did not want to throw it out. After some careful maneuvering I managed to get it out of the roof in one piece. Once the spider webs were removed I could see that it would make an interesting Christmas tree. If you have any trees with dead branches that need pruning these would work as well.

All I needed was a container to stand it in and found that it looked good in a white indoor plant container that we already had. Anything reasonably large would do like a ceramic pot, a vintage milk can or a huge glass jar or vase. I decided that as the planter had a wide opening I would put a narrower container in this to hold the tree in place. What to use that was the right size? I came up with a unique solution using an old WWI brass mortar shell case. Not something that everyone has kicking around but a tall jar would also do the trick. I put marbles around the tree trunk to stop it from wobbling in the shell case (you could also use small pebbles or sand) and packed newsprint paper around the container to stop it from falling over in the planter. A layer of white polyester stuffing for toys etc., that came from our craft supplies was used to cover the paper and hide the shell case. It simulates snow. Anything fluffy and white could be used, like cotton wool or you could use sand or pebbles, depending on your theme.

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Now it was time for the fun of decorating the tree. I used the same decorations that had been on the previous tree, but added a mass of aluminum butterflies that were in storage. All of these were bought on sale. Because I try to stick to a colour scheme of silver, white with a touch of gold, it is easy to add or make more matching decorations. We also have some large silver glass balls, but with dogs this is risky because they will go for any baubles of this shape. I don’t want to have these crashing to the floor and smashing into tiny smithereens so left them off the tree.

With stars, angels, tiny Santas and musical instruments, the silver fir trees and butterflies, a peace dove and a white horse, the tree looks really great. We don’t have any suitable Christmas lights, but at night the silver decorations really reflect any light in the room and the tree glows. These also reflect the bright sunshine of a summer’s day.

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In the front hall I did something similar by hanging a star and some embroidered butterflies on a single branch sitting in an ultramarine blue glass vase. Gold and white glass ornaments were placed on mum’s vintage aqua glass platter. The decorations look lovely with green and aqua vintage glass vases and a colourful Italian hand painted platter. These were found at op shops or were gifts. Again I just used what we had already.

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On the front door I hung a wreath made from a plaited straw circlet that had once been part of a Swedish Christmas mobile. I decorated this with some green and cream ribbon that came from a florist’s arrangement. It looks summery and cost nothing.

Reusing old stuff is a fun and inexpensive way to make the festive season brighter. Nature is also a great supplier of tree materials and decorations, from dead branches to evergreen leaves. If these can be found in your own garden so much the better. You can also put any vegetable matter back into your garden as compost or mulch.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money does not mean you can’t have a beautiful and fun celebration. Never forget that your creativity is beyond price.

Kat

One of the best Christmas songs is How to Make Gravy by Australia’s Paul Kelly. It is happy, sad and touching all at the same time. Here’s a live version.

Creativity Is For Everyone

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There is nothing nicer than getting a creative gift, especially when it is something you have always wanted. But what if you were only encouraged to pursue a certain creative pursuit because of your gender? I recently saw a Christmas gift catalogue from a well-known supermarket chain that did exactly that. It advertised a ukulele under the heading “gifts for him”. Was this saying that only males have the will or the time to play the ukulele, while females are engrossed in using some kitchen appliance or other “suitable” item chosen from the same catalogue?

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Being a ukulele player, it got me really steamed, as there are just as many female players as male ones. In this day and age playing a musical instrument and doing other creative activities should be gender neutral. Ukuleles are relatively cheap compared with many musical instruments and make great Christmas presents for every age group. They bring happiness and no one should be denied the pleasure of playing a uke just because of their gender.

Why won’t the type of stupid thinking seen in that catalogue just die a natural death? It’s an annoying hangover from the bad old days when women were allowed a creative hobby whereas men could have a career in the arts. In western society, up until the last century girls were discouraged from many creative fields, unless these were small-scale, fairly passive and genteel, like sketching with watercolours and needlepoint work.  Large-scale oil painting and sculpture was considered beyond the capability of the fairer sex, unless you had very enlightened parents or grew up in the family of an artist. Those women who bravely defied convention made it possible for later generations of girls to follow their dreams and we should make sure this type of discrimination remains in the past where it belongs.

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As children Ellie and I were always allowed to follow whatever creative path we chose and were able to try out many art forms. For Christmas we were often given various types of paints and other materials, as well as craft kits, so that we could experiment and find our creative passion. Any gifts of money were used to save up for something that we really wanted, like my first guitar. No one ever told me that this was a boy’s toy (I have also seen guitars advertised under “gifts for boys”). It works the other way as well because I know men who love needlepoint and have no qualms about doing what was once considered women’s work.

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Creativity knows no boundaries and if someone expresses an interest in any type of artistic area it is good to encourage them by giving a relevant gift. It does not matter whether they take this up as their life’s work or go on to do something else. It just helps that someone thought it was possible for the recipient to undertake a particular creative activity.

Everyone should be allowed to try out any creative endeavor without being subjected to gender stereotyping. The advertising world may be stuck in the past but the rest of us have moved on.

Kat

On the subject of ukulele players, here’s a video of the very talented Taimane Gardner playing a Surf Medley with guitarist Jazzy Jazz and Cajon drummer Jonathan Heraux.