Getting ready for Christmas… without presents

Christmas at the Smallest Smallholding

Even though it’s still 10C outside and not a snowflake in sight, we’re getting ready for Christmas. But this year, my side of the family decided that we are going to eschew the traditional gift-giving element. The more I think about it, the more I think it is a great idea.

Although I absolutely love love love giving gifts (and will try to whenever I can), at 32 I feel so utterly jaded by the constant “buy! buy! buy!” demands everywhere I turn, from Hallowe’en until December 24th. It feels like everything is just tuned in to make you part with your cash, and you’re made to feel that your Christmas will never be complete unless you’ve bought this, that and the other. Maybe I was more oblivious, but as a child in the 80s I don’t remember it being this intense. I didn’t feel like Christmas was so only about gluttony, extravagance and spending. Christmas has become a commercially-fuelled holiday, and has been for a long time. So saying a quiet “no” to a little consumerism will allow us to just enjoy some relaxed family time when Christmas Day comes along.

The Smallest Smallholding Christmas 2015 with Ozzy

Of course I am still more than happy to buy gifts for other family and friends, I do enjoy it… especially now that shopping online means I can avoid the crowds! But I am really tuning out from the non-stop commercialism of it all, and have found myself turning to hygge as my inspiration this year. Yesterday Rich brought the Christmas tree in and I got out our decades-old jumble of tree ornaments out – some inherited from my grandmother, some we bought when we got our first tree together in our early twenties – and we slung lots of lights up. Our living room might still be half renovated after I was forced to stop due to pretty severe tennis elbow, but in my mind it’s still cosy and homely. With the fire going and the animals chilling around us, I felt so warm and comfortable. I wish I had at least a month off to myself to just reset, relax and enjoy life a bit more.



A Homemade Christmas Wreath

How to make a Christmas wreath with a wire ring

My budget is always tight these days, but I don’t want to miss out on some of the festive fun at Christmas. I enjoy decorating the house – those little LEDs lend a certain warmth on the cold, dark, grey December days – and it’s great to see twinkling lights and wreaths appearing on my neighbours’ doors.

As we have a lot of shrubs and foliage growing in and around the Smallest Smallholding, I thought this year I would give making my own wreath a bash. I’ve seen wreaths selling for upwards of £15 – £30 in the shops, and I do not have that kind of cash to splash. So I visited my local craft shop and bought a reusable metal wreath ring for £2.50 and some florist wire for 60p.

Foraging for foliage for my Christmas Wreath

Next, I set about collecting lots of foliage that I could use in the wreath – dense conifer from the bits that overhang from next door’s tree, two types of variegated ivy, some pyracantha (although I’ve realised since that this wilts really quickly), holly and even a few sprigs of olive (felt a bit more biblical and gorgeous texture!). I was planning on using any extra bits that we cut off the Christmas tree (Nordmann Fir) but in the end we left it as was!

Here’s my quick guide to making a wreath:

Homemade frugal christmas wreath

What You’ll Need:

Wire Frame
Florist Wire & Scissors

How to make a homemade Christmas wreath on a metal ring

1. Take the largest, densest pieces of foliage (fir, spruce, conifer etc) and lay them out over the metal frame so that they fan out as they go around in a circular fashion.
2. Secure the foliage with florist wire – the more secure for this ‘base layer’ the better
3. Start adding in the long pieces of ivy – use several pieces and attach to the base layer and frame at both ends of the cutting and in the middle to help the foliage bend with the frame.
4. Keep going around, adding ivy and any bushy bits of foliage so that the wreath is as symmetrical as possible. You can tuck any stray bits in behind other ivy leaves and use the leaves to also hide the florist wire.
5. Once your ivy has been added all the way around, start putting in the “interesting accents”… bits of foliage like holly and olive that add colour and texture. Try to space these out evenly but it doesn’t have to be mathematically correct! You can start pushing these sprigs in without securing with wire if your ivy is dense enough.
6. Once you’re happy with your wreath, turn over and pack the back with moss to help keep the foliage moist and prevent wilting. If the moss hasn’t been freshly picked you can spritz it with some water.
7. Cut a small length of garden wire and create a loop for your door, securing the loop to the wire frame on the back.
8. Hang your wreath and enjoy your handywork!

We’re getting set for Christmas here at The Smallest Smallholding – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Ozzy and the Christmas decorations

Smallest Smallholding bun bun Ozzy enjoys the warm fire

I Have Mostly Been Helping Hens this Christmas (by proxy)

It’s Christmas Eve and it’s probably been about six weeks since I last blogged… and so I find myself suddenly wishing you all a Merry Christmas! Again!

I’ve literally been so busy that I haven’t even put the Christmas Tree or any decorations up. It’s Christmas Eve! This is unheard of! I might do it later. I might.

So here I am, sitting here with a stupid dribbling cold, but otherwise still alive and well, and still functioning (remember last year when I caught proper badass ‘flu and couldn’t function for over two weeks independently???). All I can say is that my lack of blogging has arisen due to a number of bona fide reasons. These are namely; Family Stuff (not my story to tell), Health (mine and others), work, and let’s be honest, probably just plain laziness too. I’ve been informally disconnected from my Smallest Smallholding and generally the outside world since late Autumn, not focusing at all on anything remotely vegetable or mineral-related since I sorted out my last veggie harvest. So unless you count feeding the birds who have been arriving in droves to feast Chez Moi, there has not been an awful lot to tell that’s of any real interest to anyone, or that I am able to share on a public platform. Wow, that’s so annoying isn’t it – it’s like saying “there’s actually been some quite major stuff happening, but I won’t tell you!”. Sorry. It’s just… it’s other people’s business too.

All I will say is, it has been a big challenge, there has been a lot of anxiety but I think things will turn out alright. That’s until the Hadron Collider creates a big black hole and sucks us all in it on December 21st of next year when the Mayan calendar stops. Ho, ho, ho. Just kidding!

Illustration Copyright Kat Whelan 2011

But despite what you might be thinking, I have actually been incredibly busy over the past few weeks, and I have most definitely not been wallowing in a bog of my own pity. Good grief, no. In fact, one of the many things I’ve been working on is a little project called the Hen Rehoming Hub. It can be found at and my idea was to create an easy to use tool that maps and details hen rehoming organisations’ locations, and the dates and locations of their upcoming rescues. The website was put together by a friend of mine who is more than a bit nifty with code and computery things, but it’s still in development and we’re still finding organisations to add to the site.

I did contact BHWT (British Hen Welfare Trust) HQ to ask if their nationwide coordinators would like to be involved, but they politely declined on the basis that they “… have a policy of only promoting our re-homing dates through our own channels, where we can ensure the re-homing initiative is part of the complete message we are delivering”. To be honest, I don’t really understand it as I would have thought that there’s no better consumer education than seeing for yourself the state of battery hens when they’re first rehomed – and the more hens that are rehomed the more exposure factoring farming gets – but hey ho. I’m more than happy to help support and create exposure for all the other smaller organisations that work really hard to educate consumers and find homes for these hens, and I still recognise that the BHWT do good work. I’ve done it for no other reason that to make finding ex-battery hens for pet-only homes easy, and helping as many girls evade the slaughterman as possible.

So what’s left to do this year? I can safely say that with my cold, my upcoming birthday and some work to finish in between Christmas and My Birthday (AKA New Year’s Eve), I won’t be doing anything Smallest Smallholding-related. I’ve long since given up beating myself up about it and I’ll tackle it a bit later in the New Year when my impending mad rush of Big Freelance Work Projects and Mum’s big upcoming operation (not my story to tell!!!!!) are over. I’ve come to realise that self-sufficiency is as much about making a living that allows you to live independently, as it is about being frugal and doing things yourself with the limited impact you desire. Within the next couple of weeks I also have my tax return to do, one of the worst aspects of being self-employed when you can’t really afford an accountant. I just need to focus on debt reduction in the first bit of 2012. Not easy when our car is threatening to stop working, the cats need their teeth doing and for the first time in ten years (I’m not lying!) we were considering going away on a proper holiday to celebrate my 30th birthday… but we’ll worry about that after I’ve turned 29!

So although there’s not been many Smallest Smallholding tales to tell, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, and here’s to a happy and peaceful 2012 – let’s make it the Year of the Chicken!