I was been working hard on the kitchen, my youngest was off school with a cold, and then we had houseguests for a week (bliss). As a result this is a post that covers several weeks activity.
Here is what’s bought and done;
Christmas stocking presents for my girls
Just various things to paint with, notebooks, decorative hole punches, glitter, hair things….anything small really. These are bought, but not wrapped and, as we are on a two week school vacation, I won’t be able to do them until the children are back at school.
This is mainly because my girls know that mummy and daddy buy and wrap gifts for others, so if they were found whilst wrapped it wouldn’t be the end of the world. However if the wrapped Father Christmas gifts were found it would be a bit revealing. I have them wrapped in a different, more distinctive style – so it would kind of give the game away.
Make up gifts
My oldest girl is about to go to middle school, so I wanted something a bit more grown up for her. So I got her a little set of toiletries and some make up and brushes to play with, but only when she’s inside playing dress up (insert firm, Mum voice here).
For my younger daughter I got a light up unicorn that you decorate as a Little ‘un equivalent.
These have all been wrapped.
Lots of painting canvases and colouring books. These are my little presents and I’ve wrapped them.
Saint Nicholas gifts
Each year, as we’re, we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas on 6th December. I always give the girls a little gift from the Saint himself and this year I chose Christmas crafts, because I can keep them entertained between now and the big day.
These are wrapped too.
Along with the gifts they always get a large chocolate Father Christmas, with a large candy cane sellotaped to him as a crozier and some gold chocolate coins. These all represent the Saint himself and his works and have been bought and stored away.
Gifts for family and friends that are visiting but who live in Blighty.
These gifts have been bought, wrapped and gone home with them.
Christmas Cake made
Whilst our house guests were here we made our family Christmas cake recipe which includes chocolate and port. In fact we made two, one for them to take home. The whole house smelled of cinnamon. It was delicious.
I’m kind of feeling that the ‘early’ part of this title feels a bit redundant now. How are your festive preparations going?
As the kitchen comes together ideas that I previously had thought would be wonderful I later found won’t quite work. I’m not a kitchen planner, which means that I don’t know the main issues such as needing to have the oven near a sink. Additionally I’m working with items that I gradually ‘find’ in brocantes, which inevitably means I must be adaptable.
This change isn’t as a result of that though. This change is because I didn’t plan the space needed for the dining area properly. Although I’d measured the space, when I moved furniture into the kitchen it was obvious I couldn’t fit in a larger table and, seemingly, had to settle for a small, round one.
So we would have a small breakfast nook?
We had wanted a convivial atmosphere and the current layout would mean guests and family split up in various groupings, if we kept the current configuration and wanted to eat in the kitchen.
Alternatively if guests came we’d have to move to the formal dining room. That’s fine for me, but my husband – who is the main cook – would be left on his own a good deal of the time when we had people over. This is particularly important for us as we are expats, so this doesn’t just mean for the occasional dinner, but throughout the time guests stay.
At first I was resigned to this, and I continued to make plans for the breakfast nook. I had wanted to put a small buffet to keep crockery in at the side. Unfortunately the irregular shape of the room meant this wasn’t possible either with the table.
Then I realised that the central island could be used as what it is – a buffet – with a dresser on top for extra storage. There could be a central, large table, which could still have electrical outlets in it. It would additionally mean that I could use the wall space for other purposes. A win all round.
Here is the table I managed to get from Le bon coin….
For the buffet/island/buffet I’ve removed the worktop from the kitchen island and I’ll use that on the opposite side where the sink area is. I’ve added a buffet worktop that I had from the cupboard that was too big to use initially in this room when the staircase remained in this corner. It needed to be cut down to size, but I think it looks good.
On the wall I hung this dresser worktop instead of resting it on the base. I want to be able to use this area for the microwave; as there is a plug socket along the back it’s ideal. The space between the buffet and base of the dresser top was too narrow for this with the original rests. So I sawed them off and I’d ordered wood brackets like those used for the bookcase turned wall cupboard, intending to give it a more country feel.
In the meantime though I found this shelving unit in the brocante for 9€. This has been put up and the hooks moved from above the kitchen sink to here, as this will be the coffee/tea area. As a res I didn’t use the brackets.
I’ve put a wood back to disguise the gap between the wall and the buffet base. I just cut it to size and curved, then sanded the edges before staining and sanding it.
Lots more to do if we want to be in by Christmas. I’m working on the corner that will run alongside the oven. It’s nearly finished so I’ll post on that soon.
We’re still at the stage of Christmas preparation were I am sure many people seeing this post are wondering why on Earth am I faffing around with this now. Yet with both my daughters birthdays in the next six weeks, along with house decorating on top of Christmas preparations I feel I need to keep adding to my list of things I’ve done.
To show how necessary it is for me, personally, to start well in advance I suddenly realised that there were a lot of names I’d missed off from the christmas cards I’d already written. I hadn’t written out either my friends or my husbands. They’re now done. I’m feeling strangely superior in spite of my constant failure to send cards over many years.
I’ve also chosen and sent a gift to my mother in law in the U.K. She’s a big Royalist and historian so the release of Earthshot as well Catherine’s Hold Still project prompted me to think that these would be good gifts for her.
My daughters and I have finished the bracelets they’re going to gift to their grandmothers and aunts. I like to get them to do something themselves to give relatives.
As there are two of them I don’t want them to make two bracelets per person, so I’ve done a little research on simple necklaces they could also make, and I’ll share these with you next week (when they’re done, hopefully).
I’ve wrapped the rare book bought my mother and added finishing touches to their parcels….
I’ve also bought and wrapped my youngest daughter’s birthday gifts. This has to be part of my Christmas prep.
The final thing I’ve done this week is decorate the bottles of sparkling wine I bought at the wine fair.
Are you starting early? What are your tips to get ready for Christmas?
The front of the house needs some tidying up after the summer- but I couldn’t resist sharing a picture of our Virginia creeper. We planted it about 2 – 3 years ago and it’s starting to really take off now.
I was worried that, with the work still needing doing in the kitchen before the plumbers come again, I wouldn’t have time to fix it before the leaves disappeared.
We’re so happy the floor is finally laid, but I thought that as there are so many tutorials on YouTube I would do a post on the difficulties and pitfalls you might experience. Why? Because throughout the laying process I kept grumbling “they didn’t tell you about this in those videos”.
One of the main reasons for my griping was that they all miss out it hurts. Some mention that your knees will hurt, that’s true, but I don’t just mean your knees. I mean everywhere. Your back, your legs, your bum. The lot. I started laying the floor on the Friday and winced any time I sat down all of the weekend. To put this further into perspective, I’d only finished 1/4 of the floor by then.
In all the videos they had a bare room, but we just weren’t able to do that. The kitchen island couldn’t be moved safely into another room and the damp autumnal weather meant I couldn’t store them outside whilst I worked.
As a result the fact that our heavy kitchen island was in the room dominated the whole project.
Added to that was the uneven walls of the room. There’s not a single straight line, because our house is built following the curve of a route. So the interior walls are all angled, or they have doors or built in cupboards. This all impacted on how we could proceed.
I had thought originally that I would lay the floor across the middle of the room from door to door. However the walls meant a safer course of action was to start running the lengths across the room in the other direction, however this meant the monstrosity of the kitchen island.
One more difficulty to overcome was that I’d moved all the laminate into the kitchen area to become acclimatised. It had been in the room adjacent, but needed to go in there and have all the boxes opened to let the air circulate. So, one more obstacle. Or, more precisely, lots more obstacles.
Because we didn’t have a straight run my dad, who was helping me, and I decided to go against all the recommendations and started to lay them in a staggered pattern. You can see how I left them on the first day…
We’d managed to fit one length under the island to the edge of the tiles I’d laid but the legs of the island meant we couldn’t fit any adjacent to that and moving the island at that point wasn’t an option due to the opened packets of laminate.
So we continued into the corner as much as possible, then as we laid more I had some space to move the laminates onto, creating more space.
At the end of the first day, apart from aching, I was worried we’d created a mess that we couldn’t rectify. If we kept laying boards the necessity to stagger them would mean a need to somehow slip boards in between what amounted to fork like prongs. Tricky.
Then I went in the next day and realised that I’d created sufficient space to start to swing one foot of the island onto the already laid floor and this created space to start lay boards in the space. It was a game changer.
After the weekend I started again; focusing on the corner that will house the dishwasher and sink. I’d tiled this area, thinking there might be future water leakages, and it therefore created an awkward area to work.
With the island moved I could fit in there to do the work and just concentrated on cutting to size here and then along the irregular wall and into the doorway.
Here we are at the end of the second day….
For the next two days I worked hard in there and eventually managed to finish most of the room. I was then left with those built in cupboards and needed to use a jigsaw to cut out the curved shapes. I didn’t have one. All ours were broken, but I couldn’t continue using the multitool I had been as I needed something easier to handle.
In the end my husband ordered me a Bosch cordless jigsaw. I cannot emphasis what a difference this made. I managed to fir the laminates pretty close to the cupboards (although they couldn’t be too close as there needs to be some give).
The room now looks like this….
I have to do the skirting boards and trim yet, but that’s a job for next week. So too are the two last boards at each doorway. I have temporary boards in there at the moment, but I need to remove the upvc door to do the one leading outside and the other will be replaced.
I’m intending to continue the laminate into the room next door which will eventually be the dining room, but there’s a wall to be removed first and that’s just too much before Christmas. So I’ll relay that final board, which needed to be cut in half to meet the existing floor, and continue straight from there.
I’ve been trying different furniture in there; the larger table I’d intended to have will never work, so I moved this round one in there. The chairs are going to be changed and I’ll update you on that soon.
For some reason I thought this was published, oops. So here’s my late 13 weeks to go post.
I’d said how part of my ‘to do’ list was decorating, and this week I’ve been laying the kitchen floor in the will be kitchen. I’m just about to finish it in preparation for the chimney to be swept next week. This has meant that some of the prettier list items haven’t been done. So here goes…
I’ve received delivery of the sparkling wine that I bought for the neighbours. I don’t gift bag them, just put pretty ribbons on and out they go.
I wrote this post in January 2020 on tips to get ready early for Christmas. I’d just had a wonderful, but stressful, Christmas and I didn’t want another one like that in December.
Now, I know you’re all side eyeing that date aren’t you.
Oh how different the world was then, huh? I remember watching this strange illness being reported in China and, as I wrote that post, reports from Italy were starting to become alarming. But who knew that a year and a half down the line we’d still be in this Covid dominated world?
I don’t know what Christmas will be like this year; will we be able to travel? For those of us who are expats that’s more concerning; nevertheless I don’t want to face what we faced last year.
My husband, who was desperate to keep some money rolling in, had gone to the U.K. to try and open a pop up shop. He was thwarted by constant changes in the restrictions and then there was uncertainty over whether he would make it home at all.
Those who follow the blog regularly know that I’m deeply involved in renovating our period, French home. I was desperately working late into December in the front hallway (exhausting, but worth it) as well as decorating the home for the holidays, buying gifts etc.
I was left, once again, on Christmas Eve wrapping last minute presents.
It’s got to the point that I dread Christmas. But this year, this year, that’s not going to happen. I’m using the thoughts from that previous post and making a plan of action to be organised this year.
For me that still involves decorating targets (definitely finish the kitchen, touches to the sitting room and hopefully the back hallway), as well as Christmas crafts along with the presents, cards etc.
So we have about 14 weeks to go and I’ve started to put my plan into action.
I thought, along with my usual diy and living in France posts, I’d start a weekly post on what I’ve done this week to prepare for the 25th. it keeps me on track and may inspire you.
So what I have done this week so far?
I went to lunch Sunday with my folks and brought my Christmas book with me. Time to go through the addresses and make sure they were all up to date, as well as adding any I may have overlooked.
I was in our local brocante and bought these beautiful oil paintings. I’d originally intended to give them to both my folks, along with some other little gifts; they don’t follow the blog so I’m free to post about them here.
I love this brocante so I’m planning on going in there during the next few weeks to get some wonderful Christmas presents.
Then during the week a little miracle happened. My mother has been searching for a childhood book for 30+ years. We found the author’s name, but the book was proving difficult to trace. You guessed it, I managed to find a copy. It’s been ordered an I’m waiting for it’s delivery. So excited.
I wrapped the paintings, obviously not the yet to be received book. I’ve also ordered some brown paper as I’m thinking of doing natural wrap from Father Christmas himself this year.
Start to outline a detailed plan
As my previous post suggests I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to do. However I still need to add to it. For me this includes my list of who I’m buying for, DIY plan, house cleaning plan etc.
Opening a list in notes that I intend to add to over the week has really helped. I’m slotting in activities that make sense for each week as targets. As I remember what I need to do I’m adding them to the list.
Bought extra decorations
I’d previously written about monitoring and thinking about what additional decorations you need, and I bought a few this week. Next time I buy something it will be exterior lights as I know these are needed from the previous year’s notes.
The gift list has not only got who I need to buy for, but I’ve grouped them into the kind of presents.
I buy for small, generic gifts for neighbours, our local store owners etc and these can be bought early on. I then have my family gifts that I’ll be spending a little more time and thought on, and my English family gifts. These will be bought on Black Friday using English sites so I can have them wrapped and delivered straight to them – unless something amazing comes up at the brocante in the meantime.
Talking about grouped together presents I always buy bottles of sparkling wine for our neighbours. Here in France the shops always have a foire de vin orwine faire. In our local market our faire is next week. As I’m already aware of Christmas buying I knew this would be a perfect opportunity, so I’ve preordered them.
I’ve started writing my Christmas cards. If I do a few a week I should be able to avoid hand cramps!
I sat with my daughter today putting wax seals on the envelopes. She loved it.
If you’re preparing early this year let me know in the comments below. We can share organising ideas ☺️.
This is a very proud mummy moment. My eldest daughter (9) has just finished her first upcycled piece 🎉🎈🧁🍰🥤🥂🍾 (the champagne is for me, obviously).
During this last week we’ve been preparing for la rentrée and I’ve also been spending some time focusing on the living room. My second Covid jab wiped me out, and I I just couldn’t face cementing the second half of the kitchen prior to laying it. As we have people coming over I decided to do a little more work in the sitting room; it wasn’t quite so taxing.
My daughter is always curious about my DIY and I’d said to her that, if she cleaned her room really well to prepare for going back to school, she could paint a buffet top I’ve been meaning to do. I had it because of the beautifully panelled doors which I want for another project, and I thought that as we need some bookcases I’d use it for this purpose.
Then in the afternoon I set her up for the buffet. It’s not a very solid piece, but does have some nice details. My thinking was even if it’s not eventually sturdy enough it will be a good for a first project for her and will make do for minimal money in the meantime.
She was so excited about it and got straight on with doing her room.
Her first task, if course, was to clean it all down. As it’s not the most refined piece of furniture I wasn’t going to go to town on it; it wouldn’t have been worth my while sanding all the wood back, for example. So I got her to just clean it thoroughly and talked to her about the stain marks to look out for when doing this on a piece of old furniture. It’s always good to be aware that we might be facing trouble ahead.
There seemed to be no stain transfer on to the kitchen towel during wiping down, so I got her to start straight away with a primer. Even though I use chalk paint most of the time I always use primer if I haven’t stripped the wood. I use one specifically for covering stained wood, as I’ve been caught out before.
You’ll notice on the finished piece that the interior is a darker grey; I bought Royal Grey from Action and used that on the interior with a coat of transparent, water based varnish. Then I mixed a small amount with Old White. It’s about a 2:1 ratio.
She painted it with just 1 coat of primer. Half way through she complained she was tired. I encouraged her to continue, saying she wouldn’t have the satisfaction of being able to say she did it by herself.
After some wailing and gnashing of teeth she finished and was happy with her efforts.
She finished her second coat in the chalk paint and I did the third for her whilst she was in school.
You’ll notice the top is new wood. As it was the top half of a buffet the top wasn’t made for putting anything heavy on, so I bought a new wood worktop and cut it to size. The stain is a bit orangey, I’m disappointed with that. I may apply another coat of stain on top.
I helped her sand it all back, then we added a coat of clear wax and copper to highlight the details before buffing them all. Both of these wax’s were by Libéron.
The buffet hasn’t been artfully arranged underneath – it’s definitely not Pinterest ready. It’s purpose is for after school each day. We don’t allow the kids to watch tv during the week and encourage them to read. I believe that if there are always books nearby they become a part of our lives. Some of my happiest moments when I was young was curling up and getting lost in a book!
On August 9th we’ll have lived in France for 5 years. A post Brexit move – insane, but fulfilling a long held ambition. Today I realised that almost one third of the time we have lived here has been in the COVID world. That makes you pause, huh?
Slowly life is getting back to normal. However with all the cycles of lockdowns I’m apprehensive that we may not be open again for Christmas this year. We’ll see.
We’ve had three bright spots in our lives recently though. The first was a concert at our daughters pre school. L’école maternelle had a concert with the children singing. The parents arrived in the bright sunshine. Maskless. Free. It felt like this…
In the playground, the same density of an open air market, our masks went back on. The children sang. It was sunny. Perfect.
Then came the first gourmet market in our village…
Our second was tonight. My parents, who live in France,came. My mother, not much of a drinker, said to me “I said to your father, next time we’ll stay the night and get drunk. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mum say that. Simple pleasures. I long for normal.