Vlog Review 2014

Happy New Year everybody! All the best for 2015.

Claire xo



Christmas Catch-Up

Hello. Are you easing back into reality? I don't think I am yet. This Christmas it's been lovely to spend more time with close family and friends and to catch-up with others we don't see very often. To see my teenage boys and younger members of the family having fun together. I've enjoyed early still mornings, glorious winter sunshine, good food (especially the goats cheese starter), too much chocolate and I've started dipping into a pile of interesting new books I've received. We even had a sprinkling of snow on Boxing day! Most of all I'm grateful for my dad being home. More of these slow days please. How's your Christmas been?




I can't believe it's the day before the big day. There's still lots to be done here (hubs is losing sleep over his caramelised clementines) but we'll approach the work with gusto. Hosting Christmas for 8 is kinda my ideal Christmas and it will be very precious. Hectic but happy. 

Over the next few days I intend to find some space for quiet reflection and be as fully present as I can. I shall be spending a little less time online but look forward to popping back later in the week for a Christmas and end of year review before we usher in 2015. Exciting!

Thank you each and every one of you for reading Just a little less. I'm very fortunate to have you.  

I wish you hope, love, joy and peace this Christmas. 



Nothing to Wear for Christmas Again... and a Hair Update

Recognise the top? This sequin top has been my default Christmas outfit for the last 3 years and it's still going strong. See here and here. I love its bright colour, sequins and the fact that it hardly needs ironing. It also covers up one's upper arms a treat! This 2014 I've been ringing the changes with a new necklace (New Look - yes) last year's Christmas present (M & S black ankle boots) and a last minute turn up of the hem (credit Eammanuelle Alt). Plus, my black Boden skinny jeans complied once more, eager to fight another day. Dub a dub a dum a dum (credit Jona Lewie).

In other news my hair has been sulphate free since August and I've stuck at using alternatives to 'normal' shampoo for the last 4 months. However, it hasn't been easy. I wash my hair every few days with either hot water or an egg and occasionally with an organic shampoo. My hair feels greasy some days and I do still love the clean, swishy feeling of a thorough shampoo and condition. I may experiment further with the no-poo method in the new year. We''ll see. It's been harder than I anticipated. Whatever, I'm done with nasty sulphate shampoos and home dyeing my hair. Hello, new natural hair and colour (?) In the meantime, whilst my natural locks settle, I've been experimenting with adding curls to my bob. I asked my hairdresser to show me how. Here's his wonderful effortless work. 

and here's mine.

It's frustrating this hair business... 



Fourth Sunday of Advent and Hello Darkness

The fourth Sunday of Advent has arrived and with it the winter solstice. Preparing for Christmas and celebrating the wonder of the natural world. Here are some highlights.

Our bauble free Christmas tree. How magical are Christmas trees?
We spent this morning in the kitchen. The sherry was open - couldn't quite wait 'til Christmas.
First attempt at clementines in caramel. Not quite there yet. Caramel takes confidence.
Our eldest son is home from uni. And his washing and his music. Love it. 
Time for a Sunday roast and gravy has been made in advance for Christmas day.
Lighting the fourth Advent candle at home - now hiding on the sill behind the tree.
An evening carol service.
Home to light more candles. 
Dad has been in hospital this week. He was home after 3 days. So grateful.

Hope you are well. Not signing off for Christmas yet - I will be back before the big day xo



Want, Need, Wear, Read - Decluttering Before Christmas

Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read is a great way to simplify present buying at Christmas or birthdays. Some families limit their children’s gifts to just 4 items, choosing an item from each of these categories. I wish I'd adopted this philosophy of gift buying years ago when my boys were small. There were several years when we were overwhelmed by the amount of new stuff entering the house at Christmas, most of which they ended up not using, enjoying or appreciating. Spending time identifying just a few items that they really wanted and needed in terms of clothes, toys, books and practical items would have saved a lot of money and resources. 

Oh well, we can all learn from our over-buying and over-wanting past, right? There's no better time than Christmas to become more mindful of our consumption. I've been using this idea of want, need, wear, read in reverse to declutter before Christmas. As I've tidied and organised different areas of my home I've been asking myself some tough questions about what I want, need, wear and read. I've learnt a lot. 

1. Want. Do I still want this item in my home? Does it add any value to my life? Why did I want it in the first place? Is there someone else who might want it more? Do I have to keep this item just because someone thought I wanted it? This month I've decluttered quite a few Christmas decorations in an attempt to get down to just enough festive ornaments to suit my simple style. Giving them to a charity shop will help a good cause; I'm sure my snowman figure will raise a smile as well as some money when he ventures off to his new home. Sometimes people buy us things they think we want and get it wrong. I believe it's OK to let these things go especially if this means others will benefit from our donation. These days I'm better at recognising the difference between arbitrary wants and genuine needs. And I've learnt that the best way to conquer my wants is to wait a designated amount of time between wanting something and making a purchase. Keeping away from shops and glossy magazines also keeps my wants at bay. Advertising is very shrewd and my subconscious shopping diva can be easily swayed by seductive offers. I'm not saying you shouldn't treat yourself or others to luxuries sometimes but I think to get lasting pleasure out of something it's best if it's something you've wanted for a long time.
Decluttered items: Artificial Christmas tree, 1 glass vase, soft snowman figure, snowman candle and a set of gold baubles.

2. Need. Do I have more than I need? Why did I think I needed this? How often do I use this item and could I use something else to do the same job? Have my needs changed? If my basic needs are met should I be helping others more? Despite minimising my wardrobe a few months ago I still feel that I have more jewellery, scarves and bags than I need. It's time to give some away, experiment with less and see if I can find the right amount to meet my needs. Decluttering teaches you that having less is very freeing. However, it takes a lot of work to get down to owning just the basics that you need.  Ahem, I'm not there yet. 
Decluttered items: 1 handbag, 2 scarves and 3 necklaces. Plus, I've made my first donation to Crisis at Christmas which will help a homeless person over the festive period and beyond. It feels good to acknowledge that my needs are less than I once believed and realise that I can be more generous now that my spending is under control. 

3. Wear. Do I still like this? If I wear it only occasionally is it still worth keeping? Do I feel great in it? Do I have too many duplicate items? I've asked for vouchers this Christmas from my favourite clothing store so I've decluttered a couple of items to make room for anticipated new purchases. I know what works in my wardrobe and I'm still weeding out items that make me feel ugh for whatever reason. Piece by piece I'm streamlining my wardrobe and defining my style. 
Decluttered items: 1 t-shirt, 1 pair of boots. 

4. Read. Why am I keeping this book? Will I ever pick it up again? Is it just for show? Could someone or some charity benefit from me donating this book? Could I give it to my friend to read and ask her to pass it on when she has finished it? How many recipe books is enough? Are my bookshelves overflowing? I have decluttered many, many books over the last few years but there are still a few that I'm keeping for the wrong reasons. 
Decluttered items: several fiction books that I've read for book club, two recipe books and one holiday guide book. Plus, I have 2 books that I have been lent that I will probably never read and I should really return them. 

Want, need, wear, read can be a useful tool in identifying past consumerist mistakes and helping to define an ideal amount of stuff to own. Applying this simple philosophy to both gift buying and decluttering should help us feel calmer and more content.



The Third Sunday of Advent

So we've reached the third Sunday of Advent. This month is rushing by. Advent is traditionally a time of waiting but we seem to have lost that. There's so much temptation to join the busyness, consumerism and ostentation that's around this year. Thankfully, I've almost completed my Christmas shopping and should be able to keep away from the busiest shops now. At home this weekend it's been quiet. We've enjoyed space and calm knowing that next week we have extra demands on our time like a school carol service, school play and a Christmas meal out, on top of our usual schedule. Here are a few favourite moments from the weekend.

I've been carefully choosing which decorations to put up this year. We bought this star from Birmingham's Christmas market 2 years ago and its simplicity still appeals.
Winter has arrived with its coldness, frost and beautiful skies.
Noel. Another simple decoration I created last year that's returned.
French onion soup made by hubs. Don't worry this is not turning into a soup blog.
A new stuffing - mint and rosemary from an old Good Housekeeping recipe book which we return to every Christmas. The recipe stated onions and we only had red ones but they look really festive to me. We're going to freeze them like this uncooked and cook them on Christmas day.
Seeing the third Advent candle lit at church and lighting my own at home. I've added a fifth star tealight holder to the middle which will be lit on Christmas day.

Thank you for reading here this week. I hope you can find time for quiet in the run up to Christmas xo



Tree Found

We have a Christmas tree! One day we might go fir free but for now, with a 15 year old who still gets excited by the sight of a real tree arriving home, we will keep this tradition alive (he likes a real tree and preferably one as large as can fit in our house). It was late afternoon when we ventured to Cannock Chase to buy our sustainably grown Christmas tree. The sky was just starting to glow after a bright winter afternoon and the fairy light strung forest beckoned us in. Magical. Finding the perfect tree is beyond me. So long as it fits in the house - ever had to saw off the top of the tree to fit it into the house? - I'm happy. 
  photo firtree1_zps96287efe.jpg photo glove_zps868b8465.jpg photo green_zpsec935424.jpg photo hisglove_zpscc98a8d5.jpg photo treefound_zpsb06349c4.jpg



Favourite Photo of 2014

How do you choose your favourite photo of the year? It's not easy, especially if you're not that confident or experienced a photographer. 

Writing, not photography, first drew me to blogging. Photography was something I had little experience or knowledge of. To be honest, it terrified me. Far too technical and numerical for my liking. Yet, I believed photos enhance the written word so I gave it a go. Little by little my confidence emerged and my skills grew. 6 months into blogging I got my first DSLR as a birthday present and my interest in photography began. These days I love being behind the camera and using my photos to portray my vignettes of this beautiful world. Many minimalist bloggers forgo photos in their posts to give their writing more gravitas. I prefer to use photos in most of my posts to show simplicity, beauty and happiness in action. Something I won't be paring down is my love of photography. It's a vehicle for my creativity and I kind of 'get by' with limited technical knowledge. I hope the photos I share here on my blog capture the energy, intimacy and colour that make up my life. 

The above photo is one taken at Packwood House, Warwickshire in August. It's a place I've visited several times this year in different seasons. This photo was taken on a beautiful sunny day and I was with my mum and dad. As I crouched down by the side of my dad's wheelchair we took in the beauty of the house, the planting and the sheer delight of people, like this mum and daughter, on a day out. Their happiness mirrored ours and that's why it's my favourite photo.

Joining in with Susannah Conway's December Reflections project. A chance to ponder.



Roasted Red Pepper Soup

This winter I'm endeavouring to keep up my intake of fresh veg by incorporating them into my lunches. But raw veg don't exactly excite at this time of year, do they? Homemade soup is the solution. Warming, flavoursome and colourful this soup combines nutrients and comfort perfectly. This recipe is adapted from Nigella. The method is easy and it doesn't require much attention. Using tinned toms makes it easier and more economical (I added a couple of fresh ones as I had some already). Red peppers can be expensive in supermarkets so shop around - I bought 3 for 69p yesterday at my local greengrocers in town. Support the high street and enjoy!

You will need (serves 4)

3 red peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
2-3 medium red onions, roughly chopped
4-6 large cloves of garlic, left with skin intact
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to coat the veg)
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
500-750ml of vegetable stock (not exact depends how thick/thin you like your soup)
Optional: Tabasco sauce (a dash to taste can be added to the liquid) or 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes added to the oil

Preheat the oven to 200C/440F/gas 6. Add all the chopped veg to a high sided baking tray, drizzle over the olive oil and mix together with your hands. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes or until the peppers are slightly charred. Next make the stock and add to a large saucepan together with the chopped tomatoes and a drop of Tabasco if liked (I prefer not to add salt and pepper to shop bought stock cubes). Remove the veg from the oven. Take out the roasted garlic cloves and squeeze out the pulpy flesh into the stock (dispose of the skin). Add the rest of the veg to the pan and heat gently until just boiling. Once heated put the mixture into a blender and blend until fairly smooth. Serve and savour.



The Second Sunday of Advent

 photo frostyverbena_zps10538062.jpg

Hello. How are you? Hopefully well and rested after the weekend or, if you've been busy, at least feeling more organised. It seems to have been cold all weekend. Saturday saw a frosty start that lasted well into midmorning. I've been meaning to cut down the verbena in our little garden, which have been looking rather dull, but I'm glad I haven't got round to it yet as they looked amazing under the frost. It brought out their lilac hue magically. Our weekend has been fairly calm. On Saturday Hubs fitted 3 black pendant lights in our kitchen. The idea is to improve the lighting and general ambiance of the dining area in preparation for Christmas. He did a brilliant job and I was very patient. Next it's my turn - painting! Can't have scandi pendant lights without white walls now, can you? And a grey wall, obvs. Today, has been the kind of Sunday I would have dreamed of a few years ago when my life revolved around work. With no pressing housework or school work to be done we just took it slow. Late breakfast, church, a visit to Packwood House (my favourite local National Trust property) and home to light candles. I took a few photos.

 photo PackwoodHouseWinter_zps9af7ef15.jpg

The house, gardens and cafe were quieter than usual and it was lovely to roam around, even if it was cold. The winter landscape looked beautifully bare today highlighted by the low sun and long shadows.

 photo sheep_zps9dbc9db1.jpg

Only the ground floor of the house was open but there were Christmas trees in nearly every room. They all had wonderful natural, quirky or handmade decorations. It's definitely inspired me to have a bauble-free Christmas tree. 

 photo orangedecoraation_zpsa1393e92.jpg photo owldecoration_zps66782aa8.jpg photo forkandknife_zpsd07b3e29.jpg

I haven't made any mince pies yet so made sure I chose one in the cafe at the end of our visit. Yes, those are teabags hanging from the tree!

 photo Christmasteabagdecorations_zps78df6261.jpg

Our home felt a bit bare after all the sparkle of Packwood but lighting the second candle of my advent tealights was the first thing I did on our return. It's all about making the most of the light at this time of year.

 photo Adventcandles2_zpsba25a4ba.jpg

Thank you for reading, commenting and following here this week. Have a great week xo