We all have those little things we know how to say but we still don’t say properly. Like Sudocrem, in my family, will forever be Sudocream. I think for most of us Brits ‘hygge’, the trend du jour, will always be one of those words. I’ve seen all the phonetics, I know I’m supposed to say ‘hoo-gah’ but whenever I see it written I read ‘heeeg’. And I don’t think that will change.
Which makes following Living Hygge on Twitter a bit of a nightmare. Apart from, of course, when I won their competition to receive one of their Original Hygge Boxes. When my mum was having a hard time I nominated her as someone who could do with a little hyggelig lift, and the lovely Living Hygge-ers sent us a box each. I was not obligated to write about the box, but I wanted to because I think you guys will love it.
The #originalhyggebox is like what your best friend would send you. Delicately wrapped in tissue paper with personal touches, it’s comforting hot chocolate, your favourite smelling candles and thoughtful handwritten notes. It’s independently sourced mini vases and crocheted coasters that they know you’ll love and never find anywhere else. And it comes in a brown paper package tied up with string. Literally.
What’s doubly nice? Living Hygge is not your average corporate subscription box. It’s run by two sisters, Deborah and Samantha, in Cornwall, who handwrite the cards and, you can tell, think long and hard over what to put in the boxes. Plus this Christmas they’re donating hygge to the homeless, with boxes of warm clothing and sanitary products. It’s personal, warm and, well, hygge.
The Original Hygge Box is a £10 a month subscription, and you get a pretty good deal judging by what you get. I’d pay £10 a month just for some loveliness through the post (but we know how I feel about letter writing). If you want a special gift for that impossible to buy for person, this Christmas you can order a bespoke hygge box – just name your budget and answer some questions.
If you want to get some more hygge in your life follow @livinghygge and join them for their Monday #hyggehour Twitter chat to meet like-minded cosy-lovers.
Winter seems to be full of them, especially compared to the other seasons. This, of course, has a lot to do with Christmas, whether it’s the universal traditions of Christmas trees and carols, or the family-specific ones of searching through old dusty boxes to find your dad’s fisherman Santa decoration. But there’s also something about the bleakness of winter that has us seeking out little rituals and fist pumps just to get through it all.
Have you noticed how our winter rituals are all forward-looking?
From your first mulled wine to New Year’s Resolutions, our winter rituals are all about saying hello and planning for more to come. Maybe this is because of our need to keep things positive. Maybe it’s because autumn is one long goodbye – a goodbye to the nature going into hibernation, a goodbye to the harvests and bounty of summer, a goodbye to evening light.
Or maybe it’s because firsts are just easier to measure. You don’t know which fruit will be your last strawberry of summer, which will be the last autumn leaf you crunch. Just like you can never remember exactly when you last saw an old friend, lasts fade into time like sepia photographs.
I’ve always been good at saying hello to the sea. I’m told that a small town near where I grew up is, as the crow flies, as far as it’s possible to be from the sea. So my childhood summers were full of long drives to Cornwall, straining in the back seat of our Citroen to be the first to see the sea. Even now, on the first of our trips to the North Welsh coast visiting Dan’s mum, we stage a ceremonial procession to ‘say hello to the sea’, and I eek out each second, not daring to tear my eyes away from the surf until we’re on the other side of the hedge.
One of the things that comes with adulthood is setting your own rituals. As a child you live within your parents’ traditions, dictating what you do at Christmas and when you can see the sea. As a grown up (of sorts) you hang on to the ones you like, but also create your own.
A new ritual I’ve recently decided upon is saying goodbye to the sea.
Brought about by a new car and an empty Sunday, a few weeks ago we trundled down through the New Forest to say goodbye to the wash of the Solent. Knowing this was our last salty breath of air in 2016, it made me so much more mindful of every pebble-y crunch, every slap of the waves. It made me examine the shells I collected that bit closer, to notice the weathered stumps and watch as the sun slanted through the clouds.
It may sound a little melancholy to be saying goodbye, but we know it’s only temporary. A lovely little bookend to the year, a line in the sand before Dan plunges into his busy period at work and before the endless winter rain makes spontaneous days out a less likely prospect. It was a celebration, a thank you to the natural world for its beautiful summer. Perhaps a goodnight, more than a goodbye.
As much as I like to mark firsts and look forward, probably more than most, to future goals and plans, I think there is a value in planting your feet and taking a long look over your shoulder. A smile at things that have passed, a thought on things we should have done better and a bookmark in your memory. I’ll certainly never forget the crisp day we said goodbye to the sea.
Sometimes we all fall a little short in the inspiration stakes. Times when it can be easier to slob out on the sofa with a takeaway rather than get outside or cook from scratch. And that’s ok. But to help you re-kick start your simple lifestyle, there’s inspirational reads: blogs, magazines and books full of ideas and interesting people to get you back on your chosen track.
A Bookish Baker Blog
A Bookish Baker is the blog that made me want to blog. It’s inspirational for two reasons: firstly because Helen’s photography and stories about country life are totally jealousy-inducing for people like us, but also because she’s so lovably relatable. She speaks openly about her self-doubt, showing that if someone as talented as her has these feelings then there’s hope for the rest of us yet.
(All images reproduced with permission from Helen Redfern.)
A Bookish Baker is the lifestyle blog of Helen Redfern, documenting her journey as a chicken-keeping writer and editor living in the country.
A happy mixture of blogs and vlogs, Helen talks about her novel and writing, the eccentricities of her chickens and, unsurprisingly, books and baking! Written with Helen’s distinctive and creative voice, it feels like sitting down with a cuppa in a country farm house, being fussed over and having a stimulating conversation all at the same time.
Pretending that you have Helen’s life! If you like a mix of interesting and practical and whimsical and thoughtful posts (like I do), then A Bookish Baker is perfect for you.
It’s easy to eat seasonally with a whole lazy Sunday and 6 hours to roast a joint ahead of you. It’s more difficult when you get in from work late and all you want to do is order a pizza. My Mid-Week-Eats recipes are all quick, really easy and made mostly using ingredients you’ll already have in your cupboards. No trailing round various health food shops to source a weird paste anymore.
What’s more autumnal than mushrooms? This oven baked risotto is based on this recipe from BBC Good Food – I’ve just added a few tweaks at the end to really make the flavours pop.
I love this recipe because it has all the lovely stodge and texture of a risotto, without the faff of stirring incessantly at the hob. Just put all the ingredients together and bung it in the oven. Perfect mid week comfort in 35 minutes.
Makes 4 portions
25g dried porcini mushrooms
350g risotto rice
2 cloves of garlic
Soak the dried porcini in 45ml of hot water for about ten minutes
Chop the onion and soften it in an oven-proof dish. After 2 minutes crush the garlic into the pan too.
Drain the mushrooms but keep the liquid. Chop the mushrooms into bitesized pieces.
Add the mushrooms, mushroom liquid, stock, rice and thyme to the pan. Season.
Cover the pan and put it in the oven on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed.
Finish with a good squeeze of lemon juice (about half a lemon) and balsamic to taste (I added about five sploshes)
Top with an extras you fancy to serve – chestnut mushrooms, bacon, parmesan…
As the leaves start to shed their leaves and the flowers stop blooming for the winter, I always feel the need to bring some of the outside in to temper the bleakness of the coming winter. We’ve been doing it at Christmas for centuries of course, from the first yule logs, to Christmas trees and decking the halls with boughs of holly. There seems to be some innate human need to hang on to the natural world as we plunge into the cold and the dark. Do you feel it too?
This needn’t be just for Christmas though (nor quite as morose as that first paragraph has turned out). There are lots of things you can do to bring pops of nature into your home this winter that are a little more imaginative that a wreath, without resorting to pricey cut flowers.
If you’re a plant killer, or they’re just not your thing, I suggest you go a-foraging. I’m sort of addicted to collecting things on walks, and as I get really attached to inanimate objects, my collectibles always make there way home. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen copious evidence to support this. My pockets are often full of pine cones and chestnuts or shells and pebbles, while my hands get cold carrying driftwood and particularly lovely leaves.
All these finds are perfect ways to bring the outside in, and provide really lovely seasonal decorations. Pots I’ve collected from travels have pebbles inside, a bare corner has a little nest of pine cones, and a structural piece of driftwood creates interest on the mantelpiece. The best thing about foraged finds is the memories they evoke – of Dan half-climbing half-jumping to get the biggest pine cones, of carrying the three big pebbles up the cliff from the beach, of skimming stones across a calm river.
Yes, yes, I know, every blogger’s current obsession is succulents. You’re bored of hearing about them, I get it. But, they really are ideal little houseplants that will perk your day up no end. They always look so happy and squishy, and they want nothing from you – I have a plant on my bookshelf that no matter how little I water it, it still never dries out.
If you’re not enamoured with the ‘traditional’ succulents, head to a garden centre. There are so many different types of hardwearing house plant that you’ll struggle not to find one you love. There’s more to succulents than cacti.
If succulents really aren’t your thing, then go for something more floral. Almost any pot plant you can buy in a garden centre you can bring inside – I would recommend going for something quite hardy though, and one that won’t mind central heating. My pot of heather has been a particular surprise to me. Even when I bought it I fully expected to kill it fairly swiftly with my lackadaisical approach to plant care. However, it has thrived on our mantelpiece despite only being watered sporadically and our penchant for very high thermostat settings.
I love the texture and structure it’s brought to the room, especially as heather is particularly evocative of moorland and windswept adventures; it feels so much more wild and emotive than supermarket flowers. A pot plant is far better value too – cheaper than a bouquet it lasts for months (at least).
Do you remember flower pressing when you were younger? The agony of having to wait until they were ready? This is a nice winter craft and a great way to get more value out of your cut flowers. Arrange them in a box frame or photo frame for a lovely vintage-style decoration.
A great plant to dry (and one that is very in vogue) is eucalyptus. Dry it hanging upside down so the water can evaporate out of the cut ends, and you have your very own long-lasting winter greenery. Not only does eucalyptus have a lovely smell, but it adds a pop of silvery green and an element structure to a room – I’ll be putting one in empty vases with my foraged finds this winter.
Prints and books
Perhaps the simplest way to get some nature inside however is with prints. I’ve written before about finding cheap and unique art, so I’d recommend getting some tips from there. I have a botanical print which I bought from a market, and I’m really pleased with it – it means I always have flowers in the house. If you’re struggling to find a print, try using a greetings card, even as a temporary measure.
Another option is books. I’ve recently bought some really beautiful old books full of wildflower and bird illustrations, and just having these on the shelf is going to be a lovely reminder of the outdoors. Charity shops are a gold mine for second hand gardening books – it’s always their biggest section and you can find some gems. As much as it feels slightly sacrilegious to say it, you could cut your favourite pages from these books and frame them as prints – a whole book full of potential artworks is pretty good value for your £2.50.
How are you planning to bring the outside in this winter?
Each month I pick one easy thing we can do to simplify our homes, diets and lives. This month, it’s letter writing.
When I was very young (so young I was still cantering around on my imaginary horse, Ginger) I made friends with a girl from Belfast on holiday. She was a year older and liked dogs too, and we danced at the holiday club disco while our parents applauded with obviously genuine admiration.
We swapped addresses and were pen pals for years. She would send me photos of her and her dogs doing agility, which was, like, the coolest thing ever. I can’t remember why we stopped writing, but we did. All I can remember is that her name was Jennifer – we can’t even reconnect over Facebook as I can’t remember her surname (and there’s no reason for the Facebook algorithm to suggest us to each other). It’s strange that someone who was such a big part of my childhood is now just a memory of a photograph.
The universe has been putting snail mail back in front of me recently. An article about pen pals in The Simple Things magazine, the Blogger Christmas Gift Swap and finally stumbling over a series of tweets about the #beechat pen pal scheme. I decided this was a sign, so for my Monthly Simplify this month, I’m embracing snail mail.
There is something so nostalgic and innately Simple & Season about letter writing. Writing my first #beechat letters I felt like I was in Pride & Prejudice or something, writing about nothing in particular just because it’s the only way to communicate. It was liberating not trying to edit my thoughts to fit into 140 characters, just letting them flow through the pen and onto the page. There’s also something so thoughtful about it – choosing the prettiest papers and taking the time to sit down and select the thoughts you want to send.
Do you want to join in this Monthly Simplify and embrace letter writing? Here are some things you can do:
If you’ve read my 4 Quotes of Inspiration, you’ll know I follow William Morris’ approach to home décor: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I would, however, add one more criteria – useful, beautiful, and meaningful.
Whether you’ve just moved in or fancy a refresh, it’s very tempting to go on an almighty homeware shopping spree, swiping whole shelves with one arm as you charge your trolley around Ikea. And hey, it’s fun and Ikea is great and has brilliant design. But when you sit in your living room amidst all your shiny new stuff, there is nothing there which feels like, well, you.
So how do you marry your need for change with your need for cosy?
I use the new to enhance the meaningful. All the shells and pebbles I’ve collected on our travels are displayed in a cute scalloped dish from Ikea, and the Kallax shelving unit is home to prints, pots from Iceland (the country), and a handmade china penguin from my dad.
I’ve also never really been one for having photos around the place – that’s the Facebook generation for you. I can see friends and family with the touch of a button and have never felt the need to have them on the wall. They are represented in other ways though. I found an old bottle in a junk shop with Dan’s birthplace on, and a print at a fair of Oxford, my birthplace. We bought a 1950s map of North Wales, a special place for Dan’s family, from an old man at a cricket pitch. Our families and pasts are in these things, rather than in frames.
Travels past, and travels future (saving for them anyway)…
Especially when you rent these things are so important. You’re in somebody else’s house, and there’s very little you can do to make it yours. You can’t re-plaster the peeling walls or knock through that wall into the kitchen, you can’t have any say over the colour scheme or even the type of boiler you have. Meaningful things, more than just beautiful things, make your house a home.
My one take away? Take your time filling your home – don’t feel it has to be perfectly styled straight from the off. If you can’t wait to get Instagramming, style and shoot little corners or the mantelpiece like I did. Don’t rush your home-making. Build it organically, authentically, and it won’t be long before you have a beautiful, meaningful space you love.
What meaningful things do you have in your home? Also, did you spot my unintentional selfie?!