The crux of organising anything good is in the planning - its the boring part but to make things run smoothly and be time effective its best to get this off to a fine tee. Why because there is nothing more frustrating than starting to make something and then having to stop half way through because you haven't got what you need. It interrupts the creative flow and wastes time. Its the same with anything you do. The more time you take to plan the better. So if you cannot afford to buy several items or bits and bobs in bulk break it down piecemeal and work one project at a time. Use the cheapie book shops or places like B & M and Wilkos and the Works (cheapie book store that also has an extensive range of craft items quite reasonably in the shops but they are on the Internet). My personal opinion.
I am a bit gung ho on the preserving side at the moment mainly down to the short time period some foods are available and I like to make the most of what comes my way. So the sooner I get something on the pantry shelf the better. I can tick that off the list and move on to the next project. Oh yes I do keep a notebook; all my scribbled notes and ideas go onto this WIP list. The finalised contents then get transferred into a book so that when it comes to the following year I know what I have made and where the recipe came from and what I gave to who so half your organisation is sorted.
Tomorrow I have a busy day planned on the preserving front. I have another two boxes of plums coming as well so its going to be an early start.
Chutneys need at least six weeks to mature so if you want to have a go at making home made chutney do so but make sure you leave a minimum of 6 weeks before use there is no way round this as your chutney basically matures in the jar. So if you want your chutney for use at Christmas really your last cut off point is beginning of November for use for Christmas. So really now is the time to get cracking if you can. Things like cranberry chutney do not take as long to cure as traditional chutneys but the earlier you can get this done the better.
I also start clearing out the old dried fruit at this time of year and make mincemeat and chutneys out of these. Don't waste them they are perfectly more than okay to turn into mincemeat and chutney. I equally also start buying in the fresh dried fruit for use in the Christmas Cake, the Christmas Plum loaf and the Dundee cake.
I recycle jars and bottles and use replacement lids; I save ribbon and cards from previous presents and decent pieces of wrapping paper. I make my own labels for my preserves and wine - I also buy some and handwrite the labels depends how the creative streak hits me at that particular time. I use string, brown paper and pen. I make my own packaging labels put them in a safe place and forget where I have put them. Its an age thing.
The brown wrapping paper can be picked up quite cheaply from the Pound shop or at least the one I have access to. I buy this on the roll. You can use this plain to wrap your presents up and then wrap with string or pretty decorative ribbon or you can decorate it yourself using stamps and a little ink or paint. There is always something that you can do to put your own twist/spin on things. I also buy rolls of plain lining paper and you can use this to create your own wrapping paper with paint, stamps inks the same way or you can use it for the children to draw on, on the floor whilst you get on with something else.
Start buying a few postage stamps every week for Christmas cards to go to family and friends. It is easier on the pocket this way round.
Another thing I do is if you have family that live near each other I send the cards to them and ask them to pop them onto the relevant family member. Or we visit one particular member and then ask them to pass on. You have to do what you can to keep costs down and no doubt that family member will be taking cards etc in their own name so it really does kill one bird with one stone.
If you do not have an address book make one up. I then work through my address book year on year dealing with cards, and typing up address labels and getting everything organised and sorted. I also write a Christmas letter to those of my nearest and dearest to enclose with the card(s). Christmas is about family and it is a way of keeping in touch.
I am also collecting fir cones, mini larch cones, teasel heads, twigs etc. for use in home made Christmas decorations and wreaths. I have plenty of cinnamon sticks in hand as I bought some last year and did not use them. However I am this year after five spice seed heads (from the local Asian or Chinese shop) and I intend to get some styroform balls and wreaths painting the base in gold and then decorating with the five spice seed heads using a glue gun. These decorations can be hung or used free style to decorate tables etc. With the Cinnamon sticks I already have I intend to have a go at making a garland with fir cones in as well. One of the most stunning displays I saw for a Christmas window was a shop in Spalding a few years ago. They had decorated the window very simply and naturally. Someone had sourced blackthorn twigs/branches and decorated the window as though you were looking into a picture frame and then put those pretty cheap battery operated lights in with the twigs it really looked stunning and probably did not cost the shop owner as much as some of the other shops for the window design apart from a bit of planning and ingenuity.
I also intend to start playing with the salt dough again and make some little wreaths and plaques as well as candle holders paint them up and varnish them and then if they come out alright pass them on as pressies.
So at this time of year there is always something to do and gather about you. Go pick brambles and make bramble jelly or bramble and apple jam, or if you are lucky to find damsons or bullace make wild damson gin or jams from either the damsons or the bullace.
Its about gathering things together in readiness for having a go and giving a part of yourself to someone else. Sometimes the things given freely mean the most - well in my book they do. Going to the time and effort of doing something is a lot more personal and filled with love and good intent. How can you not appreciate something that is from the heart.
Oh and don't forget to snap up little baskets or tins as you can always make "mini hampers" to put a pot of jam in or some home made sweeties in a tin. Charity shops or pound shops are good for these.
So just a few ideas as they have come to hand. There are loads more which I shall be airing in due course.