Saturday, 6 February 2016

Happy National Libraries Day! Free books for all!

Hello hello.

I'm dropping in today - National Libraries Day - to ask the book lovers amongst you one thing [OK, admittedly, that might expand a bit ... you know I struggle to be brief ...] .

  • Do you have a library card? 
And if you do ...
  • Do you use it? 
National Libraries Day

I've experienced so, so, so much pleasure from the worlds and characters I've borrowed from libraries in recent years that I'm near-evangelical about them. So don't expect any balance argument from me today! 

To prevent me from ranting [about cuts and closures] and to stop me setting off on a full blown attempt to win over any non-library-ticket-holders ... I think I'd best just stick to cold facts and figures.

So here are 'My Library Habits ... in Numbers' 
  • I have 3 library cards which gives me access to all the libraries run by 2 local councils.
  • As a staff member at the university I can also borrow from the campus library at work [I'm spoilt, I know].. 
  • And James has a library card for a 3rd council ... 
  • Which means that, all in, I can browse the shelves of 36 different physical libraries ... 
  • and 4 online catalogues. 
In 2013 I started logging all my reading matter on Pinterest boards so I had a record to easily refer back to and, over the last 3 years ...
  • of the 95 books I've saved on there ...
  • 75 of them were library books! 
  • meaning that approximately 78% of the material I've read has been 100% free!!
And, library books being free means several important things to me: 
  • It means I can read more! I would never had read so much if I'd had to pay for each and every book. 
  • It means I can read broadly, risk free! I can try something different without worrying about liking it. You can never be disappointed with something that cost nothing and that you can return for nothing! Libraries keep their lending numbers up and you get to experiment and broaden your bookish horizons. Everyone wins.
  • It means I don't have to find space for all those books! One of my favourite things about borrowing books ... is returning them, leaving space on my bedside table, in my bag, for a brand new one. And I don't have to find somewhere to store the old lot!
  • It means I don't have any unread tomes languishing on a shelf! There's nothing glaring at me ... making me feel guilty for buying it then leaving it to gather dust.
  • It means I have a reading deadline! There's nothing like a deadline looming in the distance to really help focus the mind. A book that I've bought can sit on my shelves for weeks, months, years before I read them [just ask Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell. There was a lag of a decade between my starting and completing that book!!]. There's no urgency to spur me on. But a library book, with a return date? It's a self-contained mini time challenge!
Here ends the sales pitch. [Even though I'm trying to sell you free books!]

If you don't have a library card, and you fancy getting one, all you usually need to register is some ID and something with your address on it. 

In my experience you'll also need a big bag. Because before long you'll be selecting books like they're giving them away! 

And if you do have one that you haven't used for a while why not go and find it and treat yourself to some quality time with your local library. 

For a map of libraries hosting special events for #LibrariesDay visit the National Libraries Day events page here.*


*Note: this is not in any way a sponsored post. What would they pay me in? Free books?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Private Patterns #1. From the bathroom window

Private Patterns is a new blog [and Instagram] series that creates a space for us to share the small actions we find ourselves doing which, when repeated, print out unique identities into us. But at the same time it's a way to discover that we're part of a larger overall pattern too.

As I mention in the introductory post yesterday [which contains lots more details if you're looking for some]:
  • it's about connecting and realising that even though we're each a unique finished tapestry, we're made from the same threads that have been woven into others too.
 It's probably easiest to demonstrate by example and so ... let me share my first Private Pattern


I don't know exactly when this became one of my Private Patterns. But that's one of their subtle [sneaky?] traits ...

... they tend to hide the weaving process from you, secretly layering up the design before you're even aware of it. Then suddenly, one day, they present you with the finished fabric saying "Here, take this. It's one of your 'things' now".

And that's how I became someone who opens the bathroom window and peers out into the world beyond ... while cleaning her teeth.

Not that I do this every single time. But enough times for me to have recognised a pattern emerging.

When I used a regular, manual, toothbrush I used to wander around the house, half-dressing/ undressing, tidying, mooching, opening/closing curtains while brushing; but then the weight and the buzzing and the likelihood of spattering brought on by the switch to an electronic brush rooted me to the spot.

Maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was the incessant noise inside my brain. Maybe it was that awful tickling vibration rippling through my nose. But something drove me to lean across the sink, grip the handle, turn it and ... push ... "Hello world, you don't mind me resting my eyes on you while I get this minty mundanity over with do you? No? Thanks."

It must be something like that because, I certainly don't do it for the view. There's no dreamy, romantic, landscape out there to meditate upon.

Firstly I tend to notice the fine, smudged, coal-like, dirt on the inside of the open window frame; complete with the occasional metallic speck left over from that time one of the works' chimneys spewed out who knows what covering the county with a light dusting of silver glitter each morning.

Which could have been the best thing to happen, ever, if not for the fear it might ruin all our lungs...

So now we've established both the state of the air quality and my housekeeping ... let's move beyond the window where I can see the rolling hummocks of moss on our garage roof and, on mornings after wind-battered nights, I can check there's actually still a roof left at all. For the record: that roof's so old it's made with asbestos.

[Just so I know: is any of this making you want to come and stay over? The works, the lung thing, the asbestos? This would make the worst ever Airbnb listing ...]

From the roofs and the moss [and the asbestos] my eyes roam over my neighbours' gardens; bird-feeders, hand-strung peanuts, a swing seat, a washing line. And beyond them the green, with the occasional dog and its walker. Past that are the allotments [I wonder what ever happened to that cockerel ... you just don't hear it any more] and up and off into the horizon my eyes alight on the various chimneys of the works. 

What they're currently manufacturing and what company name they trade under, I don't know. To those in the know, all those chimneys and ocean-liner sized buildings of industry, [a bit like whoshisface from U2], are simply referred to as: 'The Works'.

Sometimes I slide myself around, between the sink and the wall, leaning into the tower of towels, as far as I can, until I can stick my head out into the day. Which is when I feel a strange, and rare, kinship with dogs. 

Here I can utterly appreciate the satisfaction dogs gain from sticking their heads out of car windows. I may not be able to go anywhere ... but no one can stop the air from drifting and dancing over my face.

Although, naturally, it's not always daytime when I clean my teeth [twice a day, every day, what do you take me for?] And my open window ritual isn't deterred by night ... or weather.

In fact sometimes it’s the cold nights that are the most alluring. Nights when the heating’s been on all day and the air is dry, oppressive, dense. Never is the sharp black freshness beyond the glass more welcome. 

And that smell ...

You know the one. It's the kind of scent that, in another time, would drive your Grandmother to say “You smell cold. Get in, get in, get those boots off. Get in front of the fire!"

On these nights I scan the black sheet for light and movement. High up the stars shimmer white while lower down, in brothel-red, the lights on the shoreline wind turbines flash to prevent aircraft, and maybe geese, from flying into them.

And I ponder how the turbines can be there, right there that spot, when that’s not where the sea is. Yet it must be. Unless they step out of the sea and head inland dusting sand and salt water from their ankles every evening. Apparently, much like my centrally heated dried out face, my sense of geography needs a little refreshing too. 

And I think I'll leave it there. It only takes a few minutes to clean my teeth after all. Anything else is just dawdling ... drifting ... daydreaming. 

Besides ... it is still only February out there, and I'm letting a draught in. If I ... can just ... lean over ... and pull that window over ...

Come in, come in. Get in front of that fire. 


If you want to share a Private Pattern of your own ... go right ahead! 
  • If you do so on Instagram use: #PrivatePatterns so I can find you. 
  • If you have a topic you'd like to cover ... go for it ... there are no wrong patterns!
If you'd like to take inspiration from my Private Pattern try could thinking/writing about / journaling / sketching / photographing ...
  • your morning / evening routine.
  • a moment out of your day that you often take for yourself.
  • a favourite/least favourite view from a familiar window.
  • something relating to how you seek/find fresh air. 

No pressure. No deadlines. No linky. No button. I'm leaving everything pretty undone, informal and breezy for now.

Private Patterns is just a simple space for us to share and connect. To offer up a glimpse behind closed doors. To nod in recognition with a smile on our faces ...

Let's see what kind of patchwork we can make by combining our individual patterns.


Introducing ... Private Patterns

It's National Storytelling Week this week so it seemed like the natural time to launch Private Patterns my newest blog feature all about telling stories. 

Stories about you

Well, don't panic, I won't be telling stories about you ... that would be weird [and  where would I get my information?] but, if you choose to join me from time to time ... this series offers you a space to reveal a little something about the patterns of your life.

What are Private Patterns? 
Apart from being a blog series I've had scribbled in a notebook for over a year, and a name which has gone through a dozen changes, Private Patterns are:
  • those actions, quirks, behaviours that you find yourself repeating.
  • those small rituals you carry out daily, weekly, monthly. 
  • those moments which, experienced singly, wouldn't be worth commenting on, but when repeated have a cumulative effect in defining your individuality. 
  • those small experiences which, when repeated, begin to lay down the grooves upon which you continue to run. 
Now, the aim of the series isn't to spur us all in to major confessions about our deep seated obsessions! No.
  • The aim is to mull, meditate, ponder and drift over what’s yours on a small, everyday, even mundane, scale.
  • The thrill will come from revealing what you've always thought was just one of your 'little foibles' ... then discovering that someone else knows exactly what you mean because they do it too! 
  • It's about connecting and realising that even though we're each a unique finished tapestry, we're made from the same threads that have been woven into others too. 
Those may be big claims but that doesnt mean the pattern itself needs to be deep and meaningful!
  • It could be something as fun - but downright essential - such as how you eat a Kit Kat. Are you finger biter? Or snapper? Are you an edge-nibbler? A tea dunker?
  • How about how you make or take your tea, the ritual you carry out. Milk first, last, never? What about the colour? Barely there? Bad false-tan-orange? 
  • Or how do you organise the clothes in your wardrobe? By colour? Style? Season? Organise? What's organise? 
Stuck for ideas? Don't force it ... you'll catch yourself uncovering them when you least expect it. There are countless possibilities just waiting to be revealed ...
  • Just let your mind wander to all those small things you repeat ...
  • those things that are so near you're almost too close to see them clearly ...
  • then take a step back ... as if moving your eyes away from a pixilated screen ... further and further back until you can see the bigger picture.
  • That's where you'll find your private pattern. 
How will Private Patterns run?
  • Once a month -  most likely on the 4th - I will share one of my own Private Patterns here on my blog.
  • Anyone who wishes to do the same is welcome to join me.
  • Mine will take the form of a piece of writing, probably with accompanying photos.
  • Yours can be anything at all!! [Collage, journal page, scrapbook layout, poem, photograph].
  • If you prefer you can share your #PrivatePatterns on Instagram. Just hashtag it and let me know @withjuliekirk
  • Your topic doesn't have to have anything at all to do with mine! You choose what to write about. However ...
  • You're more than welcome to take my topic as a starting point for your own. 
  • After all it is pretty likely that at some point you'll make a - "I thought I was the only person who did that!!" - connection then feel inspired to share your side of the story.
  • Reading other peoples' posts will become a great way to generate ideas on what you can share next.
  • And ... it might be fun to occasionally all work to the same topic. If so, I'll let you know in well in advance.
OK ... that's enough vague planning!

I'll be back to share my first Private Pattern tomorrow. It involves a bathroom. 

Bet you can't wait.

Any thoughts or questions I'm here [there, and everywhere].

See you soon. 


Sunday, 31 January 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: January

Numbers you say? Important numbers that defined January?

That's what I'm meant to be documenting here, now, isn't it? [Any one can join me by doing the same, for full details visit the Month in Numbers info page.]

OK then, then there's no two ways about it. I'm going to have to have to be brave, take a deep breath, and include this one aren't I?
This month I turned 40. 

I didn't know if I was going to mention that fact here or not. It's a big number.
  • Emotionally it's a number that sounds like it comes with its own set of judgments; a number that changes things: "I don't want to reach 40 and not have XYZ", "I can't do/be/wear that now I'm 40", "How can you be 40 and not do/be/have XYZ?"
  • Intellectually ... having already lived through reaching other 'big' ages - 18, 21, 30 - I know that the number doesn't change anything, except maybe other people's perceptions of you. Which you can't do anything about anyway. 
So hey, I turned 40. But I don't plan on changing too much any time soon.

If anything, I'm going back to where I started - when people used to say I was a lovely little boy - as the T-shirt I bought to wear as my birthday outfit kind of made clear:
Basically it's the slogan T-shirt equivalent of  the Thomas Merton quote:

  •  "Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am." 
And that's the attitude with which I'm facing my 40s.

Regarding the rest of the outfit, the heels were new ... a concession to my now very apparent 'adult lady' age. While I tried them on the shop assistant asked if they were OK to which I replied "I'm just trying to work out if I can walk in them." Because that's an important factor in buying something you're going to wear on your feet.

You don't get to be my ripe old age without developing that kind of wisdom.

[Note how, in the bottom right photo, taken a few hours after lunch, I'd kicked off my heels and replaced them with cosy bed socks. Again ... that's the kind of mature wisdom I can live with.]

My birthday cake was intended to serve 12 (I can only assume that meant 12 different people).
The only thing I declared I truly wanted for my birthday was a full size version of my favourite cake from The Olde Young Teahouse: a vanilla 'Gold Bar' cake. And I got one: 
Apparently when James collected it they told him that it would serve 12 - however, because I'm not a party person, there weren't 12 people around to eat it.

And so ... 6 of us had a slice each after a Sunday lunch of my choosing at my parents' [for the record: I chose mince and dumplings. Party. On.]. The following day 1 other slice made its way to someone else ... but that still left James and I to plough through the remaining 5 slices over the rest of the week.

Which we managed. No problem. In fact ... after a respectable gap of 6 or 7 hours post-birthday-lunch, we ate a second slice each at tea time!

A few more birthday stats:
I received 11 cards:
They were lovely [and only 2 mentioned my age, which was lovelier still.]

One of the nice things about opening the envelopes of the handmade cards was guessing - correctly - which friend had made each one before opening up the card; each one revealed the individual style of the creator!

All the numbers ...
Over the Christmas and birthday gift-giving season I must have received at least 7 notebooks and yet ... when I saw this one, on the shelf in TKMaxx, in all it's leathery embossed numerical glory, there was no way I was going home without it:
I'm still deciding how to use it. Making notes on stories for my Month in Numbers would be the obvious one! Or ideas for a book about life-documenting with numbers? Maybe ...

In other book news: I made a pretty good start to my reading year by getting through [almost 6!]books.

  • This includes two books from my 'Lucky Dip' book club list: Primo Levi's The Periodic Table and Speedboat by Renata Adler. [Both from the 70s, both unique in style and structure, both new authors to me.
  • One non-fiction memoir-ish type book How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff, which fits in with my 'research!' category. The 6th, nearly complete book, is Stephen King's part-memoir, part-writing-manual, On Writing.
  • And the last two are classics - yet they are both the first time I'd read anything by either author: Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.
  • Both of which I found, loaned, read and returned to the university library (on campus) in under 24 hours. The joy of spending my days currently accompanying a student who studies in the library 12 hours a week! 

I'd fallen in love with the Faulkner by the time I reached the second page... 
I must have read and re-read the section which begins "Jewel, fifteen feet behind me ..."  at least 3 or 4 times in a row ... to let the imagery sink in:
Just perfect. Tells you everything you need to know about the two characters. It's all their ... from the very start.

[There are links to the books mentioned on the Pinterest board I'm using to save my 2016 reading list. Recommendations are always welcome.]

And while we're on the subject of the classics ...

We sat in cinema seats J1 - J5 to watch an encore performance of the Branagh Theatre's production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
This is the view in the cinema during the interval - of the theatre during the interval - where you can hear the hubbub of the crowd ...
The clock in the top left is a countdown so you know when you need to take your seat for part 2. 

It starred Kenneth Branagh and Judy Dench, plus other, not quite household names such as 'him out of that new Jekyll & Hyde series that I only watched one of then gave up on' and 'him out of Lark Rise to Candleford, with the curly hair'.

If you fancy catching it and - it's Keneth Branagh for goodness sake, why wouldn't you?? you can catch an encore of the encore screenings in some cinemas on Tuesday 9th February. You can find all the details here.

And, in another instance of culture worth leaving the house for ...

3 hours after submitting my 3rd yearly tax return ... I took myself out to a public lecture given by artist Alice Fox
I didn't know if I'd get there, what with all the heart-stopping, blood-pressure raising, accounts-submitting happening in the morning; so the moment I finished and printed out my proof of submission I was packed up and off ... headed to something I'm far more comfortable with: taking notes in a lecture about art!

Unusually for me though, this wasn't for work, so I wasn't taking notes for someone else, I was doing it for me. I think some call it an 'artist's date' [isn't it a Julia Cameron thing? where you take yourself out to an inspiring place?]. And  I already knew of - and admired - Alice's work and really wanted to hear her talk about her work. So I went. [If you love the idea of working with nature, found items, rust, paper and more ... then absolutely do check out her work. She has a website and you can get a quick 'in' to her style through her @alicefoxartist Instagram page here.]

Strangely, she talked about having self-published several books of her work ... which tied in nicely to another event I took myself along to in January, one hosted by an  appropriately numbery themed company ...

I attended a workshop by 6E, an indie-publishing company, called From Notebook - to Published Book.
Because ... clearly book publishing is on  my mind this year!

This was the stationery I picked to take with me: a 'Best Seller' notebook [one of those 7 new ones I mentioned earlier] and a 'Be Yourself' pencil. I reckoned it was a pretty good combination of attitudes with which to face the unknown with ... 
And finally ... as the format of this final photo might suggest ...

I've been sharing a lot of everyday nonsense on Instagram this month. 29 nonsenses in fact.

I used to think that Instagram wasn't going to be the place for me. I like imagery ... but I love words. I love Twitter.  But then the more I got into Instagram ... the more I realised that rather than use it to share perfect images, I could simply use a quick photo to help me tell tiny tales. And now I'm hooked doing just that.  

If you feel the same, and you want to use IG to document your #monthinnumbers ... then I'd love it if you'd help me build a numbery themed tiny tale telling community over there. For now - let's just use that as the hashtag ... and I'll get to thinking how we can expand! 


So, fare thee well January: you've stolen 39 from me and replaced it with a daunting 4 and 0. 

I know you didn't mean to scare me, and you tried your best to distract me by sending in cake and gifts and thoughts of book publishing. But FYI: while the cake and gifts did the trick ... the thoughts on book publishing? Well they're just as scary as the whole being 40 thing! 

Or maybe that's how you intended it? 

Hello February, can you hear me? Take note from January .... if you've got something you need me to face up to ... can you throw in some cake along with it? Just to help me along? And maybe some burgundy leather boots too? Because ... alongside seeing my name on a book cover, I've got an appetite for a pair of those right now too. 

Wishing you an equally fair February ahead.

Feel free to reuse my plea to February for your own ends, substituting 'cake' and 'boots' with whatever gets you through.


p.s: Responses to this post via comments, shares, retweets and shoving it  under your friend's nose to read because you think they'll like it, are all most gratefully accepted! 

Friday, 22 January 2016

My Own 'Personal Advent'. Or 'How to turn any birthday into a Christmas'

"You're going to miss not having a present to open tomorrow aren't you?" 

That's what someone asked me on my birthday earlier this month. 

And they weren't wrong; I would miss it. 

Not because I'm spoilt [although you'll soon see that I have been!] and feel entitled to a constant flow of presents or else why bother getting up each day? 

But because rather than simply receiving a gift on my actual birthday this year, in the weeks running up to it, I'd got used to opening a gift each and every day. 

For 40 days. 

[A set of 40 days -and nights - which also coincided with the run up to Christmas all of which made for a strange Lenten/Advent style gift-giving mash-up extravaganza . Which kind of implies I think I'm the baby Jesus. Which, for the record, I don't.]  

And so allow me to redress the giving/receiving balance by sharing with you the hows and wherefores of the idea so that you can treat someone else to their own private Advent ...

The idea for this pre-birthday gifting started a couple of years ago, as my sister's 40th birthday grew nearer [old faithfuls here might remember the superhero/Dr.Who/dress-up/photo-booth party she had for it?] and I wanted to do something nice, something special, something memorable to mark the occasion ... and 'my own private Advent' was born.

[Well, the idea wasbirn then ... the name just came to me about an hour ago as I started writing this post. But hey ... branding takes time].

Once I'd had the idea my parents and I had secret talks and, between us, we bought and wrapped 40 individual gifts then surprised her with them 40 days before her birthday complete with instructions on what to do. She then got to spend the next 7 weeks opening a present a day! 

And ... because my family is soooooo nice ... last year they secretly plotted, planned and wrapped ... and did exactly the same for me!  

And here's how you can do the same. [Not for me.  That would be excessive.  And slightly worrying, although, I'm sure you mean well.]

No, what I mean is ...

Here's how you can treat someone to their own personal 'Advent':

  • The idea is to create anticipation for an upcoming birthday by letting them open one gift each day in the run up to their special day. Like an Advent calendar. 
  • You can do this for any birthday ... it needn't be a 'big' one.
  • Do you want to do this on your own? If so,go for it, you autonomous devil you! You'll get all the glory once the surprise is revealed! 
  • However, if you'd prefer to spread both the effort and cost of finding and buying/making all the gifts ... then reach out to the friends and family of the recipient too. 
  • If you've planned everything else in advance [which will be easy once you've read through all my tips today] people are bound to be more than happy to join in with such a fun, unique and creative activity. 

First decide on how many days you want this run-up to last:
  • Will you make the number of days match the age of the recipient [eg. 40 days for a 40th birthday].
  • OR ... will you pick 24 days - like a 'proper' Advent.
  • TIP: the latter will come in handy for birthdays with particularly low or high numbers!! Too few days will fail to create any impact ... while finding 99 presents for Great Aunt Mary to open in the run up to her centenary may leave you out of pocket!!  

Once you've decided on how many days / how many presents is best for you:

  • Use a calendar to count backwards from the day of the birthday. 
  • Don't count the birthday itself! 
  • On the actual day you'll probably want to give them a different kind of gift, a regular gift, a 'proper' one - like how in your Advent calendar there's a bigger chocolate on the 25th of December!
  • Write down the date the Advent will begin! [Trust me ... you'll count, count and re-count, check and double check at least a dozen times during this stage!]
  • Allot yourself enough time prior to that date to browse for gifts and then to sort, wrap, and tag them all. [Allow yourself at least a few weeks for this!]. 

I'll come back to the kinds of gifts you could include in a moment but first, let's look at ...


For some reason I have no photos of how I wrapped and tagged my sister's gifts a few years back and so ... all the ideas and examples here are courtesy of my sister's creativity. [I should have worked out she was up to something when she asked me about which adhesive was best to use with paper!!].

Decide if you will give the recipient their gifts all in one go ... or one each day:
  • Not going to see the recipient every day from now until their birthday? Trust them not to open them all in one go? Then give them all the gifts in one go.
  • Not only will this be logistically easier ... I know from experience that it's lovely to have a pile of gifts waiting for you every morning! And I honestly didn't even take a sneak peek once! Not once!!  
  • However ... if you don't trust them - if they're a terrible gift-prodder, poker and peeker] or they're a child whose head will explode if they're required to have that much self-control - then maybe just hand them out one-a-day!
Good reasons to tag each gift:
  • Do you want to give the gifts in a particular order? Perhaps you'll want split a set / collection of gifts to give over several days. Something they can piece together / enjoy the full set on the final day.
  • Perhaps you prefer randomness in which case you won't need any careful tagging, but if not ...
  • To help both the gift-givers and the receiver keep track of which gift to open on which day and - more importantly - who sent that day's treasure - you'll want to tag each parcel. 
My sister printed off a countdown for each day then mounted each one on double-sided patterned paper:
On the reverse of each was written who the gift-of-the-day was from, then each was fixed to the parcels with a strip of double-sided tape. 

Help the gift-receiver keep track of the days with a count down:
  • Having the parcels labeled so clear really helped me work out which one to open next:
  • And the focal point my sister created - like an Advent Calendar - really helped me see how close my birthday was getting.
  • Decorate a board to which the gift-recipient can clip that day's gift tag which displays how many days remain!

Now we're all organised let's move on to the important bit ...


Well ... obviously, the specifics will depend entirely on your recipient's preferences and your pocket! However ... having been both a gift-er and a gift-ee I am in a position to offer some general suggestions ... 
  • Don't confuse the ideas of 'a little daily treat that shows you care' with 'a future heirloom' ... these don't need to be 100% long-lasting treasures. 
  • The whole activity of a personal Advent is a grand enough gesture ... each individual item needn't be the recipient's next treasured possession! 
  • Choose both practical and frivolous gifts. Frivolous because: birthday! Practical because: you're giving someone a lot of new stuff. Some of it might as well be good for something!
  • Visit £1 /$1 shops [but don't get carried away, even though it's cheap ... remember how many items you need to buy in total. The costs soon mount up].
  • Buy sweets, or anything less than £1, to intersperse with other gifts. These can be just as meaningful as big-ticket items! 
Let me illustrate using the gifts my parents and sister carefully curated for my personal Advent! 

eg: One of the fabulous badges from my sister plus mints. Because I always have travel sweets with me.

  • If you're crafty and creative you could include a handmade gift or two too.  

eg: My Dad made me this adorable chubby wooden bird!
Some of my other daily gifts the photo above include a mix of useful winter treats ... and essentials ... like additional zebras:

  • sweets, chocolate, another badge;
  • rubber stamps, coloured pencils and a colouring book;
  • hand cream and thermal trouser socks; 
  • and a Nanoblock zebra!

And in the photo below: 
  • gloves, cosy socks, lip balm and nail files; 
  • some crafty embellishments, more rubber stamps and another badge;

Plus this adorable little guy:
And some beautiful earrings:
The following week's gifts included ...

  • more crafty supplies, some sticky labels and another badge;
  • plus more socks, exfoliating gloves and another cute creature [this time a fox]:

While the final week featured: 
  • More sweets and chocolate and face cleansing wipes [perhaps I needed the latter to get rid of traces of the former?]
  • Gift vouchers to spend in my favourite restaurant;
  • A framed illustration.
  • A vintage Ladybird book:
  • A vintage left-handed pen nib [because it's tough being a leftie in a right-handed world!!]

All in all a wonderful haul of treasures, don't you think? [I told you they spoiled me!!] And, amid them all were a few examples in there of great, personalised, gifts which cost nothing!!!

IDEAS FOR FREE (and free-ish) GIFTS! 
The eagle-eyed among you might have been straining to see what the 'The Lost Boys' and 'Our Songs' printouts where in two of the photos above [notice how I didn't call you nosey? Mainly because I'd have done the exact same thing]. Well, let me stop you straining [it's not good for your eyes or ... 'other' areas] and show you what they were:

  • A token to indulge in a movie night at a future date:

  • And a compilation of songs that mean something to me and my big sis! 

Both brilliant, personal, gifts that cost little or nothing [apart from the wine and popcorn I've been promised!]

Other freebie ideas include:

  • tokens / IOUs the recipient can cash-in for things like baby-sitting, car cleaning, ironing etc.
  • Gift vouchers for a home-cooked meal.
  • Tokens for a day out together or an 'experience'. These needn't cost anything [or not a lot] eg. a walk along the beach, watching the sunset view from a favourite hill top, picking wild fruit, visiting a museum/gallery with  free entry.
  • Set free all those memories that live in your camera/phone/Facebook by printing out some photos that mean something. 


Here a few ways you can help the lucky recipient can extend the 'personal Advent' experience even further: 
  • When you bestow the surprise gifts upon them - tell them about how I set up my own little 'gift-opening station'! 
  • I propped up my countdown board on a chest of drawers in my bedroom, wrapped some fairy lights around the picture frame behind it, and made sure to switch on the lights for each day's 'opening ceremony'!! 
  • You can share this link with them [to this post] to give them an idea of what you mean.

Having somewhere as focal point for the gift-receiving [like a Christmas tree I guess] really helped make opening each gift feel like an occasion and helped to stop me getting complacent! 

To be fair - after nearly 7 weeks of daily treats - complacency was always a possibility. Especially when you consider that there was even one of my #personalAdvent gifts to open on Christmas day; meaning that on Christmas morning I'd opened a present before I'd even opened any presents!! 

And if your gift recipient likes to share experiences via social media ...
  • taking and sharing a photo of each day's gift would be a fun way to keep the 'specialness' growing [especially when comments from others can help the recipient appreciate their good fortune!] 
  • If they choose to go for that option then do let them know they can use the hash tag #personalAdvent to share it with me - and to help them keep track of all their posts/photos too. 
Similarly ... 
  • If you set up a #personalAdvent for someone and you share it on your own blog or social media ... let me know! 
  • Find me on Instagram @withjulieKirk
  • And on Twitter @notesonpaper ... as I'd love to see how the idea gets taken on by others!

And so ... that's how you can treat someone to their own personal 'Advent'! 

  • Any thoughts? Questions? Plans brewing?
  • Let me know in a comment 
  • Or on social media. Using the hashtag #personalAdvent. Obvs.