Homing Instinct

interiors, decor and everything home

And now breathe…

egg hunt vintage bicycle sign

It’s been a glorious long weekend; a rich and hectic mêlée of friends and family coming and going, of feasts and wintery walks, with the frenetic, chocolate-fuelled hedonism of toddlers tempered  by evenings in front of the fire with a glass of wine and some exceptionally fine grown-up company.  It was blissful.

Today we had the long-awaited Great Egg Hunt, and the day dawned chilly and bright, with anticipation reaching fever pitch by lunchtime.  Eggs were laid throughout the garden, and this tantalising invitation was visible from the kitchen window and the driveway as Harry’s friends began to arrive…

easter egg hunt sign with bicycle and playhouse

Lola the rabbit  - Harry’s favourite hand puppet – welcomed guests from her lofty basket on this ancient delivery bike (another eBay find), surrounded by narcissi, balloons and golden chocolate eggs; a promise of what awaited our hunter-gatherers.

easter basket in bicycle

Inside the house, egg-hunting baskets stood ready for collection, from pint-sized hooped baskets for those still a little unsteady on their feet through to magnificent wicker hold-alls for those determined to speed like minesweepers through the undergrowth in search of every last egg…

easter baskets waiting for the egg hunt

The race was on; stragglers who were still wrestling with wellies or dithering over basket choice soon caught up and the hunt began in earnest

egg-hunting

Every garden nook and cranny was investigated in the hunt for Easter treasure

Playhouse

The eagle-eyed followed signs placed in vintage chimney pots and scattered throughout the garden…

egg hunt sign in chimney pot

egg hunt sign on bird table

The egg hunt was followed by a festive party tea of sandwiches and cakes for anyone who still had the space left for it after the chocolate-fest of the afternoon, then every small egg-hunter left with the contents of their basket and a bag of Bunny Tails, made by filling disposable icing bags with marshmallows and adding gift-wrap paper top cut with pinking shears and a free graphic from here;

DIY Easter Bunny Tails; marshmallow treats for Easter

easter bunny tails - marshmallow treats

Guests could also choose a bunny balloon, which I made by customising simple pearlised balloons with bunny ears cut from vellum, and a hand-drawn face.  I added a bow and then threaded and glued a stripy straw onto each stick (I got quite into this; I can forsee a future post with a menagerie of balloon animals; consider this fair warning..)

DIY bunny balloon

Bunny balloons

Tea was followed by games and general mayhem, as the sugar kicked-in.  The clear-up was worth it…. a day thoroughly well-spent.

honeycomb tissue balls strung on door

Tomorrow brings a return to the fray; nursery for Harry and work for us.  Bags must be packed and diaries checked; alarms set and clothes located.  Until then though, plenty of time for one more favourite activity.  This book might finally be the one I manage not to drop in the tub…

reading in the bathtub

An Easter welcome…

Easter approaches, but not the vibrantly green Easter of sudden unseasonal heatwaves, spring picnics and al fresco fun.  Instead, Easter in our small corner of the world promises to be sprinkled with snow flurries, with only the hardiest early apple blossom and narcissi spikes braving the chill.  We don’t care; at Easter each year the house fills with family and friends, and we’ve been adding some decorative touches to spruce things up for their arrival.  Let’s start with lunch…

wallpaper table runner

I wanted to create an interesting Easter table that will see us through a number of meals and provide some distractions for little hands; I used a leftover piece of wallpaper for a simple, natural table runner.  It’s wipe-proof, unlikely to tear and means there’s no need for a tablecloth beneath.  I love using wallpaper for table runners – our local DIY store lets you cut sample lengths and I have a bundle of offcuts from when we were decorating bedrooms; some vibrant and some, like this, more subtle.  Simple brown kraft paper looks great too, or you could use a roll of black paper to mimic a chalkboard; I’ve done this for informal dinners with friends and it looks gorgeous when decorated with white chalk pens (leave some on the table for guests to doodle with..)

spring hare napkin rings DIY

I made these seasonal napkin rings by cutting toilet rolls in half and glueing a length of fabric around each.  I sourced the archive image of the spring hare from here; it was once a bookplate in a dictionary…  I printed it out several times on a sheet of white paper and cut into strips before glueing around each ring.

I used the same image for placemats, printing onto A3 recycled paper, and creating a set of hares racing around the table…

march hare placemat

For the centre of the table, I trailed a variety of spring elements to create a narrow but interesting feature, that can stay in place throughout the long weekend…

tonal spring table

We dragged a mossy log back from the park and this, when dried out, provided the backbone (n.b. if you do this, I’d suggest leaving it in the porch overnight for any existing many-legged residents to seek alternative accommodation, thus avoiding a mass exodus across the lunch table). Homemade nests were placed at each end, with smaller ones tucked along the log.  Old terracotta pots planted with narcissi are scattered at intervals, and should come into bloom at just about the right time…

easter or spring table centrepiece

Hard-boiled white duck eggs sit alongside faux eggs and blown quails eggs, filling bowls and egg cups, and even a tiny vintage silver tea pot from Harry’s play kitchen.

easter table display with teapot

 

I wandered around the house collecting any small vases or bowls of the right sort of palette, like this duck-egg blue vase which normally sits on a mantel but looks just right here…

easter tablescape detail

I decided to make a decorative banner for the fireplace in the kitchen, so set about painting some eggs in fantasy colours and designs (don’t try looking these up in any bird book; accuracy was never my strong point).  These beautiful paints are from legendary Parisian art store Sennelier, and were a gift from my father; I don’t break them out very often but when I do they’re a joy to use.

watercolour eggs

I painted my eggs onto watercolour postcard paper, then scanned them in so I could cut out enough for a banner; I like how they turned out, and think I’ll use them as individual place cards, or maybe transfer print them onto a plain tea towel in the future; if you want to use them for anything seasonal I’ve attached my file as a PDF below, which looks like this when you open it;

bird egg collection

If the weather-man is right, we’ll be lighting the log fire more than once and it will be the centre of attention, so I’ve arranged the folded books from a couple of weeks ago to add a spark of humour and interest…

easter fireplace

And as a final touch, on the large cook’s table sits a vase filled with plastic eggs and a fallen cherry-tree branch, a victim of the recent storms; we rescued it, trimmed just a little and then decked the branches sparingly with speckled eggs.  To do this, I placed a drinking glass inside the vase, filled it with water and inserted the branch, before carefully dropping the plastic eggs all around, filling up the space between the glass and the vase.

easter vase filler

Elsewhere, a collection of  wicker baskets which we’ve collected over the years sits waiting in the hall for the small hands of eager egg-hunters on Easter Monday.  We’re all ready to lay out the hunt (below), but are waiting till the very last minute to decide whether this is a bracing outdoor escapade calling for wellies, scarves and hot chocolate, or whether instead we’ll be placing eggs in nooks and crannies around the house before unleashing indoor chaos…

egg hunt signs

Our next task is a spot of seasonal baking; these baby chick cupcakes went down well last year so a newly hatched batch is top of the list.  If you click on the picture below you can find the details of how we made them.

Hatching Chick Cupcakes

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, wherever you are and whomever you’re with; may spring sunshine and good chocolate find their way to your door…

March hare tablemat

Six Speckled Eggs by Kate

Dream Home Restoration Part III: The Playroom and Book Nook

I’ve talked before about the life’s-work that is our home restoration project (if you’re a newish visitor, you can read about it here and here).  We’re probably about 10% through our list of projects, having tackled the kitchen and the more pressing – and depressing – stuff like turfing out the mouse population and reducing the bracing fresh air which gusts through every seemingly-closed window.

Next on our list was a play space for Harry; we’re lucky enough to have a perfect room for this, sandwiched between the kitchen and Snug, and featuring an ancient but very cool wrought-iron spiral staircase which leads straight upto his bedroom.  When the last owners lived here, the playroom was used as a games zone by their sons, complete with black walls, slightly crusty green carpets (let’s not consider that further), a myriad of sockets and cables, and wall-to-wall posters.  What little natural light there was had been blocked with heavy curtains, gloom being the preferred natural habitat of the teenage male.

Painting walls and replacing the carpet was an immediate priority, but the rest we’ve done gradually, adding homemade furniture and toys here and there, and evolving the space as Harry’s grown from a wobbly toddler into a little boy.

Playroom Stairs

The original fireplace appears to have had its legs sawn off at some point in the last 300yrs, but we decorate it nonetheless with string ball lights, garlands and bunting, depending on the season; at Christmas it had a curtain of cotton wool snowballs, and a vintage glitter ball currently sits in the grate waiting for us to find a new home for it (though I think it’s pretty settled at this point).

Playroom with fireplace

Nooks and crannies are used for storage; these sturdy chairs fit around the art table when we’re painting, but then retire, Shaker-style, to the peg rail to free up floor space

Playroom Chairs

A giant bookcase found on Ebay houses toyboxes, Lego and other treasures like the animals from Harry’s Ark and his collection of fireman helmets (one for each of us; teamwork is everything).

Playroom shelves

A ratty sofa allows shoppers to queue in comfort when waiting to be served at Harry’s store, and doubles up as a boat, life-raft, island, den or car depending on what game we’re playing.  One of the first things I ever made for Harry, his family tree, hangs on the wall and is regularly updated when family members are matched or hatched.

Playroom wall with shop

My favourite part of the playroom is the newest; a former cloakroom was awkwardly squeezed into a corner of the room and hoarded the only precious direct natural light.  We knocked down the wall and ripped it out to extend the main room and create a small reading area with books and cushions.

Playroom book nook

book nook montage

The ‘book of the week’ corner utilises the boxed-in plumbing for the former faucet, and holds a rotating series of Harry’s favourite books, accessorised with paintings and pictures we’ve made, or things from the Dressing Up box, like this Halloween Hat and Broom.

harrys book nook 1

Scattered around are some folded books, which I made one evening last week in front of the television, inspired by this amazing window display from US store Anthropologie.

anthropologie book window

I played around with folding a couple of charity shop books which we won’t read again, and had a lot of fun.  Next time I’ll work my way through the whole book and make some over-sized hanging pendants, perhaps at Christmastime.

Playroom Book Art and Stag

book nook 2

I added a junk store vintage sofa which I painted in off-white chalk paint and reupholstered in faux (wipe-clean!) suede; it was previously unfashionable mahogany so I bought it for a song and spent a couple of days overhauling it.  It adds a touch of grace to the playroom and shows you don’t have to be surrounded by plastic-fantastic ‘kids furniture’ all the time.

Upcycled vintage sofa

Elsewhere paper stars & Harry’s artwork adorn the twisting staircase, acting as a height warning for unwitting grown-ups.  The Jeeves & Wooster pendant light is made from a gilded bowler hat and is one of the few light fittings we’ve managed to reuse from our former, very modern house. Two squeezable trumpet horns are used in the summer for garden games and races, and frighten the life out of newcomers with their ear-splitting exuberance.

bowler hat light

trumpets

Old favourites like the cardboard rocket have miraculously managed to survive months of heavy-handed play; the rocket currently houses Harry’s most precious treasures and anything else which catches his eye around the house (car keys, watches, bananas… it’s an eclectic and hazardous mix).

Playroom 5

We’re lucky to have a dedicated playroom, and one which sits so perfectly at the heart of the home, close to the rest of the action.  Its layout and palette gives space for Harry to grow and for his tastes – and stuff – to evolve.  I know that one day I too may be painting the walls in dark and manly teenage colours and shuddering as I peel up the once-oat coloured carpet, but till then we’ll enjoy the space, light and fun of a room filled with the passions of a 3yr old, who I hope will take as long to grow up as is humanly possible…

An Eclectic Collection of Happinesses

My wonderful Valentine’s gift last week arrived at the foot of the bed in an enormous, dusty cardboard box, and gave me thrills; this vintage Imperial typewriter was a total surprise and is  - for me – the perfect choice. Grimy, weary and with a handful of stiff keys it will polish up a treat, and my mind is already racing with possibilities.  I think it will find a temporary home on the writing desk in our guest bedroom, perhaps with a welcome note typed out on it..

Typewriters

I’ve also been thinking ahead to the Easter holidays, and whilst we plan out trips and social events my mind has turned to decor, food and festivities; I’ve been having a go at making faux birds nests to fill with blown, dip-dyed & hand-speckled eggs; this (below) was an early attempt, and I’ll share with you the full how-to and some suggestions on materials and styling soon.  I think I’m going to place ours under the cloches we used at Christmastime, on a cake stand; but the possibilities are endless.

faux bird nest DIY

The weather briefly turned last weekend, shooting up a veritable 11 degrees and giving us a preview of Spring.  It was the only invitation I needed to brighten up the house, gathering these beautiful, vibrantly-Spring like hydrangeas from the garden centre, planting up a battalion of eggshell Cress-men to adorn our windowsills, and swapping my favourite woodsmoke candles for a hint of freshly mown grass.

spring blooms

Have a lovely weekend!

The Rainy Day Explorer’s Kit

Hello again at last, after an uncharacteristic hiatus; we’ve been a plague house this last couple of weeks, with both my husband and I felled by seasonal ‘flu.  Harry miraculously escaped, and observed our symptoms and progress with great interest; he immediately and opportunistically whipped out his Melissa & Doug Veterinary Dress-Up Bag, and proceeded to administer bandages, injections and chilly plastic stethscopes to whichever of us was too slow to evade his latex gloved-clutches.

Still, the fevers have at last abated, leaving us feeling a little stir-crazy and restless, particularly as last month’s glorious snowfalls have been replaced by driving rain and an all-pervading damp chilliness.  It was time for some indoor adventuring, in the style of a housebound Indiana Jones, so last night whilst Harry was asleep I hastily constructed the Rainy Day Indoor Expedition Kit…

Rainy Day Expedition Kit from katescreativespace

I used this old cardboard laundry box (below) which I found at a local junk shop.  A vintage suitcase would also be brilliant for this, but equally a large shoebox or bag would do the job.  I designed a suitably enticing picture for the front (you can download mine below), and pasted it on before filling it with a collection of bits and bobs from around the house that would spark Harry’s imagination and get us started on a truly exciting and brave indoor adventure.

laundry box

Almost all of the items can be sourced within minutes – and quickly returned to their usual homes afterwards.  A quick raid of the laundry cupboard, fridge, and Harry’s toybox generated most of the contents.  I’ve highlighted below what I included and why; you can customise this for the age(s) of your kids, and also get them to join in the planning; when Harry’s a bit older I’ll get him to decide most the things we need.

Contents of indoor expedition kit

In our rainy-day expedition case you’ll find:

  1. A field trip notebook and pen for recording what we see 
  2. A torch (you can teach morse code to older kids).  We had battery-powered fairy lights too for our den
  3. Toy walkie-talkies so we can communicate when out adventuring; real ones would be even cooler
  4. A large white sheet to use as a tent for our den, with pegs to hold it in place.
  5. Books to read in our tent, when eating our snacks
  6. Juice and crackers.  We ate these before we even started, so one of our first expeditions was back to the fridge
  7. A simple point-and-shoot camera for Harry to take endless blurry photos of our trip
  8. Hat and goggles, in the manner of all true explorers
  9. A sword, because you never know when you’ll meet a pirate or a baddie
  10. Handcuffs; see above.
  11. A rubber snake, for instant atmosphere; throwing this around (Harry) and screaming in faux-terror (me) took up quite a lot of the day and caused endless delight
  12. Marvin, Harry’s right-hand mouse and inseparable companion, and finally..
  13. A strong rope; we used a waxed washing line rope, mostly as a lasso for wild animals, but also to tie around our waists when climbing the stairs / dangerous mountain.

Expedition Kit Contents

I placed the expedition suitcase on a stool for Harry to discover it at breakfast time, when we usually make our plans for the day.  Once he wrestled the top off the box, he also found this mysterious ribbon-tied scroll in the case, which outlines exactly what you need to do to qualify as a proper Adventurer; this provided the basic plan for our morning…

Adventurers Challenge

Our den-building took quite a bit of time and was lots of fun; pondering the exact location, and discussing what we needed to consider; (ability to see pirates coming from afar, easy access to food and toys, and a multitude of other specifics).  We strung, hung and pegged and bundled cushions and suitcase into the finished den, stringing up fairy lights for added atmosphere..

harrys big expedition

Harry’s toy dog Digby nobly agreed to play the role of wild animal and was duly captured and tethered to the kitchen table, with some crackers as a reward for his co-operation and acting skills.

indoor expedition

We fended off attacks from a troop of Lego City Robbers and some Playmobil pirates before settling down to stories and juice.  After lunch we discovered the promised treasure; leftover chocolate gold coins from Christmas, secreted in an old wooden box at the top of the stairs.

It was the best kind of day; just enough planning to spark Harry’s imagination, and then much adventuring, rescuing, wrestling, construction, destruction and finally chocolate, which seems to me to be the formula for little boy heaven.  I’m sure versions of this game are played in homes the world over, but if you want to download our Expedition Case label and Adventurer Instructions, you can find both below.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to just go untether a dog before retiring to my den with a fistful of chocolate coins (who says you have to grow up?).

The Adventurers Challenge

Expedition Kit

The Memory Library

memory library

I come from a bookish family, enjoying an upbringing where reading was considered to be the ultimate sporting pursuit, and where every household nook and cranny was crammed with a life-history of books, from the trashiest novel to the most highbrow doctrines of Greek philosophy (our shelves were nothing if not egalitarian, and we relished them all).

Thus I learned the facts of life mostly from Judy Blume novels, and yet was extremely well-read about world history from our travelling-salesman set of Encyclopedia Britannica, the 90′s print forerunner of Wikipedia. Sadly, volume 12 vanished without trace at some point meaning that anything listed under ‘M: Malachite – Mycenae’ will forever be a gap in my knowledge.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Harry is showing signs of being a book-lover, who delights in being read to (and in pretend-reading to us). At 3yrs old he already has a small but precious handful of books which have marked the various stages in his life and which have been transient obsessions, and I wanted to capture those memories before they fade and get swallowed up into the general joyous mayhem of childhood.  I designed some simple bookplates to stick in the cover papers of his favourite books, recording the memories associated with them, so that he (and we) can look back on these in the years to come…

bookplate1

Harry’s first ever book was a picture book by the inimitable Emily Grevatte, whose simply rhyming and repetition tickled the then 6-month old Harry and produced a chortle which turned into a full belly-laugh, and culminated in such hysteria that in time I only had to pick up the book for H to start giggling.  Any new mum will tell you that whoever can make their babies laugh is a friend for life, so Grevatte’s books will always have a special place in my heart.  The Gruffalo was another hands-down favourite..

bookplate gruffalo

The bookplates themselves were printed onto standard white paper and I then used a glue stick to paste them into the dog-eared and well-loved books.  If you want to do this and don’t have the time or inclination to make your own, there’s a downloadable version below which you can simply print out and fill in (minus the picture of Harry, of course!)

my library bookplates

printable bookplates

Download by clicking on the attachment; I’ve saved this a PDF with 6 labels per sheet; these should fit most books.

Printable Bookplates

As I pack Harry’s old baby books into the loft for the next generation, it’s lovely to think that the family stories behind the storybooks themselves are captured and waiting to be rediscovered.

bookplates from katescreativespace.com

Other things… it’s been a snowy week here in Britain, with a huge blanket of snow falling thickly for several days.  Nurseries and schools closed, fires were lit, and we took to the fields and hills to make the most of it.  We decided to go to the local park (Windsor Great Park; home to the Queen and some stunning landscapes) just as dusk was falling, and we had the place to ourselves; it was indescribably beautiful..

a walk in the woods

We came across this couple, absorbed in the beauty of the winter landscape…

a snowy romance

..and obviously in the early stages of a great romance…

snowstruck lovers

We taught Harry the art of the snowball fight – something I’m sure we’ll regret before long – before heading home for crumpets, tea and to admire how beautiful everything looks in our snowy garden, including Harry’s new playhouse – a secondhand one which I spruced up with curtains, carpet and a weather vane; it was Harry’s 3rd birthday present and he’s very house-proud; even delivery men get invited in for a cup of tea and a story…

playhouse in the snow

Happy New Year!

Welcome back, and  Happy New Year!  I hope that you had a lovely Christmas and a chance to switch off from the hurly-burly of day to day life.  We had a wonderful time here; a great, celebratory Christmastime, and then a lovely slow blur of days which blended into each other as we nested at home, piled up in rugs on the sofa, with the occasional blast of icy fresh air from walks in the woods.

Santa was extremely kind this year, and so too were our friends and relatives who showered Harry in loveliness, so thoughts this week turned to the very important task of saying a heartfelt ‘thank you’.  Harry’s a wee bit too young still to produce identifiable drawings or to have the concentration and dexterity for complete written sentences, so instead we staged a chaotic 5 minute photoshoot to produce some fun pictures for a home-made thank you card.

harrys thank you cards

I slung an old sheet over a bookcase for a backdrop, then gave Harry a big handful of ‘thank you notes’ – printed ad infinitum onto paper and then sliced into words – to play with.  As you can see from the outtakes below, he tried throwing them, blowing them and ultimately just tried not to drop them; he loved it for about 3 minutes, and that’s all I needed.  The clear-up took slightly longer…

HARRY OUTTAKES

I printed out some copies and glued to blank cards, pasting in one of the ‘thank you’s we used in the photo into the inside of each card and then filling in.  We added interesting stamps to each before feeding into the postbox.

harry cards final

I then got a little carried away with the general theme and made some ‘grown up’ thank you cards using the same principle (below), cutting and pasting the words for thank you in different languages and adding a simple wooden star from a pack of leftover Christmas craft embellishments.  I like their simplicity, particularly for this time of year when we’re all a little weary of sparkly festive colour and ready for a more neutral palette and a return to muted decor…

grazie mille close up grazie mille main

One of the joys of this last couple of weeks has been having the time to play a little and to try new things.  My mum’s Christmas gift to me included a big bag of wool and knitting needles, and a foolproof pattern for a beginners’ scarf; she taught me to cast-on on Boxing Day and I’ve just finished my first ever piece of knitting (below), and mighty proud I am too!  I suspect that I lack the patience and concentration to ever excel at knitting, but I’m cheerily offering hand-knitted scarves to every member of the household, buoyed by a passionate, if temporary, enthusiasm for wool.

knitted scarf

And so to the New Year, and to resolutions.  As some of you know, this blog was born of a resolution on NYE 2012, when I decided to write a blog for a year, documenting the fun stuff I do with Harry and the projects we try.  Up until about the middle of December, I was pretty clear that it would come to a natural end with the close of the year, and I would look back on it as a great thing to have done at a very specific time in my life.

But.

I think I’d really miss it. And without the discipline of posting regularly, I doubt I’d take as many photos or preserve as many memories as I do. So, my resolution for 2013 is to continue for a while longer, perhaps not with the same intensity, but definitely with the same kind of projects and ideas, posting when inspiration strikes and when time allows.  Your comments and feedback are fantastic to receive (and thank you so much to everyone who replied to ‘A Pause’ with all your festive good wishes and the small insights into life where you are; it was a wonderful Christmas present for me).

I’ll be back next week for the grand opening of Harry’s Hardware and Auto – his play store and garage which appeared, as if by magic, last week – and I hope that you’ll join me.  In the meantime, I’m sweeping pine needles, wrapping and storing Christmas decorations, and replacing the glitz and bling of the festive season with simple things around the house, like these; a bowl of fresh lemons which is slowly scenting the kitchen and mingling with the paperwhites and hyacinths to produce a distant promise that Spring will come again…

january lemons

A hundred different words for snow

It’s said that eskimos have over a hundred different words for snow, to capture the manifold ways it arrives; drifting snow, falling snow, powdery snow – a word for each and every one. Such claims may be the stuff of mythology, but it somehow captures the magic of snowfall and fits with the science of every single snowflake being unique.  We’ve had no real snow this season, despite Harry’s feverish anticipation and enough cold snaps to make even the Inuit consider double-glazing.  Still, we are nothing if not self-starters, so have decided to make our own snow for Christmas.

winter snowscapes

I’ved used glass cloches to cover simple white dining plates and scattered with faux snow and some Christmassy miniature trees from the local garden centre to create this snowscape which will adorn our Christmas table.  I glued little star-shaped buttons to the top of each tree for a splash of bright festive colour.  Harry saw me make this one (above) and was intrigued, but hasn’t yet seen the others, for which I recruited some of his favourite toys… (I’ve taken the glass covers off to photo these, but details of what I’m using are below)

Buzz Lightyear has his perennial expression of mild confusion as he struggles with these trees and directions to the North Pole…

snowglobe buzz

Peppa Pig and friend sing carols around the village tree whilst trying not to fall in this mirror-glass pond..

snowglobe peppa

And finally a bright red London bus transports a Christmas tree on its top deck..

snowglobe bus

To cover these I’ve used; a glass cake dome, a clear dessert bowl and (for the miniature London bus and tree) an upturned wine glass.  They can be constructed and taken apart in minutes so make for a good table decoration – and one which can be played with as well as just admired!

We’ve also created our own snowy landscape inside by threading a variety of different white pompoms onto lengths of cotton and tying them onto a slim branch; at the moment it decorates the (disused) playroom fireplace but these also look beautiful strung over windows and doorways.  I measured a length of cotton, threaded it with a needle and then pushed the needle through the pompoms, before spacing them out at intervals and hanging.  Harry chose the pompoms and acted as chief helper; school-age kids can do this all themselves using a thick darning needle with not too sharp a point.  If you find your pompoms slide together, just knot the thread at intervals and the pompoms will ‘sit’ on the knots and stay in place.

snow curtain

snow twig curtain

And finally to our twist on snow globes; I’ve used these miniature bottles (also great for messages-in-a-bottle for Valentines or pirate games), and filled each with a teaspoon of white glitter, water and just a dash of glycerin to top up.  Shake vigorously to disperse all the glycerin and glitter, and then add a little tag (and a bell, if you have them).  I’ll be using them as part of my festive place-settings, but they’d also make beautiful stocking-fillers if places in a tiny box and nestled in shredded tissue, or even looped with cord for a necklace (these bottles really are tiny; a necklace would obviously be a little less practical if you’re using actual milk bottles).

If you’re anticipating particularly vigorous shaking, I’d suggest glueing the cork in place to avoid the kind of dramatic glitter-in-eye-and-ruined-silk-blouse moments that will turn into great anecdotes in the years to come but may test a friendship in the immediate short-term..

DIY snowglobes

DIY snowglobe in motion

So, a handful of snowy crafts with just the right amount of mess and fun.  Hopefully they’ll keep us going until the real thing arrives…

harry in the snow

In Praise of Simple Pleasures

I finished work this week, increasingly giddy with that end-of-term feeling that I’ve never quite managed to grow out of. I love my job, but the thought of hanging up briefcase and heels and simply nesting for 3 whole weeks is a wonderful one. With the recent intensity of work and the heady social chaos of the festive period, it feels like we’ve not quite seen enough of each other of late, and certainly haven’t seen much of the house in daylight hours. As a result, this weekend has been spent decorating for Christmas, eating hot, buttery crumpets, piling logs onto the fire and just enjoying being here, with each other, with no alarm clocks and no cause to rush.

small pleasures
It’s a time of contentment in simple pleasures, like the unwrapping and rediscovery of cherished ornaments, like these Faberge-esque beauties bought at the now defunct Smith & Hawken store in Manhattan on my first ever trip to the city a decade ago, along with a box of vibrant and perfectly round glass berries which catch the light and twinkle against bare branches which I’ve propped in vases and dotted about the house

S&H eggs
S&H berries
I’ve finally brought down the last of the boxes full of books which have been hidden up in the loft for the last year whilst we tackle the renovation, and spent a lovely hour picking out some old barely-remembered favourites to re-read over the holidays. They sit stacked full of promise on my bedside table, and the anticipation of losing myself in them again is half the pleasure. This year I’m hoping that Santa brings Nora Ephron’s poignant novel Heartburn, which I’ve inexplicably failed to read in the decades since it stormed the best seller lists.

reading pile

We’ve been filling the house with some of the treats I associate with childhood Christmas, like bowls of these fat satsumas, easy enough for Harry to peel without help and impossible to walk past without taking one…

satsumas
And pots and planters filled with cyclamen, one of my all-time favourite plants, with their plucky flowers which look like they’ve been blown upwards with a hairdryer – apparently fragile yet able to withstand freezing temperatures and the accidental casual neglect they suffer at our hands

cyclamen
And we’ve begun the process of decorating the house for Christmas, little by little. Whilst I sort of admire that Marthas of this world who can magic up a Christmas wonderland in the space of one night whilst the rest of the house sleeps, for us it tends to be a very gradual build of festive accents and treasures, as we build up to the big day. This weekend our log basket has gained a garland of Japanese origami paper lights;

concertina lights
And this salvaged barn star leans casually against the kitchen skirting

amish barn star
Whilst the ancient typewriter in our entrance hall hammers out a traditional carol

remington

I’ve added a few handmade decorations too this year, like the paper stars I posted about in November, and these star garlands, made by laying two flat star cut-outs on tops of each other and stitching together before bending out to form a 3d star. These look great if you use different but tonal colours (I layered yellow and orange, and red and pink), but also beautiful in a subtle, rustic way if you use plain white paper, newspaper or muted shades. Run them through your sewing machine and just pull out about an inch of extra thread between each one.

star garlands

As part of holiday preparations I also did a tour of the house changing out blown lightbulbs, and gathered quite a hoard, so – inspired by this idea – I’ve coated the candle bulbs in white glue and dipped in glitter to make these sparkly tree ornaments. To create hanging loops, I’ll thread yarn through a small button and glue it to the top of each bulb to hold it in place. I’m just deciding whether to use these as gift toppers, tree decor or to simply place in wine glasses for Christmassy evening dinners as a sparkly place setting for guests. I tried various different colours but loved the deep graphite-like grown-up sparkle of these ones the most.

glitter bulbs DIY
And finally I’ve of course been doing a bit of festive culinary experimentation, like making these Christmas tree pie-toppers from puff pastry and pink peppercorns; use them on tops of stews and casseroles or instead of a full pie crust. For sweet pies, I’d simply dust them with icing sugar and maybe use edible silver balls in place of the peppercorns.

puff pastry trees
My favourite of all though was finally getting round to making a Bûche de Noël – the English translation of a chocolate log is distinctly inferior to the magnificent French original, and this ganache-coated chocolate sponge will I think become a family favourite for the future. I added mushrooms fashioned from marzipan and gave it a festive coating of icing sugar ‘snow’ (which also helps to hide any heavy-handedness in the rolling process..)

buche de noel
And as you know, I can never resist adding a dash of pyrotechnics..

buche de noel

It’s been a weekend of nesting, of family and friends, and of holding each other a little tighter and counting our blessings as events unfold in the outside world.  I hope you had a good one, and that the world where you are is safe and warm.

Gifts from the heart and home

gifts from the heart and home

We’ve been beavering away in the kitchen this week, whipping up festive treats to give as gifts.  Harry is just old enough to begin to take pleasure in gift-giving, so making things together for him to give to godparents, grandparents, grown-up siblings and teachers is a source of great pleasure and pride.  Our best and most explosive offering is our proprietary Christmas Cookie mix (proprietary simply because with such flamboyant measuring of ingredients and dosing of spices, no-one could ever hope to accurately replicate our secret recipe…).

cookie mix boxes as gifts

We’ve measured and stirred together all of the basic dry ingredients for our cookies and packaged them up into pretty take-out boxes which I’ve customised with labels and simple instructions for how to bake the cookies.  We of course road-tested these kits ourselves, to excess – so I’m about 6lb heavier and will be unable to look a cinnamon and nutmeg scented raisin cookie in the eye for at least a day month.

cookie mix

The photo I used of Harry is actually of him playing with his toy BBQ back in the summer, and is one which always makes me smile.  If you want to try these, download my recipe and details of how to mix and combine the dry ingredients below; it’s very simple, as you’d expect by now!

Dry ingredients for Bag 1: 80g caster sugar, 80g soft brown sugar

Dry Ingredients for Bag 2: 180g plain / all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp, nutmeg, 60g rolled oats

Dry ingredients for Bag 3: 150g of raisins or currants.

Christmas Cookie Mix Instructions

Another of Harry’s gifts are these jars of retro sweets – all current favourites of Harry’s, and designed to transport his recipients nostalgically back to their childhood and to provide them with a dippable stash of the kind of illicit, high-sugar treats that they wouldn’t dream of going into a shop and actually buying for themselves.

candy jars as christmas gifts

I added a gingham fabric top, glass candy cane and festive bell, and then pondered how much they look like shepherds (it’s the nativity week thing; I have a one-track mind at the moment…).  So now they are branded as Shepherds’ Midnight Feasts; an energy-packed snack for those wintery nights tending sheep and waiting for virgin births, which is doubtless a long and chilly old business.  Or perhaps just to accompany a night slumped in front of the TV, which is a tad more likely.

harrys sweet jars

Remember those hyacinths and paperwhites I planted a few weeks ago? They’ve sprung into life and are at the promising, budding stage, so I’ve popped a few into inexpensive but pretty mugs, and will be taking them along to decorate the kitchen windowsills of my nearest and dearest later this month – something both beautiful to look at and useful afterwards; I do hope that William Morris would approve.

hyacinths in mugs

I’ve also made a couple more batches of pinecone firelighters, bagged in cellophane and tied up with ribbon.  Our central heating blew up yesterday so I confess I have already delved into one of these and raided supplies to keep our own fires burning whilst we attempt to dress in every piece of clothing that we own.

pincone firelighter gifts

I’ve wrapped red evening candles with ribbon to accompany the bottles of wine we’ll be taking to friends for dinner; another very simple project whose results outweigh the effort involved (my perfect formula for the attractiveness of a craft..)

candles for christmas gifting

candles on sleigh

And finally, because the holiday season is often as much about indigestion and ill-advised consumption as it is about anticipation, I’ve sourced some luxuriously highbrow peppermint teabags and added my own bauble tags before piling into pretty china cups; useful to have on hand for Christmas Day night, and then for those first few weeks in January when one’s body is a temple and your resolve to never let caffeine pass your lips again has not yet faltered (well alright; the first few days then…)

peppermint tea

And now I must leave you; I have a feisty toddler who needs to be wrestled into his Joseph costume before we wend our chilly way through the gloaming to the church hall where his nativity play is to be held.  I already have a small head wound from being accidentally bashed with his biblical wooden staff; I have impounded it until the moment critique when Joseph needs to make his entrance, and have warned Mary’s mother that Mary needs to keep her wits about her in case there’s any flamboyant gesticulating from her husband in the stable, stick in hand.

Back at the weekend; stay warm!

A miscellany of happy things

Despite the greyish mizzle which has rendered our little corner of the world ferociously wet and windy at a time we were hoping for clear, bright skies and sprinkles of snow, we are a happy house this week.  We’ve been beginning the Christmas preparations and finishing some long-overdue DIY, including the decision of what to do with this piece of boat salvage which I stumbled across on ebay back in early Summer.  I fell in love with the layers of peeling paint and the uniqueness of it.  It’s a transom by the way; the end piece of an old navy boat which I bought very cheaply from someone selling bits and pieces of driftwood and maritime junk.  It weighs about as much as a baby elephant, as my long-suffering husband did not hesitate to point out as he dragged it home for me.

boat picture from ebay

Never ones for conventional interiors, we’ve opted to mount it here, in the kitchen, where in the two days it’s been up it’s drawn a range of reactions from ‘are you completely mad??” to ‘gorgeous!!’.  The handy builder who helped us baton it to the wall insisted on taking a photo home to show his wife who could not believe that someone would choose to do something so daft.  I suspect she is not alone in her view, but we think it’s rather cool….

boat final

I’ve also been busy making Harry’s nativity costume for his role as Joseph in the nursery nativity play next week; it’s amazing what you can do with a tea towel and a length of hessian… oh, and of course a Biblical staff made from a stick we borrowed from a friendly dog in the park. It promises to be a comical affair as well as a maternal tear-jerker; Mary towers over Joseph due to a recent growth spurt, and the inn-keeper at 2yrs old is already such a jovial and accommodating soul that I think it’s unlikely anyone will be turned away, regardless of the official plot line.  The children have been learning songs about which they have been sworn to secrecy, so for some time now Harry will distractedly break into song at home and then, realising his error, rear back and exclaim ‘SHHHHH!!!!!!” to himself before glancing suspiciously at us to see if we were listening.  It’s at moments like this I don’t want him to grow up at all, ever.

Joseph costume

Whilst all the signs are promising, I’m desperately  hoping that on the day he enjoys it somewhat more than last year, where the official photo reveals him to have been possibly the saddest teddy-bear in the chorus (tears still wet on his lashes; *gulp*)

teedy bear chorus

Did I tell you that Harry’s big Christmas present is to be a pretend play hardware store-come-garage?  Somewhere he can refuel his scooter, examine a stack of tyres, play with locks and keys and mull over buckets of tools and paints and generally do whatever it is that guys do when they manage to lose an entire afternoon doing man-things in places like this.  Progress is slow, but I’ve at least managed to knock-up a mini paint range for the store, using little baked bean cans with adulterated labels:

harrys paints

I’ve also been making my grown-up Christmas cards to accompany Harry’s reindeer ones; I raided my collection of upholstery fabric samples, set to them with pinking shears and created these simple Christmas trees, decorated with buttons and bells;

homemade christmas cards

And a few of these, made by threading old beads onto a piece of wire and twisting into a wreath shape before gluing in place.  The joyeaux noel embroidered tags I ordered years ago from a regular school name tag supplier and have used for just about every christmas craft under the sun since.

handmade cards

And finally, today I have a day off work and Harry ensconced in nursery in final rehearsals and so will be turning my hand to my biggest culinary challenge yet; making dessert for the eighty octogenarians who will attend my mother-in-law’s birthday party tomorrow.  It has to be something that can be safely transported for two hours in the car, will not inflame any known medical conditions, can be eaten with a plastic spoon and can be tackled by those with dentures. Ha!! No doubt Martha would take this in her stride with barely a moment’s pause, but after weeks of denial and prevarication I have decided on cake, jelly and trifle; it works for kids after all.  I have torn a recipe for a divine-sounding White Forest Trifle from a magazine (leaving behind the footnote which alludes the 951 calories per serving this provides).  Made from cherries in kirsch, mascarpone, custard and sponge, it sounds suitably decadent.  And if it looks a bit chaotic when I’m done, we can  blame that on the car journey and repent our sins later….

Have a great weekend.