Making

Celebration (or: How to Pimp a Store-Bought Cake, and Things to do when you’ve Finished the Champagne).

DIY Birthday Cake Bags


How are you, are you braving the cold?  We’ve been a plague-house this past week, falling one after the other into the chasm of ‘flu and cold  …but surfacing now, at last.  Amidst it all life has bustled busily on, brightened by a couple of big highlights like my father’s seventieth birthday last weekend.  At his request it was just a small family dinner – everyone he loved the most, together around a table – but a mighty fine dinner it was. I brought a cake, because a birthday without cake is unthinkable, however old you are.  The cake itself was a beauty from the local patisserie which had caught my eye, sitting siren-like in the window and demanding to be taken home.  I wanted to make it a little more personal though, so I made a simple paper wrapper to go around it.  Dad loves to paint, so I spread out all of my brushes onto a sheet and photographed them, then printed, trimmed and taped them together for a simple but beautiful accent which speaks to one of his greatest passions.. Art materials DIY Cake Wrapper I secured the wrapper in place around the cake, and ta-da!; a treat fit for a remarkable man. My Dad. Birthday cake for the artist
I knew that we wouldn’t manage much of the cake after dinner, so I found an old photograph of my father as a child and used it to make take-home bags for the end of the meal.  I love this picture; mostly I think because of his beaming, proud mother ducking almost-but-not-quite out of shot.  Mothers and sons – it gets me every time..

Birthday portraits

Personalised party gift bags

All the celebrating over Christmas, New Year and the flurry of birthdays has left us with a small pile of champagne corks, so I’ve also had a chance to play around making champagne-top armchairs; have you ever tried this?

Champagne top armchair

By far the most sensible way of shaping these chairs is when sober, with good light and a pair of pliers, but I always seem to end up doing it with my  bare hands whilst tipsy and then waking up to find that I may have the wire equivalent of a three piece suite, but I also have no nails left at all and swollen, scratched hands.  I’ll post a quick tutorial if you’re interested, with the caveat that health and safety are treated fairly recklessly in my approach..

DIY Champagne top chairs

As for this weekend, we’re setting a quieter pace and planning on doing some serious nesting; rumour has it that we may still be in our pyjamas at noon, albeit with thick woolly jumpers and socks to keep the arctic chill at bay.  Heavy frosts are forecast and Harry and I are unusually excited; we’ve been playing outside with pots and pans of water and making soon-to-be-frozen ice sculptures to hang from the trees; I’ll let you know next time if it has worked!

Have a great weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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 Update:

Here’s a PDF tutorial as promised for how I made my champagne cage chairs.  If you find videos easier to follow, look on You Tube and there are a variety there.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, have a look here for inspiration and further champagne cork-n-cage artistry! Good luck!

How to Make Champagne Cage Armchairs

DIY Knights and Princesses Party: Invitations and Arrows!

Knights and Princesses Party

Harry’s birthday party is at the end of the month and he is already beside himself with excitement.  Befitting a boy who is passionate about knights, swords, acts of heroism and needy princesses, it will be set in a castle (or rather a draughty village hall, but we’ll make do), and will involve mostly lots of running games until the young partygoers are just exhausted enough to collapse at the table for tea.

For Harry, the invitations are one of the most important bits; he loves to hand them out to his friends and tell them all about the party.  Last year we had a pirate party and made message-in-a-bottle invites.  This year we’ve gone for medieval castle scrolls and feather arrows, making use of the 6 billion empty toilet rolls we find ourselves with after an extended period of festive entertaining..

DIY Castle invitations for a boy's party!

I took each cardboard tube and covered it with a piece of this cool wallpaper, fixing it in place with double-sided tape..we’ll use the rest of the roll to cover the tables for tea on the day.  I rolled up an invitation and slid it into each tube..

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 1

To make the glitter feathers I used inexpensive duck feathers from a local craft shop (Hobbycraft in the UK and Michaels in the US sell these), and sprayed the tips with CraftMount glue before sprinkling liberally with glitter.  Do this in an area with no wind, and where a small boy is unlikely to come hurtling through at great speed, displacing even heavy objects and certainly a tableful of glitter.  I offer you this as a learning from experience.

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 2

Finally, I tied on the feather with ribbon and added a faux wax seal leftover from Christmas supplies (mine are snowflake ones I ordered from here for holiday envelopes; I love them and they stick ferociously, generally surviving the mail).

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 3

Job done!

DIy Castle Party Scroll Invitations

To make the decorative arrows, I used lengths of dowel and attached a feather to one end with bright paper tape.  For the tip of the arrow, I glued on pencil eraser caps which I painted silver; the rubberiness helps if you get accidentally impaled during an over-zealous bout of play-fighting, and also means it’s almost impossible to poke someone in the eye, and Lord knows that’s an occupational hazard at most children’s parties.  Life is too short to produce these in large quantities (by which I mean that my attention span is too short), but a quiver-full is fun to play with and running repairs can be made in an instant simply by adding more tape.

DIY faux arrows

DIY Arrows

For the invite itself I used powerpoint and some clip art, and this lovely medieval font which is free to download.

Knights Party Invitation

 

(It obviously had a bit more detail on it than this!)

I should point out that making Harry’s birthday party invites is an annual small labour of love, and that if I had more than one child the effort would be by necessity scaled down immensely.  Also, that it is the most effortful aspect of the party itself, which requires little more of us than filling a large hall with balloons, sugar, loud music and small children and retreating to safety as soon as possible.

Did I tell you that I am required to dress up as a princess?  My birthday present from Harry was an adult-sized Maid Marion costume which looks alarmingly insubstantial and should certainly never be waved near a naked flame.  In his eyes though it is beautiful, and I must play my part in agreeing to be rescued valiantly by the birthday boy.  And who am I to argue with such chivalry?

Wish us luck…

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The Longest Journey

DIY Winter Animal Parade

A few months ago, I saw a picture on Pinterest of a toy giraffe with a small gift tied on its back and it made me smile, and sparked my imagination; last week I raided Harry’s Ark and created a winter animal parade which is now weaving its way through the snowy  log landscape of our dining table, carrying a myriad of heavy parcels and gifts as Christmas draws ever closer…

Giraffe bearing gifts

Animal Parade

I used some leftover kiln-dried logs from when I filled in our fireplaces, and then wrapped up as many tiny boxes as I could find with brown paper  (far less decorative are the little bowls of staples, matches and paperclips now cover every surface, emptied out temporarily whilst I borrow their boxes..).  Once taped, I tied them with a mixture of butchers string and fine glittery thread, and then carefully secured them to each of the animals.  Harry’s toy wagon also came in handy, and the smallest animals were allowed to perch on top and watch proceedings from above…

Penguins in Animal Parade

I added festive bells, bottle-brush trees and a handful of glittery stars for some additional festive sparkle…

Giraffe with gifts

…and a final scattering of fake snow, which rather caught the meerkat by surprise;

Meerkat animal parade

I used up all of the animals I could find, to make a procession which covers most of the length of our (2m) table, but just one or two would look equally lovely; perhaps as place-settings.  Mine are elevated on logs which are just low enough for easy eye contact and conversation across the table, but again, you could simple set out a tableaux directly on the table itself.

Animal Parade with Gifts

I took these close-up photos above in the conservatory where the natural light is strongest in winter, but you can see here the parade as I began to lay it out in our kitchen, in readiness for throwing open our doors last Sunday to friends for an afternoon of food, drinks and Christmassy fun;

Winter Animal Parade Table Centre

Animal Parade Table Centrepiece

Alas, our festive parade will have to complete its journey soon, as the animals are being continuously depleted by Harry who needs them urgently for various daring missions and the ongoing battle with the Lego men, dinosaurs and Transformers; still, it gives me a reason to create something else for Christmas Day!

I finished work today for the holidays, with a mixture of exhaustion and elation; I’ve developed the hacking cough and bone-tired weariness that always seems to come whenever work abates, but it can’t distract from the smell of the mulled wine now warming, or the fact that two long, uninterrupted weeks of family time and celebration lie ahead; bring it on.

I’ll be back in a couple of days; have a great rest of the week…

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May The Force Be With You

Darth Vader DIY Cardboard Ship

Today I have an answer for that universal question which troubles us all at one or other time; ‘How Does One Make a Star Wars Fighter Ship Out of Cardboard?’.

Well alright,  I know that in reality it’s not a problem that many face, but it was a challenge laid down by Harry who was desperate that we should build together a spacecraft worthy of Darth Vader.  His actual specifications (‘One that really flies, Mummy!’) were a bit ambitious, but we emptied out the recycling bin and did our best….

DIY Star Wars Ship

It was a voyage of adventure (and misadventure), involving a pile of cardboard boxes, empty milk containers, a staple gun and some black and silver paint.  We took our inspiration – loosely – from the TIE Advanced cruiser that Darth Vader uses to shoot across the galaxy.  Can you see the resemblance, just a weeny bit?

TIE_Advanced courtesy of wikipedia

We tasked my husband with rummaging in the undergrowth during his evening runs in search of discarded hubcaps; he did brilliantly and managed to drag home a large and filthy selection.  Cleaning old hubcaps in the kitchen sink in order to stick milk-bottle caps onto them will be a defining moment of motherhood I think.  Still, it meant we had all our core components assembled;

Recycled materials

I sawed up cardboard to make wings and fixed them to a box (I punched holes and wired them together for strength, rather than using glue; these ships take quite a battering in astro-warfare..).  Harry was in charge of paint, a task he took to with enthusiasm.  I discovered belatedly that our paint of choice is not in fact washable; neither boy nor shirt have looked quite as box-fresh since last weekend…

Painting the Star Wars Ship

The rockets were made by spraying milk containers with silver paint and stuffing them with strips of tissue paper; I threaded a length of wire through bendy straws and used these to secure the bottles in place where they could provide jet power at the touch of a button.

DIy Milk Bottle Rockets

Star Wars Ship Straps

Foil pie cases were glued on in abundance by Harry to add a bit of bling and space-age style, as were faux jewels from the art cupboard, and then finally I cut a large square out of the bottom of the box for Harry to step through and then added wide bands of elastic to act as straps to hold the ship in place.  A star cruiser was born.

I’ve not included detailed instructions for how we made our ship because I have a hunch that this is a rather niche craft activity (though mothers of small boys – and larger ones – may find inspiration here).  Instead, here’s a pictogram of what we used and how it all vaguely came together…

DIY Star Wars Ship Materials

And now I must leave you; the universe is in peril, I hear, and Darth is on the warpath. I don’t have the time or cardboard to knock myself up a lightsaber, so I will be relying on my wits.  This means I am doomed.

All being well, however, I’ll be back on Friday with a cheat’s guide to how to make hollowed-out books for storing treasures.

See you then!

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The Letter Box: Preserving The Magic of Snail Mail

The Letter Box

I’ve written often on this blog about my love of letters and the abiding magic of good things in the post.  For someone who delights in receiving mail, I don’t write to others nearly often enough, so have gradually been gathering together lovely supplies to make it easier to scribble a pretty card or note in the moment I think of it, before life rushes on and the distracted hunt for a stamp or an envelope causes me to abandon my good intentions.

Harry too is becoming a man of letters, and has discovered the presence of the Royal Mail and the astonishing fact that letters, when posted into a box on our street, can be transported to far flung corners of the world in a matter of days (actually, in truth the time element has yet to be understood; Harry’s default expectation is that anything we post will reach it’s destination – wherever that may be – by teatime).

I’ve made Harry a Box of Letters which contains all sorts of lovely things for making and sending letters and cards to grandparents, family and friends – and even to us.  It’s helping him with his writing and means we can distribute the growing pile of artwork somewhat more widely.. and also has the bonus of generating letters in reply, which he adores.

Writing Letters

Here are some of the things in the modern man’s stationery bureau;

1. Enticing coloured crayons, pencils or pens.  We love Giotto pencils which have an almost oil-pastel like vibrancy and creaminess and go on thickly and easily.  They’re also triangular which helps with learning pencil grip, if you’re 4-5yrs old and facing such grown-up challenges.

Handful of pencils

 2.  Fun, bright stationery which doesn’t require much writing to fill it all up.  I’ve given Harry a fistful of my Happy Notes which only need about a sentence-worth of concentration and heavy-breathing before they are full.  I’ve also packed in a few of our home-made holiday postcards and some of Harry’s monogram stationery – again, just the right size for the attention-span of a small child.

Happy Note

3.  Decorative paper tape and stickers to adorn envelopes and add a dash of flair.  I also use the tape to hold the paper or cards in place whilst Harry writes and draws; with the flamboyance and heavy-handed pressure involved, it’s easy for them to skid and slip around unless I tack them lightly in place.

Washi tape and Stickers

4. And my favourite… personalised stamps and fun stamps.  I made some stamps for Harry using the Royal Mail Smilers service, and there are similar websites for the US and Canada which will allow you to upload photos and turn them into personalised stamps (lovely for a wedding or event as well as fun for kids).  They’re fun to use and raise a smile when they arrive on the mat at their destination.

personalised stamps

I made the storage box out of an old shoe box, and designed the picture below for the top (you can download a PDF printable below if you want to make your own).  I found some cow-print paper in Harry’s art cupboard which I used to line the box and lid – and now we have our correspondence kit to hand for whenever inspiration strikes!  I think one of these would make a lovely gift too for anyone young or old with a passion for stationery and lovely things; something to think about perhaps as Christmas stealthily approaches.

Letter Box Lid

Letters Box Printable

I’d love to know any other ideas for bits and bobs to include in Harry’s box or ways you’ve encouraged letter-writing and managed to avoid it becoming a tortuous semi-annual task after birthdays and Christmas; all tips welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing; we have a back-to-school party and a small family reunion to look forward to – and baking too; September sees the return of our Saturday Cake-in-the-House tradition; a glass of wine and a new recipe book await me this evening.

Kate x

Stationery box for kids

 

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created.  Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable.  This one began with a bell.

We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show.  Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded.  It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman.  There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.

Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..).  I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

dresseroldandnew-copy1

The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project.  I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin.  A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..).  The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.

chalk paint

For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required).  They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook.  I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.

sewing closeups

Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board.  The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands.  I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung.  A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects).  I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results.  On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed.  I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead.  We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.

Starlight Programmes

The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn.  I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint.  I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds.  If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!

Audience bell

Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching George Clooney Gravity under the stars.  The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!

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p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!

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Beachcomber Chic

Beachcomber place settings

Regular readers will know that I have a passion for the sea and all things coastal; whenever we can, we pile into the car and head for the shore; there’s something about the endless skies and water, the sea-salt and the sand that is magical.  We’re heading for Cornwall soon to go rock-pooling and to brave the Atlantic waters, but till then I’ve brought the sea a little closer to home with these bauble place-settings filled with beach-combed finds, made for a casual al fresco dinner with friends…

Coastal style place settings

I bought a set of fillable Christmas baubles from Michaels when we were in New England last Autumn, and in the frenzy of festive preparations managed to forget about them completely until, inspired by the endless beautiful pictures of coastal dining and projects in magazines (especially the current issue of Country Homes and Interiors), I decided to use them as summery place-settings for a simple outdoor get-together.

I gathered up a hodgepodge of beach treasures from previous holidays and added in bits of ephemera I’ve gathered on my travels (including some old watch faces which I bought by the bagful from the eclectic  Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris, bits of broken jewellery and feathers collected in the springtime on our many trips to feed the ducks..)

Beachcombing finds

..And dug out a handful of corks, gathered over the years from various celebrations  - celebrations as big as weddings and as small as the arrival of the weekend at long last…

corks

I prised the top off each bauble and tipped in some sand (I used a scoop of play sand from Harry’s old sandpit), then dropped in my treasures.  You might want to use a pair of tweezers or cooking tongs to move things around; it’s like learning keyhole surgery without a textbook…

Making coastal bauble place settings

Push in a cork, and then tie on a simple paper tag with each name.  I printed names onto a sheet of cardstock then cut into strips before  punching a hole in each and tying on with household string.  Broken shells look beautiful threaded on to the tie;

Coastal Bauble Place Settings

And voila, a simple yet stylish summer place-setting which can be played with endlessly as your guests get tipsy and start trying to fish out interesting contents with their cutlery, adding a dash of sand to each course in the process (trust me on this; or maybe it’s just my guests…)

Summer dinner party style

If you want to try this but didn’t have the foresight to buy a fistful of empty baubles at Christmas before leaving to gather dust in the back of a drawer, there are a number of craft shops which either stock them year-round, or - quelle horreur! - are already showcasing their festive collections for this year.  Online, try eBay or craft mecca Etsy for beautiful glass versions.  In the UK you can find them here, or Baker Ross has a slightly different design.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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Hand-Drawn Summer Postcards (and Inspiring Illustrators…)

Holiday Postcard with Quentin Blake Frame


Harry loves to draw – at the moment.  His enthusiasm goes in fits and starts, so I try to go with the flow and encourage him to have fun with painting and drawing and thus delay for as long as possible (forever, I hope) the moment when he throws down his pencil, decides that he’s ‘no good at art’ and is lost to the sports field forever.

We’re going on holiday soon and I’ve designed Harry a pack of blank postcards to draw on during the long waits for dinner, or in quiet times between dips in the pool and races on the beach.  We’ll post them home to family and friends – and address one to ourselves for our Memory Box – and it should be a fun, creative way of capturing the best bits of the holiday. He’s already feeling inspired..

Hand-Drawn Holiday Postcards 1

The back of the postcard is a simple template with  - crucially – space at the bottom for the artist to sign their name (and because after all that hard work drawing, it’s only fair that the grown-ups should have to do all the rest of the dull writing and address-filling);

Postcard Template

And the front of the cards I’ve either left blank or used this brilliant free download from the illustrator Quentin Blake’s website (see later) to make the white space a bit less daunting and provide a bit of additional inspiration..

Postcard DIY

I’ve packaged Harry’s into a box with a set of fun twistable crayons and we’ll pack them in his case at the last minute, along with approximately 104 other things that he considers to be critical for a week by the sea (Batmobile, pirate telescope, Lego, winter boots, random household objects etc).

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 2

They make good small gifts for Harry’s friends as we prepare to say goodbye at the end of term…

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 4

You can download my template below if the idea appeals (and there’s no reason why this should be just a children’s activity of course; I’ll certainly be painting a few of my own to mail alongside Harry’s ;-) ).

Postcard Printable

Talking of inspiring children to paint and draw, I love discovering how some of the best-known illustrators are providing resources and encouragement to help kids do just that.  I mentioned Quentin Blake earlier, who has a site full of activities and projects, like this one where you are encouraged to decide – and draw – the marvellous person who has just arrived at the door;

Colour_in_no_4The Guardian newspaper in the UK featured a series of awesome illustrators showing how to draw famous characters from their books and animated films, like Emily Gravett, who is helped by the unreliable Cedric in teaching us how to draw dragons;

How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-001 How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-004

…and the wonderful Polly Dunbar who draws pigs, step by step… (follow the link for the whole tutorial).

Polly Dunbar draws pigsdrawing by Polly Dunbar

I remember that when I was growing-up, copying pictures and learning how to draw the characters and things I loved were what slowly built my confidence… and I’m hoping it does the same for Harry.

I’d love to know who your favourite illustrators are, and any other links and resources… the more the merrier!  Here are a few more of mine;

Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) has a great site with kids colouring pages but also resources for artists on how to create wet-tissue works like his.

Fans of the Gruffalo and Axel Scheffler’s drawings  can find lots of brilliant crafting activities here

Elmer is our current favourite bedtime book; David McKee explains here how to draw elephants like Elmer – or if colouring-in is more the ticket, find a printable here.

Have a great week!

Kate

 

Calendar Cards (and notes from the week that was)

Calendar Card DIY

It’s our wedding anniversary later this week so my thoughts turned to cards.  A few months ago I stumbled across this beautiful free graphic calendar from Jasmine Dowling, and thought how perfect it would be for making cards to mark a special date or anniversary.  I downloaded the calendar page for July, resized to A5, then glued it to a piece of cardstock before adding tiny wooden pegs and circling our wedding date in red glitter glue…  and that’s all.  I’m in a pared-down, understated frame of mind at the moment and the visual simplicity of it really appealed.  Thanks Jasmine!  (These would be great to make as Save The Date cards for a wedding or party too..)

Heart date card

It’s our sixth anniversary and I’m looking for ideas; apparently it’s traditional to give your loved one iron as a gift – not to be confused with an iron I think, though this maybe why so many marriages suffer from the seven year itch; it can’t be easy to move on from the romantic gesture of laundry supplies.

For our fourth anniversary we gave each other the gift of a giant pair of faux resin antlers from RH (below); they looked so stylish and elegant online, and indeed they do now in our home – but the real act of love was the gesture my husband made in escorting them home from the US after a business trip.  It was, he later said, the longest interrogation he has ever faced at an airport check-in desk, when presented with the 44″ antler span; (‘Where were you thinking we would store these, sir?  Or should we just strap the darn things to the plane?’).  They arrived in the UK with balled-up sports socks attached jauntily to each point for protection, trussed in Heavy Load tape. We vowed then that gifts would be token purchases, and highly portable at that – and our relationship has flourished ever since.

moose antlers from RH

Still, gifts made of iron??  Suggestions please…

One purchase I did make this week was this beautiful Tradewinds Mural from Anthropologie (below)  - I had seen it months ago and become mildly obsessed, with my enthusiasm constrained only by the price tag.  Then the Sale came and I was lost.  It’s going up in Harry’s bedroom I think, for a splash of colour and to inspire dreams of globe-trotting and discovery.

tradewinds mural

With interiors in mind, I finally finished the faux fireplace in our master bedroom, which is gradually coming together (more pictures soon, I promise).  When we recently renovated the en-suite bathroom it focused my mind on how to update our bedroom to complement it.  We added a simple, architectural fire surround to the plain wall, then packed it with 10cm deep log slices to give the impression of a filled-in hearth….

log filled fireplace

And then finally for this week, one culinary success and one truly epic fail; the success first – a drizzled lemon and poppyseed cake which vanished without trace in the space of a day, using a recipe from my current favourite cookbook… you can see my passion for the bundt tin hasn’t yet abated;

Lemon drizzle cake

Homemade lemon drizzle cake

And the epic fail?  Well, my fig tree finally produced a flurry of these beauties below, and I decided to try making fig jam, as a perfect accompaniment to the cheeseboard we had planned for dinner with friends.  Well.  My first attempt produced a kind of fruity industrial-style cement (albeit one which smelled divine), which adhered to our teeth in minutes and had the staying power of cinder toffee, rendering the whole table literally speechless.  Very little actual cheese was consumed, largely because jaws were sealed shut with fig jam.

figs

I am determined to crack it though, and when I do you will be the first to know.  Trust me.

Have a great week!

Kate

Gifting ideas (and the week in which my tenuous grasp on horticulture is lost)

Wine Bottle Tags free download

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a lovely weekend, and one which hasn’t receded too dramatically into the mists of time.  Ours was packed with socialising with some of our closest friends, mostly al fresco thanks to the very un-British heatwave.  Long may it continue.  Friday night was supper with friends so I baked a batch of our tried-and-tested oatcakes to take along (delicious with cheese), and designed a bottle tag to drop around the neck of a bottle of wine.  An Eat Me, Drink Me combination worthy of Alice in Wonderland, but with somewhat more predictable results… and fewer rabbit holes.

Gifting ideas; wine bottle tags

Here’s my downloadable template if you want to make a batch of tags; for those with proper grown-up wine cellars or any kind of grape expertise, they’d be great for recording tasting notes or details of dates and vintage.  Or simply greetings and instructions to consume immediately, as we did…

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Just cut around the outside, then punch or carefully cut out the hole and lightly fold along the dotted line before slipping over the neck of your bottle.

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Our social whirlwind continued with a visit to Harry’s godparents and their new puppy, an adorable 5 month old labrador; we made her a jar of peanut-butter dog biscuits and I also experimented with a new iPhone/iPad app called Waterlogue which converts photos into watercolour-effect pictures.  All we had was this low-res picture of Lexie, but when imported into Waterlogue and transformed, it became a gorgeous, slightly abstract picture…

trialling waterlogue

I emailed myself the pic and cropped it slightly then printed it onto sheets of white linen cardstock to make a set of notecards for the family; I added text to some and left others bare.  I can see Waterlogue is going to be my new time waster for a little while…  if you have an iPhone it’s worth checking it out;  from my early experiments it works brilliantly with some photos and can’t seem to interpret or adapt others –  a bit hit and miss – but inexpensive enough to try.

Dog watercolour cards project

DIY cards using Waterlogue app

The heatwave has been perfect for racing through garden sprinklers and spending hours in the paddling pool, but alas fatal for some of our conservatory plants; a handful have quietly breathed their last despite my fervent attempts to water and ventilate whenever we’re home (I have felt more like an ER surgeon, racing from one to the next to check possibilities for resuscitation than the genteel green-fingered pottering I’d imagined..).  Still, the mouse-melons have not only survived but thrived, and are shooting out plucky lassoos as they climb at a rate of knots…

Mousemelons climbing

The courgettes too are soaking up the dense heat and we now have row upon row of shiny – if somewhat eclectically shaped – cukes ready for Harry to pack in his lunchbox.

cucumbers in a row

I occasionally manage an early-morning wander through the garden before work, cup of tea in hand; this rose (below) looked too beautiful to ignore and now sits on my bedside table smelling divine.

garden rose

…and in a local thrift shop I found the perfect book to photograph for the cover of my gardening journal; it’s so very true…

the amateur gardener

….as evidenced by this, my bizarrely shaped courgettes (zucchini), which taste good but look like they were caught in a moment of indecision during a growth spurt about whether to remain courgettes or aim higher and pretend to be marrows.

misshapen marrow

Still, it’s all a good (if steep) learning curve… and at least our peas are uncomplicatedly obliging.  In fact, we are slowly creating a pea mountain, as we search for endless ways of incorporating them into every dish.

have a great week!

Kate

 

peas please

How to Capture a Kiss…

A Kiss in a Box

On Mothers day this year (which in the UK falls in March), Harry produced a large, wrapped box which he’d decorated at nursery with tissue paper and paint. ‘You can’t open it’, he said ‘But there’s a kiss in it that I blowed before I shut it’. Harry’s very familiar with the notion that kisses can be blown and caught; from when he was tiny we’ve been sending kisses his way for him to chase, catch, and occasionally swallow.  I love the idea of capturing a kiss and keeping it safe, so inspired by my mother’s day gift I’ve made a kiss-catching kit which can be used to transport love through the post or in a pocket, and is small enough to be carried like a secret talisman whenever needed.

Kiss in a Box DIY

The printable wrappers below will cover a small, standard matchbox, which you can then either leave empty (because kisses are invisible after all…) or add a photo in the base.  I blew my kiss into a small glass bottle, but if you’re worried about glass then you could use a tiny bag or envelope, or a simple heart or Hershey’s chocolate kiss instead.  Simply cut out the templates, fold and glue around your matchbox, using pegs or paperclips to hold the wrapper in place whilst it dries.  I made two versions; a hessian-effect wrapper and a suitcase-style cover modelled on this beautiful one from Globetrotter, which will join my wardrobe when I eventually win the lottery (but probably not until then).

How to Capture a Kiss Kit

DIY Matchbox Covers from katescreativespace

Harry’s box is small enough to be tucked deep into a pocket to provide secret reassurance during any moments requiring mild bravery; unaccompanied playdates, sleepovers or Big Days at school – a discreet kind of comfort blanket that can be gripped when necessary without anyone else knowing.

A kiss in a Pocket

My own original box-with-a-kiss sits atop my desk and always makes me smile.  It came accompanied by a Mother’s Day breakfast-in-bed menu, which Harry had collaged by cutting and pasting a variety of options from the pages of a magazine.  He arrived at our bedroom door at dawn in chef’s whites ready to take my order (below), but then swiftly climbed into bed and delegated the preparations to his father, ‘now that I have done the hard work of the menu’.  What a smooth operator…

mothers day breakfast

Have a great weekend!

handbag logo

 

DIY Matchbox Covers from katescreativespace