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On Instagram at last!

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I tackled one of my New Year’s resolutions this week and you can now find me on Instagram, at last!  I’ll be posting pics day to day and more ideas and work-in-progress, so if you like the blog then do add me to your feed and pop up and say hello  :-)

Have a fantastic weekend!

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Photo credit of Eve Arnold via here

DIY Cook’s Calendar

DIY Cook's Calendar 2018Here’s a project for anyone slow off the blocks in tackling 2018.  I know many people have their next-year calendar in place from August, or fully populated by November, but perhaps you’re one of those people who just hasn’t got a grip yet (me), or has maybe fallen out of love with the store-bought/gifted calendar you acquired and fancies something much cooler instead.  This is for you.

Cooks calendar with pencil

I used an old chopping board (or source a brand new one from a discount store and soak it in water for two days until it is rough and weathered – ta-da!).  Then I found this free printable calendar online and printed out the year onto thin cardstock – I loved the typographic simplicity of this one – thanks Crissy! – but search on Pinterest for a myriad of other different styles offered for free by generous designers.  I then punched holes in the top of each page and added eyelets, marking with a pencil through the holes where I wanted to bang in the old nails that I’d hang the calendar on…

Cooks calendar detail of rivets

To attach the pencil, two different styles;

  • For a clean, linear look, glue a bulldog clip to the board above the calendar and simply slip your pencil in (these are my favourite Blackwing pencils, beloved of Oliver Jeffers and decades of artists and illustrators)

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  •  If you like a firmer leash on your pencil, tie a length of thin string around the tip and then loop it through the handle of the bread board, knotting it in place where it can hang alongside the calendar all year, resisting casual abduction by other family members.  I also added a decorative vintage baking mould at the top of the calendar, bought as part of a job lot from a local junk store (I’m still thinking about how to use them – they look so pretty..)

DIY Kitchen Calendar 2018and then finally; loop a rope through the top of the chopping board and hang it on the kitchen wall, where your creativity can be admired by all the family, who can also adorn it with tomato sauce smears, greased fingerprints and multiple reminders of their own birthdays.  Honestly, I ask you.

One other style to play with; for a brighter look, try mounting the calendar pages on thick giftwrap, coloured cardstock or watercolour paper with bright splashes of  paint-  I made this smaller set to hang in my office, so that I have two chances of remembering important dates…

Brights calendarBright calendar

Have a wonderful week.

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Happy New Year!

Cape Town mapHappy New Year!

Did you have a lovely break?  We managed to completely switch off for a while, spending the Christmas period itself with a flurry of family and friends; playing games, eating too much, watching movies and generally just being rather than doing – it was so lovely.  And then – then! – we flew to South Africa for a magical few days of sunshine, wildlife, beaches and mountains; here’s a few pics if you’d like to see…

We spent our honeymoon in South Africa ten years ago and promptly fell in love with it; the people, the nature, the climate – everything.  Our highlight was an amazing safari within the Kruger park.  We couldn’t replicate that experience time as we only had a few days and Harry is still a bit young, so we took a day safari to the wonderful Aquila Reserve a couple of hours outside of Cape Town.  We saw so many animals, like these young male bull elephants having a playfight in the mud..

elephants playing..and giraffes, which strode by majestically, oblivious to our truck (unlike the springbok, described by our guide as ‘the fast food of the African landscape, because everything eats them and they can run at 65 kilometres per hour’.  Made me smile).

giraffesprinbokWe saw hippos and white rhino, including this one who eyed us appraisingly from afar. ‘We keep white rhino here because they give you three warning signs before they charge at you’ said our cheery ranger. ‘Black rhino can’t count to three, they just charge’.

white rhinoAfter that, we ventured into the winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschoek, and to an al fresco picnic at the Boschendal winery.  Several people had told us this was a must-do experience and it was a real highlight of the trip;  we unpacked the picnic crate in awe, as we spread out on giant beanbags in the shade of ancient trees dotting the huge Pavilion lawns;

Boschendal1Boschendal picnic ..and then travelled along to the Spier wine farm for some tutored tasting in local wine – with CHOCOLATE! – a pairing that perhaps shouldn’t have worked but really, really did…

wine tasting spierPossibly my favourite part, though, was a visit to the famous Boulders Beach penguin colony.  You can visit the penguins between dawn and dusk, and either venture onto the beach to wander amongst them and swim with them, or amble along boardwalks which plot a path through the rocks and cliffs giving amazing views of the sea and shoreline, populated by thousands of penguins.  Just amazing…  boulders beach congestionsea swim

penguin sign and then on New Year-s Eve, it had to be the beach (at Clifton, a beautiful white-sand beach a few minutes drive from Cape Town), to watch the sun set on another year..NYE

 

Travel notes and other highlights…

  • It’s high summer in Cape Town and the weather was amazing, but has also contributed to the biggest drought ever experienced in the region.  Baths are rationed, swimming pools drained and water-saving measures in place everywhere.  Water is truly the lifeblood of the country and preserving it has become a top priority.
  • Other great experiences that there wasn’t the space here to mention; the Kirstenbosch Gardens, the magnificent beaches at Camp Bay and the colourful beach huts and tidal pool at St James near Kalk Bay.  During our honeymoon trip we also had the unforgettable experience of a trip to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela spent the decades of his imprisonment, escorted by a former fellow-prisoner who talked vividly about his experiences – book well ahead for this.  We also travelled to Hermanus Bay to see the whales who visit every year, staying for months in the harbour.  This year we were too late to see them, but it’s a must-do if you’re in the area between August and November.

And now we’re back, to a grey and rainy January, but also to the blank white canvas of a new year of craft projects and posts, and a delicious set of new supplies delivered by Father Christmas for me to explore.  Starting, this weekend, with GIANT KNITTING!!  I will keep you posted… Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 17.25.40

Have a wonderful weekend; it’s good to be back.

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Credits: all photos my own, apart from Cape Town illustrated map via mapsillustrated.com , and giant knitting image via etsy

Quiet beauty

Rather than decorating the house with a riotous explosion of seasonal colour this year I’ve opted for something more understated and calming. These Nordic-style baubles were a gorgeous local find, which I’ve strung with nylon thread and wooden beads to make ethereal, organic pendants.

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The threading itself is a soothing pastime; a kind of rhythmic exercise in picking and threading, stringing and feeding……until the chain slips through your fingers, which it will do at least once, and you will curse un-festively as what sounds like hundreds of tiny beads scatter across the floor to destinations unknown.

But still, it is good practice in being zen and unflappable, which is always useful preparation for an extended family Christmas.

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making notes…

  • The ideal thread for this is jewellery-beading thread; a kind of springy, taught nylon  that will be easily guided through the holes of beads.  You can use thin wire too, but might need to periodically straighten out your chain if the beads are lightweight.  Don’t use ordinary cotton; it will snap and fray and drive you insane (said the weary voice of experience…)
  • I bought a pack of mixed-size wooden beads (from amazon, but all good craft stores should sell them) and supplemented with what I already had.  Interspersing the wooden beads with tiny white pearl-like beads looks pretty and also helps to give definition to the chain
  • These look beautiful strung over (disused) fireplaces or in deep window frames, hanging between stair bannisters or simply on the wall.  Just make sure they are not likely to be either head-butted or grabbed by tiny hands!

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like…

Fir Lady 2017…Christmas!

So here she is; the Fir Lady returned in from the cold, this year with an old and much-mended sack as her elegant shawl, and a sprinkling of dried limes and pinecones to decorate her skirts.  Oh, and twinkling lights of course, because everyone deserves to sparkle at Christmas.  This year she’s taken up residence in the hallway, where she lights up the entrance and welcomes friends in from the cold.  And also in the hall;

IMG_3039An oversized wire star (from here), threaded with white lights and hung against a wall of logs, catching my eye and making me smile whenever I move about the kitchen.

IMG_3002In the bedroom, a more tranquil nod to the holidays; a simple driftwood wreath on the mantel.

Christmas mantelAnd then in readiness for the weekend …festive baking!

rosemary christmas cakeI decorated this simple jam sponge with thick white icing, a rosemary-sprig forest (topped with tiny pieces of gold leaf) and amaretti biscuits providing a rocky woodland path for the miniature model deer.  And then I took it all off and experimented with something a little different; a felt-mouse snowball fight!  I still haven’t decided which topping to go with…

Fun and festive Christmas cake

Making notes, for the creatively-minded

- The fir lady is an annual creation, made using branches of fir (from my local garden centre) wired around an old shop mannequin.  I secure a length of chicken wire around her waist and then attach the branches one by one, overlapping and occasionally trimming branches which stick out at peculiar angles.  After the first year, I learned to wear rubber gloves to avoid becoming a human pin cushion.

- I used a string of 750 warm white lights to wrap around the hallway star, and then taped the cable to the floor with transparent packaging tape for safety’s sake.  The star is hang on a wooden baton secured between the logs, but for an ordinary wall just use a standard picture hook.

- For the cake, I wired stems of rosemary to cocktail sticks to stop them wilting, and pushed the sticks into the cake.  A light sprinkling of powdered sugar simulates snow.  The paper tape and ribbon wrapped around the cake are previous year’s purchases from Anthropologie and John Lewis.

- for the ‘snowball’ cake, I used felted mouse tree-decorations and snipped off the hanging cord, sticking them into place on the cake top with a dab of icing.  The snowballs are made of fondant paste, and the rosemary makes a reappearance as the forest backdrop.  Felted holiday ornaments are everywhere this year; try White Stuff, Anthropologie, Oka, Pottery Barn and John Lewis.

….and now the weekend is here, and school is at last finished for the year for a jubilant, exhausted Harry.  I have a few more days of work to go, but before then a weekend filled with friends and family, with the making of eucalyptus garlands and stringing of ornaments and mulling of wine, and of log fires and duvets.  And possibly, just possibly……snow!

IMG_7556Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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Three fun holiday projects!

ReindeerHappy Monday! How are you?  It’s turned numbingly, bitingly cold since my last post, and we had our first flurries of snow on Sunday (the perfect day for a picturesque but entirely unproblematic snowfall).  Harry and I finished making our annual Christmas cards, this time with a beautiful and cheery reindeer, painted by Harry. We were inspired by the work of amazing illustrator Catherine Rayner, who paints gorgeous animals and also shows children how to draw them for themselves (this giraffe!).  Harry sketched out his reindeer and then we mixed up some watercolours for him to use.  He outlined it in a black water-resist pen which made all the difference to his finished painting…

Harrys reindeerI scanned the picture and printed off a set of cards for us to fill in (if you’re wondering – he added the holiday lights two days after the rest of the painting, and after I’d printed out the pictures below; an artist never stops iterating…).  For the cards that we can hand-deliver, we’re sealing them with big red and wooden buttons from the button box for a final fun accent.

Reindeer cards We’ve also made some simple but vibrant tags to go on gifts, by taking inexpensive bulk-buy white tags and glueing on a mass of tiny pom-poms; we simply rolled a glue-stick over the last couple of inches of each tag and then pressed a handful of pompoms onto the glue, leaving in place until they dried..

DIY PomPom Gift TagsAnd then my third and rather more understated project; silver-sprayed giant gift sacks made from the same paper potato sacks I used for this project;

Silver-sprayed paper bags for holiday gift sacksTo make these, simply spray your paper sacks silver (or any colour – but do it outside given the fumes and the mess!).  Whilst the paint dried, I printed out giant name-tags onto watercolour paper (using this font), cut them into shape and then used a brown marker pen to line the edges in dashes to mimic stitching, adding a wooden star to each tip.  I glued the tags under the turned-over rim of each sack, and they’re now ready to stuff with gifts….

Making holiday gift sacks…like this olive tree! olive treeIMG_9865Have a wonderful – warm! – week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  In the evenings after work we’re slowly decorating the house for Christmas, building this year’s Fir Lady and taking a rather Nordic approach to winter decor, with stars, greenery and wooden accents dotted around; more to follow on this next time!

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p.s. One from the archives;  rather more elaborate heirloom sacks for those with the time and dedication…

A homemade nativity

Simple nativity angel

This week I made a simple Christmas nativity scene using some wooden blocks I picked up from a craft store.  Painted in muted colours and with twists of wire, modelling-clay and wooden accessories, they make a calming and beautiful tableau.

How to make a simple nativity setI bought a selection of different wooden shapes (mine were from A C Moore in the US; Michaels in the US and Hobbycraft in the UK also sell similar).  I chose sets of three shapes to form my shepherds and wise men, and then picked out shapes that could be crafted into the other key figures in the stable…

simple nativity set building blocks

I gave Joseph and Mary two layers of pale grey paint, and then rolled out a rectangle of white modelling clay to form their clothes, pressing a wooden button into each as it dried.  Baby Jesus too just has a thin sheet of clay to swaddle him; his cradle is a giant coat button and a soft handful of dried moss.

Simple nativity Joseph Mary and baby JesusOur shepherds have simple clay headcloths, tied with a small length of leather cord; their crooks are wooden pins (designed to use with wooden wheels in toy-making I think; but any piece of twig or stick would do).

simple nativity shepherdsnaive shepherd dollsThe wise men have simple crowns made by rolling out a length of clay and cutting it with serrated scissors (If you don’t have these, just use a craft knife to cut out triangle shapes).  Their gifts are little wooden squares (repurposed from a rubber stamp alphabet kit!), topped with the same little buttons as Mary and Joseph’s clothing.

three wise menthree wise men nativity dollsAnd finally Gabriel; my favourite angel.  Hand-cut wings of clay are pressed into his back, and a thin length of gold wire thread around his head to form a halo, topped with a tiny clay star.  He stands on a wooden block, keeping watch and centering the scene.  He makes me smile.

Simple nativity angel

A simple nativity, that looks all the better for being a little rough and ready and unformed.  It’s a very satisfying project for a winter’s afternoon… and the first sign of Christmas to appear in our home!DIY Simple nativity scene

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Lest We Forget (simple DIY poppies)

poppies made with coffee filters With Remembrance Day on Sunday, I decided to have a go this week at making poppies, using coffee filters to create simple yet beautiful oversized blooms in commemoration. Here they are…coffee filter poppiesIMG_2355

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To make these, I took a pack of coffee filters and separated them into little clumps of 3 or 4, then filled a shallow bowl with around 1cm of water, adding bright red food dye.  Make the concentration quite high for a really vibrant colour.  Place the stack of filters upside down into the bowl and within seconds they will soak up the colour and turn red. Lift them out, tip the water away and turn them upside down to dry, squishing them together to help them hold their shape (when they get very wet, they want to collapse and lie flat; keep them standing tall!).  I placed mine in a very low-heat oven to dry out for ten minutes, but leaving on a counter-top overnight would work equally well.

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When they’re completely dry, dip a wet brush into a pot of black food colouring and then touch it in the centre of each flower bundle; this will give you a spreading, fibrous black circle to mimic the heart of a poppy.  Leave to dry, at which time you can add further finishing touches and definition with your paintbrush. (Perhaps needless to say; by this point I was covered in red and black food dye and wielding wet coffee filters and loaded paintbrushes, so this stage goes visually unrecorded..)

As these were commemorative poppies rather than just pretty flowers, I decided to stitch a military button at the centre of each of mine (leftover from this project)

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When you’ve made your poppies, a few ideas..

  • Attach a pin to the back and wear as a brooch, with a simple dark top; vibrant and head-turning
  • Wire them to faux stems (or even real bushes and plants) and place them outdoors this weekend
  • Thread them into a wreath, either using a wreath form or stiff wire
  • Gather them into a simple bowl and set them in the middle of the table
  • Thread onto string to make a garland for a window-frame or mantel

p.s. Remember the utterly mesmerising sea of poppies at the Tower of London in 2014?

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The Circle of Life

IMG_1997When we got married almost ten years ago, I slipped a champagne cork from the wedding breakfast into my husband’s pocket as a memento of the day. A year later, I did the same on our first anniversary, and then again when we raised a (very small) glass to toast Harry’s arrival into the world.  Slowly, unthinkingly, I began to assemble a collection of corks from the most memorable events in our lives.  Be it great dinners with old friends, Christmas and birthday parties, new jobs, reunions and celebrations big and small; whenever I remembered I’d scribble the date and event on the cork and stash it in the kitchen drawer.

But joy has no place in a drawer, so last weekend in a sentimental mood I tipped it out and began to create a huge circle – a wreath of corks – to hang on the wall in the kitchen and remind us of all of the magic that’s happened, and all that’s yet to come.  Tucked in the drawer now instead is a small tube of glue so that we can easily add the next cork, and the next one; layer upon layer…

IMG_2023To make this cork wreath….

I drew and cut a big (about 70cm) circle out of grey board, and then sprayed it with a copper-colour paint in case the card showed through between the corks. I deliberately cut a narrow ring so that the corks would appear to ‘float’ and the background would be invisible; the inner ring of corks are glued to the cardboard, but the outer ring(s) are simply glued to the corks themselves; their weightlessness makes this easy.

IMG_1902I used wood glue because that’s what I had to hand, but gorilla glue or any strong adhesive will work; I built this on the kitchen counter over the course of an afternoon and used glasses and cups to hold the corks in place whilst the glue set.  Position each ring as offset to the one before, so that the corks nestle between each other; this gives it strength.

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IMG_1917To hang on the wall, simply add a loop of thin wire around the ring and hang on a hook.  Consider it an ongoing life project which should never be considered finished, and whose gaps are to be filled as soon as a new occasion for celebration presents itself…

IMG_1951p.s.  from the archives: another use for those champagne cork-cases (scroll down), and two fun ways to wrap a bottle.

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DIY Constellation Pumpkin

DIY Constellation pumpkin

It’s almost Halloween!

I have to confess, the spooky side of Halloween is not really for us; Harry has long been a-feared of witches, ghosts and all things spooky, and after brief experimentations with ghoulish decor we’ve decided to instead embrace the bits we love; the baking, the trick or treating and the pumpkins. Oh, the pumpkins.  Every year I buy several monster ones and every year I find myself shoulder deep in seeds and pumpkin flesh, scooping out a seemingly unending sea of mush.  Every year I remind myself to remember next time to wear gloves.  Every year my nose starts to itch during the messiest bit.

This year, I made a constellation pumpkin, inspired by the wondrous Martha.  I love the night sky and it seemed somehow fitting to have a pumpkin in our porch that mirrors the stars above… so armed with a drill and a craft knife and a somewhat loose recollection of the major constellations, I began.

I sketched the rough position of the stars with a pencil, googling the different shapes and then  - very quickly – resorted to making up my own to fill up the space.  Press lightly so your hand doesn’t slip into the curves and furrows of the pumpkin, and reassure yourself that everything looks better by candlelight – by definition therefore, your pumpkin will look awesome.  I used a drill to bore through the holes (keep it whirring as you pull it back out, to clear the pumpkin from the hole), and a craft knife to carve out the joining bars, angled at 45 degrees to create a triangular channel and reduce the risk of cutting through the whole pumpkin shell.  I will not lie to you; this takes a little while, as you can intuit from the changing light in my pics below…

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Martha Stewart used a heirloom pumpkin which was already a fetching and atmospheric shade of blue-grey.  My pumpkin was a £2 supermarket pumpkin and hence vibrantly, inorganically orange, so I lightly daubed it with paint to tone it down a little…

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…and here it is!

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I used a string of fairy lights inside the pumpkin, with a few pushed into the actual drilled holes (you can see them burning super-brightly above).  This really looks beautiful and helps to highlight the different constellations as dusk is falling, or if you are keeping the pumpkin indoors in a dimly lit room.  Don’t worry though if that seems either too messy or too fiddly – by the time it is truly dark, the pumpkin will glow all over and all of the stars stand out.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, wrap up warm on the porch, and admire your handiwork…

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p.s. I carved this a few days ago and now appear to have turned the entire kitchen into a fruit fly sanctuary and haven, due to my rather haphazard clearing up of fermented pumpkin innards.  All eradication tips welcome…

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Every Child is an Artist

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Picasso famously asserted that ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.  It’s a great question to ponder; why do so many children change from being magnetically drawn to any available paper and crayons to declaring, somewhere in the double-digit years, that ‘I can’t draw’, and never feeling inclined to do so again?

Harry is still at an age and stage where he loves all things arty and crafty, and I’m keen to gently foster this as far as possible.  Here are a few of the things we’ve discovered and loved together…

This book is a favourite, packed with brilliant ideas for drawing projects, like drawing by torchlight, making monoprints and staging an art party.  I can’t tell you how much I love it.  Our first project was a simple fruit bowl still-life, arranged by Harry, that we drew together at the kitchen table.  The challenge was that we had to use oil pastels (neither of us had tried this before), and use a coloured paper background.  Harry won Best in Show for his picture (I was robbed!).  I liked it so much that we scanned it and made it into a set of cards;

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The internet is a fantastic resource both for blogs and for tutorials.  We loved watching Quentin Blake showing us how to draw Willy Wonka, and sat together with our pens and paper, following his pen-strokes and creating some astonishingly passable imitations.  Try typing ‘how to draw a ….’ into your search engine, filling in the blank with whatever you are passionate about (unicorns, pterodactyls, tractors, volcanoes… you name it, someone somewhere will have a tutorial showing you how).

This blog is great for a steady stream of ideas and projects; the Facebook feed is one of my favourites.

Museums and art galleries are also a favourite and a source of continual inspiration.  But here’s the thing; we whistle through them at a rate of knots, going where Harry’s interest takes us and staying for as little or as long a time as we feel like.  We take a sketchbook and pencils and settle down on quiet spots of floor or benches to draw the things that capture our attention.  Favourites include the V&A in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Tate Modern.  On my list for a long time has been the House of Illustration (and how I wish we could have teleported to California to visit this!)

Workshops are also fun; during school holidays I often sign Harry up for classes for a couple of hours to try new things, like Lego animation (a HUGE hit), clay-making (hit and miss) and this most recent triumph; a short class at a local art shop teaching kids how to draw wolves using charcoal.  An unusually specific topic, but for this seven year old it was just about the coolest thing to know how to do.  And the result was awesome.  We framed it and it now hangs, three-foot-wide and howling at the moon, in the snug.

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ps Three ways from the archives to make kids feel ever prouder of what they make; an art desk calendar,  a matching pairs game and these cereal box pegs from yesteryear.

Cereal box pegs

mantel pegs tutorial from www

Happy Tuesday!

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