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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

 

The Door in the Woods

The Secret Fairy Door



A couple of years ago, soon after we moved into our home, Harry and I began to hear strange skittering noises under the floorboards.  Small things occasionally went missing or turned up in unexpected places.  ’Mice!‘, said my husband.  ‘Borrowers!’ I replied.  Harry was mystified.  Then, we discovered these small doors in the skirting boards (below) and realised that we are not alone.

Fairy Doors in the Kitchen

we’ve come to enjoy watching the comings and goings of whoever lives behind these doors; post is delivered, sometimes with milk or a fresh supply of logs.  But we always assumed that the Borrowers, or fairies, or Lego men – whoever they were – lived indoors… until yesterday, when we were kicking a ball around the garden and discovered the door in the tree;

The House in the Woods

Lit by a small lamp and almost disguised amongst the foliage was this ornate front door, complete with welly boots and a rake, and a freshly swept porch.  We were very taken aback…

Fairy Doors in the Forest

It prompted us to rummage around a little further, at which point we stumbled across what looks like a tiny children’s playground, complete with tyre swing, straw bales, sandpit and even  an abandoned buggy (maybe we made too much noise?).

Fairy Playground



Well… a truly magical garden, and a whole new place to look for signs of tiny life.  We did try knocking on the door of the Tree House, but there was no reply – this time.

If, having paced out every inch of your garden or backyard, you find no signs of miniature life and want to encourage a few fairies or little people to move in, you could perhaps create your own tree doors and playgrounds.  I used unpainted doll house doors which I daubed with grey and green paint before sealing with varnish, adding tiny door furniture and borrowing some accessories from Harry’s ark and toy box.  The tyre swing is a Lego tyre, temporarily borrowed from a Lego City fire engine and repurposed.  The tiny replica gas lamp was a junk shop find (amongst a bag of mixed dolls house furniture and accessories), and miraculously works with a tiny hearing-aid sized battery, casting a magical glow over the undergrowth.  eBay is a good source too for miniature accessories and pre-loved dolls house kit.

To protect the tree from damage I simply glued the door to the bark in a natural hollow; a strong enough hold to allow the door handle to be tugged, but not a permanent fixture.  Oh, and a word of caution; when I first crept out at dusk to create this scene for Harry, I set a small dolls-house sized tomato plant by the front door, with attractive cherry-red tomatoes strung along it; by morning it was gone, and is probably even now being spat out in disgust by some local urban fox… so perhaps remove any bits and bobs at the end of each day.  Besides, half of the magic is never knowing where the evidence of the little people might pop up…

Secret Fairy Doors in the Woods

Have a great weekend!

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My Favourite Kit

In response to a recent small flurry of questions about the equipment I use, here’s a quick romp through my favourite kit and the reasons I like it.  I should begin by saying that I am completely unqualified to offer anything other than a personal opinion – I do not own so much as a Brownie badge in photography or paper craft, and am baffled by most things digital (I am awaiting eagerly the time that Harry hits his technological stride at about 6yrs old and can fix and demystify everything for me…).  Still, they’re the bits and bobs I rely on, so read on if your interest is piqued.  Where I’ve linked to stockists, it’s primarily for information, and I’ve chosen them fairly randomly; if you’re looking to buy I’d shop around for the best deal.

Camera Basics from katescreativespace

My camera, which tolerates a great amount of abuse, was a Canon 450d – I chose it 7yrs ago because when debating the question of Canon vs Nikon, I was repeatedly told that Canon was more intuitive for amateurs (the sales assistants obviously sensed my limitations within moments).  Whether or not this is true, I love my camera and it’s been reliable and awesome from Day 1.  For Christmas 2012, my wonderful husband gave me the upgraded 600d; but the single biggest change to my photos came much later when I invested in a 50mm fixed lens with a very low f/stop; it allows you to create a very shallow depth of field so that people and objects really leap out of the frame and the background melts away in a lovely blur, as in the pics above.  The effect is called ‘bokeh’ and you can read much more about it, with some other good lens recommendations, here.  These lenses don’t come cheap – they can be more than the camera itself – but if Great Aunt Susan dies peacefully in her sleep and leaves you a vast legacy, I’d suggest popping one on your shopping list.

1.  Canon EOS 450D/600D, 2. Canon 50mm lens, entry level or pro, 3. I have one of these wrist-straps and it’s invaluable when juggling a camera, a child and an ice-cream etc..  and 4. An inexpensive but super-useful lens cleaning brush

My camera came with a free DSLR bag, but I soon got sick of lugging it everywhere in addition to a nappy bag or handbag (sometimes all 3; when combined with the sartorial devastation caused by new motherhood, I’m surprised that people didn’t toss coins at me as I shuffled through the park..).  I looked at stylish camera bags but the loveliest of these tended to run into £100s.  Then I realised that I was trying to find a camera bag that looked as good as a handbag, and common-sense struck; after some thought, I trimmed all the exterior pockets and flap off the camera bag and now simply tuck it into whatever handbag or tote I’m using that day; it looks much cooler and lessens the risk of me leaving bags behind wherever I go.  And it’s a great way of converting a nappy/diaper bag once you no longer need it too.  Amazon has DSLR bags in its ‘basics’ range for under £10.

DIY Camera Bag Insert

I do a lot of paper crafts on the blog, and often have printables to download like these superhero cuffs.  A common question is how to get the same vibrancy of colour when using a regular home printer.  My printer is an Epson Photosmart 1400 (now replaced by the 1500 below which is the same with a few extra bells and whistles).  I wanted a printer that would print in large format, and it does – beautifully – though it takes up a fair amount of desktop space and the ink cartridges are expensive.  Epson inks are repeatedly described in the creative community as having the greatest colour intensity, and they certainly seem to deliver the goods.

Here’s the thing though; the biggest difference I see is in the paper I use; basic copy paper produces an acceptable but rather dull print-out as you see below left, whereas choosing professional-grade paper (I use HP matte) produces terrific vibrancy without changing any of the settings – the straightforward like-for-like comparison shows you the difference.  The paper is more expensive, as you’d expect – but still much cheaper than upgrading your printer.  I use it for craft projects and then switch to basic paper when printing emails etc.

Tips for great printing

So there we have it; my kitbag preferences and passions, for what they’re worth.  If you have other favourites or have had different experiences, do feel free t0 share in the comments below.  I’m also starting to think about a my-first-camera for Harry who is becoming fascinated with both sides of the lens; my inclination is to charge up my old pocket-sized Sony Cybershot and encourage him to have a play, but I’d love to hear if you’ve helped to grow a child’s enthusiasm for taking photos; any tips or hints?  I look at the dedicated plastic ‘kids’ cameras and recoil slightly at what seem to be inflated prices mostly for the character branding  - but I could be completely misguided. All advice welcome!

Have a great week…

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

Hello Summer!

Feature log fireplace

Hello again after a couple of weeks away… an unplanned but delicious retreat from the world where we just kicked back from work, school and routine and made the most of the sunshine and freedom that the start of the school holidays brought.  It began with fond farewells to the teachers who made Harry’s first taste of school so exciting; he painted this portrait of his class teacher to give her (I love the way she is portrayed with a beaming smile and wide open arms – exactly as a nursery teacher should be!)…

teacher cards and gifts

..then we had an amazing week of holiday in Tenerife, spent mostly in the swimming pool under cloudless blue skies.  As dusk fell Harry chose a suitably stylish outfit and we headed for the beachfront bar so he could draw some postcards to send home whilst we relaxed with a glass of wine.

IMG_8592

Once home it was time for some more fond farewells, this time to a friend who is moving to East Kenya to work with Amref and their rural doctor programme; I cheated with a shop-bought cake but then borrowed some native African animals from Harry’s Ark and made them little party hats (disks of gift wrap topped with tiny pom-poms).  If you want to have a go at these simple cake toppers,  I downloaded a free clip-art banner from here, added my text and carefully cut out two copies.  I then glued two drinking straws between them before pushing into the cake top… ta-da!!

banner cake

The cake was very much in the spirit of how we’ve spent the last couple of weeks; doing fun, creative things that take little effort and no finesse.  Like these frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and toppings, which have helped us to soldier on through the hottest of days and even count as one of our 5-a-day portions of fruit…

Frozen choc dipped bananas

Here’s what we did (using leftover chocolate from Easter – a bonus!).

Choc dipped frozen banana recipe

The only downside is that your kitchen surfaces will look a little like this for a while, and you’ll be finding pretty sprinkles in every nook and cranny for at least a month.  But hey, it’ll be worth it.

cooking with kids

We also made giant paper boats to hold popcorn on Family Movie Nights (not worrying about bedtimes with no school in the morning is wonderful…).  I took some sheets of gift wrap and used this tutorial to remind me how to craft the boats….

Plan Chest

Drinking straws and washi tape gave the boats a jaunty mast and flags…

Paper Popcorn Boats

Popcorn Paper Boats

They’d be great as  table centrepieces for a nautical or pirate-themed party…

And now work beckons once more, for a few weeks at least.  Monday morning saw the heavens open and flash-flooding across southern England as if to mark the temporary hiatus in our idling… but definitely only a temporary one.

Have a great week wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned!  I’ll be back at the end of the week.

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p.s. the top picture of painted logs is of the fireplace in Harry’s new bedroom, a work in progress – more soon.

Weekend Rituals: Cake in the House

Marmalade Loaf Cake


Saturday morning signifies the start of our weekend slowdown; the usual weekday hustle to leave the house before sunrise is abandoned and we amble around in pyjamas for as long as possible, revelling in being unwashed (Harry), unshaven (Mr B), and unflustered (me).  We have dance-offs in the kitchen, gradually drain the coffee pot and take our time over breakfast; it’s possibly my favourite time of the week. Recently, a new ritual has emerged; on Friday night Harry and I will choose a cake to bake, and then we’ll mix it up whilst we prepare breakfast on Saturday.  Something simple is the only rule; a toss-the-ingredients-in-the-mixer and-pour-into-a-loaf-tin kind of cake.  Harry goes off to his football lesson, and when he returns, bursting through the door in a spray of mud and exuberance, the cake is cooled, decorated, and ready to replace all the energy burnt off on the pitch.  This week we chose Nigel Slater’s Marmalade Cake, found by the lovely Gillian; we made a few tweaks to the recipe and I’ve decided it’s definitely a keeper… Marmalade Loaf Cake Ingredients If you’re used to working in US measures, try this classic pound cake recipe and simply adapt by adding 1/2 cup of marmalade and the zest of a large orange in with the eggs.  You’re left with a deliciously orange-y loaf cake that even marmalade-loathers will love.  I added crystallised orange slices to the top of ours; simply boil thin slices of orange in 250ml water and 100g of maple syrup for 15mins, then bake in a low oven for an hour to caramelise and crisp up… caramelised oranges And with all that orange goodness, I’m sure this would count as at least a portion of your 5-a-day fruit and veg, thereby making this practically healthy. Slice of cake I’ve become a little bit marmalade-obsessed at the moment, because buoyed by the success of last year’s Valentine’s gift, I’ve been making Mr B a year’s supply of the stuff.  Like Paddington Bear, he is bereft and unequipped for the world without a trusty jar to hand.  To counteract the relentless rain and gloom of January, I made some bright, zesty labels and  glued or tied them onto the vast array of jars and pots I needed to contain it all. Marmalade Jars Homemade Marmalade Tags

And this year, a confession; I’ve discovered the best cheat ingredient ever; pre-prepared oranges in a handy can.  No more grating, squeezing, pulping, shredding, slicing or straining – I felt almost guilty as I opened the newspaper and hummed blissfully whilst the marmalade bubbled away.  Almost.

Valentines Marmalade Jars

I hope that you had a lovely weekend, wherever you are and whatever you had planned.  We’re about to light the wood-burner and do some holiday planning for the year ahead; we’re going to hunt for a last-minute long weekend to escape the British weather, and are dreaming and scheming about our next big adventure for later in the year – New England will take some beating but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to!

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p.s. Any suggestions for next Saturday’s cake?  We’ve tried lemon drizzle, gingerbread and cupcakes so far – if you’ve any (easy!) favourites I’d love to know…

p.p.s. Here’s a downloadable PDF of my marmalade labels in case you’re making your own…

Seville Orange Marmalade Labels

Dream House Renovation: The Snug

Room Makeover Master

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are gradually restoring a beautiful yet crumbling Georgian house, one room at a time as budget allows.  So far we’ve managed some grand transformations and repurposing of spaces.  This time, it was a more cosmetic makeover needed, on one of the smallest and yet most important rooms in the house; The Snug.  Here’s how it looked before;

Room Makeover before main shot

And now;

Snug in sunlight

The snug – or the ‘Cinema Room’ as it was optimistically called by the estate agents who showed us round as prospective purchasers – is sandwiched between other rooms in the middle of the house, and has little natural light.  It’s a peculiar shape and has innumerable quirks and oddities, and yet somehow, it manages to be the place that we all gravitate towards.  Our house is on a hillside, so rooms at the rear like the snug have lowish ceilings, compared to rooms like the kitchen and bedrooms/bathrooms at the front of the house which measure almost 4 metres from floor to ceiling.

We decided early on not to attempt to add ceiling lighting but instead to celebrate the cosiness of the room and rely on wall and surface lighting to create atmosphere and corners for reading.  This lamp below is actually wired through the window frame into the next room (a conservatory) to avoid cabling trailing down the wall.

Room Makeover 5

A contemporary yet organic tripod lamp creates enough light for reading at each end of the two sofas…

Room Makeover 6

Room Maekover 6

Our only real structural change was to replace the fireplace, which had housed a faulty gas fire and a very elaborate surround which had been added at some point in the last few decades, and then painted flesh pink;

Room Makeover before shot

We had the chimney converted to fit a wood burning stove, and added a simple yet substantial stone surround, which creates a focal point for the room;

Snug lieft side

Room Makeover 7

Room Makeover 8

(I should mention here that we’re not using the stove at the moment due to unseasonably mild weather, hence the decorative logs stacked up the sides – inadvisable for wood-burners in use which get hot to the touch).

You’ll see that we kept the original dado rail, but added faux panelling under it to tie the room together and add a sense of lightness; it glows when the morning light filters in through the conservatory, and acts as a good contrast to the deeper grey-green on the walls above.  And besides, the salmon pink accent colour Just. Had. To. Go.

Snug panelling

In one of the darkest corners we hung an old French window repurposed with mirror glass, which helps to bounce the weak light around and maximise it; we also house our Christmas tree in this alcove  in December, and the mirror sends the lights glittering back into the room.

Room Makeover 10

I should pause for a moment to navigate you, as you’ll see above another window set high into the wall; that looks through into the playroom (seen here au naturel, just so you know that we don’t live in this zen-like state most of the time..);

Room Makeover 4

..And you reach both rooms by heading through from the kitchen/diner, which gives a lovely open-plan feel to the ground floor and works great for parties, where everyone can cheerfully flow from one room to the next, treading breadsticks into the carpet and shrieking with delight when they discover the presence of Lego (always the non-parents; for those of us with kids the thrill is long gone).

Navigation

One of the wonderful things about the Snug is that it seemed to absorb all of the furniture we brought with us and require nothing new; the sofas were originally bought for our last house, and were just deep-treated with stain-guard when Harry arrived (it’s working so far, touch wood).  The travertine coffee and lamp tables were the sole survivors from my husband’s bachelor pad, and even this console table survived; it’s an IKEA Malm table, given a coat of olive paint to tie it in.  Under it sits a wicker chest, hiding Harry’s giant dumper truck collection and a vast collection of unsightly but much-loved stuff.

Room makeover 3

As if there weren’t enough doors already, this one (below) leads into the hall, creating confusion and mild alarm in guests as you exit through one door to fetch a drink and suddenly reappear through another, magician-like.

Room makeover 2

This one is even more fun; it simply houses cables, DVDs, routers and all other tech paraphernalia.  Helping to extricate tipsy friends who thought it was the way to the bathroom has become a regular occurence.

Hidden door

The dado is deeper along the back wall, creating a lovely shelf on which to house photos, vases, stars and family memorabilia in a constantly changing arrangement.  The radiator is cast iron by the way, as are the huge pillars in the bay; apparently they were added in the 1930s when the house was briefly used as a film studio; it’s had a very eclectic cast of owners of the centuries, and each has left a unique calling card.

Snug corner

So you can see why we love the snug, and why most of the hours from dusk till bedtime are spent curled up en famille on the sofas, or racing cars on the coffee table.  It has held 32 people, memorably, at a festive gathering when everyone cheerfully squashed up together and forgave each others elbows – but equally, it is the perfect, perfect size for 3.

If you’ve seen anything you like or are curious about, here’s a rough crib-sheet of the colours and pieces we used;

Snug mood board

  1. Farrow and Ball paint in White Tie (woodwork)
  2. ..and Manor House Grey Estate Emulsion (walls above dado)
  3. EASIPanel self-adhesive faux MDF panelling, available from DIY stores
  4. Our wooden tripod lamp came from M&S and is no longer available, but BHS in the UK has a similar one, as does John Lewis
  5. The Malm console table from IKEA comes in red and white; we gave ours a facelift with regular emulsion paint
  6. Coffee table in travertine stone – try eBay for companies selling these
  7. Portland chesterfield sofa from M&S
  8. Alhambra fire surround from Chesneys, who also supplied the wood-burning stove.

room makeover 1

Have a great week, whatever you’re up to – and make the most the lingering few hours of the weekend (we’ll be curled up with the Sunday papers in the snug..!)

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Christmas; A Week in Pictures

Happy New Year!  Did you have a lovely break?  I hope so.  We’re slowly emerging out of our cocoon and back into the real world again, after a wonderful – if chilly – Christmas.  A few highlights to share; firstly, of course, that the Big Man himself came…..

Santa has been

We had carefully counted out nine carrots and measured a mug of milk and some mince pies, so anticipation had been high, not least after Harry found Santa’s telegram in the hearth on Christmas Eve morning;

discovering the north pole telegram

There was much debate about where to hang stockings, before Harry decided that the end of the bed was the surest approach.  On Christmas morning, he discovered a letter from Santa in the top of his stocking, talking about how busy life has been at the North Pole; describing the winter colds which have been affecting the elves and which Mrs Claus has been treating with her special medicine, and the sprint-start training which Rudolph has been leading the reindeer in to ensure the whole world is reached over the course of a single night.  Harry was transfixed – momentarily – before being thoroughly distracted by the tissue-wrapped packages in the stocking itself.

Santas letter

Our boiler resolutely failed to start, despite the efforts of several engineers, so we spent Christmas wrapped in scarves, hats, jumpers, thick socks and blankets, huddled around the open fires in the kitchen and snug.  Bathing was limited to kettles of water, which Harry saw as another Christmas present in itself (no hair washing!), and which the rest of us shivered through.  Fortunately our visiting relatives are a hardy lot, so we pretended we were camping in the wild and consigned all planned festive outfits to the back of the wardrobe in favour of warm layers; there was no glamour here this year.  Harry, incidentally, seems to have a unique thermostat that never registers the cold; he spent Christmas day mostly in his vest, accessorised with a new Batman cape and mask;

batman outfit

When it came to feasting, I focused on creating a feeling of warmth with minimal effort, so used the antlers which usually adorn the log basket to form a centrepiece, sprinkled with glitter and with neutral baubles tucked at intervals.  Glitter-dipped pinecones acted as place-name holders, and a length of black paper underneath complete with chalk sticks made for much fun between courses.  The most popular game with our rotating collection of family and friends over the break was to see who could scribble down the names of all of the reindeer first.  Have a go, it’s harder than you think;  though it’s perhaps a sign of the potency of my homemade Christmas Martinis that someone had noted ‘Nixon’ in their list.

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

Our main Christmas present to each other was a New Year escape to a beautiful little hotel in the Cotswolds, for a couple of nights of warmth, fun and relaxation; it looked so welcoming even as we pulled into the drive;

calcot manor hotel

…and Harry was immediately won over on discovering his bed (as were Digby and Marvin, who accompany him everywhere)..

hotel cookies

Back home we’ve been busy packing up Christmas decorations (how is it that the number of them seems to grow every year?)

bristle tree forest

…And making thank-you cards for the many wonderful gifts we all received.  For Harry’s, I designed a simple note and then added a picture of him in cowboy costume on the front.  I recently picked up some old and rather battered childrens’ books in a church sale and have been cutting out pictures to use as envelope liners, so this Christmas thank-you notes will come with gorgeous images from Elmer;

Harry thank you 2013 Harrys thank you cards  saying thank you after christmas

And now the festivities are truly over, and we’re left with a house that looks deliciously calm and uncluttered – and warm at last, with a happily chuffing boiler once again firing away. Spring seems a long way off still, so my thoughts are turning to all things green and to how I can ward off the January gloom with a bit of colour and new life dotted around the place; that’s the challenge for this weekend, before work beckons once again.

narcissi

Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Kate

Merry Christmas!

Mistletoe from KatesCreativeSpace

Christmas is nearly here at last, and it’s time to retreat into the warm, unplug the computer and batten down the hatches for some uninterrupted family time and festive cheer. (I say warm; our ancient boiler has this morning decided to break down in a loud puff of festive exhaustion, so we are wrapped en famille in scarves and hats in bed, it being just two degrees outside; the British Gas man will be greeted with the same feverish anticipation that children everywhere are saving for Santa Claus…)
Before I sign off though, a huge and heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of you who have followed the blog over this year; for your comments, feedback, ideas and suggestions, which have created a wonderful community and have been a source of great inspiration and energy. Your reactions to some of the crafts I’ve posted have been amazing to receive, and whilst I tend not to wade into the comments sections and thank each and every one of you, times like now are the perfect opportunity to do so, and to tell you how much it means to me; particularly those of you who do so week after week, and who share your own stories and news – it’s wonderful.

I took the decision early this year not to seek any publicity for the blog or to host advertising, so it continues as a very personal, low-key hobby. The result is that those who come here tend to stumble across it or hear by word of mouth and that, for me, is perfect; thank you to those who continue to come back each week, and a warm ‘hello’ if you’re a new reader.

As the year draws to a close, may I wish you a very, very Merry Christmas.  May your New Year bring you everything you wish for, and I’ll see you again in January; a couple of pounds heavier no doubt, but re-energised and inspired again for another year of making!

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Printable North Pole Telegram

NORTH POLE TELEGRAM

On Christmas Eve, Harry will come down to breakfast to find a telegram from the North Pole wedged in the hearth, delivered by elf post from the big man himself.  ’Flying over tonight’ it says, together with instructions for how Harry should prepare…

North Pole Telegram in the Grate

We’re lucky enough to have a huge fireplace right next to the breakfast table, so I imagine it will catch Harry’s eye over the Cheerios and build the (already high) anticipation!

North Pole Telegram in the Hearth

I designed this based on pictures of old British and US telegrams, and then used the Traveling Typewriter font which you can download free here for the text. If you want to print and adapt one of these for the little people in your own life, I’ve added printable versions below; this first one just needs you to add the child’s name;

North Pole telegram 2013

And for the second one, I’ve left it blank so that you can add whatever text you like to customise.

Blank North Pole telegram 2013

When you’ve printed it, you can mount on cardstock (red would look lovely), or simply use pinking shears for a decorative postal edge.  If you don’t have a hearth, the doormat would be a perfect alternative…

Enjoy!

Kate x

North Pole telegram 2013

Blank North Pole telegram 2013

Home for the Holidays

With just six Big Sleeps ’til Christmas, anticipation is running high in our household. We flung open our doors last Sunday to family and friends, and this for us marked the start of the festivities (and compelled us to complete the holiday decor!).  We have a couple more days of work to get through, but the house at least is ready and adorned; today let me give you a quick tour in lieu of being able to actually invite you over for a glass of mulled wine…

Holiday house Christmas bike

Remember this delivery bike from Easter?  I’ve decked it out for Christmas, using an old fruit crate which I sprayed black, tucking in a faux Christmas tree draped in inexpensive, hardy baubles.  A simple wreath is tied to the basket frame, and I used one of these paper placemats mounted on card stock to make the welcoming holiday sign.  I wired a stock of old red lightbulbs (a car-boot sale find) and draped them over the frame, before clipping on an IKEA lantern at the back.  I bought of stash of these and have used them liberally throughout the house this year, following the Anthropologie adage that anything used in excess can look quite cool…  The bike sits outside in the lane when we’re expecting guests; rain permitting, of course.

In the hallway, an old sledge carries enticing looking parcels, which are actually old cardboard boxes wrapped in wall-lining paper and tied with ribbon.  I’ve borrowed the reindeer skin from our bathroom to add more Nordic style.  The sledge is lit by a paper tree, which I’ve hung with parcels of magic reindeer food (last year’s recipe is here), and which are given to small visitors when they leave.

Holiday House Entryway

Holiday House Reindeer Food

The Fir lady from last week is now complete and has taken up residence in a quiet corner of the kitchen, where she is shown to best advantage and unlikely to get underfoot;

Fir Lady

More parcels and lanterns add to the festive effect…

Fir Lady for Christmas

The biggest Christmas display is in our long and open hallway which runs the length of the house; I wanted something that would catch your eye as you walk in, but also look interesting as you come down the stairs, or glimpse it through the kitchen doorway.  It’s on the main thoroughfare to the bathroom, so tends to stop people in their tracks as they pause to examine the various bits and pieces….

Holiday house Christmas hallway

Let’s start at the bottom; I placed a large trunk on top of our hall table, then filled a picnic hamper with straw and tucked in two festive geese, which in previous years have been left to totter along landings at Christmas, or have perched on shelves.  They look slightly curious or alarmed, as if they know they are heading for the oven; but it also has the effect of looking a little like a hot air balloon basket, which may give them cause for hope of escape..

Christmas Geese in a Basket

On top of the case is an old wooden ladder which is usually covered in paint and dust, but for now is hung with more interesting accents and decorations.  Tucked underneath is an old typewriter, with a couple of robins perched atop it, pecking at the keys;

Festive hallway display

And a carol is typed out, for those who peer closely enough…

Christmas typewriter

Arranged on the ladder are various natural decorations like twig balls and giant seed pods, into which I’ve placed baubles as if they’ve just burst open to reveal them;

Festive montage

…and remember the book folding post?  I’ve used a couple of the books I made to add another dimension to the display;

folded decorations I

folded decorations II

More garden bits and pieces are arranged on top of a zinc pedestal which normally lives on the patio, including a driftwood wreath and wooden stars;

Garden decorations for Christmas

And further down the table, an old vegetable crate is turned on its side on a stool to create a winter forest scene, using animals from Harry’s Ark and tiny bristle trees.

Crate nativity

A wicker basket is perched atop the ladder with a small tree trimmed with battery LED lights (we click it on in the evenings), and this is the view as you head down the stairs;

Holiday scene from the stairs

 

It’s a constantly evolving display as items are borrowed and replaced, or others are added; but it’s quirky and makes me smile.  In other rooms we have the Christmas tree as usual, and other, more traditional decor; this is just a taste of something a little different, to ring in the changes. I hope you enjoyed it too!

I’ll be back a couple more times before Christmas with last-minute cookie gifts, printable Santa telegrams and some wrapping ideas.  It’s ho ho ho all the way now I’m afraid; there’s no place for the Grinch here…

Kate x

Festive delivery bike