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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.

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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

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

The Little House at Christmastime

Did you have a lovely weekend? I hope so.  We began to gradually decorate the house for Christmas, starting – of course – with the Little House, which now has a wreath on the door and a generally festive air.  Now we just need snow like last year….

 

playhouse in the snow

For our own house, we wrestled home a gorgeous but hazardous blue spruce tree, which is steadily releasing an evocative, resiny smell throughout the house.  It is taking the sting (metaphorically if not literally) out of the myriad of small puncture wounds that dot my arms and hands from the fierce, spiky needles.  At least the needles won’t be a problem for long, if the huge drifts of them which have dropped to the floor overnight are anything to go by.

In more gentle domestic pursuits, I had a recent flurry of making and freezing batches of cookie dough ready for Christmas.  Harry and I mixed up bowls of oat and raisin drop cookie dough, sugar cookie dough and our very own gingerbread recipe.  The dough that we didn’t eat raw made it as far as the freezer, and we also gift-wrapped up a few packages to give to friends, tied with butchers twine and with festive cookie cutters attached.

christmas baking christmas gifts frozen cookie dough

We defrosted a batch this weekend to make some gingerbread men for Harry’s teachers and friends at school.  A Mr and Mrs Claus set first of all;

ginerbread santa and mrs claus

I used rolled red fondant for the suits, using the cookie cutter to stamp out the shape before trimming away the hands and feet.  Pearl sugar balls are glued in place with a dab of icing, then I used a bit more icing to mount them on sqaures of black card.  The boxes are from here, and are perfect for protecting the gingerbread whilst looking pretty at the same time.  I slipped each in a cellophane bag tied with ribbon, and Harry then cheerfully bumped and bashed them all the way along the path to school.  Incredibly, they survived.

DIY Christmas Gingerbread Gifts

We used the rest of our dough to stamp out minimen for each member of his class, using chocolate buttons to decorate and lengths of twine to fashion scarves.  A candy cane makes for a dapper accessory (I picture our minimen dancing the light fantastic on Broadway; they are not introverts, for sure).  Our recipe is at the bottom if you’re feeling the urge to bake; they are very moreish.

Homemade candy cane gingerbread men

In another burst of thrifty crafting, I used our leftover scraps of wrapping paper to make envelope liners for all the plain envelopes we have; they’re a great way of sprucing up the envelopes which come with store-bought cards and making them look a bit more interesting, or of making envelopes to house giftcards or Christmas letters – anything that you’re sending at this time of year.

christmas envelope liners

homemade festive envelope liners

You can use ready-made envelope liner templates for these, or cheat and do what I did; simply place a sheet of tracing or transparent paper over your envelope, draw around the area you want to cover, and use this as a template for cutting out your wrapping paper.  Secure in place with a dab of stick glue and you’re done; very professional and yet dead easy.  You can do the same with photos, which take a bit more skill but look even more gorgeous; here are some we made last year.

And now it’s back to the world of work and school, for a little bit longer at least, though the end of the year is in sight.  This week is a whirl of deadlines and meetings for me, and Nativity rehearsals for Harry who will be bearing Myrrh in a regal fashion to towards Bethlehem in the nursery school play.  Tissues at the ready.  I keep catching snippets of carols and songs being sung sotto voce by Harry in the bath or as he builds Lego; anticipation is mounting.

Finally thank you for all your lovely comments of late, which are so good to receive.  And welcome, if you’re new to these parts; have a look at the Gallery tab to navigate your way around.

Have a good week, whatever it holds in store.

Kate

 

Kate and Harry’s Gingerbread (apologies for those who work in ‘cups’; a conversion site should be able to help..)

  • 125g butter
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g light demerara sugar
  • 320g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ginger

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together in a pan.  Sieve the dry ingredients together into a bowl.  Add the warm syrup to the flour mix, and stir well to form a dough.  Cool, cut and bake at 180 degrees for around 10mins, until the edges begin to brown.

This produces light, sweet gingerbread men with minimal spreading; it’s not the richer, plumper dough you find in Northern Europe, but is a milder taste which seems to appeal to small children and works well for shapes you want to decorate and which need to maintain definition.  Good luck!

 

New Traditions: The North Pole Repair Shop

Santas Repair Shop

Christmas is a time to revive traditions, but also – perhaps – to start some new ones.  Tonight, we will gather in the garden at twilight with a torch to send a signal up to the skies; we have a special parcel for Santa to come and collect.

Everyone knows that Father Christmas has a huge workshop at the North Pole where the presents for children all around the world are made by thousands of elves, overseen by the benevolent but watchful eye of Mrs Claus; it’s been immortalised in books and films, and is, as far as Christmas goes, a universally understood truth.  Not many people know, however, that Santa also has a repair shop, where pre-loved toys are sent in by children so that they can be lovingly repaired and restored, or simply polished and wrapped, ready to be given to another, smaller child who would adore it.

We’ve been busily collecting the clothes that Harry has outgrown, and the toys which were once favourites but are now relegated to the bottom of the toy-box, and have boxed them up to go to the North Pole.  Harry is delighted that another small boy might be waiting for his exact yellow truck – and it means that we get to clear the playroom a little ahead of Christmas when new toys are sure to arrive.

From our perspective it works a treat too; Harry’s main Christmas present this year will be his first bike; a gleaming red two-wheeler with a bell and shiny paintwork that is very cool but – without a doubt – definitely second-hand. We found it at a junk sale and knew it would be perfect for him.  Explaining that it has come from Santa via the North Pole workshop will account for the occasional scratches and dents, and give it even more of a cool factor;  the former possessions of bigger boys are much coveted.

I hope that this becomes a new tradition for us;  it emphasises the importance of giving and sharing, helps to keep our house free of outgrown toys and also allows us to have direct contact with the big man himself at the North Pole.

Five flashes of your torch, by the way, will alert Santa and the Elves that they need to swing by in the night to make the collection.  Leave your boxes by the back door or in the hearth, and in the morning you’ll wake up to find a candy cane as receipt of your package.  And parents; all we have to remember to do is to hide the boxes in the back of the car ready to give to the local charity shop or collection.

Magic.

Now, must add candy canes to my shopping list today….

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

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A Swashbuckling Adventure!

It’s Harry’s birthday in a couple of weeks, and once again we’ll be taking to the metaphorical high-seas for pirate-themed adventure.  He’s captivated by a programme called Swashbuckle at the moment; a sort of fast and furious show for under-1os where the kids have to outwit naughty pirates and reclaim their stolen treasure.  We’ve been tasked with recreating some of the games from the programme, and dressing up accordingly; I’ve been combing charity shops for suitably piratical clothing, and glueing metres of gold braid to second-hand coats and old wellington boots.  First things first though; the invitations!

Homemade Message in a Bottle Pirate Party Invites

I wanted to create something that would feel a bit magical and nautical for Harry’s friends to receive, so used plastic water bottles to create a kind of message-in-a-bottle invitation (we’ve got through quite a lot of Evian over the last few days; I’m hoping my skin will thank me at some point..).  I substituted the screw-top for a champagne cork and strung an eye-patch around each one.  (I’d love to be able to say that we’ve been nobly working our way through endless bottles of champagne over the last few days too, but in fact I’ve been saving these corks up for years in the vague expectation of putting them to some crafty use).  I secured a label to each with bakers’ twine and then set about designing the invite itself.

Swashbuckle Invitation

DIY pirate party invitations

I designed the invite on my PC, then printed a copy and carefully burned the edges away to age it and add a bit of drama, then photocopied the original to produce a whole set.  I fed these through the printer to print all the party details on the other side.  If you have a young pirate at home and want to try this, I’ve uploaded a PDF of the invite you can use at the end of the post.

We filled an otherwise gloomy and wet Sunday with the exciting task of posting these through local letterboxes, emailed invites to those further away and then began to think about costumes.  I wanted Harry to have a pair of proper pirate boots, so as a birthday present I’ve been secretly customising and accessorising these charity shop wellies which I bought for £2 and which are the perfect size…

Pirate Boots Makeover Project

DIY Pirate Boots detail

I used strips of faux leather for the cuffs, then super-glued braid around the edges, adding red ribbon and plastic coin trim around the front for a spot of extra bling (you can never have too much bling, if you’re a real pirate..).  I stitched silver buttons to the cuffs and then sewed miniature picture frames onto a length of wide black elastic for the buckles, and then slipped these over the top of the boots.

Upcycle old wellies into pirate boots

The pirate treasure chest gift box was a fortuitous find at TK Maxx, and will keep these Pirate Captain boots a secret for the next couple of weeks, to be opened on the day of the party and hopefully received with great excitement… we shall see!

Alongside the pirate preparations we’re also starting to think ahead to Christmas, so Harry and I have broken out the glitter and craft paper and are on a roll.  The builders are still here to keep us company, so the house is a sea of sparkly glitter, half-empty mugs of tea and brick dust (who needs dry shampoo? Just plaster a wall and you can wash your hair far less frequently..).  It’s chaos, but we’re still feeling zen and trying to hold on to that holiday afterglow.  In the absence of any aptitude for yoga or meditation, wine is definitely helping with the relaxation.

Ahoy There Pirate Invitation

Message in a bottle labels

 

Wanderlust

I’m back… back! 

We had 10 amazing days travelling around New England, followed by a characteristically hectic return to school, work and the chaos real life, hence the prolonged and unusual quiet here on the blog.  In the days we were gone, the seasons definitively turned; frost is in the air, Christmas is in the shops and we seem to be racing towards December already.  At home we’re in the midst of our latest building project as we gradually restore and update the house, so plaster dust lightly adorns every surface, and more treasures are being discovered as we open up fireplaces and lift floorboards – but more on that next week.

Till then, a whistle-stop tour through the very best of our time in the US, guided by your fantastic suggestions of where to go and what to see.  We booked a car and the first night’s stay, but then plotted only a day or two ahead, going where the fancy took us.  Temperatures swung from 70-40 degrees, often from one day to the next, but the relentlessly blue skies and amazing colours compensated for the blasts of arctic chill.  We had a ball…

New England life ring

We began in Connecticut and caught the last of the brilliant fall colour; Harry took to diving into the giant leaf piles that were all around, and also discovered the joys of bagels and cream cheese, pancakes for breakfast and a myriad of other culinary delights.  We pottered through beautiful villages where all the porches were decorated for Halloween, and created the Pumpkin Watch game to see who could spot the most as we drove.

Leaf drifts in New England

New England in the Fall

Inspired by all this seasonal decoration, we tracked down a local farm and discovered pumpkin patches, tractor rides, hay-mazes and apple cider…

Pumpkin Picking

Apple Picking

Despite living on an island, we can never get enough of the sea, so regularly headed out to the coast to claim the deserted beaches as our own.  With the weather bright and breezy and local kids in school, we shared the sand and rocks only with friendly dogs and fishermen.

The Ocean at Newport

We spent two days near Newport, and spent hours hunting for beach treasures, walking the cliffs and running, running, running along the sand.  Again; hardly a soul around – it reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are as Harry raced along the seashore in his new bear hat; his own private kingdom, at least until the turn of the tide…

Ocean at Dawn

Beach treasures

Ten days of amazingly beautiful places and lovely people; ten days without a schedule or alarm clock or a need for early nights and military-level organisation – it was perfect, and came at just the right time for us to decompress.  We came home with hundreds of photos, wonderful memories and – remarkably, even now – a renewed sense of calm.  Also, alas, with a few extra pounds in weight.  Obviously all that beach running didn’t quite offset all the pancakes…

Have a wonderful weekend, whatever you’re doing.  We’re starting preparations for Harry’s 4th birthday in a couple of weeks, which inevitably will be pirate-themed (just what is it about little boys and pirates?!).

Kate x

Angel at dawn