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Fat-Free Ice-cream Cupcakes! (*Okay, they’re not fat-free at all. Not even slightly).

Ice-cream or cake?  Cake or ice-cream?  Which to choose?  Debate no further; have it all.  Have both!  Well, almost…

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Last week I was inspired by this divine-looking recipe from Waitrose for cupcakes baked in an ice-cream cone and laced with marshmallow-style icing, with a hidden chocolate treat at the bottom – so we gave it a go.  Surprisingly, flat-based wafer cones (we used these ones) don’t burn in the oven, so as long as you wedge them firmly into muffin trays with some tinfoil, they’re pretty foolproof…

How to bake cupcakes in an ice cream cone

Cupcakes baked in ice cream cones

Once the cupcakes are cooled in their trays, gently slice off any tops which have risen above the cone; you want a nice flat surface for your icing.

Make the icing according to the recipe and then carefully spoon it into a large icing bag.  Unlike buttercream icing, it’s firm and pillowy and almost bouncy.  Voila..!

ice6You can test whether you have the right consistency via a number of different means.

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When you’re ready, pipe a swirl of icing onto the centre of each cupcake and then pipe around it, twisting off to give a soft-scoop flourish to the peak of each cake.

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For a true British seaside traditional effect we added a chocolate flake to half of ours…

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Marshmallow-frosted cupcakes with chocolate flake

And then scattered colourful sprinkles liberally over the rest..

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Once they’re set, the only dilemma is which one to try first..

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But be quick.

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For those in the US, the ever-ready Martha Stewart has a similar recipe here that won’t require you to juggle conversion tables for the ingredients.

Enjoy! And excuse us whilst we have a little lie down to recover from all the taste-testing…

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The Making of the Moon

Space fever has gripped our household and refuses to let go.  Ever since British astronaut Tim Peake went into space recently and begun sending back reports of the challenges of zero gravity, the peculiarities of space food and the challenges of showering, fascination with the planetary system has been all-consuming.

So we made our own moon…

papier mache moon

The beauty of this one is that it doesn’t take  years of preparation and three days of space travel to get there.  In fact, a mid-sized ladder would do it.

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We started with a round balloon (ours was about 24 inches, from eBay, Amazon or party shops), and placed it on a waste-basket before covering it liberally with plaster of paris bandages.  We cut them into strips of about 6 inches and kept on going until the balloon was covered.  I wore rubber gloves.  Harry didn’t.  We still have a trail of small white handprints on every surface.

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Then to make craters for the moon’s surface, I cut the bottoms off a few paper cups and we glued them in place, before covering with more small strips of plaster of paris…

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Moon2

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We waited until it was completely dry.  The advantage of plaster of paris is that this took about 4hrs instead of a week.  And we only needed two layers.  For the terminally impatient and easily distractible (us, I confess), it’s perfect.  Then we took turns in daubing it with grey, black white paint, before adding a finally coat of shimmery ivory pearlescent paint to catch the light when hung from a bedroom ceiling..  moon4

And now we’re just bickering about whose bedroom it gets to hang in.

moon5A few tips if you’re keen to have a go…

  • At risk of stating the obvious, make sure you’ve got a round balloon to start with; most multipack balloons are oval, so look carefully.
  • The plaster of paris is great fun but takes a bit of getting used to (we got ours from Hobbycraft in the UK, in a pack of 10 rolls for £8).  We dipped our strips in a shallow tray of water and draped them quickly to avoid them getting tangled up.  You can smooth out the creases in situ.  And the moon is a very bumpy place, don’t forget.
  • To hang the moon, use a bradawl to make a tiny hole in the top and then push or screw in a small cup hook; use a dab of strong glue around it afterwards to ensure it stays in place, and wait till dry before hanging.
  • Invite all your friends over to gaze in awe and explain how it only took you about an hour and was effortless and not at all messy.  Keep them away from the scene of devastation that your crafting has caused.

Good luck!

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p.s. it’s good to be back…

A Pause.

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For those who check in regularly; I’ll be taking a pause from the blog until later in July, as life and work continue at a hectic pace.

There are bicycles to be ridden, beaches to explore, deadlines to meet, and a million small moments to observe as Harry grows steadily upwards at an ever-increasing rate of knots.  Time to lean in to the moment and enjoy it. The crafting continues of course, as does a new phase of house renovation – I’ll be back with all of this and more before the end of the month.

Wishing you a wonderful beginning to the summer, and a great long weekend for those celebrating 4th July!

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Crafty projects using holiday photos

DIY Holiday Card Making

Recently, we had a beautiful long weekend in Christchurch, on the Dorset coast. It was a miraculously hot weekend in an otherwise gloomy spell of weather, so we had 3 glorious days of crabbing, rockpool exploring, sand-castle building and a myriad of other retro beach pursuits.  Here’s a few photos, if you’d like to see;

Christchurch harbour

Make a wishMake a wish and blow

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mermaids

(it took about five showers to wash out all the sand after that one, by the way…)

Kite fliying on the beach

And then when we returned home, I got creative with the photographs…

DIY Photo Notepaper

I’d taken a lot of pics with sea and sky, so decided to make this photo into notepaper for Harry; I cropped it slightly (and superimposed a different kite that was a bit more recognisable!), and then simply printed out several copies onto matt white letter paper.  Harry wrote to his godmother to tell her about our weekend…

Photo letter paper

I also printed some fun envelopes with a photograph I took of the texture of a beach hut wall, with an address bar of weathered wood.  There’s a downloadable PDF of both of these images below if you want to print your own;

DIY Writing Paper from family photos

Beach Notepaper

Weathered Wood Envelope

You could also add text to make a poster…

 

The cure for anything

But my favourite project was this;

DIY Beach Hut Cards

I used one of my photos of the old beach huts at Mudeford, and then used the ‘remove background’ tool in Powerpoint to isolate the hut itself.  I printed it onto thin white card (step 1), then cut out the beach hut.  I printed photos of Harry to fit the size of the drop-front of the hut (step 3), and cut around them.  Then..

  • Using a craft knife, cut around the sides and top of the white hatch section, and folded it down to create a flap
  • Pasted a photo behind the flap
  • Mounted the beach hut onto a pre-folded piece of white card, and trimmed the top to fit the shape of the beach hut roof…

Beach hut card DIY

…to create this fun card!

Beach hut photo card

holiday cards from photos

We folded Harry’s letter into the card, tucked it into our homemade envelope, and posted it off.

Here’s a free graphic of the beach hut which you can download to make your own if you like (instead of a photo, you could turn it into an invitation to a party or event, with the details hidden behind the fold-down flap..).

Old Beach Hut image

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes!

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DIY… Edible Greeting Cards!

Edible cookie cards from katescreativespace

I was browsing in White Stuff this weekend, wondering idly whether I am too old to wear short shorts and Really Ought To Know Better (advice please), and instead my eye caught the much safer option of this gorgeous cookie cutter (below); because who can’t resist a sausage dog?

sausage dog cutter

 

I made a batch of cookies today using gingerbread dough, and accessorised with cut-out chocolate fondant ears, candy eyes (from here and good cake decorating shops / craft stores) and pearl necklaces made from tiny ivory balls…

A tray of sausage dog cookies

They look very cute, and are quite flat and light so I then decided to turn a couple into edible greeting cards, and used blobs of thick fondant icing to attach a cookie to folded card blanks.  I had some candy bones leftover from Halloween, so stuck one of those on too…

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I have a supply of flat cards that you can run through the printer, so I added text to a couple (you can just hand-write on the front, of course instead).

Sausage dog card

These would work with any shape of cookie, and are great for something fun and a little bit different.  A few tips and words of caution from this amateur…

  • Inevitably, these are best hand-delivered to your recipient rather than entrusted to the vagaries of the postal service.  Just saying.
  • Use reasonably thick cards to stick your cookies to, so that they don’t buckle with the weight.  The bigger the cookie, the thicker the card…
  • And you might need to use a slightly bigger envelope if your cookie is thick; these dogs slipped in fine, but only just.
  • It sounds obvious, but…. make sure the cookie is completely cool and dry before you stick it to the card, and then wait long enough for the fondant to dry so that the cookie doesn’t slip.  It’s very very very tempting to rush ahead to see the finished result.
  • Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough will be fine for a couple of days, but don’t make these too far in advance or they’ll get very soft and chewy.
  • When slipping your card into an envelope, place a piece of kitchen roll over the front of the cookie first, so that no grease stains come through.
  • Happy baking!

p.s. If there are any cookies leftover when you’ve made your cards, you are entitled to eat all of them.  Cook’s privilege.

Hope you’ve had a wonderful long weekend!

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DIY Projects: The Book Vase

DIY Vintage Book Vase

Our village has an extraordinary supply of second-hand bookshops, including one that gives away books for free that have been rescued from landfill.  Every weekend we have a browse, and usually come back with new treasures.  As a result, my shelves are creaking and my supply grows faster than I can read or repurpose them. I used a vintage graphic atlas bought last year to make this gift for a friend’s new baby..

Matilda's Map Dress

I also use illustrations from childrens books to make colourful envelope liners, and make secret boxes from the covers of interesting-looking books, by removing the text block (tutorial here).

Kates secret book box

This time I used an old book full of tips for gardeners to make a simple vase for fresh flowers (I love the title; these days it would be the ‘Dummies Guide’ or similar; not quite the same..).  Here’s what you need;

Making a book vase

  • And old hardback book with a sturdy, undamaged spine
  • A cardboard box that fits inside the book, and is the same depth as the spine
  • A water bottle, with the top sawn off
  • Glue, craft knife, ruler and pencil.  Coffee, chocolate, good music all optional but recommended.

Firstly carefully remove the book text from the spine by slicing down either side of the pages that hold the book pasted to the cover. Remove the book and set aside, leaving your hardback cover which should lie flat.  Place the box (without lid) inside it to check for fit.

Carefully slice out one side of the box, leaving an inch around the edges for stability and to help it maintain its shape.  Press the long side edge of the box against the spine and then glue the box into the book cover, as shown below.  It’s best to leave several hours for the glue to set; lie it flat and place something heavy on top of it to encourage the adhesion.

making a book vase step 1

Once the glue is dry and secure, slide your water bottle into the open ‘book box’ so that it is resting on the bottom.  Use a jug to carefully fill it with water…

Making a book vase step 2

And then just add your flowers!

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Add twigs for artistic effect.  Regret never having had any training in the art of floral arrangement.  Decide life is too short.

Book Vase

And then when your flowers are past their best glory, simply remove them and the bottle, and either clean out the bottle or replace it. Job done!

DIY Book Vasr

Have a wonderful weekend, when it comes!

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Simple Pleasures: A Boy and a Box

DIY Play Castle

Harry and I have a new weekend tradition.  Each Saturday we have breakfast and then head for our local garden centre, where I browse the plants and choose a bunch of flowers for my studio desk.  Then after we’re through the checkout, we head for the huge supply of discarded cardboard boxes that the centre offers free to customers.  Harry studies them carefully; sometimes there are rich pickings; boxes big enough to climb into, with lids!  Other times the choice is scarce and more imagination is called for.  He gets to choose two boxes each Saturday.

We stop at Starbucks for coffee and then return home for some serious construction work…

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Harry does all of the architecture and design work, with me as his able assistant for the occasional bits that require the wielding of a sharp craft knife or the tearing of tape.  This week he built a castle, with a drawbridge-like wooden door….

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But then a castle without a dungeon is really no castle at all, so we built an extension with a prison grille to keep baddies at bay…

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And then – of course – a flagpole and even shutters for the dungeon, so that it could be hidden away. And another storey, for legitimate overnight guests to the castle..

Castle

Castle and dungeon

I love the simple pleasure of Harry’s box-building, and I hope it goes on for a very long time indeed.

Long-time followers of this blog will know that when harry was tiny, some of his first toys were made from cardboard boxes, like this rocket

cardboard-rocket-from-www

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And pirate ship…

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…And it’s an absolute joy to see him now so captivated by the potential of a simple cardboard box himself.

It makes the lightening-fast process of growing up seem to slow down just the tiniest bit, allowing me to revel in every moment.

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

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Appleseeds and Sunshine

It’s 7.30am on Sunday morning, and we’ve been up for ages.  It’s wonderful.

We were woken by brilliant shafts of sunlight through the cracks in the curtains, and it was too irresistable to ignore.  So we began the day with a picnic on the terrace before the rest of the world woke up; sipping coffee as the birds sang, revelling in the day.  We’ve needed this sunshine for so long, and it feels amazing.  The weekend so far has been spent pottering outside; planting, planning ahead for a summer of outdoor living and imagined parties that go on long into the night.  Harry has been spring-cleaning  The Little House  and serving notice to the millions of critters who took up winter residence inside. He’s made of stern stuff, that boy.

This time last weekend we were at a family Christening and reunion for my  smallest nephew and niece; a beautiful, fun service in a tiny church near their house.  We pondered for a while what to choose as Christening gifts; they are 4 and 6 so not babies, and have many of the things already that one might otherwise traditionally give.  In the end, Harry and I settled on apple trees, thinking that they could plant them in their garden and tend them over the years ahead, nurturing them into fruit and then coming home to see them as adults; a gift for a lifetime….

Apple trees as a Christening gift

I chose two different trees, both of which are promised to fruit abundantly in very short order (because waiting for anything to happen when you’re small is sooo hard), and wrapped the pots in simple burlap and scraps of leftover fabric;

Apple trees tied with burlap

For a card, we moved to the art room and Harry made an apple tree collage, using off-cuts of paper of every colour, and wallpaper for the tree trunk;

making a collage apple tree

It turned out pretty well!

Apple tree collage

And now the day beckons again, unfolding before us deliciously.  We have some more planting to do; Cucamelons for pots on the patio, and passion-flowers to grow over an arch leading down to the lawn.  And then some tennis practice (Harry hitting wildly and exuberantly; us running for miles to retrieve balls – we’re doing this all wong…), and then a party, because when you’re six, life is a social whirl.

Have a wonderful day, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto!

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Altered Books for Little People

 

Making Creative Colouring Books for Kids

It’s that stage of the Easter Holidays where time seems to drag and even Harry occasionally thinks wistfully of school restarting, so we’ve been extra-resourceful this week and have had a go at making altered sketchbooks, inspired by this lovely – and very simple – idea from Rock & Pebble; a kids’ sketchbook shaped like a house, ready to be filled with drawings and pictures.  Aren’t they cool?

Dollhouse book by Rock & Pebble

You can’t buy these in the UK (and at $27, you might just pause anyway), so we thought we’d have a go ourselves and raided Harry’s art cupboard, where I always keep a stash of bulk-buy sketchbooks.  We decided to have a go at making a castle book, so I carefully measured and drew turrets, and used a craft knife and safety ruler to cut them out (metal rulers like these with a finger groove are ideal and minimise the risk of profuse amounts of blood on your castle, however authentic that may look)…

Making altered notebooks

We then took a second notebook and drew and cut out a simple slanted roof, and added doors to each, like so…

Altered notebooks for kids

I had some leftover brick-printed paper from Harry’s knights and castles party last year, so we glued this onto the castle book and added a couple of paper flags for extra style..

DIY Castle Sketchbook

And Harry immediately settled down to colouring and creating, drawing knights, arrows, shields and battles…

Altered Castle Notebook

Castle colouring book DIY Knights colouring book DIY

Yesterday, we decorated the cover of the house book together, adding brick paper, shingle roof tiles and other bits and bobs of decoration.  We love how it turned out…

Harrys House Book customised drawing book for kids

Harrys House Book DIY Colouring book for kids

The inside is still invitingly blank, and our plan for tonight is to take the Ikea catalogue, a pair of scissors each, some glue and a huge array of snacks (it is the holidays after all), and collage a room full of all of our favourite things onto the pages… watch this space!

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing….

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DIY customised drawing books for kids

An Easter Miscellany

Easter carrot cake

hello, happy Tuesday! How was your Easter?  We had a lovely few days of relaxing at home, albeit with some of the wildest weather we’ve ever seen; glorious sunshine on Good Friday, then lightening, thunder and Biblical rain for the rest of the weekend, with trees felled and power lines down.  It was a good weekend to stay home and nest with family, and make cake, so that’s what we did…

Carrot cake!

A carrot cake!  Not a proper carrot cake; no vegetables were harmed in the making of this sponge…but instead a four-layered orange cake with vanilla frosting and faux carrots, fashioned from fondant icing rolled into cylinders, scored with a knife and rubbed lightly with green food colouring before being topped with a sprig of coriander.  Lots of fun to make; even more fun to eat…

DIY fondant carrots

And then to the garden centre for spring tulips to brighten the house; armfuls of these gorgeous beauties, which now adorn my desk in the studio...

Spring tulips

A bowl of spring tulips

And from the garden, some last-minute daffodils picked between rain showers, and arranged in a jug on the table, which I covered with a length of cut fabric from a local store.  With life so hectic, we didn’t make elaborate preparations for Easter this year – it was all last minute, and somehow just as lovely for that.

Garden daffodils

Easter saw the end of the school term, and Harry came back with his book bag bulging with weeks worth of art projects and treasures.  His class has been learning about the Arctic, and drawing and painting the animals that live there.  I loved these quirky penguins and polar bear (‘no it’s not a sheep, Daddy’ said Harry, in a tone of wearied resignation)

North pole artwork

I placed the animals on a sheet of paper and took some photos, and then decided to make the smallest penguin (‘he’s actually called Penguin Small, Mummy’) into next year’s Christmas cards, printing out a handful and stashing them away for Harry to use at the end of the year.  I am rarely this prepared, trust me…

making artwork into cards

DIY Christmas cards using kids art

Then with the printer warm and ready, I chose a couple of Spring photographs from last year and created a few rather more seasonal cards to send to friends and family, using gift wrap to make simple co-ordinated envelope liners..

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And finally… I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I made three.  The first was to try to feel less guilty about everything.  The endless juggling and near-misses and just-good-enoughs that are the fabric of life as a working mum.  That’s a whole other post, I suspect, and I am doing decidedly averagely on that.  4 out of 10, perhaps.  The second was to read more, and I am, and am loving having a pile of books by my bedside, continually being replenished.  The third resolution was that this be the year of Friendship.  I tend to swing wildly between family and work, work and family, and time with friends is a precious rarity.  This year is my year of saying yes to every opportunity I can to spend time with my friends, and so far it’s working wonderfully.  It’s oxygenating, and affirming, and wonderful, and as much the stuff of life as everything else.

Last week a whole bunch of us went to a local pottery cafe and let loose with our creative instincts, and it was a magical, hilarious night.  Ignore the bottles of wine (there were twelve of us, I promise, just mostly out of shot…)

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Amidst the gossip and toasting and sharing and comparing of outfits and fetching aprons and creative endeavours, I painted this very sullen and miserable looking cat, in the style of Ronald Searle..

Plate

And he came home this weekend, glazed and fired and as morose as ever.

Cat plate

I confess I am a little bit proud.

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

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The Archivist

Yearbooks together

Welcome back! and Happy Easter (almost) ..I’m looking forward to the chance to catch breath once again after a frenzied few weeks at work, and the chaos of the end of term at school for Harry.  The weather looks grim, but we are undaunted; it is as easy to eat vast amounts of chocolate in the rain as in the sunshine (easier! No risk of melting).

One thing that has been a lovely distraction in recent evenings has been completing last year’s Family Yearbook; an annual project to document all the best bits of the year before, and to translate the thousands of odd photos on my Mac into something physical that we can all flick through and talk about.  I began when Harry was two, and we now have four books in a nook in the Snug, which are regularly taken down and explored all over again..

Family Yearbooks

The biggest part of our yearbooks is always the family photographs, but it’s also a place to capture stories, passions, events and moments in time, like the time last year when the Tooth Fairy made her grand entrance…

Capturing the tooth fairies visit

And my brief flirtation with gardening in 2014 which produced an intense flurry of of interesting botanicals over a period of about 8 weeks before I got bored and forgot to water anything…

Gardening yearbook

And the funny things that you want to remember, like the time when Harry was just learning how to write, and was frustrated by the number of adult conversations that seemed to go on FOREVER without a long enough break for him to interject.  These notes were passed to us in the kitchen one evening by a stony-faced Harry, and were too good not to capture for posterity..

Notes

And I’ve also documented our gradual renovation of the house, like the guest room last year;

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Inevitably, the design and format of the yearbooks has changed over time, and it’s fun to look back on that too, as my own style has evolved and my comfort with the camera increased.  In some years I’ve grouped the book by season…

IMG_0187  Memory book seasons

And in others, by month..

January

Some things remain constant; in each book I have a section at the back for a gallery of Harry’s projects from the year; it’s fun to see the difference (and the things that stay the same; my thigh gap will never reduce; I am reconciled to this now..)

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2013

I use a software programme that allows to you to choose different designs for the front and back covers (these below are the paper fruit we made in 2014, which miraculously have survived 18 months in the playroom without incident, beyond mild denting);

Yearbook back cover

Family yearbook back cover

I’ve learned the hard way that the best way of building a yearbook is to do it as the year unfolds (sitting on New Year’s day staring down the barrel of 3,426 photographs and a blank book template is no fun at all), so this year I am finally ahead of myself and have the 2016 book saved permanently as a work-in-progress that I add to every couple of weeks; my goal is that on New Year’s Eve I can just click save for one final time and press the Order button..

If you’re tackling a project ike this for the first time, I shared some thoughts on what to include here.  But I’d love to know other ways you use photographs and preserve memories – all tips welcome in the Comments section.  We have the Memory Jar, and hidden in the loft, the Time Capsule, and of course the blog itself; but I’m always looking for other ideas…

Have a wonderful long weekend!
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