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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!

handbag logo

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

Quick Tricks: Printing Onto Tape

Magic tape printing master

How are you… are you having a good week?  We are beyond excited as our New England trip looms; suitcases are packed and stand in the hall (somewhat prematurely, meaning we have to rummage in them daily for crucial things buried deep inside).  Harry is determined that his entire Lego collection should accompany us, along with his stuffed-animal menagerie, so every night under cover of darkness we stealthily unpack his backpack and try to lighten the load a little.  We cannot wait!  A quick craft therefore this week, squeezed in between frantic completion of work projects and endless small preparations and errands; I present to you the art of printing onto tape.

This may well be one of those crafts that divides readers into those who cry ‘Lawks! That’s genius! However did I live without this knowledge?’ and those who are frankly mystified as to how this could ever come in useful.  Have faith; read on.  I used Scotch magic tape, because I had it to hand, but coloured washi tape also works well and easy to print on and peel.  I decorated a box of inexpensive wooden pencils from here, and now have a pot of prettiness on my desk for those times when only graphite will do…

pencil on book

To print onto washi or satin tape (don’t try using high-glass tape like Sellotape; the ink won’t adhere and you will end up in a tangled, inky mess and blame me..), firstly print out your words onto a regular sheet of paper.  Check that the font size is right for the width of your tape, and then cover each line with the tape, as below.

printing on tape 1

Now run the sheet back through the printer, positioning it the same way as before so that it prints over the original text and – Ta-Da! – over the tape itself.  Wait for the ink to dry (don’t skip this step; adopt a yoga pose and think zen thoughts until you are sure it has dried).  Then gently peel the tape away, and position it onto your pencil (or envelope, or giftwrap, or whatever else you want to use it for).

tape printing 2

printing on tape 3
If you’re covering pencils like these, gently roll the tape around the sides and then press firmly into place.  I’ve gone for the understated, Muji-esque look, but blinging bright washi tape would be equally delicious.

printing on tape 4

Pencils on notebook

Printed Pencils

I used exactly the same technique to print a sheet of tape strips to use on the back of envelopes to help them stand out from the dreary bills and other junk mail that arrives each day;

Washi tape Printing

So there, as promised, a lightening quick technique to use whenever the fancy takes you….

DIY printed pencils

I’ll see you soon!

Kate

The eyes have it…

eyes in green

Well.. suggestive biscuits, hiccup trucks, typing on the pewticka and a visit to the Balistica in Venice – our kids (and the occasional grown-up…)  have a much better lexicon than we do.  Some brilliant comments in response to Monday’s post; here’s another one to distract you from all the important and useful things you have planned for today (but we can at least justify it as being an intellectually highbrow diversion; read on).

Research published in the journal Science this week established a connection between the reading of literary fiction and our ability to intuit expressions and understand the emotions of others.  And not only do they seem to have better emotional intelligence than others, they also apply it, resulting in enhanced empathy and social skills.  In a crude and unsound scientific algorythm, this might be represented as those who tackle Tolstoy & DeLillo for fun = nicer people.  Alas, there doesn’t appear to be the same correlation with the kind of trashy novels we recline with on the beach (the researchers gingerly used a Rosamunde Pilcher novel as the ‘control arm’ in this experiment, just to check).  The hypothesis is that because writers of true literary fiction tend to be sparing in their description of what’s going on in the minds of their characters, readers are required to fill in the gaps and make leaps of understanding and assumptions about what they are thinking and feeling.

But never mind the science, let’s get to the fun part.  A quiz; yay.  Click here and interpret each of the expressions, with a maximum of 36 to be scored.  The normal range is 22-30; if you get below that there could be a number of valid reasons including a) a complete failure to concentrate or b) a lifestyle where you only tend to encounter people who look Aghast or Anxious, thereby skewing your ability to detect other emotions.  Actually, I made that up.  I got 33/36 and am disproportionately proud, but also a little deflated as it means I have to return to doing all of the domestic things I was supposed to be doing today.

Oh, and then when you’ve done it, ask the man in your life to do the same; mine got considerably less, to his great surprise.  ’I got all the female expressions right, though’, he said, in some sort of naive attempt to rationalise the score.  I put it to him that this might be down to a life spent studying women; he wisely chose dignified silence as a response.

Give it a go, and let me know how you do…

More crafts next week, once we get off this psycho-analysis excursion (it’s fun though, isn’t it?)

 

Psycholinguistic evolution. Or: why pre-schoolers are wonderful.

memory jar

image via here

We were driving around in circles the other day, Harry and I; lost on the way to the house of a new friend from school.  ’Oh Mummy’ sighed Harry, ‘We should have asked the CatNap how to get there’.

Such linguistic slip-ups are one of the great delights of  these wonder years as Harry masters the art of language, and each time I struggle with the urge to leave them uncorrected in the hope that they  somehow get preserved forever in all of their magic.  Many are logical and smile-inducing; a plate of buzz-ghetti is a favourite food (apparently this switching of sounds is very common, along with the usual mixing up of plurals and tenses).  Others are more mysterious in origin; add parmesan to your spaghetti and you now have a plate of ‘Pasta with Damage’ – another keen favourite, though none of us can understand where the damage bit comes from.

The first voyages into empathy are also touching and occasionally comedic; when one of his classmates was tearful at the prospect of school last week, Harry leaned over to her and stage-whispered ‘It’s ok; they won’t make you have hair-washes here’ – hair washing, for him, being the most scary and distasteful thing he could imagine and therefore the obvious cause of her anxiety.

It’s hard not to laugh when these things pop out, but fortunately Harry is remarkably affable and good-humoured about causing mild hilarity. ‘I’m a funny guy’, he beams, chuckling, before testing out the correction and making a mental note for next time.  And I usually do correct, because the social perils of ignoring minor speech errors loom large in my mind; I still remember vividly the heated prickle of embarrassment of breakfast after a friend’s sleepover in my teenage years when I asked for a bowl of muesli – pronounced ‘mursley’ in our household, where such things had only been read on the packet and never heard spoken aloud.  The stunned silence around the table, and the sniggering of her younger brother before someone ventured ‘do you mean moo-sley, dear?’ almost ruined my 14th year (I was a very melodramatic teenager).  I blame my parents.  Still.

Ages ago my mum urged me to scribble some of Harry’s sayings down before they got lost in the hurly-burly of time passing and the white noise of growing up.  I harboured vague intentions for way too long, never quite settling on the right way of doing it – the right notebook to scribble them into; the right way of recording them – and thus losing countless gems in the process.  Then a couple of weeks ago I  read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts how her late husband used to keep a jar on his desk filled with bits of paper capturing the sayings of their young daughter, which he then occasionally recycled into the mouths of characters in his books.

So simple, yet so obvious.  Write them down, stick them in a jar.  Fill up the jar.

Pause at odd sentimental moments and go find the jar; sift through, smiling and remembering.  Allow yourself to become a bit misty-eyed.  Sign a poignant sigh and then get a grip.

That’s my plan anyway.  And my jar is in fact an old teapot, which sits majestically on a shelf above the kitchen sink, and is now rustling with very important scraps of paper.

I added the most recent one this morning, after we stepped through the door into a classically autumnal world of swirling mist and fog.  ’Look, Mummy!’ exclaimed Harry; ‘there’s Sky Dust everywhere!’.

A perfect world of buzzghetti, CatNaps and sky dust; long may it remain so…

Buzzghetti

 

A Chill in the Air…

Striped Holiday Candles

Arctic winds have blown through our corner of the world this week, hustling the trees into a frantic leaf fall and turning our minds to thoughts of cold, crisp mornings and snow.  The newfound chill is novel enough to feel fresh and exciting, and to make us a little giddy at the thought of Christmas approaching (I’m an unashamed Christmas person; although the grown-up in me joins in the general tut-tutting at the sight of Christmas cards in the shops in September, the child in me gets very excited…).

Preparations for the festive season can never begin too early in this house, so I waited for a break in the gusting wind and then rushed outside to practice making candy-cane striped candles, a plan I’d had vaguely formulating since the neon candle experiment earlier in the summer.  This was an experimental DIY but proved to be a very easy one.  You’ll need;

  • A handful of inexpensive red candles
  • Nail varnish remover
  • A roll of masking tape or washi tape
  • A ruler, if you are precisely minded (I did mine by sight and guesswork)
  • A can of matt white spray paint (whilst the propellant is highly flammable, the paint itself is usually fine to use; check the small-print on yours before buying).

Firstly rub the candles lightly with a cotton wool bud soaked in nail varnish remover, and then rinse and pat dry.  This will help the spray paint to adhere better.  Now, starting at the bottom of the candle, run the tape around at intervals of about 1″ (or as wide as your tape).  Repeat until the top, and then smooth around the tape to ensure it is stuck to the candle all the way around each ring (this minimises the chance of smudging or paint runs).  At this point they should look a bit like this;

pegged candles

I pegged mine up for spraying, but equally you could simply don an old rubber glove and hold them by the tips before spraying.  The bands of tape mean that you can lean them against a wall to dry, as long as you position them carefully.  I gave mine two light layers, about 3hrs apart.  If you have more patience, 3 coats would look even better… just don’t be tempted to try and give it a double-coating in one; it will run and look horrible.  Trust me.  when they are dry, carefully peel off the tape and examine;

candles drying

At this point, you can use a craft knife to gently scrape away any paint to neaten the edges, and dab any gaps or chips using a cotton wool bud with a little paint sprayed on top.  And then… well, that’s it.  Ta-da!  Have a cup of tea and congratulate yourself.

Candles in black tissue

These burn very normally without strange smells or firework effects (always reassuring to know), and look very pretty.  Not as finessed as those in high-end shops which are made from layers of coloured wax, but a very cunning and serviceable thrifty alternative (and where Christmas is concerned, any opportunity to be thrifty has to be good…).  For ultimate holiday table chic, use a handful of these candle spikes and stick them in glossy red apples.  Gorgeous.

(ps if we were partying at home this Halloween, I think I’d be making some of these using black candles for stripy witch-stocking effects).

Have a great weekend!

Kate

 

 

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Midweek Magic: A Hug in a Mug

Microwave Cup Cakes

Occasionally I get asked how I juggle a career with motherhood and blogging. Not, I hasten to add, by those who know me, because they see how much falls through the cracks and bear witness to my forgetfulness, air of general chaos and just-in-time approach to life.  Still, if there are secrets to be confided here, one must surely be that I LOVE a good shortcut, and much of my balancing act comes down to doing things on the fly,  adopting Slummy-Mummy rules wherever possible.  And let’s face it, baking cakes in a mug in the microwave won’t win me any Alpha-Mum prizes (and hallelujah to that).

Whilst I do love ‘proper’ baking when time allows, there are definitely times where our household just needs cake, and needs it right now.  Before the oven has time to heat, before I can strap on a hernia belt in order to drag the KitchenAid out from the cupboard, and certainly before any butter has the chance to gradually reach room temperature (I love those Hummingbird Bakery guys, but really – time, people!).  When the need for cake arises, I know I can knock one up in less than 5 minutes, from conception to delivery – in fact, from conception to consumption – and it tastes so good.  Trust me on this.

Choose a mug and a jug (I’m tempted to write this in rhyming couplets, so taken am I with this first line, but I will restrain myself..).

Then add:

  • 4 tbsp of self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp of sugar (caster or granulated; whatever you have on hand to stir into tea).
  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder

Mix it up with a fork, then add:

  • 3 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp of milk
  • 1 egg – crack it straight in; you can beat it in with the other ingredients (no finesse or unnecessary prep here).

Give it all a brisk whisk (there I go again), pour into your mug (fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 full), and then pop in your microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, depending on the intensity of the microwave.  Trial and error is the key here, so you may want to experiment with a couple of mugs the first time for different durations (and then eat both cakes, in the name of science).  Pull up a chair and watch; nothing will happen for about a minute, and then the cake will rise majestically from inside the cup, teetering like a soufflé high above the rim until you are sure a volcano will ensue, before subsiding gently back into shape.  At the ping, remove and blow hard before attacking with a spoon.  The surface will be somewhat akin to that of the moon, but this is not unattractive, and you can artistically decorate with icing sugar to mask it if you choose;

chcolate cup cake with star motif

Add a birthday candle or a sparkler and you will look like the best wife/mother imaginable for your ingenuity and ability to conjure up such culinary magic.

5 Minute Cup Cakes

You probably won’t want to serve these at a dinner party – they have an undeniable slight rubberiness – but they are also undeniably good chocolate cakes, and never go unfinished.  Once you’ve cracked the basic recipe (ie in about 5 minutes), try adding a couple of spoons of Nutella to the mix for a fudgey, muffin-like consistency.  Or for real decadence, bake them and THEN add a dollop of Nutella or salted caramel on the top and give them another quick blast in the microwave; as close as you’ll get to gooey, molten chocolate cakes without actually having to make them from scratch. You can add a dash of vanilla essence or a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon for a festive feel; it’s very, very hard to go wrong with this.

A final word on presentation; I tried using this method with silicon cupcake cases and various other receptacles, but there’s no question that you get the best results in a mug.  Any old mug, but a mug nonetheless.  Set shame aside and give it a go… tonight.

cake eaten

 

The Cheats’ Guide to Calligraphy (or: How to Acquire Beautiful Penmanship In No Time At All).

calligraphy using your PC

I love receiving post, and I love to write letters, though I don’t do so nearly often enough. There’s something so rare and lovely about seeing an envelope poking out from a pile of brown bills and circulars which is obviously something fun.  This week, a few tips on how to create beautiful and accomplished-looking envelopes, invitations, gift tags or any other paper paraphernalia, using just your PC and a printer.  Whether you have a Windows PC or a Mac, your basic in-built programmes are likely to contain Powerpoint (tool of jaded office executives the world over, and hence an old friend of mine).  As well as producing mind-numbingly dull graphs and bulleted presentations, it can be surprisingly versatile; I do practically all of my crafty stuff using it, including the montages you see on the blog.

If your capability with Powerpoint extends to the point where you can open a file and create a text box, then we’re cooking and ready for the off.  If you are a Photoshop aficionado and are reading this with horror at my simplistic and antiquated ways, then please cast your eyes away from the screen and cease your tut-tutting.  Right then…

amelie calligraphy envelope

harry calligraphy envelope

george envelope

  • Choose a great font.  Either choose from the default font menu, or start with the list and resources below of mostly free-to-download fonts, and have a play until you find one you like.  Many of the sites let you type in your own words to sample the font before downloading (urbanfonts is good for this), so if you have a particular phrase or wording in mind, head there to see what it looks like in each font; with calligraphy and ‘handwriting’ fonts the letters can vary a lot.
  • Use a new text box for each line of text, so that you can move words around, rotate and position far more organically than you can within a single text box.  You can see here that I’ve used a large font for the surname and then used the green rotate icon to turn it slightly.  Having individual boxes also allowed me to overlap the ‘B’ of Brown with the ‘A’ of Amelia.  The stars here were drawn using Powerpoint’s own shapes library (create one, copy and paste until you have a small constellation).

Deconstructing DIY Calligraphy

  • For dramatic capital letters, use a text box for each letter, whack up the font size and then – using a new text box – position the rest of the word (in a much smaller font) where you want it. You can see below how for this address I used multiple font sizes:

Calligraphy font sizes

  • When you’re ready to print, cut out practice templates from inexpensive paper which are the same size as your envelopes, and print /adjust until you have it exactly positioned right, to minimise wastage or misprints.
  • For white text on a coloured background, create a large coloured square to sit behind your text onscreen before converting the text to white.  You can either print this directly onto the envelope as I did here, or onto a large self-adhesive label to then stick onto plainer envelopes. To avoid a white edge around your image when printing directly onto envelopes, select a print size slightly bigger than your envelope.
  • Don’t be afraid of mixing fonts, and adding graphics like I did for my envelope flap ‘monogram’ below, which I print onto a stash of envelopes for thank-you cards or letters;

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 14.12.03

envelope flap signature

Incidentally, I love printing things on the back of envelopes… be it a warning not to open birthday cards before the big day, a simple return address or a message; it’s all the more fun because it’s unexpected…

One Good Thing envelope flap

I could continue for hours on this topic, but in the spirit of brevity, and due to the pile of actual letters I’ve meaning to write for far too long, I will stop here for now.  Below are some of my favourites and all of the fonts I’ve used here.  All are free for personal use apart from the delicious Jacques & Gilles which cost me about $30.   I use it all the time, such as for these labels and this post, and it makes me smile.  Definitely worth it for me.

Calligraphy Fonts Sourcesheet

And finally, here are some of the things I create with calligraphy fonts;

  • Personalised stationery, particularly as presents for little people, like this
  • Monogram stickers to use as gift seals or for the back of envelopes
  • The letter from Santa which mysteriously appears in our hearth in late December
  • Invitations and gift tags
  • Labels for homemade baking and jams

signature

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

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

Kate