gifts

Holiday Gifting: DIY kids desk art calendar

Each year at about this time I start to think in earnest about Christmas gifts, and Harry and I plan things that we can make for the biggest people in his life; grandparents, godparents… something homemade, for those who love him the most.  This year, we’re making desk calendars made from his favourite drawings and paintings over the last year…

DIY Desk Calendar made from kids art

We chose the pictures together; some done at school, others at home.  I cut a stack of lightweight card into A6-sized pieces and scanned the artwork, adding lovely month-by-month calendar details from here.

Some of my favourites; a still life of our coffee machine and toast rack, the fruit bowl and this year’s sunflowers…

DIY Kids Art desk calendar

…and the one that makes my heart melt, a smudgy drawing that arrived back from school crumpled in a backpack; Harry’s version of Roald Dahl’s BFG.

DIY Gifts  Desk Calendar

Some of the artwork is almost a year old, like Penguin Little here – but just too lovely to leave out…

Desk calendar made from kids artwork

I bought a handful of these mini-easels (£1 each!) and removed the canvas, so that the cards could be stacked on the easel and rotated as each month moves to the next…

mini easel

And then we tucked the sets into glittery boxes with an instruction note and lots of festive kisses…

IMG_2393

And now the calendar sets are ready to be gift-wrapped and posted;

all except for one.

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

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A homemade Christmas

How was your week, has it been a good one?  It’s been a crazy busy one here; a mix of work and play, of Christmas parties and Nativity plays, of late nights and early mornings (Harry’s latest trick; to slip into our bed at an ungodly hour and whisper hoarsely in my ear ‘I love you to infinity Mummy.  Now can I stay?’).  We’re looking forward to a relaxing weekend and some festive crafting and decorating.

If you’re feeling similarly inclined, here are a few ideas from the archives for homemade gifts for those you love…

Like pinecone firelighters, for everyone you know with an open fire or wood burner;

DIY Pinecone firelights

Bake-at-home cookies for the students in your life who eat you out of house and home but wouldn’t dream of making their own unless you made it this simple..

Christmas Cookies in a jar

Or perhaps a tinful of these simple DIY bird-feeders, which are easy for small hands and will be a gift for the birds in your garden too…

DIY Bird feeders from katescreativespace

You could make batches of these fun striped holiday candles and tie them up as stocking-filler gifts…

Striped Holiday Candles

Or fill mason jars with their favourite sweets

candy jars as christmas gifts

Three different types of cookies to make and take to your holiday parties..

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Or why not make a 2015 mini photobook for grandparents or friends of some of the best photos from the year?  They look beautiful on the mantle..

DIY Vacation Photobook

And one of my favourites; DIY personalised pencils, made by printing onto washi tape.  If you haven’t tried this, you really should…

Magic tape printing DIY

And finally if you’re choosing gifts for a book-lover, why not make them some of these whale-tail bookmarks to keep their place each night…

whale tales bookmarks

I’ll be back after the weekend; I hope you have a wonderful one!

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The gift of…. Breakfast.

Sunday morning croissants

Back in January, we spent a lovely evening at my friend Anna’s house.  Twelve of us squeezed around her dining table, talking to and over each other, eating and drinking into the wee small hours.  The party continued after we all left, as Anna and her husband cranked up the stereo and threw some moves, ignoring the scene of culinary devastation in the kitchen.  A perfect night, all told; but what of the morning after?

‘I have the hangover from hell‘ texted Anna gingerly the next morning, ‘And there’s no food in the house because I didn’t think beyond dinner.  I would KILL for carbohydrates right now.’

It was a lightbulb moment for me; so now when we go to friends for dinner I generally take a bottle of wine – and breakfast.  The kind of slightly decadent, Sunday-morning breakfast that you can indulge in whilst reliving tales of the night before and revelling in your marvellous hostessery (new word, but you know what I mean..), before the realities of cleaning up and entertaining the kids with a hangover properly kick in.  I find croissants (butter, almond or chocolate; all divine), really good jam and fresh bread go down a treat, and also require no attention when you hand them over; they can be set down and forgotten, then rediscovered with joy & hunger the next day.

The gift of breakfast...

A couple of really good friends have recently had babies, and I take a similar approach on the first visit to see them too; whilst the new arrivals tend to get showered with lovely gifts, it’s easy to forget who actually did all the hard work and is finding it hard to remember unbroken nights and the phenomenon of being able to read a book from cover to cover.  For the new mums, a magazine, some simple scented flowers and a loaf of sourdough go some way to restoring peace of mind and providing the maternal equivalent of a comfort blanket;

Hostess gifts; breakfast for the morning after

Creamy white roses

p.s. Hot, buttered toast would be my last meal of choice.  No question.  Perhaps not my desert island food of choice – that would be calamari and crayfish with a chilled glass of wine as I scan the horizon looking for passing ships – but toast would be the most evocative, comforting choice. And as my last meal, I wouldn’t even have to skimp on the butter…

Also,

41 rules for how to be a great dinner party guest

..and useful tips for the host (especially ones like me who tend to have a warm-up cocktail at 7pm and only then remember to vaguely start thinking about the cooking)

and finally, for anyone feeling tortured by the gratuitous photos of carbohydrates, try the gluten-free museum

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Love Letter Cookies!

Love Letter Cookie for Valentines

February has begun so I think we’re now entitled to think romantic thoughts. Happily, this means that January – official month of gloomy abstinence and calorie-counting – is now finished, so what better way to celebrate these two things than with deliciously more-ish love letter cookies for Valentine’s day?

Love Letter Monogram Cookies from Kates Creative Space

These have the advantage of looking quite accomplished, as if you have spent many hours slavishly finessing them as a sign of the depth and breadth of your passion, but in fact they’re very easy to whip up.  Bonus.  Love should not always be hard work, after all.

I made a batch of basic cookie dough (I use Nigella’s recipe ) and then cut out rectangle shapes using a matchbox as a guide.  Whilst these baked and cooled, I rolled out ready-made fondant icing and cut same-size shapes to go on top. Spread a little apricot jam (or edible glue) on top of the cookie to secure the fondant in place, and then simply mark a cross on top of each one to look like the flaps of an envelope.

I made fondant monogram seals by rolling little balls of red fondant and pressing gently with a wax seal (remember the tutorial below from last year?  Find it here).

Edible monogram seals for cakes

Monogram cupcake

I let the monograms dry out a little to firm up, before adding them to the centre of each cookie with another dab of jam, and slipping each cookie into a cellophane envelope, sealed with a faux rose petal and little peg..

Love Letter Cookies for the one you love!

You could choose to make a batch of these and then distribute them widely; spread-betting, one could say, to impress a range of potential suitors with your domestic skills and mastery of baking.  Or you could box them up as I’ve done, so that the object of your affections can have one each day, if they can manage to restrain themselves…

DIY Box of Love Letter Cookies

Happy baking… and forgive the absence of a step-by-step photo guide on this one; I’ve been midnight baking again, which doesn’t result in good pics.  Leave me a comment if you have any questions about how to make these sinful little treats!

Life is moving at a particularly frenzied pace these days, and the time to sit quietly with a cup of tea composing posts is harder to find. I’ll still be here once a week or so, fulfilling my creative urges and sharing thoughts and projects, but as an experiment I will also start to use my Facebook page for smaller, more frequent pics and posts, so do sign up there if you’d like a bit more of the in-between bits as well.

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

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The Longest Journey

DIY Winter Animal Parade

A few months ago, I saw a picture on Pinterest of a toy giraffe with a small gift tied on its back and it made me smile, and sparked my imagination; last week I raided Harry’s Ark and created a winter animal parade which is now weaving its way through the snowy  log landscape of our dining table, carrying a myriad of heavy parcels and gifts as Christmas draws ever closer…

Giraffe bearing gifts

Animal Parade

I used some leftover kiln-dried logs from when I filled in our fireplaces, and then wrapped up as many tiny boxes as I could find with brown paper  (far less decorative are the little bowls of staples, matches and paperclips now cover every surface, emptied out temporarily whilst I borrow their boxes..).  Once taped, I tied them with a mixture of butchers string and fine glittery thread, and then carefully secured them to each of the animals.  Harry’s toy wagon also came in handy, and the smallest animals were allowed to perch on top and watch proceedings from above…

Penguins in Animal Parade

I added festive bells, bottle-brush trees and a handful of glittery stars for some additional festive sparkle…

Giraffe with gifts

…and a final scattering of fake snow, which rather caught the meerkat by surprise;

Meerkat animal parade

I used up all of the animals I could find, to make a procession which covers most of the length of our (2m) table, but just one or two would look equally lovely; perhaps as place-settings.  Mine are elevated on logs which are just low enough for easy eye contact and conversation across the table, but again, you could simple set out a tableaux directly on the table itself.

Animal Parade with Gifts

I took these close-up photos above in the conservatory where the natural light is strongest in winter, but you can see here the parade as I began to lay it out in our kitchen, in readiness for throwing open our doors last Sunday to friends for an afternoon of food, drinks and Christmassy fun;

Winter Animal Parade Table Centre

Animal Parade Table Centrepiece

Alas, our festive parade will have to complete its journey soon, as the animals are being continuously depleted by Harry who needs them urgently for various daring missions and the ongoing battle with the Lego men, dinosaurs and Transformers; still, it gives me a reason to create something else for Christmas Day!

I finished work today for the holidays, with a mixture of exhaustion and elation; I’ve developed the hacking cough and bone-tired weariness that always seems to come whenever work abates, but it can’t distract from the smell of the mulled wine now warming, or the fact that two long, uninterrupted weeks of family time and celebration lie ahead; bring it on.

I’ll be back in a couple of days; have a great rest of the week…

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3 Last-Minute Easter Crafts

Welcome back! Easter is nearly upon us, so three quick projects this week in case you’re in need of inspiration and feeling crafty.  Our long Easter weekend begins tonight and stretches luxuriantly until Tuesday – four days of uninterrupted family time and the promise of occasional sunshine; it’s certainly good enough for me.

Firstly, some simple but pretty paper hares I made by printing copies of this free-to-download colouring page and using the hare as a template to cut shapes from gift wrap to make these place cards for our Easter lunch table…

Easter Bunny Placecard

I printed out different sizes of the page and then positioned the hare against the paper to make the most interesting patterns and designs before cutting out.  To reinforce the paper I glued it to a sheet of card stock first; you’ll only need to do this if you want your hares to be freestanding.  I then snipped off the ears and reconnected them using a butterfly clip so that they can be waggled up and down and repositioned…

Easter bunny templates

And finally, inspired by this beautiful Matthew mead table setting I added a sprig of apple blossom  for a tail;

Bunny place card

You could use the hares to mount on cards or hang as gift tags, or even just as a beautiful bookmark; a myriad of uses!

The second craft really is a five-minute job (hurrah); using old eggshells to make hanging vases which can be strung on spring branches.  I took a handful of eggshells, washed them out and left to dry and then taped thread to the inside of each (Scotchguard invisible gift wrap tape works well as it has a matte finish).

How to make eggshell hanging vases

Eggshell hanging vases

Don’t try and make these if you’re feeling cross; you will smash your way through them all.  Sip a glass of wine, think zen thoughts and the eggshells will prove surprisingly resilient and tough.  Trust me.  Once complete, they can be filled with spring blooms for an elegant grown-up look (but don’t try filling them with water; a risk too far I think)..

Apple blossom in eggshell vase

Or Easter chicks and hens if you’re in the mood…

Eggshell hanging vases with chicks

And finally we’ve been preparing for Easter itself by creating gift packages for grandparents and Harry’s friends, who will be coming over the weekend for a garden egg hunt and plenty of games and a seasonal sugar-rush.

Homemade Easter Gift for Gardeners

Regular followers will know that every year we have a sunflower race, so this week we packaged up supermarket seeds into vellum envelopes, added a picture on the front (from last year’s race), and sealed with tape measure washi tape from here;

DIy Sunflower Seed Gift Packets

I then wrapped simple easter eggs ( the 5 for £5 supermarket variety) in cellophane and tied with ribbon before placing in flowerpots with a pack of seeds.  The mint green pot above is a Skurar pot from Ikea, and will appeal to our adult recipients.  For Harry’s friends we found a stack of brightly coloured pots and saucers at the Pound Shop and will do the same…

Easter Party Gift Eggs

And with that I will leave you in order to pace out the garden in the gathering dusk, in an advance mission to locate cunning nooks and crannies in which to secrete this year’s bounty of eggs and surprises.  This might be the first year that there is a danger of them melting rather than freezing, though I’m sure our tribe of hawk-eyed 4yr olds will recover them before there is any serious risk of that..

Have a wonderful Easter weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing; here’s wishing you sunshine and relaxation!

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ps More Easter ideas from the archive here and here, and a lesson in nest-building here

3 Ways with Christmas Cookies

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Cookies are a great last-minute gift; it’s lovely to arrive at other peoples’ houses bearing something homemade, and so Harry and I have been busy making cookies using the dough we froze earlier in the month.  First up, deliciously festive oatmeal cookies with a holiday twist, which we’ve packaged up with bells, ribbon and candy canes.

Fruit and Oat Star Spice Cookies

I used the fruit & oat cookie recipe from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and simply doubled the measures of spices for a holiday feel.  Drizzled lemon icing and a scattering of white chocolate stars complete the cookie and raise them above the everyday… I’ve added the recipe at the bottom of the post; for the icing just mix together icing/powdered sugar with pure lemon juice until it drips off a fork, then drizzle lightly back and forth over the cooled cookies.  Our white chocolate stars are from here.

oatmeal and raisin cookies cooling cookies with drizzled icing

And two other cookie ideas from our kitchen for inspiration, both using the basic no-spread gingerbread recipe which I posted here; firstly Twinkle-Toe Gingerbread Men; the buttons are tiny chocolate beans held in place with a dab of icing; bakers’ twine scarves and a dusting of rianbow glitter on the hands and feet make them suitably christmassy….

Gingerbread TwinkleToes

And secondly a forest of decorated Gingerbread Spruce Trees, made by dusting the tops with a blend of edible food colouring powder (seen below), plus a dab of silver food powder, followed by a drizzle of icing and some carefully placed white shimmer baubles.  These were the first to disappear when we had friends and family over last weekend; a sure sign of their attractiveness!

spruce christmas cookies

Gingerbread forest gingerbread decorating kit

We’ll be out and about this weekend, delivering cookies and celebrating the season with friends; the blustery wind and rain make it slightly less festive than we’d hoped for, but are a very good excuse to stay inside in the warm.

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

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Basic oat & raisin cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery;

(if you’re working in US cups & measures, try Martha’s gold-plated recipe here)

  • 270g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp of ground cinnamon (I doubled this, and also added a pinch of nutmeg and allspice)
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220g raisins

To make, simply mix together the butter and sugars, before stirring in the eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, bicarb and cinnamon, then add the oats and stir together.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir into a ball.  Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet, well-spaced as they will spread.  Bake for around 10 minutes at 170C/325F 9slightly less for chewier cookies and longer for crispy ones).

DIY Concertina-Fold Photobook

DIY Concertina Photobook Project

When I was in Paris recently, I saw a range of beautiful silk-covered concertina photo albums in the window of a stationery boutique.  A tiny, eclectic paradise stuffed full of the most beautiful things, it was a shrine to all things paper.  Their beauty diminished a little when I saw the price; about 25 Euros, or £20/$35.  Alors!

I resolved to have a go at making a few of my own at home to capture photos  of special days or big events  - and to make and give as gifts, packaged up with a little pack of photo-corners so that recipients can fill them with whatever photos they like.  I made one to go in Harry’s Time Capsule, with a selection of photos reflecting a typical day this summer, so he can look back and remember what it was like to be 3yrs old…

Concertina Photobook DIY folding Photobook
DIY Photobook Then for something a little more grown-up, I found some pretty Paris street map paper and made a concertina book of the best photos from our Paris trip; a copy each for me and my best friend Vicky who came with me…

Paris Concertina Photobook
Parisian Concertina Photobook
DIY Vacation Photobook

All you need for this is a large sheet of black craft paper (or any colour, if you prefer something brighter for the inside), two pieces of cardboard, some spray glue and a sheet of decorative paper.  Oh, and a stack of heavy books to place it under at various stages.  If you’re feeling inspired, click below for the step-by-step directions (and do let me know how you get on!)

DIY Concertina Photobook Instructions (click the link to download and print, or simply view them below)

DIY Concertina Photobook Guide Notes

Preparing for the big countdown…

 

 


Whilst Christmas is still some way off (thankfully), Advent is fast approaching.  This week I’ve spent the evenings cosily wrapping a myriad of tiny boxes with surprises, notes and treats for Harry to uncover through each day of December.  I’ll string them from an armful of silver-sprayed branches and position them in the hall where they can offer a tantalising reminder of the excitements to come.

For my advent boxes I’ve used a random collection of matchboxes, raisin packets (both full and empty), old jewellery boxes and others, and used  offcuts of white, red and brown paper to wrap them all with scraps of ribbon and silver thread – each one is different, but the repeating colour palette gives them a harmonious appearance when hung from the branches. I’ve used pretty buttons and embellishments extravagantly because I know I can just gather them up once discarded in the thrill of opening, and reuse again next year.



A number of the advent boxes contain chocolates, raisins or other sweet treats, but there are some surprises too; I found this tiny nativity set here, and have packaged each member up individually and spread them across the month, so that Harry can collect them all and we can tell him the Christmas story as we go… there are also a couple of decorations to hang on the tree as Christmas approaches.

With Harry’s birthday falling in early December, we’re anticipating something of a swelling of the toy cupboard next month, so one advent box provides a bag for him to carefully choose some toys he’s grown out of and no longer plays with that we can take to the local charity shop to be loved again by someone else – and to create some crucial space for new arrivals.  At risk of sounding pious, I want Harry to understand how lucky we are, and from the outset to see Christmas as a time of giving as well as receiving.

Harry’s advent calendar also marks a few of the events that we know will happen over the month; the nursery school nativity play falls in the middle of December, and Harry has been cast as Joseph (how my heart secretly swells with maternal pride!  Harry himself is a bit cross because he wanted to be a reindeer).  It’s the first time he’ll have performed in any kind of play or production, so feeling the safety of this ‘magic button’ in his pocket may help keep wobbles at bay when he sees us in the audience.

The most important box of all will be opened on Christmas Eve, and is immediately identifiable by its sparkly gold exterior.  Inside, Harry will find a tiny letter from the elves, sealed with a button, explaining all the things we need to do to prepare for Father Christmas’s arrival (carrots for Rudolph, stockings over the fireplace and a myriad of other anticipation-building activities..).  There are also a couple of little treats for the elves themselves; a tiny half walnut-shell bed, with a down feather to ensure the softest nap ever – because they must be exhausted at this point in the year, and everyone benefits from a power nap –  plus a few ‘elf donuts’; Cheerios sprinkled with powdered sugar (in case Harry is tempted to sample one himself).



If you fancy making one of these for the little (or not so little) people in your life, here’s a wee list of some of the other things in our boxes (just don’t tell Harry…)

  • Chocolate ‘gold’ coins and racing cars
  • Lego mini men
  • Raisins
  • A handful of ‘snowballs’ (white pompoms) to thread together
  • A few real coins for Harry’s moneybox
  • Paper chains to make to decorate the playroom

What Christmas traditions do you have for your children? It’s the first year that Harry is really, properly aware of Christmas and excited by it, so it feels like the first time we can start to create some family traditions and memories for him; all further inspiration welcomed please!

Have a wonderful weekend…

The Lost Art of Letters

As a child I was completely obsessed by beautiful stationery. The dark, furry space under my bed reserved for Special Things To Be Kept Safe From My Brothers was stuffed with papery treasures given to me at birthdays and Christmases, but which I deemed far too precious to use; gift sets of paper and envelopes, 5-year diaries in which my most important thoughts would be captured for posterity, and so forth.  I would regularly take these out and admire them but rarely actually used them, lest they run out.  Or, in the case of the diaries, in case my thoughts turned out to be not quite important enough after all.  A hopeless case, as you’ll agree…

Now, as a mostly-grown-up, I love making stationery to use myself and to give as gifts, and with a printer and a cupboard full of paper to hand, I’m less inclined to stockpile.  As a parent, I also want Harry to be able to say a proper ‘thank you’ for presents and the kind of general loveliness that frequently arrives from relatives and Godparents. So when the Easter Bunny delivered big time, bringing not only chocolate but also, awe-inspiringly, a fire engine, I made him these cards to send out as thank-yous.  Big enough for a crayon scribble on the front from H, and small enough for a brief but heartfelt thank you from me, they do the trick nicely, and also make him keen to join in the fun…

Even for younger children and babies, it’s nice to have something personal; I made cards like these for a friend’s daughter on her first birthday, both to make her mother’s life easier and to give something a little different to the norm.  Tips and notes for both projects below, for those interested in giving this a whirl….

Here’s what I used for the two projects above:

1. craft edging punch for the ‘Amelie’ paper; this one from Martha Stewart 2. A selection of A5 coloured, textured card – Papermania does great packs in different sizes. 3. soft bristled brush for removing loose glitter 4. coloured triangle cut freehand from scraps of card 5. Glitter – any type will do, though Martha again has a great range 6. Glue pen (for precision) and craft knife, and finally 7. Paper tape – not shown in these projects but great for accessorising home-made notecards and paper.

Making the Monogram Cards:

1. Choose your letters and colour combinations.  I used a die-cutting machine for these but you can buy pre-cuts shapes in craft shops and on Ebay, or simply draw and cut out freehand. 2. draw a half-circle for your bunting; I used a glass cloche so I could see both sides of the line. 3. Add your bunting triangles alternating colour; use a glue pen for neatness. 4. Find a toddler and scribble away!

For the faux-letterpress Nursery Notelets:

1. Print out your chosen wording onto an A5 sheet, centring on the page. 2. Measure and cut your card to fit the size of your chosen envelope 3. Use an edging punch to carefully decorate the top edge (this is MS’s Birds on a Wire, from Amazon) 4. Carefully glue one of the birds and sprinkle liberally with glitter before brushing off. 5. Admire. Decide these are too pretty to use. Store carefully under the bed and accidentally forget about them.

After all this careful snipping and sticking and sighing at how zen and restful such crafting can be, especially when one’s son and husband are exhausting themselves with much shrieking on the new trampoline, I decided I wanted to make some of these for myself (below).  The final version of course has my address, but I thought that might just be over-sharing, so here’s the website instead..