winter

January Colour

Colour

I can’t decide whether the greyest month of the year here in England is January or February.  Certainly both seem a little bleak and colourless after the intensity of Australia.  Last weekend I was at the supermarket,  wandering around aimlessly  choosing ingredients for dinner when I saw a rack of chillies on sale.  They looked vibrant and gorgeous.  I can’t remember the last time I used any sizeable amount of chillies in my cooking, but they looked so good that I bought them all; all ten packs (this is why you’re supposed to go armed with a shopping list).

Red chillies

I bought bay leaves too (the kind you find in slim packs in the herb section)…

Bay leaves

And then strung the chillies together along a length of florists wire with the bay leaves and some leftover dried orange slices;

Making a chilli wreath How to make a wreath step 1

Then I twisted the wired bunches around a simple wreath frame, lifting it up every now and then to check that they stayed in place and were secure.

Building a wreath

Winter wreath

Then when I ran out of chillies and oranges, I wrapped the last bit of the frame in ribbon..

Chilli Orange and Bay Wreath

If you don’t have a Greek god available to wear your chilli, bay and orange wreath once it is completed, can I suggest hanging it in the kitchen?  That’s where mine is now, and it catches my eye and makes me smile and think of summer.

Greek god

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes; I’ve been travelling for work this week and am now just back home, eagerly awaiting Harry’s return from school.

Thanks again for the wonderful suggestions in last week’s post; we’ve a trip planned to the library and the bookstore tomorrow!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from the garden and the trimmed branches of our Christmas tree…

Winter firelighters from the garden

Scented fire starters in brown paper twists

I used sprigs of olive, from the huge old trees that we bought this summer to line our patio;

olive sprigs

And Nordic fir, shorn from the Christmas tree before recycling;

fir branches

Eucalyptus, one of my favourites that I use in the house all year round (try tying a sprig in the shower; it’s amazing!)

Try tying a branch of eucalptus under the shower for a blast of forest scent

And fresh rosemary, clipped from the pots around the kitchen door

rosemary sprigs

And then finally lemon rind, for a citrussy burst…

Peeled lemons

I tied the bundles tightly together and wove a slice of dried orange to each, before hanging them up to dry  out completely (slice a bag of oranges and arrange the slices on a baking tray, then dry out overnight on the lowest possible oven temperature; the scent is amazing and they look lovely..)

Scented fire bundles hung up to dry

Once they’re completely dried out, you can wrap them lightly in twists of brown paper (this stops them becoming tangled up and unravelling), and then use them to kindle a delicious, scented fire.

Scented fire starters for cold winter nights

For those without both the glory and the inconvenience of an open fire; try making these and simmering them in a saucepan on the stove instead for instant winter atmosphere and warmth; perfect for the bleak wintery months ahead.

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

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Knitted Mitten Cookies

Knitted Mitten Cookies from Katescreativespace

Our little corner of the world here in England has been protected from the snowstorms raging across the US this weekend, but it has still been chilly and bleak.  Harry and I have busied ourselves in the kitchen, making these gingerbread mitten cookies using one of my favourite Christmas presents; a knitting-effect rubber stamp from here.  We’ve produced a tray of gorgeous, decorated mittens that have steadily vanished across the day…

Knitted mitten cookie making

We started by making a batch of our favourite gingerbread and stamping out mitten-shaped cookies…

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We rolled out some white fondant icing, pressed on the stamp and then used the cutter to create the knitted tops for each cookie, using a little apricot jam to hold them in place…

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I pressed buttons into the leftover fondant to create button-shapes and then brushed lightly with edible gold dust, and added one to each cuff, along with some sugar pearls.  Mittens fit for the most discerning snow-queen…

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And once all the hard work is done?  A reward, I think…

Knitted cookies for winter

 And finallly…

Thank you for all the lovely comments on last week’s post about how to stay in touch when you’re far from home; they made me smile (and tear-up a little), and were very comforting in their assurance that most small boys stay just as loving at 36 as they are at 6…

Have a great week!

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Midweek Magic: Frozen blooms

DIY Ice Disks

The garden looks very bleak at the moment; grey and brown, forlorn and hibernating.  We decided to give it some jewellery to brighten it up a little as the day begins.

Inspired by an idea in Landscape magazine, we’ve been taking advantage of the sub-zero nights this week to practice a little magic; leaving shallow saucers of water outside overnight, filled with seed heads, citrus slices and cyclamen buds.  When we came downstairs in the morning, we popped out beautiful frozen disks of colour that looked like they could be necklaces for some majestic ice maiden, or perhaps serving dishes for a fantastical snowy picnic..

I carefully poured  a thin stream of hot water to melt a hole in each disk, and then we strung them from the apple tree in our garden and watched the sun slowly rise and shine through them.  Beautiful, just for a few amazing minutes.  Most we left to melt in the sunshine; a couple we slipped into the freezer so we could save them a little longer…

Ice Disks

These are of course only transient; beautiful and then gone.  Half the magic  is in the anticipation of going to bed and wondering what you will wake up to find; will the bowls have frozen?  What do the different things you’ve added look like?  It was definitely fun for an otherwise chilly, bleak day, when even The Little House was too covered in frost to look inviting for long.

The Little House in the Frost

ice disks in winter

Notes:

We found that wide-based yoghurt tubs, frying pans and plastic lids were the most successful; avoid using china that might shatter in extreme cold.  You need about 1/2 inch of water; try adding food colouring for even prettier effects.  To loosen the disks, I placed them quickly in a sink of shallow warm water.  And of course, if you find that your disks haven’t completely frozen overnight, you can cheat by finishing them off in the deep freeze!

Icy garden Jewellery

DIY Dutch Canal House Luminaries

DIY Dutch House Luminaries



Back in the Springtime, Mum and I went to Amsterdam for a weekend which we spent in cafes, galleries, stores, bars and – most of all – walking along all the beautiful canal streets, picking the houses we most wanted to live in, transfixed by the rooflines with every conceivable shape and architectural feature.  These were some of my favourites;

Canal Houses in Amsterdam

With the nights slowly but surely drawing in, I wanted to recreate  the houses as delicate luminaries which could be backlit with candlelight on the mantle.  I drew different house shapes (templates at the bottom)…

Dutch House Luminary 1 BLANK

 

Dutch House Luminary 2 PLAIN

Then printed them onto A4 sheets of cardstock (go for card as thick as your printer will take – mine was quite flimsy which made it very easy to cut, but the luminaries will be more likely to curl and bend over time).

Carefully cut out all the tiny windows with a craft knife and self-healing mat.  Use a safety-ruler for this if you have one, the kind with a deep groove for your fingers, particularly if you’re as easily distractible as me.

Making luminaries

…fold the side-flaps so that you have a self-standing shape, and then simply glue a sheet of vellum or tissue paper on the back.

Making Luminaries 2

Stand them up on your cluttered desk and admire them with the natural daylight shining through…

DIY Luminaries in daylight

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…and then watch them come into their own by placing candles (in jars! Safety first..) behind them as the light fades.

Luminaries

With the festive season around the corner I designed two styles; one plain, and one with a sandstone texture and snowflakes.  You could also print out the plain one and paint or decorate it and send as a greeting card…You can colour in the windows to avoid having to cut them all out (cunning, and very labour-saving… life’s too short to spend too much time with an x-acto knife in hand).

We love our small canal-house street, and lighting the luminaries has become an evening ritual as we shed school bags and coats, briefcases and umbrellas and head for the warmth of the snug to catch up on the day’s events.  Just don’t forget to blow them out before bed!

Templates below to download… enjoy :-)

Dutch House Luminary 1 FESTIVE

Dutch House Luminary 1 BLANK

Dutch House Luminary 2 FESTIVE

Dutch House Luminary 2 PLAIN

Dutch House Luminary 3 FESTIVE

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Let there be bright!

Winter Brights to lift the gloom

It’s been a week where the world at large seems to have been beset by wild and extreme weather, from the deep freeze in the US to the wet and windy ravages across Europe and unpredictable swings of temperature in the Antipodes; few places seem to have escaped.  Our corner of the world is flooded, with water levels rising.  We are fortunately ensconced at the very top of a hill, Noah style, so are quite literally high and dry – for now.  With the general gloom and January grey, I’ve been trying this week to add colour and new life to our home, to encourage thoughts of Spring.  First, an unruly bunch of tulips escaping from an old watering can;

tulips in watering can

Tulips

I trimmed a couple of leftover flowers and tucked them into a folded book on the mantle, having wrapped the stems in soaked kitchen roll; so far they have looked perky and beautiful for 3 days, which is longer than I expected;

tulips in book pages

The most lasting display will be in the kitchen, where I have repurposed our old decorating ladder as a stand for a myriad of Spring bulbs and winter flowers.  Hellebores, hycacinths and snowdrops jostle for space on the treads and lean towards the weak light which manages to flood through the window each morning.  I took this first photo (below) last weekend, and have been gradually overlaying shots as the buds burst into bloom, inspired by David Hockney’s photo montages;

Spring bulbs on a ladder

Hockney style flowers on a ladder

The hyacinths are on the cusp of flowering and the scent is delicious, mixing with the woodsmoke from the hearth;

hyacinths blooming

Back in the depths of November, I planted individual hyacinths bulbs into teacups and individual casserole dishes, and am enjoying them dotted about the house, like this one in my office;

Spring hyacinth adding a pop of colour

 

I’m not naturally green-fingered at all, but one ambition this year is to convert an old and disused conservatory at the side of our house into a place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables over the year.  A good use for these long winter evenings is to sit, glass of wine and pencil in hand, flicking through seed catalogues and marking out the most beautiful and interesting blooms and crops.  These mouse melons are on my list, just because they are so unique and pretty, and as we live on strawberries and tomatoes through the summer months, I’m sifting through varieties of those too.  For the gardeners amongst you, what would you suggest an amateur with sporadic attention should sow in a conservatory?  Space is plentiful, but colour, interesting plants and lovely scents will all increase the chances of Harry and I remembering to feed, water and prune…  All ideas welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend, and may the weather be kind to you wherever you are.

Kate

Christmas; A Week in Pictures

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

Santa has been

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

discovering the north pole telegram

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

Santas letter

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

batman outfit

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

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

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

calcot manor hotel

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

hotel cookies

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

bristle tree forest

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

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

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

narcissi

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

Kate

The Memory Library

memory library

I come from a bookish family, enjoying an upbringing where reading was considered to be the ultimate sporting pursuit, and where every household nook and cranny was crammed with a life-history of books, from the trashiest novel to the most highbrow doctrines of Greek philosophy (our shelves were nothing if not egalitarian, and we relished them all).

Thus I learned the facts of life mostly from Judy Blume novels, and yet was extremely well-read about world history from our travelling-salesman set of Encyclopedia Britannica, the 90′s print forerunner of Wikipedia. Sadly, volume 12 vanished without trace at some point meaning that anything listed under ‘M: Malachite – Mycenae’ will forever be a gap in my knowledge.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Harry is showing signs of being a book-lover, who delights in being read to (and in pretend-reading to us). At 3yrs old he already has a small but precious handful of books which have marked the various stages in his life and which have been transient obsessions, and I wanted to capture those memories before they fade and get swallowed up into the general joyous mayhem of childhood.  I designed some simple bookplates to stick in the cover papers of his favourite books, recording the memories associated with them, so that he (and we) can look back on these in the years to come…

bookplate1

Harry’s first ever book was a picture book by the inimitable Emily Grevatte, whose simply rhyming and repetition tickled the then 6-month old Harry and produced a chortle which turned into a full belly-laugh, and culminated in such hysteria that in time I only had to pick up the book for H to start giggling.  Any new mum will tell you that whoever can make their babies laugh is a friend for life, so Grevatte’s books will always have a special place in my heart.  The Gruffalo was another hands-down favourite..

bookplate gruffalo

The bookplates themselves were printed onto standard white paper and I then used a glue stick to paste them into the dog-eared and well-loved books.  If you want to do this and don’t have the time or inclination to make your own, there’s a downloadable version below which you can simply print out and fill in (minus the picture of Harry, of course!)

my library bookplates

printable bookplates

Download by clicking on the attachment; I’ve saved this a PDF with 6 labels per sheet; these should fit most books.

Printable Bookplates

As I pack Harry’s old baby books into the loft for the next generation, it’s lovely to think that the family stories behind the storybooks themselves are captured and waiting to be rediscovered.

bookplates from katescreativespace.com

Other things… it’s been a snowy week here in Britain, with a huge blanket of snow falling thickly for several days.  Nurseries and schools closed, fires were lit, and we took to the fields and hills to make the most of it.  We decided to go to the local park (Windsor Great Park; home to the Queen and some stunning landscapes) just as dusk was falling, and we had the place to ourselves; it was indescribably beautiful..

a walk in the woods

We came across this couple, absorbed in the beauty of the winter landscape…

a snowy romance

..and obviously in the early stages of a great romance…

snowstruck lovers

We taught Harry the art of the snowball fight – something I’m sure we’ll regret before long – before heading home for crumpets, tea and to admire how beautiful everything looks in our snowy garden, including Harry’s new playhouse – a secondhand one which I spruced up with curtains, carpet and a weather vane; it was Harry’s 3rd birthday present and he’s very house-proud; even delivery men get invited in for a cup of tea and a story…

playhouse in the snow