…on a tight budget!

At long last, our loft conversion is complete, and just in time for the Easter hols! Work on it actually started last summer, but because it was mostly DIY (apart from rewiring, reinforcements, and boarding), progress was slow.

Not taking into account the metal edging (not sure of correct terminology?!) which still needs to be installed on¬†the carpet around the trapdoor thingy, I now have my own personal sanctuary and craft space, not to mention extra capacity for storage and (maybe-not-so-secret) snack stash. I am beyond chuffed! ūüėÄ

Even before we started building the loft, I had factored in an area for¬†a mini photo booth with chalkboard wall. It wasn’t too difficult to set up, and the outcome was more or less what I pictured in my head. I’m now also thinking I should get a thin plank of wood to slide over¬†the blackboard, painted white, just so I can have another background option…But perhaps that is a job for another day.

This month has also seen us celebrate our¬†wedding anniversary,¬†and although David and I¬†agreed in advance to keep our expenditure to a minimum (due to the loft!), I couldn’t resist getting him a little something, complete with cheesy homemade card featuring¬†puns related to a common interest of ours – Astronomy.

If I’m honest, it¬†was more of an excuse to show off a gift topper rose I’d made using a few of the remaining pipe-cleaners from last year’s Halloween Spider¬†Bun.

 

Using this helpful video, a friend put my hair up in a bun and pinned to it a pair of¬†googly eyes that I’d stuck on a bit of cardboard¬†the night before. I know it’s not really a costume, but still a spookily¬†acceptable (and cute) low-cost, last minute alternative in the spirit of the occasion.

 

Although I haven’t really¬†been experimenting on the culinary front, I did¬†make more of an effort on¬†this year’s¬†Pancake Day. As¬†it’s normally close to¬†dinner time when we get home from work, I didn’t fancy anything too dessert-like, so I decided to make us savoury pancakes with Stilton spinach and mushrooms, topped with bacon and egg. It didn’t look like much after I made it, but¬†was quite rich and thus, more filling than I expected.

What I am particularly proud of, however, is a classic dish that’s also one of David’s favourites. He likes to call it ‘red stuff’ (which we usually get from the takeaway), but is more traditionally known by its Cantonese name¬†Gou Lou Yuk, or over here in the UK as¬†Sweet and Sour Pork. That night’s meal was¬†met with much satisfaction, with only one complaint. Apparently,¬†I’d left the kitchen looking “like an industrial accident” had occurred in there! Luckily for me, our family¬†has a rule I am not above exploiting, and that is…whoever cooks is spared from¬†doing¬†the washing up!

Whilst essentially not all that difficult to master, Gou Lou Yuk does require a lot of prep work, and some of that includes deep frying. Was having our home smell like the local chippy worth every mouthful? Yes. Would I be making it again anytime soon? Probably not! ūüėÄ

“Standing on the edge of the world with you.”

I do love weddings, though I’m not one to¬†enjoy the fuss and attention that usually goes with them. My own marriage ceremony was extremely low-key…so low-key in fact that, apart from parents and two witnesses, our friends and relatives¬†did not find out about it until after I became a Mrs (well, sort of…I kept my last name)!

The same cannot be said of my brother’s own nuptials last spring. The whole event was nothing short of spectacular. Two island resorts in Riau were commandeered for the celebrations and all-expenses-paid holiday for guests, which lasted several days (mostly over the weekend). Luckily, all organisation was taken care of by my rather¬†imperturbable sister-in-law, bro and co., which left little for the rest of us to do but enjoy our time in the sunshine.

Hubby David was sadly unable to make the trip due to prior work commitments, so daughter Zhouyi and I had a whole villa to ourselves,¬†including a large balcony over the water. The entire experience from start to finish can only be described as unforgettable, and the location could not have been more beautiful. Guests were asked to refrain from taking pictures (though professional photographers were hired) during the exchange of vows and equally anticipated fully-suited/gowned dock-jump (ok, bride’s¬†chiffon overskirt cleverly untied to reveal a shorter lace frock), but there were no camera restrictions the rest of the time, which allowed me to compile an entire album of gorgeous memories.

Months before the big day, I came across the Ultimate Cutting Board on a facebook post by the happy couple. I did originally intend to buy it for them as a wedding gift, but the Kickstarter product wouldn’t have arrived in time for my flight. Then I noticed that my brother and¬†his soon-to-be bride had sent a message to all guests, suggesting that presents were not necessary as it was our presence that they would treasure more. I wasn’t sure how to proceed at this point, as I really¬†wanted to do something special…I mean, this is my little brother we’re talking about, and he’s about to reach an important milestone!!!

After much deliberation, I thought the best compromise would be something handmade (of course!). I’d¬†seen quite a few bespoke Scrabble-inspired¬†gifts on Etsy, and had been toying with the idea of making one. What with Gabriel and Aggie being being into geeky stuff like that, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. I’d never done it before, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off. Plus,¬†there were only a few weeks left to go.

I managed to order a few of the materials from Ebay, such as the Scrabble tiles, but everything else (except paper and string) was from my nearest Hobbycraft. Not the cheapest option, but taking into account possible cock-ups, time wasn’t really on my side.

The design I had in mind incorporated¬†the Chinese ‘double happiness’ Śõć character (traditional symbol of marriage) as central focus, with the tiles forming a border around¬†it, but I was worried about wonky positioning. Turns out accuracy¬†wasn’t as tricky to achieve as I thought it would be. Once I had decided on the words, I just glued each section¬†together in strips. Doing it this way instead of sticking each individual letter to the board made it less likely for mistakes to happen.

 

 

Creating the background image was probably the easiest part of the project since I was in my natural element as a Graphic Designer. A bit of sleuthing (basically snooping on facebook) was required to find out the couple’s official¬†anniversary date (not the wedding…long story involving cultural norms. My brother lives in Singapore, and¬†I’m from the UK), but it was pretty much plain sailing once Photoshop/Illustrator was fired up. I played with a few colourways, but eventually¬†decided on the subtlest since I didn’t want the final product to look¬†cluttered.

To get a quality finish, I sent the design off to Instant Print¬†which I later cut down to size at home (with a bit of help from David who has steadier hands!). The Scrabble sections were then glued into place. I took care to leave a decent gap around the edges, and had previously done¬†a few test prints using my own inkjet¬†to ensure the measurements were right. The large space above the ‘heart’ was deliberate as I’d planned¬†an extra decorative touch.

 

My first idea of a 3D heart garland (embellished with ‘Mr & Mrs’ from an alphabet stamp set I already had) did not work well. It was too large and bulky, and just wouldn’t¬†hang right. However, my second attempt with¬†mini paper bunting worked a dream. The floral ‘Laura Ashley’ feel wasn’t intentional, but I liked that it added¬†a little more romance and charm to the whole effect. I can’t quite remember where I got the patterned paper from as¬†I always have loads of that lying about, but a quick search online will probably bring up a huge selection.

Once my Scrabble gift was complete, I realised that the tiles obscured quite a¬†bit of my¬†‘heart’ word cloud, which seemed a shame, so I¬†ended up submitting the image to¬†TShirt Studio¬†to get a matching cushion printed. Now¬†I was faced with the conundrum of taking two¬†not-exactly-small presents on board a plane and ensuring that both got out the other side¬†unscathed.

Years of long-distance travelling have taught me to pack light, so I didn’t have to sacrifice much space in my suitcase for the box frame. I simply enveloped¬†it in bubblewrap, and surrounded it with rolls of clothing. The cushion accompanied me as hand baggage. With the logistics¬†all sorted, the only thing I had to worry about was the weather, and that as you can see,¬†was no disappointment either.

 

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My intention when creating this blog was for it to feature news about my Etsy store, such as upcoming homemade products, and any ideas I might have which could be pin-worthy or even better, lead to commercial viability.

The latter I had no shortage of…The problem was finding the opportunity¬†to put everything together, much less write about it. That’s not to say I¬†haven’t had any time for my craft projects. Quite the contrary…

This collection¬†of gift packaging and gift tags will soon be available (along with the Make-Your-Own Spa¬†Gift Set) at my store when it reopens. I’m just waiting for my loft conversion to complete so I’ll have more¬†room to tinker.

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If you’ve noticed remarkable improvement in these photos compared to pictures in previous posts, don’t worry…there’s nothing wrong with your screen (or eyesight)! These images were taken by¬†my photographer husband David. ūüėĀ Unfortunately, he’s not always available when I’m in arty mode so I make do with my trusty old iPhone.¬†ūüėé

Many of my recent (ish)¬†creations have been related to the presentation of…well…presents, mainly for friends and family. The gift toppers often involved origami or kirigami since both styles are so versatile and economical.

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They work¬†great on gift-bags too…

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…though sometimes I prefer a quicker¬†route¬†sans paper cuts.¬†ūüėĀ

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I’m light years away from matching the skill of Jo Nakashima, but I think my efforts are fairly respectable! If you’re ever in need of a tutorial, consider subscribing to Paper Kawaii which also has a pretty¬†helpful YouTube channel.

After the¬†success I had with my DIY Foot Scrubs, I thought I’d experiment with a few other beauty concoctions. The Spiced Sugar Body Scrub still needs perfecting, but the Whipped Coconut Mousse¬†was a dream. It could be used¬†in a variety of ways¬†– moisturiser, make-up remover, and most effectively, as an overnight hair masque. I infused it with Green Tea and Grapefruit Oil which gave it such a lovely tropical smell.

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When grownup colouring books became trendy, last year also saw me dabbling in an old childhood pastime, with the notion that it would serve as a form of art therapy.

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The outcome was pretty enough, and creating gradients with colour pencils (instead of Photoshop) was a refreshing change, but¬†I simply didn’t have the patience to persevere, so that little diversion¬†didn’t last. Much the same as my attempts to pick up¬†knitting. I did contribute a mini hat or two to The Big Knit though. I wouldn’t say I’ve totally given up on either pursuit…It’s more the case of having to put them on the back-burner for now.

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By this stage, I’d amassed a stockpile of craft materials. There were cheap retail storage options available, but if you’ve got that much stuff to organise, costs do mount up. Fortunately, I had loads of cardboard boxes lying around due to online shopping and they came in handy when I wanted¬†to make¬†boxes for¬†my shelves. All I needed was a roll of¬†hessian and strong double-sided tape.¬†I’ve tried painting boxes and sticking them with patterned paper, but I kind of like¬†the rustic look more.

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It’ll take forever to chronicle all my craft activities in one go, but here’s a little preview of the ones I favoured most¬†– wedding presents for my brother and sister-in-law last spring (above), and a Jewellery Display Greeting Card (below)¬†for a friend who was¬†off to uni. Both relied quite heavily on my skills as a Graphic Designer (particularly my brother’s gifts), but I found the other aspects trickier. The Scrabble Box Frame was quite fiddly to assemble as I wanted everything to be precise,¬†and¬†did require¬†a couple of cracks at it before I got things¬†right. I¬†shall expand on these¬†separately with more in-depth posts at a later date, and will include photos of the process…mine sadly, not David’s. Sorry! ¬†ūüėú

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I love Christmas, and it’s not just because I get so much time off from work.¬†If I’m honest, the day itself can be a bit anti-climatic. Once the imaginary bearded man has been and gone¬†(having deemed us worthy beneficiaries of course), all presents opened, and turkey consumed, most¬†people just lie there in a booze-induced stupor, nursing a food baby. It’s¬†really the prep¬†that builds up excitement¬†– shopping in the (hopefully) snow at¬†markets, putting up the tree and decorations, carol-singing, gift-wrapping etc. That last bit is what gets me¬†into the¬†spirit, and I try to come up with new ideas every year.

We’re on a bit of a tight budget this Christmas, but I had loads of pipe cleaners¬†leftover from earlier projects so they came in handy when making the gift-bags for colleagues…and coloured paper as well, so kirigami (yet again) ended up being a prominent feature when making¬†my gift-topper bows.

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As I have a tendency to spoil my daughter over the festive season, she usually gets a hamper or gift basket from me. It’s a more attractive¬†solution than putting everything in one huge box if someone’s getting multiple gifts. I’ve made a few bespoke gift baskets and hampers over the years…

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…But putting one of these together can be quite a challenge, especially when you want some items to be a surprise so they cannot be visible through the clear cellophane. The best way to get round that is to wrap them¬†in matching paper beforehand.

I cut it quite fine this year by buying almost everything online, and was still awaiting deliveries on the 23rd. Thankfully, all my orders arrived on time, but it did mean a pretty late night for me Christmas eve.

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I remember a time when it used to be plush toys and girly stuff, now it’s skull candles and gothic-type paraphernalia. What a difference six years can make! She¬†still likes pink and purple though. I guess my daughter isn’t quite ready to completely give up¬†being a girly girl at 16.

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Keeping costs down during this yearly ritual of frenzied commercialisation is no easy task when you’ve got¬†kids, and it’s also the time of year when most of us are guilt-tripped into supporting a charitable cause. I’ll admit¬†Christmas Jumper Day¬†did catch me by surprise…Most schools got involved so Zhouyi was all set, but as work suddenly decided to join in, I had to make¬†a bit of a last minute¬†decision to temporarily modify a pre-existing non-festive jumper with felt and yarn.¬†My fox’s little santa hat cost me less than ¬£1, leaving me in a better position to donate, so I was overall pleased¬†with the result.

2016 has not been kind to many of us…I’ll always see it as the year that took from us Starman, Snape, Chekov, Princess Leia, Harper Lee, Vera Rubin, and our right to be a part of the EU, whilst giving Trump/Putin and the far-right greater¬†power, but perhaps it might end on a happier note.

Much love and joy to everyone this festive season.

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I started off this year wondering if I should have made consistent blogging a New Year’s resolution, but super¬†glad I did not since that¬†would have been one big fail. My last post was actually before Christmas last year, which means we’re now practically halfway to Santa’s next visit! Whoops, I guess real life just got in the way.¬†You could say this is a good thing since it means¬†I must only have been up to loads.

Whilst I have been rubbish in updating my blog, at least I can say I’ve kept one promise to myself, and that’s to be a lot less lazy in the kitchen.¬†I used to enjoy cooking whilst working part-time, but moving into full-time employment made me feel like I¬†was¬†coming home to another job when faced with anything domestic, and so an unhealthy (and expensive!)¬†habit of relying on ready meals (particularly during the week) was developed.

This is, happily, no longer the case, as you can see from my very first crack at Okonomiyaki in the image above. For the uninitiated, it is a type of Japanese savoury pancake.

I have even started baking again! Nothing too ambitious (due to a broken oven that only has two settings Рlow and high), but these Nutella Cookies were not completely beyond my skills. (Translation: Did not burn them.)

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I even tried a Low FODMAP diet as a spring challenge…I would say Lent, but as I’m Taoist I can appreciate some readers may prefer¬†a more politically correct denomination.

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You’d think the¬†no-garlic and no-onions rule would render everything bland, but the Coconut Shrimp Chowder was particularly tasty, even if its¬†consistency was more like risotto! And the Buffalo Chops with Roast Butternut Squash are definitely staying on the menu, not just for sheer scrumminess¬†but ease of preparation as well.

I stupidly decided to include¬†all¬†sweet food and drinks in the restriction, which I personally found harder to give up, so I made sure to have my fill over Valentine’s Day with a huge sugary fix of¬†Chocolate Mousse and Cinnamon French Toast.

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Rest assured, I was back on all manner of cakes, pudding and confectionery as soon as the 40 days or so were up, starting with this two-ingredient Maple Soufflé.

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Things got back to normal after that, but my journey as a foodie continues, albeit with a¬†low-cost caveat. This hasn’t made me any less adventurous, and I think I surprised myself with what ended up on our dinner table despite the limitations, such¬†as this Thai-Cajun fusion of Shrimp √Čtouff√©e, and Lamb Kofta with Tzatziki.

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Hopefully, I won’t suffer a relapse and resort to anything¬†pre-cooked ever again, unless it’s the homemade variety. Both my Rainbow Rolls, and ‘Pot Noodle’ with Soy-Pickled Egg make perfectly acceptable lunch options, seeing as neither require the use of a microwave!

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Update 01/01/17 – I often¬†share photos on¬†facebook whenever I¬†make something so¬†it made perfect sense to create an album on there dedicated to yummy things, and the result is Nom-Nom Foodage which will hopefully provide some inspiration despite my poor photography skills. ūüôā

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It’s that time of the year again! No matter how hard I try to keep festive activities to a minimum, things never quite seem to work out. Thankfully, having to be frugal doesn’t necessarily mean¬†resorting to basics, and can sometimes be the stimulus for creativity. It does help if you have lots of paper lying around though!

For the giant modular snowflake above, I just used cheap A4 printing paper. The kirigami instructions were easy enough,¬†and it didn’t take long for me to produce a few to hang around home and office.

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I continued the origami theme when it came to everything else, including the mini gift buckets you see above – each containing ingredients¬†and recipe for¬†either Mulled Wine or Hot Chocolate, along with assorted treats. It’s a bit similar to the gift jars¬†I made awhile back, though far more fiddly, since those¬†only involved¬†a few leftover present toppers,¬†and¬†jar covers which¬†I generated¬†digitally.

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Things would probably have been simpler if I’d re-used the gift tags¬†I made last Christmas (left image below), but what can I say? I just got a little too carried away¬†with Japanese-inspired papercraft!

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Fortunately, there are no culinary expectations of me this year, what with hubby roasting the potatoes and mum-in-law sorting the turkey out. So I can simply sit back and enjoy my handiwork.

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Hope the festive season brings joy to everyone!

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As an introvert,¬†I’ve never been one for parties, yet my passion for cosplay¬†equals my distaste for social interaction, which presents a bit of a paradoxical situation since¬†there’s hardly any point dressing up if there isn’t an audience.

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Most previous attempts were¬†unambitious, and included ideas such as a witch and a vampire (I was in a hurry!), though I’d count Faith Connors from Mirror’s Edge a success…in large part due to my husband’s steady hand in replicating¬†the tattoos!

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So imagine my delight when an opportunity arrived to organise a Halloween charity event at work. For a small donation, a member of staff could materialise on the day as any spooky character of their choice, with cakes or other yummy goodness a bonus.

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I did consider turning up as Gogo Yubari, but due to time constraints, decided that Sadako Yamamura from Ringu would be more realistic since less prop-making would be involved. Plus, I have the hair for it! So one long victorian nightdress and a huge sheet of cardboard later, and the result was freaky enough to unnerve even colleagues taking the photos on this page.

All in all, it¬†was¬†a pretty good Halloween…lots of great pics, and we got to stuff our faces. I doubt a lot of work was¬†done that day, but it¬†made¬†a change¬†to be haunted by something other than deadlines!

I never paid much attention when they taught us to bake in school, but perhaps I’m now trying to make up for lost time…No, who am I kidding. I’ll never be a domestic goddess, nor do I care enough to acquire the prerequisites for that role. Having said that, it is Christmas, and there’s something about the smell of cookies fresh out of the oven during winter that makes me feel all cosy.

Christmas cookies and happy hearts,
This is how the holiday starts.

The Christmas spirit must have really taken hold of me because not only did I make Soft Chocolate Chip and Nutella Swirl Cookies, I even made hubby David’s favourite Vanilla Cheesecake!

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I did cheat with the cheesecake though…It was a modified¬†no-bake recipe I used and whilst it was a bit fiddly (what with it being my first time and all), the whole endeavour¬†was pretty straightforward, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I’d achieved by the end of the day!

And of course, the season of giving would not be complete without…PRESENTS! I try to come up with different ways of adding a personal touch to all my gifts to friends and this year, the girls got some chocs and crochet lip gloss holder keyrings in tree baubles.

The trickiest bit was getting the origami dove to hang in such a way that the bauble could be easily taken apart and put together again. Halfway through, I almost gave up and wondered if I should have made paper bags and gift tags like the Christmas before.

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Well, I’m glad I¬†persevered, because wrestling with those¬†lace doilies¬†and¬†ribbons¬†(not forgetting the cardboard,¬†sequins and beads for the handmade holly) was totes worth it when I ended up with baubles I wished I could keep for myself!

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…But¬†it sure felt like it!

So a funny thing happened back in September…I received a letter with a logo which I didn’t recognise.¬†Thinking it was junk mail, I nearly chucked it with the rest of the other crap shoved through our letterbox when I noticed it was from a publishing company. It’s a good job I had another look because it turned out to be an offer to print a poem I wrote awhile back.

I took part in The Great British Write Off that summer and the poem I submitted was longlisted. Although I did not ultimately win the big prize, my work was amongst those chosen to feature in the anthology.

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The book¬†has finally arrived (and can be purchased at most major retailers), along with my husband’s own photographic contribution¬†in another publication.¬†However, he’s used to receiving recognition for his creative endeavours, so back to me. ūüėõ ¬†Because of my editorial background, I’m usually far more comfortable with prose than poetry, and my writing¬†skills had gone a bit rusty (mostly due to laziness on my part), so I was pretty chuffed to have got anywhere with this at all. I wish I had¬†more time to indulge my love of writing as I used to when younger, but I barely even blog these days. Or perhaps I just need to have better time management.

In either case, it’s been awhile since I’ve felt the buzz of achievement, so I just want to bask in it. And to think, the whole episode could have been a real write-off had I been just that teeny¬†bit less attentive when going through the post!

This is my first attempt at a homemade beauty kit which I’m hoping will¬†turn out to be¬†a great birthday gift for a friend.¬†As a part-time Reiki Healer, she has an interest in natural therapy and all other related products. Plus, being¬†a Graphic Designer like myself, she also enjoys the creative process and has an eye for the unique. The idea is¬†to make her something which would combine both these qualities, and as she’s been under a lot of stress lately, a personalised¬†spa set seems¬†ideal.

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If it all works out, I might make some more and see if I can get some interest on Etsy. The product’s at concept stage so there’s¬†quite a few bits to iron out, but so far so good, even if I do say so myself!

There’s still lots to do¬†and much testing required to get the kit right. I made some mistakes with the packaging. Bottles too large, may have to change the label design, and also still not quite decided how far to go with the personalisation option. As I’m funding this myself, things are going a bit slow so I’m taking it one step at a time.

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Luckily, my hubby David has been a great help, though he¬†did catch me off-guard a few times with the Dragon’s Den treatment…but I guess it’s better to fall flat on my face now than later on!