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Everytime someone whinges “but it’s not even December”, an elf loses their sense of purpose, and gets turned out into the cold. Help save jobs in Santa’s Workshop by keeping the festive spirit alive! Forget S.P.E.W…that’s so 1994. Elves of today have a new campaign and slogan – Christmas should be forever, not just once a year. ūüėÄ

Yes, I know…I’ve gone a bit OTT, but people can bah-humbug me all they like. I’m still not going to change; I just love Christmas. I was making plans for this occasion even before Halloween had been and gone…Actually, I probably started as early as spring when I went looking for pine cones during our nature rambles.

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Early May saw us at Spring Wood in Walley which was practically covered in gorgeous bluebells. Quite by coincidence, it also had a lot of pine trees in the vicinity…The ground was full of pine cones, much to my delight. If you live in Lancashire, another great place to gather pine cones would of course be Beacon Fell.

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I wish I’d thought of bringing a bag or basket with me because I could only carry the cones in my coat pockets. They were very large and deep pockets though, so I did collect enough pine cones for craft purposes. The little branch that some of them were attached to could come in useful for another project, so I took that home with me as well.

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As it’s my first time working with pine cones, I had to do some research on how to prep them. According to various online sources, there are a number of methods. However, a vinegar bath seems to be the popular choice. Mostly because it not only cleans them, but also kills any bugs that may be hiding within. It will stink the room out as well, but that can’t be helped! ūüėõ

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It’s advisable to grab a pair of tweezers so you can remove any visible debris before doing anything else. There’s probably all sorts of muckiness trapped in the scales. After that, put the pine cones in a bucket or large bowl. Mixing the solution is not an exact science, but it’s roughly two parts water and one part white vinegar.

Leave the cones to soak for about 20 minutes or so. You might want to weigh them down with a small dish as they tend to float to the top, and the cones need to be completely submerged in order to be cleansed thoroughly.

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As you can see, the pine cones close up when wet, but this is normal, so no need to panic. They open up again once dry. From here onwards, there are two ways you can proceed. Either lay them out on some old newspapers or a towel, and let them dry naturally, or use your oven.

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I am not certain if there’s a difference in the outcome if you opt to do it either way, but I have heard that airing cones can take a few days, whereas the oven gives a much quicker result. Plus, it has the added benefit of further bug-proofing your cones.

As I was impatient, I put them in the oven on the highest setting and took them out after about 45 minutes. It was probably a little too long as a few of the cones turned darker. I didn’t mind so much as some of them will get painted eventually, but for future reference, I’ll take the cones out after half an hour, or turn the heat down.

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When the pine cones are dry, it is recommended that you coat them with some sort of clear varnish in order to preserve them. The smaller cones were quite brittle, so the lacquer did help slightly in keeping the ends from flaking off. I am not keen on gloss, so it was a matt spray that I used. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but the pine cones that I sprayed have a smooth sheen as compared to the ones in the tin trough which have no varnish on them, since I will be painting those at a later date when making some of my Christmas ornaments.

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Pine cones fully sanitised and glazed, I could finally relax and enjoy a small batch of truffles I made earlier. What could be more Christmassy than chocolate? Truffles are a simple treat to make, whether for yourself, or friends and family.

The recipe is pretty forgiving as not a lot can go wrong…It’s basically ganache that has been allowed to set, rolled into little balls, and coated in ground nuts, cocoa, or any other ingredients you like. To make these, I used:

150gm Dark Chocolate – Chopped
150ml Double (or Whipping) Cream
25gm Unsalted Butter

Melt the butter in the cream until the mixture begins to simmer. Then pour it into a bowl with the chopped chocolate. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts and blends smoothly with the cream. If you want to add other flavours, such as coffee or Amaretto, now would be the time to do so.

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Let it the ganache set in the fridge for a few hours (it took four hours in my fridge). You’ll know it’s ready when the little balls keep their shape after you’ve rolled them in your hands. The first one I made sank into a sort of squishy blob, so back into the fridge the ganache went.

I used unsweetened cocoa and ground almonds to finish off my truffles, but you could also try dipping them in milk chocolate or desiccated coconut. After coating them, I left my truffles to chill in the fridge overnight so they could solidify further. I am not sure what the shelf life would be for homemade truffles, but that might not be much of a concern…If your family is anything like mine, it won’t be 24 hours before they’re all gone.



In other news…

Processed with MOLDIVI’m very happy to say that the relaunch of my Etsy shop is going well, and I have made quite a few sales since opening it a couple of weeks ago. As a gesture of appreciation, all customers will receive complimentary gifts of either sweets or scented tealights, along with a small discount for their next purchase. Thank you all for your support…It’s been awesome! ūüôā

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At last!!! After an almost two-year hiatus, I have opened my Etsy shop again! As stated in a previous blog post, I did a mini trial run of my DIY Spa Kit for Foot Scrubs in 2015, and soon sold all of it, even gaining a couple of five-star reviews from happy customers. ūüôā Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I then had to take a break from production.

I am now back, hopefully for good, with a couple of other products and possibly a few more in the pipeline (depending on how this takes off) for 2018. Please be patient and bear with me…I am still very new to running a business, and can only manage a small volume of stock. This really just started out as a hobby, so any helpful suggestions would be welcome!

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The main item I am selling now is the DIY Spa Kit which can be personalised with a gift tag. Not only can the Lavender and Peppermint Foot Scrub be customised to your (or the recipient’s) preference, you will also be learning about making your own natural beauty remedies in the process.

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The kit contains everything required to make two jars of foot scrub, along with a recipe and a detailed explanation of how each ingredient can contribute to your well-being. If you have bought one of these and require the instructions in large print, please contact me and I will send you a copy.

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Another product I have added to my shop is the¬†Chalkboard Door Hanger Gift Set. I made one for my daughter awhile back and thought it’d make quite a unique present or stocking filler. This would probably appeal more to children, though teenagers might appreciate the novelty too.

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The set includes both white and coloured chalk, and sponge eraser in a selection of style and colours…Perfect for doodling a warning to potential intruders, or for those times when you just need a bit of peace and quiet!

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Since this new beginning ties in with the festive season, I am offering a discount to celebrate the occasion. Simply type in code XMAS10 when placing your order, and you will receive a 10% reduction on orders ¬£10 or more. However, this Christmas deal won’t last long, so take advantage of it before the sleigh bells start ringing!

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…of Halloween!

I like to make the most of this occasion, because on no other day can you go around wearing a costume without anyone thinking you’ve gone a bit batty. I do sometimes wish the UK were a little less traditional (like the US) though. Americans are a lot more flexible when it comes to the characters they portray, but over here, most people don‚Äôt really deviate from horror themes.

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No Face isn’t exactly scary (unless you’re a toddler, like in the pic above!), but it’s still a supernatural entity and definitely meets Halloween criteria!

It wasn’t until last week that work confirmed we could dress up for this event, so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Although I am a Studio Ghibli fan, and Spirited Away is one of my favourite animated films, the main reason I picked No Face was partly down to expedience.

All I needed was a black hooded poncho, a black headband, and white card to make the mask. The interweb is full of templates for No Face’s…erm…face, but I will save you the trouble of looking for one by posting mine here!

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The mask will print onto an A4 sheet, and is a little large, but you can easily size it down. If you need it even bigger, please feel free to DM me. ūüôā

I had no intention of wearing the mask over my face all day, but wanted it to stay attached to me so I’d still be recognisable as No Face. A few other female cosplayers have been wearing it on the side of their heads, and I wondered if I could devise a way for the mask to also double up as hair accessory.

This is where adhesive velcro strips come in, and they were fangtastic for this little project. You can get them in craft or fabric stores, or if you prefer to shop online, I bet Amazon and eBay will have them too.

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As you can see here, my headpiece can also be turned into a visor-mask…and it is soooo easy to do. After printing and cutting out the mask, work out how you want it positioned when on face and side of head, then stick on bits of velcro respectively.¬†And there you have it, a fully-adjustable disguise that can be worn in two ways!

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Some girls opt to paint their faces, but that’s optional. I did it as a test run when trying on my costume, but didn’t bother with it today as I’m really not a morning person. No force on earth can motivate me out of bed early enough to coat my skin in layers of slap.

I did, however, notice that with my hood up and facepaint on, I looked like I’d gone over to the dark side in full Sith mode!

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What a truly versatile costume this has turned out to be…Now all I need is a lightsaber, and this time next year, I will be a dark lord of the empire!

Update 01/11/17 – Much as I love snacks and chocolate, Halloween treats have never held great drawing power where I’m concerned. It’s not like I don’t already stuff my face the other 364 days of the year. That said, I was inordinately chuffed to receive this little package of goodies the next day.

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These were gifts for the few who dressed up for Halloween at work, so yay us! Eye can’t see why the treats pleased me so much…Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t expecting it, or perhaps some of the sweets were old school and I can be a bit of a retrophile at times. Either case, it made me happy enough to blog it. ūüėÄ

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At this point, you’re probably wondering: “What?! Who on earth wants that?”…Then again, I’m sure you’ve probably also heard of good bacteria, like in yoghurt, drinks, and other types of food. Well, it seems that the beauty industry isn’t immune to the benefits of these microbes either, because…enter PROBIOTIC SKINCARE!

Following on from my previous post regarding subscription boxes and freebie campaigns, I began to notice a change in my social media feeds, facebook in particular. Loads of ads like those below began to appear…

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I guess my interest in giveaways must have been noted by its algorithm, especially after I clicked through to order free samples from Angela Langford. (No, no, these aren’t the ones with the helpful bacteria. I’m just going off on a tangent!)

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Although I didn’t think what was sent to me made any immediate difference to my skin, I have to say the service from Angela Langford was very well personalised. As a result of a questionnaire I filled in when placing the order, a letter came with the specially selected skincare kit along with advice specific to my conditions. Sadly, as the samples were not very generous, I was unable to make any sort of judgement. However, don’t be put off trying it out as everybody’s skin is different. Plus, it doesn’t cost much more than the small postage fee.

I fared a little better with Aurelia’s 3-Step Probiotic Kit. As mentioned earlier, I’d recently been getting more than my fair share of facebook posts about free stuff. One of the latest was a call-out from Aurelia for Brand Ambassadors. After signing up, you’d be sent the Starter Set (worth ¬£45) for free, and apart from the ¬£3 delivery, the only thing you’ll have to do in return is review the items they send you. As an added bonus, you also become part of their VIP panel which entitles you to perks like discounts and more samples.

Well, the OCD side of me was initially a little apprehensive about slathering bacteria all over my face, but we’ve all read about how good these little ‘creepy crawlies’ can be for our internal organs, and what is the skin but another large organ. Besides…it’s free!

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I received the starter set a couple of weeks ago, along with an extra free sample, and finally got a chance to try them out. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for nice packaging, so if I had to rate Aurelia on that alone, I’d rank them pretty high up…maybe not right at the top, as I’m not a huge fan of jars (for hygiene reasons) even if they do look aesthetically pleasing. That’s not going to tell you if you’ll get your money’s worth though!

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If you need instructions and a list of ingredients, all of that can be found at Aurelia’s website, but here’s a card they provided to explain how each step in the routine is meant to bring out the best in your skin.

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MIRACLE CLEANSER

As I prefer to wash my face in the shower, I find it more convenient to use a cleanser that can be rinsed off with water. Anything wipe-off is normally a deal-breaker. That said, my night-time regime is a little more flexible, so I was willing to compromise a little, just to see if Aurelia’s oft-touted award-winner could make a difference.

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The Miracle Cleanser is perfect for anyone with dry or sensitive skin as it’s thick and creamy, and it came off easily using a damp Antibacterial Bamboo Muslin. As Aurelia only supplied one, I used my own flannel the next morning and can’t say I noticed any variation between the two. My skin did feel thoroughly cleansed without the tight feeling you can sometimes get. Having said that, it’s not a problem I have with my usual facewash either. I won’t say anything miraculous happened, but my skin did feel a bit softer after using Aurelia’s cleanser.



REVITALISE & GLOW SERUM

Next in line is a serum that purports to “transform dull, polluted and fatigued skin, for an instant luminous, dewy and radiant glow”.

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It was actually as lightweight as advertised, and very easy to apply. You don’t need much of it so a little will go a long way. I should say that at this stage, everything is smelling utterly divine. It’s a really fresh natural scent, almost medicinal, but in a citrusy-herby kind of way. This serum absorbed rather quickly so I was soon ready for the next step.



CELL REPAIR NIGHT OIL

This isn’t part of Aurelia’s main Anthology Set but you can add another free sample to your order, and I chose the Night Oil. According to the website, this has to be layered “over Aurelia Revitalise & Glow Serum” but “underneath Aurelia Cell Revitalise Night Moisturiser “.

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As you can see, the oil is pretty runny. I think I may have used a bit too much as my face became rather shiny after applying this. That isn’t a major concern as I’m not bothered about what I look like when I’m in bed and the lights are off! The only thing I care about is whether everything I’ve subjected my face to is worth the effort and expense. The latter isn’t an issue in this case, but Aurelia’s prices are not exactly High Street friendly.



CELL REVITALISE NIGHT MOISTURISER

And now we come to the final act of my bedtime beauty tableau. Amongst other virtues, the Night Moisturiser also claims it can help¬†“wind down and prepare for a restful night‚Äôs sleep”. I was pretty tired anyway, so I didn’t need much assistance to nod off, but I could detect a hint of lavender in the fragrance, and that is known for its¬†soporific quality.

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This cream is very rich as per Aurelia’s description, and that definitely contributed to my facial wattage. If my husband were still awake at this time, I’m certain he could read by the light of my countenance.



CELL REVITALISE DAY MOISTURISER

I diligently went through the same process again the next morning, but with the Day Moisturiser instead. Although it is supposed to have a “matte-finish”, I’m afraid it didn’t have that effect on me. In fact, you can see that the cream looks just as rich as the one for night-time.

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It could be a combination of all the products (obviously minus the Night Oil), but if you want something that controls shine whilst out and about, this moisturiser really isn’t for you. That said, my face didn’t feel like it had as much of an oil slick on it as the night before. Furthermore, it did seem to radiate less after I’d given the cream some time to sink into my skin.

Just to demonstrate, here are a couple of photos I took sans makeup – the first one almost immediately after application (with slightly damp hair!), and the next about an hour later.

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CONCLUSION

I am not able to comment on the long-term effects of Aurelia’s Probiotic Kit as I’ve only just started using it, and some of the samples will most likely run out in a couple of weeks. Although the products are suitable for all skin types, I’m not entirely sure as to how friendly bacteria would alleviate common problems like age spots, large pores, scars etc. As Aurelia’s signature ingredients are formulated to “calm the natural immune triggers in your skin which can be overstimulated by pollution and stress”, there is a possibility their 3-Step Routine will eventually lessen the impact of rosacea, acne, and even smooth out the effects of ageing.

My combination skin was going through a flaky patch, and from past experience, I knew it would take quite a number of days (sometimes more than a week) to balance itself out. However, this Starter Set managed to fix that within 24 hours. That’s actually a great result, so I highly recommend this if your skin frequently suffers from dehydration.

I must admit my skin did look healthy and nourished after its probiotic exposure, so it stands to reason that regular use of Aurelia’s probiotic line would only improve it further. My main point of contention is the cost of it all. There is no doubt that these are luxury products, so if money were no object, go ahead and take a punt on this.

I can no longer find the relevant facebook post for Aurelia Brand Ambassadors, so perhaps there was a cutoff date. However, a search online led me to a competition for Discovery Kits. Hopefully you’ll be one of the lucky 500, and get to put probiotic skincare to the test before spending a mini fortune.

Personally, I have come across natural skincare that can do almost as good a job without taking a huge chunk out of my wages. Aurelia might out-perform cheaper brands (and some homemade concoctions) slightly, but until I have an income that can match my growing wishlist, the hunt for something better-yet-affordable must go on. ūüėé

2017-10-11 23.03.51Summer might be over for us here in the UK, but the season of sunshiny days is just starting for those living Down Under, and that’s where a friend of mine is headed. Sarah will be spending a year or more in Australia, so we had a small leaving do to give the lucky young lady a proper send-off.

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As a fellow Disney fan with Princess Belle aspirations (yes, she even looks and sings like the character!), Sarah’s not a difficult person to buy presents for. Basically anything BatB-related will go down well, so when I saw this charming makeup and toiletry bag, I knew it had my friend‚Äôs name written all over it. Ok, I‚Äôm aware it actually says ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but in our reality, that‚Äôs synonymous with Sarah!

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Heh, if I’m honest, I liked the bag so much, I almost didn‚Äôt want to give it away…But I resisted temptation and filled it with a few bits and bobs which Sarah might find useful in her travels, such as a set of mini squeezable bottles, plus a few other beauty products and tealights that I packaged in clear cellophane. Also…chocolates! No largesse is complete without it! ūüėõ

Such pretty things require fitting gift presentation, but with only a couple of nights to put everything together, I had to make do with whatever materials I had to hand. Luckily, I did already have a small collection of seashells, and since Sarah would soon be seeing a lot more sun, sand and sea, crafting something beach-themed was perfect for the occasion.

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This card and gift topper is very easy to do, and would only need the following:

  • White Card
  • Blue Card or Paper – Various shades
  • Brown Kraft Card or Paper – Various shades
  • Ribbon – Preferably white or cream
  • Seashells
  • Guillotine, or Scalpel and Ruler
  • Scissors
  • PVA Glue

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The ‚Äėstamp‚Äô was designed in Photoshop, then printed on thin creamy yellow card and cut down to size, but it’s ok to use white card instead. The reason I did not was due to the only white card I had left being too thick for my Epson Inkjet.

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Although the ‘stamp’ on Sarah’s present features Australia, please feel free to download the PDF¬†of a more generic version (with pic of a suitcase) if you too have friends going away and fancy giving this idea a whirl…Bonus if your mates also love Disney as I’ve included a line from one of the songs in BatB. Perhaps when I have a bit more time on my hands, I’ll expand on this and create a range of similar stickers with quotes from other animated films. ‚̧

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Awhile back, I bought some little wooden tags from a craft store simply because they were cheap and I liked the look of them. Although I didn’t get them for any specific purpose, they did come in rather useful for this project…A bit of sanding, some chalkboard paint and twine, and I got myself a reusable gift tag! If you can’t get hold of wooden tags, and aren’t bothered about reusability, thick black card works just as well. Writing on such a small surface with sticks of chalk can be quite tricky, so unless you’ve a deft hand, you might be better off with a dressmaker or chalk pencil.

sq blog pic2This is possibly one of the more straightforward cards I’ve ever made. However. if you’re not feeling confident you can pull it off, I’d advise doing a test run on some scrap paper before ripping up the good stuff. The paper weight also needs to be within the Goldilocks zone – too thick and it won’t be pliable enough to tear, too thin and you won’t get the nicely frayed edges. My top tip: Don’t stick anything down until you’ve got all your baits and pieces lined up, and are happy with what you sea! ūüėÄ


It’s been a long time coming, but my Etsy store will soon be re-opening. Back on sale will be the previously mentioned DIY Spa Foot Scrub Kit, which (as can be seen on the postcard above) has gone way past its prototype stage, and was trialled awhile back with great success…It really was a pleasant surprise when all the kits sold out as quick as they did, despite the lack of any publicity beyond word-of-mouth amongst my own social circle.

There will also be a couple more new items, including this Chalkboard Door Hanger Gift Set, which would make a great present for kids, and a perfect stocking filler. I gave one to my daughter last year, and faster than you can say “YouTube”, she’d personalised it with her own ‘On Air’ sign to keep us from knocking on her door when she’s busy vlogging. Oh, how quickly they grow up!


As yet, I haven’t got a specific ETA for when all the products will be ready to make an appearance. However, it’ll only be a matter of weeks, and definitely in time for Christmas orders, so as they say…watch this space! ūüėé


Money might not be able to buy you happiness, but as a cousin of mine used to say, it can buy lots of things that will make you happy! ūüėÄ

The last year or so, I‚Äôd been regularly dosing myself with little bursts of joy in the shape of monthly subscription boxes, but the trouble with them (since their contents are usually meant to be a mystery until receipt) is that they can be a bit hit-and-miss. Every now and then, when you get a lovely surprise in the post, it‚Äôs like Christmas come early, but on other occasions, you find yourself faced with a bundle of disappointment. Still, there’s always the option to recycle anything you’re not so keen on as a present for someone else whose taste or lifestyle runs different to yours. You‚Äôd have at least saved yourself the expense of forking out for that year‚Äôs Secret Santa, so it‚Äôs a win-win.

As I don‚Äôt tend to use cosmetics often, I could see a lot of products going to waste if I subscribed to the likes of Birchbox or Glossybox since both are too beauty-specific. For me, the ideal box would contain a broad selection of items. Back then, the best one that fit this description was from PopSugar. Unfortunately, it was (and still is) far too expensive. Plus, it doesn’t deliver to the UK, which means it’s basically no good to me at all. However, as these subscriptions grew in popularity, an assortment of boxes began to appear on the scene, from those specialising in geek collectables, to the ones curating samples of whisky.


The first one I tried out was Fancy Box, but after the initial excitement had worn off, I realised that most of the stuff I’d been sent seemed to be overstock they were trying to get rid of. By this time, Birchbox had started to include in their repertoire other things apart from toiletries and make-up, but the range was limited so I continued to um and ah.

Then everything changed when I came across My Little Box. At ¬£14.95 (including postage), it ticked all the right boxes: affordable, great quality, wonderfully packaged and best of all, a wide variety of unique products – Lifestyle, Fashion Accessories, Gadgets, F&B, Home Decor, and some were even Craft-related. Each month’s box also had a theme that came with its own mini magazine.

I wish I‚Äôd kept up-to-date with my blog as not a month went by when I wasn‚Äôt pleased with the delivery from My Little Box…literally everything was worth posting about, so it’s a good job I took lots of photos which I’m happy to share.

Sadly, and with great regret, I had to put a temporary stop to my subscription, but that was due to personal circumstances at the time, and not because I’d found fault with My Little Box. Not one to despair (for too long), I soon embraced other alternatives by signing up to social marketing campaigns. The outcome can be intermittent I’ll grant you, but these methods cost nothing more than completing a few short surveys and/or posting reviews. I was initially a little concerned that this would attract more spam to my inbox, but it’s been a few months in and what I feared has not materialised.

So, if like me you’re not averse to treats (well, we all need a pat on the back just for getting through life, don’t we?!) but are far from being besties with your bank manager, I highly recommend joining a couple of these perfectly safe #GotItFree sites:

bzzagent.co.uk and triyit.co.uk

I have been successful with BzzAgent so far, and turned into a five-year-old ripping open a giftbox as soon as my first freebies arrived – bottles of Dove Shampoo and Conditioner, both full-sized.

In return, all I had to do was post my thoughts on how I got on with the products, but that takes hardly anything out of me since I’m already in the habit of frequently sharing my (solicited or otherwise!) opinions online. The other discovery club Triyit is still in its pre-launch phase, but I received an invite yesterday, so fingers-crossed I will qualify for a box at some point next week.


For those of you who are pretty active on social media and write reviews as a matter of course, Influenster has recently extended its reach to the UK. It works a little differently to the two sites above, since I suspect much depends on your online clout. I only joined up a few months ago, so hopefully I can build up my social impact over time as freebies from the VoxBox look pretty high-end.

I have no idea how long it will take me, but I intend to have some fun along the way! ūüėÄ

…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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