Archives for category: Gifts

2018-08-02 20.12.10Last month, I came across a discount code for a new subscription box that seemed a perfect match for a bookworm like me, so I decided to try it out. The appropriately named Reading in Heels is kind of like a book club for women…except you don’t just receive a handpicked work of contemporary fiction (or non-fiction) each month, you will also be sent a few other treats…Though if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to need the extra encouragement to put your feet up and bury your nose between the covers of a book (channel your inner Belle from Beauty and the Beast)!

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The contents of the box generally include a small variety of luxe beauty and lifestyle products, along with a yummy delight or two. Although I got my first box at half price, it usually costs a mere tenner (plus P&P) per month. When you consider the price of new paperbacks these days (nevermind hardbacks), this is definitely a bargain!

While Reading in Heels isn’t a conventional book club with members that regularly meet up for literary discussions, it does have an online community where we can post reviews. It’s not looking terribly interactive at the moment, but I’m hoping it will later expand to include a forum of some sort, similar to Good Reads.

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In truth, I haven’t read a real book in years, having become more accustomed to my Kindle. There are pros and cons either way, so I don’t really want to get into a debate about it. However, I will freely admit that I love the feel and smell of books, and miss being able to turn actual pages. Plus, the covers always look so intriguing. Our house used to be so full of books we had to donate quite a fair few to charity, and reluctantly came to the agreement that for every book we bought, we had to make room for it by giving another away. That was almost a decade ago, and luckily for us, eBooks soon came into existence. Yay!

Still, not all books have a (legal) digital version, so every now and then, a printed edition will find its way into my hands, borrowed or purchased at a knock-down rate…or in this case, materialise in a mystery box of goodies!

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Most of the books I read are novels, but sometimes, I’ll make an exception and delve into the world of non-fiction if the subject matter interests me enough. Since the last biography that captivated me was about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, I am hoping that Ma’am Darling, another saga of royal proportion, will prove equally fascinating.

The first few chapters are quite humorous, but I’ve not encountered anything earth-shaking as yet. So far, the real Princess Margaret is (unsurprisingly) not coming across quite as congenial and engaging as her dramatised counterpart in The Crown, a more sympathetic character by far, and with more redeeming qualities. By all accounts, bona fide Margaret (sorry to say) is a bit of a cow…Fingers crossed that will change as I read on!

Just a brief mention of the other items in the box before getting to the ones I like best…

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The pencil from Night Navy and notebook from Coconut Lane look pretty enough, but it’s difficult to get excited over stationery when I already have loads of similar stuff lying around my work and craft space. I did have a quick nosy round their respective sites, and noticed some products on there which would make great gifts (whether for yourself or someone else), so they’re worth bookmarking for special occasions.

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If you’re teetotal (like me), but love the taste of booze (unlike me), you will probably enjoy the real wine gums from Vinoos. Though I’m not particularly fussed, these do really taste like rosé. They contain 0% alcohol, so you can indulge without worrying about the morning after (or triggering an allergic reaction). My only suggestion would be to keep these gums refrigerated before consumption…unless you prefer your wine at room temperature of course!

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My favourite things from this box – Eye Gels from Patchology. I have hitherto been fortunate enough to escape the onset of wrinkles, but age will get us all in the end. When I look hard enough, there are signs of crepiness beginning to appear under my eyes. However, that’s nothing compared to the dark circles I’ve had to put up with for most of my life. These panda peepers must be genetic, since nothing will get rid of them…even the corners of my eyes look bruised.

Although these gels don’t provide a permanent fix, I am pretty impressed by the results. The area around my eyes did look brighter the next day; the skin softer and smoother. The gels are easy to use and you’ll experience a pleasant cooling sensation, but don’t make the mistake of placing them the wrong way round (with pointy bits down) as I initially did!

38481200_1691435620966014_3122567848417820672_nIf a period of cosy nights in seems a tempting prospect, or if you’re contemplating a netflix/social media detox, book a date with yourself and subscribe to Reading in Heels. It’s all you need for some quality “me time” – something I will certainly be looking forward to now on a monthly basis! The only trouble is…where’s the new bookshelf to go? 😀

1I’ve said in the past that of all the colours I like, pink is nowhere near the top of that list. However, there is something about that shade which evokes the hallmarks of my favourite season – bright flowers in bloom, sunsets at the end of a long sunny day, rosy fruit bursting with juice, and lots of ice-cream to cool off in the balmy heat. Well, I blended the latter two with some milk as temperatures began to soar in the last couple of weeks, and greeted summer with this classic concoction in my hand – a glass of homemade strawberry milkshake…Mmmmm!

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Apart from the solstice (Happy Litha!), this June brought us something else to celebrate, a birthday milestone. Not mine, but a friend who turned 50. A group of us at work got her a giftcard and a bottle of rosé with matching begonias, but I wanted to make her something special.

We recently had a conversation about natural products, and how coconut oil is great for haircare. She expressed an interest in trying out Himalayan pink salts, and that gave me a lightbulb moment… 💡

2018-06-26 21.21.59Instead of trawling through the likes of Etsy or Not on the High Street like I normally do, why not put together a bespoke pamper kit?

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I already had a big bag of the pink salt at home and only needed to fill a small jar with some of it, but I managed to find the other bits and bobs at my nearest Holland & Barrett‘s (which was having a sale), and a local shop in Lytham. As you can see, all items were in the various hues of summer, including the gift bag I made.

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To construct this, all you would need (apart from the bag itself) is a paper doily, some thin card, and gift tissue. Unless you’ve a deft hand, I’d advise cutting the eye-shapes etc. with a circle cutter. I designed a ‘badge’ for the body of the owl that says “turning 50 is a real hoot”, but if you haven’t got a printer, a simpler alternative would be to use washi paper, or another material that’s patterned, like gift wrap.

You might be wondering why the owl. I haven’t an answer for that, except…it’s cute. That’s one of the reasons I like these quirky looking birds. I guess it kind of looks like I’m saying with age comes wisdom, but mainly because…it’s cute. 😀

2018-04-22 17.22.10…a rose still wouldn’t taste as sweet as it smells. Though its natural flavour is too distinctive to be mistaken for anything else, it is actually very subtle. Not so when these crimson blooms have been made into syrup, as I recently discovered!

Now that the days are getting warmer, I’ve been putting my blender to good use by making us loads of refreshing smoothies. However, the Rose Green Tea I made the other week reminded me of a fragrant ice-cold beverage I used to enjoy as a child growing up in the tropics. It is commonly known as Bandung in the Malay Archipelago, possibly a variant of the popular Rose Milk brought over by Indian immigrants generations ago.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast

Aside from being a fab summer drink, the colour alone is enough to set off my mental playlist so it repeats the Grease soundtrack over and over again, with particular emphasis on the above verse so I now can’t get rid of that earworm. Perhaps they ought to re-name this milkshake The Pink Lady!

2018-05-06 17.50.50There are many variations of Bandung, but it is essentially a mixture of rose syrup, milk, cold water and ice. Be forewarned: unless you have a super sweet tooth, go easy on the syrup as it is incredibly saccharine. Some recipes call for condensed milk, but I would personally not recommend it. Evaporated milk is a better option, or the regular stuff you’d put in your tea. Unsweetened dairy alternatives will also work.

You could try making your own rose syrup, but I’m saving my supply of petals for other projects, so I turned to good old eBay and bought myself a bottle of Natco‘s. All ingredients went into my trusty blender, and pretty soon I had myself a frosty and frothy (frosthy? 😀 ) pink concoction served with edible gold sprinkles and of course…a cocktail umbrella, because no sunny day is complete without that!

2018-05-06 19.22.34My love affair with rose as an ingredient continues, and has extended from culinary endeavours to skincare. I have a few plans in mind and would ideally prefer to use rose essential oil in my beauty products, but it is very very dear, and with good reason. The purest rose otto requires tens of thousands of roses to be distilled just to fill a mere 5ml bottle. It is, however, considered worth the expense because of the benefits to both mind and body. My previous blog post doesn’t even begin to touch on the merits of this botanical wonder.

A cheaper alternative would be to buy a blend, and supplement it with homemade rose-infused oil. The latter is easy enough to achieve. There are a few different methods, but I believe the ‘sunlight version’ yields the quickest result. All you’d need is one part crushed or bruised dried rose petals to one part carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is fine, but sweet almond, jojoba, and even olive oil will also do. If you choose to replace the dried petals with fresh ones, ensure they are from organic roses (so no chemicals have been sprayed on them) but still be wary of mould forming due to moisture content.

Place both ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good swirl to make sure the petals are all submerged. It is absolutely crucial that your chosen vessel did not recently contain anything pungent. Otherwise, you’d be making the mistake I did with my first batch of rose oil. The jar in question had Country French sauce in it a few weeks prior, and it initially seemed like a long soak and a few hot washes did get rid of the smell. Oh, how I was mistaken…The end-result of my rosy enterprise had to be binned because garlic is nobody’s idea of perfume!

Get a pot of water on the boil whilst filling the jar. Once it’s bubbling, turn the flames off and sit the jar in the hot water. The heat will help to release the rose scent into the oil. When the water’s cooled down, move the jar to a location that gets lots of sunlight and let the infusion process continue for at least another 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more potent it will be. I left mine to sit on the window sill for a week before straining it.

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Another piece of advice: have some coffee filters ready, or empty teabags. Depending on how well you crushed your rose petals, there may be some tiny bits in your oil that a muslin or cheesecloth may not catch. If so, you’ll be glad to have these little paper sieves at your disposal. Give the petals a proper squeeze during this procedure to extract every last drop.

2018-05-07 18.34.03The final step would be to decant the oil into a dark bottle to preserve it. Your rose infusion is now ready to be used neat, or in another beauty recipe. Concentrated in a receptacle (regardless of jar, bowl or bottle), it might give off an odd earthy aroma, somewhat akin to wine. Like me, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly awry. Though I can’t quite fathom the cause, I’ve found that it isn’t one for concern. When applied to skin, the oil did exactly as expected, which was to leave me smelling of roses. 🙂 ❤

2018-03-11 00.28.40This is what I like to call my budget basket! 😀 It’s perfect for those times when you are stuck for ideas, and have a bit of a cash flow problem. That’s how we found ourselves this Mother’s Day. Fortunately (piggybank-wise), my mum is in Singapore where this occasion isn’t celebrated until May, so for the time-being, we only had to take care of one present.

The gift you see in the photo above is actually for my mother-in-law. She’s the sort of person who likes a simple quiet life, with no particular hobbies or interests (apart from cats), which makes her a pretty tricky recipient. We often buy her feline-related paraphernalia, but wanted to get her something different this time.

Posh nosh is always a great fallback…There aren’t many of us who will say no to yummy treats! They don’t necessarily cost a lot either. The little hamper I put together actually came to less than £15 in total, and could have been cheaper had I not decided to shop in Booths. Well, I wanted it to be special, so it was worth the few extra quid. 🙂

2018-03-10 22.05.54The basket was a bargain from a pound shop, but if you can’t find one that’s suitable, you could cut up a cardboard box and stick some nice wrapping paper on the outside of it. Apart from the card (in colours to match), I didn’t buy anything else because I already owned most of the necessary materials to put this gift basket together. As you can see below, I’ll not be experiencing a shortage of patterned cellophane anytime soon!

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I also have a collection of artificial flowers I keep as props and decoration. However, you can embellish with something else if you haven’t any of those. Be inventive! I think shaped bath bombs or candles can look pretty as well, or possibly mini plush toys and beads. To cushion the items in the basket, I filled it with some leftover packaging from parcels I’d received, and paper from my shredder.

The whole endeavour was fairly quick and easy, but would have taken me a bit longer had hubby David not lent a hand when it came to taping the cellophane down. I’m really rubbish with dates and suck at time management, so this really isn’t bad for a last minute job (even if I do say so myself)! It’s a trait that must run in the family, because my daughter Zhouyi admitted she was similarly pushed for time and only got my present yesterday!

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She does know me well though…Her gifts are always the most adorablest! And that card did make me chuckle. 😀

I hope there’s much joy going round this Mothering Sunday, and that you’re having a lovely time with your mum whether or not you follow the UK tradition!

27500985_10155903714310856_4956690107225114775_oLess than a month after my very first VoxBox was delivered, I also received a mystery box of free goodies from Triyit. As mentioned previously, this product discovery club is still in pre-launch phase, which means initial campaigns won’t be very big, so I was well-chuffed to be have been selected.

 

Unlike the VoxBox, I was not told of the contents beforehand, though I did have a suspicion it would be health-related, and I was proven right when a hefty box arrived at my house. As with most full-sized complimentary items, brands expect something in return. It’s not usually much…often just a review and/or exposure on social media.

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The Triyit box came with a campaign booklet that had a set of instructions for each product – little jobs which would lead to earning points towards another collection of freebies. Everything was very straightforward: snap a photo, then share it on any (or all) of the big platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter) using the relevant hashtags…All stuff I would have done anyway.



MOMA INSTANT PORRIDGE POT – PLAIN WITH NO SUGAR

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The first product I tried was a little pot of instant porridge from MOMA Foods. Oats are very kind to the tummy, and because of this, my favourite choice for breakfast. I prefer to cook my porridge (with lactose-free milk) in the microwave but, for the sake of convenience, have in the past tried Quaker’s Porridge Pots when out and about.

What makes MOMA’s gluten-free porridge different from most conventional instant porridge is the type of oats they use. They are wholegrain, with a generous helping of jumbo oats, therefore making them less processed and higher in fibre. MOMA’s blend of oats has a lower glycaemic index, and will keep you full for longer, making it a far healthier option than most brands.

The only other ingredient is low-fat milk powder, so all you need to do is add hot water and stir it thoroughly. Although MOMA does sell an interesting variety of flavours, the plain and sugar-free porridge leaves you free to improvise by mixing in fruit, nuts, or syrup (maple for me please). The texture of this porridge does take some getting used to as it’s quite gummy and chunky…definitely not as creamy as the porridge I normally have at home. That said, it would be pretty handy to have one of MOMA’s pots around when you’re on the go (or at work, like me in this instance). As you can see, it’s not very big, but it was certainly very filling and when lunchtime came round, I found I wasn’t hungry in the slightest!



LOVE CORN ROASTED SNACK – SMOKED BBQ

27878135_365661947235858_3985098939035549696_nMidnight snacks are a bad habit of mine. Actually, it doesn’t have to be midnight. I am often munching on something at bedtime. However, it is mostly junk food…sometimes chunks of cheese or salami, and even chicken drumsticks. It’s worse when on holiday in Singapore as my mum and I would drive around looking for food stalls (loads open late there), eventually consuming a heavy supper before slipping into a food coma at 2am!

The night (or should I say ‘morning’?!) I tried Love Corn‘s snack was probably the first time (in a long long while) I had something healthy past 9pm. It’s really yummy, moreish, and (being low-cal, high-fibre, vegan, gluten-free etc.) also completely guilt-free, making it great for those times when one is feeling peckish, even if it is at silly o’clock!



EAT REAL LENTIL CHIPS – SEA SALT

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I never buy ready-salted crisps, so I was a little sceptical when I opened the bag of Eat Real‘s Sea Salt Lentil Crisps Chips. Since it was Friday night (Netflix & Nom!), I made sure my more exotic-flavoured crisps (such as Wasabi Ginger, and Lobster Firecracker) and pork scratchings were on standby…just in case. I’m pleased to say I needn’t have bothered because the Lentil Chips were a treat and I soon scoffed the lot. Although they only had sea salt on them, the natural flavour of the lentils came through, making the chips quite tasty. I think I actually prefer them to the ordinary spud variety, and of course these will be much better for your body. They’ve even got a crunchier texture!

Other natural snacks by Eat Real are also available, and whilst I can’t list all the stores that stock them, I have previously spotted in Morrisons their Quinoa Chips which I will be adding to my next shopping list.



GET NOURISHED ICED COFFEE – HAZELNUT & CACAO MOCHA

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Although I often cannot do without my morning latte, I have to admit I predominantly get my caffeine fix from leaves rather than beans. However, when I do drink coffee, I like it extremely creamy and loaded with sugar. This Iced Coffee from Get Nourished only ticks the box for the former, but (for obvious reasons) not the latter. It does have a very strong taste, and (as expected) smells a lot like Nutella (not that I mind). To be honest, I wasn’t totally keen on this beverage. Yet, I was convinced that coffee-lovers would actually enjoy it, so I decided to get the opinion of a true connoisseur – my husband David…And guess what?! He gave it a thumbs-up! 😀

I suspect David’s conclusion was based mainly on flavour alone, but there are a lot of other benefits to drinks from Get Nourished. Like the brand name implies, their coffees are highly nutritious and ideal for those with a fitness regime that requires lots of energy and protein. Plus, they are also gluten-free and lactose-free. As an added bonus, Get Nourished will donate 1% of sales to The Kinetic Foundation, a charity that aims to improve Sport Education for kids.



THE BERRY COMPANY SUPERBERRIES – PURPLE JUICE DRINK

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I thought I’d save the best for last, because this drink is easily my favourite item in the Triyit box. If you love Ribena, but not so much a fan of the sugar that’s in it, and can’t quite stand drinking the ‘light’ version due to the saccharine taste of aspartame, this vegan drink from The Berry Company might convert you. Even my 17-year-old daughter Zhouyi, who drinks Ribena by the gallon, was impressed.

The Superberries Purple Juice is super refreshing, super light, and super delish. The Berry Company have got the fruity flavour and sweetness level just right, and it’s all down to the natural ingredients they use. There are no artificial additives in it, and as per the other products reviewed on this post, also free from gluten, fat, and GMOs.

Sadly, Purple Juice is not yet available in most supermarkets, and the one litre carton retails for over £2. This might change over time since it’s still a fairly new product. Until then, it’ll have to remain an occasional treat each time I visit my local Holland & Barrett.



Free gifts are always fun to review, and the Triyit box was particularly enjoyable…probably due to being filled with multiple goodies. It felt like it was Christmas all over again! Hopefully, this (and VoxBox) is only the beginning, with many more to follow. As they say, good things come in threes. Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed it doesn’t just stop there!

2017-12-23 11.33.05…my Boxcitement!!! Yeap, that’s what it’s called, this new box subscription service I am trying out. As previously blogged, I used to receive monthly surprises from My Little Box. Sadly, that business has recently changed its focus and, for the foreseeable future, will no longer offer the same range of products in its boxes.

I can’t remember how I discovered Boxcitement, but it was most likely via an ad on Facebook. Similar to My Little Box, subscribers will be sent a wide selection of items. However, the emphasis is predominantly on accessories, homeware, stationery, simple crafts, and jewellery. This goes towards supporting UK artisans since all the aforementioned is designed and manufactured by them. From time to time, boxes may also contain beauty products (such as bath salts) or other treats. It costs £18 per month (including P&P), but newbies get a 10% discount with the code FIRSTBOX. What’s more, the second month will gain you an additional gift if you stay on.

I placed my order before the December cut-off date, and though I was delighted the delivery arrived in time for Christmas, setting eyes on it initially left me feeling a tad…underwhelmed. I guess I’ve been so accustomed to My Little Box that I was expecting a larger parcel. The contents of Boxcitement’s mystery bundle do not come in their own presentation box, hence the disparity in size. Below are a couple of photos I have taken for comparison – one against a standard-sized My Little Box (minus the external packaging), and another against a large bag of crisps.

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To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about this. As gorgeous as My Little Box’s themed receptacles were, I can only re-use so many of these boxes before my home gets cluttered up with them. Besides, as clichéd as this may sound, size isn’t everything, and I was prepared to give Boxcitement a chance.

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A pretty little tote bag was sat right on top as soon as I unwrapped everything, and I will admit…it did make me squee. 😀 The rest of the stuff didn’t do to badly in getting a positive reaction out of me either…many of which were unique and well-crafted.

2017-12-31 17.46.38The jewellery from Boxcitement is certainly of much better quality than what I previously received from My Little Box, though I do miss the skincare products from the latter.

2017-12-31 17.24.31What I am least fussed about is the calendar poster since I already have a better one (complete with wall planner), so I will probably give the Boxcitement one away. The tree decoration comes a close second as we just have too many of those, but I suppose I could hang it somewhere in my (semi-new) loft space which could do with looking a bit more festive.

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As adorable as the acrylic (I think?) napkin rings are, a friend had gifted us some that she’d made not long ago, so these two frosted ones will have to wait their turn. It would be great if Boxcitement extends its service to allow orders of individual items (much in the same way as My Little Box and Birchbox) because there are usually more than two of us at the dinner table on Christmas day, thus a larger set of the napkin rings would be most welcome! 😀

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My top two favourite are the mini tote bag, and the coffee stencil. I bought myself a chocolate powder shaker only a few weeks ago, so acquiring the stencil right at this moment is a happy coincidence.

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As for the cards…well, I do have a large collection of such stationery, but I am a firm believer that you can never have too many of them! And don’t you think they look just fine?! 😀

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So far so awe-so-me! Boxcitement’s December offerings have passed muster despite my slight misgivings early on…

2017-12-31 17.43.42…and I am now looking forward to next month’s goodies. If the sneak peak is anything to go by, 2018 might be off to a good start!

2017-12-31 17.50.19PS – I can’t get over how cute this tote is…It may be tiny, but is actually still large enough to hold all my new stuff from Boxcitement! Just look at it! 😀

25037454_138865226896675_2036079854268448768_nMerry Christmas to you and all your loved ones! Hopefully, everyone has had as wonderful a time as I have, filled with joy (and treats). I realise this post is a little late, but maybe it could come in handy for next year…Not that advanced preparations have actually helped me in the past. Despite my best attempts (even taking time off work), there’s still always a lot of rushing around at the very last minute! I did, however, manage to get all the wrapping done by the morning of Christmas eve. Whew!

2017-12-21 22.11.31I try to come up with different gift ideas every festive season, and thought I’d have a go at something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time – personalised goody bags…or mini sacks/pouches in this case. The designs were created in Photoshop (remember to reverse them!), and then printed on transfer papers before being ironed onto the hessian pouches.

Unbeknownst to me then, my iron was actually damaged. It wasn’t distributing heat uniformly, so some of the fabric ended up with slight burn marks, and in other areas, it wasn’t hot enough for the design to transfer successfully. The result was a tad patchy, though some of my friends felt it contributed to the overall rustic appearance. I’m still getting a new iron though!

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These little bags are a good alternative if you have many friends you want to buy gifts for, but have a limited budget. I filled these with scented tealights (a bargain from any pound shop), homemade espresso truffles (recipe here), skincare/aftershave samples, poppers, and a few other party favours or stocking fillers.

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As for other presents specially for family, I made 3D Christmas Trees from origami paper, and glued them on gift tags made out of card, patterned ribbon, and gold raffia. If you haven’t got any pens with metallic ink, it’s probably best to use light coloured card instead of the burgundy ones like mine.

2017-12-18 21.51.07We normally send charity cards every Christmas, so I was very pleased to find out that Snapfish had partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support to offer bespoke merchandise, such as greeting cards. We have a gorgeous photo of our cat Magic playing with tree decorations when she was 16 weeks old, and I just knew it would be perfect for this occasion. My order did turn out a bit more expensive than previous years, but looking at the glossy outcome, you can see why I didn’t regret a penny of it!

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Speaking of tree decorations, look at these two adorable ones a friend and fellow crafter made for us! Needlework is one of those skills I never quite got to grips with, and how I wish I had…Perhaps a new goal for 2018? 😀

24274019_1970996123188841_2622979760808001536_nIt rarely snows where we live, so I’m not holding out any hopes for a white Christmas. Although the ground does eventually get mucky, there is something magical and oh-so-cosy about watching snowflakes fall outside your window while you’re sipping hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols.

24178219_158566281426093_4703554647334322176_nInstead of waiting around only to (most likely) end up being disappointed, I thought I’d do something about it by creating my own snow globe! It might not be the real thing, but looks pretty all the same! Unlike traditional snow globes, these are dry ones since I’m not too sure how the materials used would fare long-term when submerged in liquid. I guess it would be more accurate to call them jar dioramas.

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I started off by painting the pine cones I collected way back in Spring with just plain old dark green acrylic paint, and tipped the edges with white paint and iridescent glitter. If you’d like to know how to clean and prep cones for craft, a tutorial can be found in my last blog post.

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Next step was to make the mini signposts, which involved a pair of scissors and some small ice-cream sticks. It would be more ideal to use proper wood-burning tools for the lettering, but because I have none, I borrowed David’s soldering iron (after he swopped the tip for an old one). If you are thinking of attempting pyrography the same way, I’d advise writing on with a pencil and then tracing it with the soldering iron. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got it looking legible. After that, I brushed on some wood stain (samples can be purchased on eBay) to give it a weathered appearance.

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Assembling the snow globe took some doing, but I found air-drying clay to be the best option for the base, particularly in keeping the signpost upright. Take care to keep the clay away from the edges of the jar lid though. You need to leave a bit of room for the jar to screw on properly. After that, all you need is more glitter (I used a mix of large and small flakes), give the jar a bit of a shake, and there you go – a winter scene in miniature! 😀

24175157_385047045264235_7910478964865368064_nMeanwhile, other Christmas decorations have started going up in our house…Most importantly, the tree! This year, we have switched to an icy theme with snow animals, mainly because Zhouyi and David both insisted on having a penguin sat at the top instead of the usual star.

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Oh well, Pegwig (as christened by David) does seem quite happy up there despite having a tree stuck up his bottom!

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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. 😀

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! 😛

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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! 🙂

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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. 🙂 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!