Archives for category: Lifestyle

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’s name written all over it. Ok, I’m aware it actually says ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but in our reality, that’s synonymous with Sarah!

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Heh, if I’m honest, I liked the bag so much, I almost didn’t 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! 😛

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 ‘stamp’ 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! 😀


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! 😎


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! 😀

The last year or so, I’d 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’s 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’d have at least saved yourself the expense of forking out for that year’s Secret Santa, so it’s a win-win.

As I don’t 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’d kept up-to-date with my blog as not a month went by when I wasn’t 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! 😀

…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! 😀

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! 😀

“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’ 囍 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. 😁 Unfortunately, he’s not always available when I’m in arty mode so I make do with my trusty old iPhone. 😎

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. 😁

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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!  😜

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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 – low 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 Étouffée, 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. 🙂

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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!