Celebrating Craftmas with Laura Ashley

I love getting crafty for Christmas. I have relatively low crafting standards at home, I’m content to make cotton wool snowmen with my 4 year old and other such delights. Sometimes it’s nice to do something for myself, so one rainy Sunday afternoon I found myself braced against the elements and heading to another wonderful Ministry of Craft event, this time in conjunction with Laura Ashley.

We were in the cosy upstairs of Rosylee Tearooms, 25 bloggers gathered for some Christmas crafting, or Craftmas if you will. We spilt into two groups and I started by making a large origami box. Using large squares of beautiful Laura Ashley wallpaper, intricately folded into a large-ish gift box with lid. We then created a large bow to top the box with, again out of strips of wallpaper. I chose a contrasting paper to my box. It’s really rather effective and I’ll be recreating this at home with some nice thick wrapping paper.

Laura Ashley

Once we’d completed our first craft task we were treated to a selection of canapés, my favourite were the mini tomato bruschetta, but there was something for everyone, even gluten free options.

Laura Ashley

Suitably fortified we moved on to the sewing machines, a personal fear of mine. I’ve not used one since school and even then I wasn’t known for my skills. I am a nervous machinist, hand sewing is fine though. Thankfully I was under the expert guidance of Jeanette from the Ministry of Craft and I was sat near Hollybobs who really knows her way around a sewing machine.

We were set to work making little drawstring bags to put presents in. Using Laura Ashley fabric we made little red sacks and decorated them with cute bunting. Jeanette soon got the measure of me and entrusted me with her unpicker, which was just as well as I managed to sew all the wrong things together. It was easy to use the machine, my problem was more a lack of care, attention and confidence. Regardless I managed to make a pretty attractive looking bag.

Laura Ashley

I was really pleased with my efforts, they may lack finesse but they’re not terrible. Spending another afternoon with the Ministry of Craft has done wonders for improving my crafting confidence, which is so important when crafting with the small boy. My New Years resolution is to find more crafting me time and to learn how to use my sewing machine!

You can read more about our craftmas afternoon on the Laura Ashley blog. I think a lovely time was had by all, thank you to Laura Ashley, the Ministry of Craft and Joe’s Bloggers for arranging it. It’s amazing what can be created from wallpaper and upholstery fabric!

Veggie restaurant food: a rant

I’ve been a veggie for 25 years. In that time I’ve seen vegetarian food go from lentils 12 ways, to shelf after shelf of veggie food in the supermarket. These are good times indeed for vegetarians. Back in the day asparagus came in tins and squash was something bright orange in a bottle that rotted your teeth. As far as we’ve come, I do wish restaurants would catch up.

I eat out at a variety of different restaurants and cafes, from really posh places (this is very rare) to high street chains and independents. A good 90% of the time I look at the menu and realise that the veggie option is more often than not a lazy afterthought.

This week I had a Christmas meal at a reasonably swish local restaurant. My meal was a starter of beetroot and goats cheese tart (the tart was just a circle of burnt pastry) and a spinach and feta filo pie which was almost inedible, the pastry was thick and burnt. I left it. I don’t really like pastry, let alone burnt pastry, two courses of burnt pastry.

A few weeks ago I had a veggie “burger” in a trendy burger place, it was a slab of halloumi. I like halloumi, I love halloumi, but just a slab of it in a burger bun is a disappointing cheese sandwich I could’ve made at home. The chips were nice though.

Every menu seems to have the same selection of veggie options –
Lasagne
Veggie burger
Pasta with tomato sauce
Risotto, usually mushroom
Something containing blue cheese
Something containing mushrooms

Is there a chefs’ law which states “thou shalt offer vegetarians blue cheese and mushroom options only”, I really hope not, I can’t stand blue cheese and I can’t eat mushrooms because they make me ill. Seriously, why so big on blue cheese? There are approximately 8 squillion different kinds of cheese out there, there’s more to life than Stilton.

Is it so hard to think beyond crappy filo pies, slabs of cheese and lasagnes? I know a lot of chefs look at vegetarians in a disdainful, disparaging way, but if we’ve got the money in our back pockets and we want to spend it eating your cooking, why won’t you serve us up something decent?

I’m not asking for the world, I’m just asking for a little bit of excitement on my plate, not the lazy “that’ll do” option. So down with burnt filo pastry, soggy lasagnes and blue cheese and mushroom monstrosities. You can do better, I know you can.

Veggie restaurant food

How we made some Christmas Magic

Growing up my parents didn’t have much money, but my Dad had about as much imagination as it was possible to have. In many ways he was a great Dad, he made us laugh ridiculously hard on a daily basis. At Christmas time he sprinkled his special brand of magic around the house.

In scenes unheard of these days, our house did not have a single decoration up until Christmas Eve. My brother and I would toddle off to bed, leaving the house as it always was, save for a few Christmas cards dotted around the lounge.

Christmas morning would come, we’d tumble out of bed to find stockings hanging on our doors. We’d either sit together conspiratorially in one of our bedrooms and open our stockings together, or open them separately, then compare notes.

But under no circumstances were we allowed downstairs. If one of us did creep down for a look, there was nothing to see. Father Christmas had used his magic rope to tie the lounge and dining room doors shut and only my Dad was able to open it. If we gained entry without our parents, we were sternly warned that all the presents would disappear. No one wanted that!

Once my parents were awake (or awoken at some hellish hour) we were allowed into the lounge. The door would swing open and we’d burst in all excited. Father Christmas had put the tree up and all the decorations while we were in bed. Not only that but under the tree were presents for everyone. It was a Christmas miracle!

What I now know and realise is, it wasn’t Christmas magic, it was my Mum and Dad working their arses off from 8pm decorating the house, wrapping the presents and starting to prep the Christmas dinner. No wonder they looked extra awful come Christmas morning and no wonder when after only having 2 or 3 hours sleep they were less than overjoyed at having two excited children bouncing on them until they got up.

They were legends, their Christmas Eve efforts made everything much, much more magical and realistic for us. So I was determined to inject some magic and mystery into our family Christmases.

I’d love to do what my parents did, but that’s an incredible amount of hard work very late in the day. Plus a lot of people think you are stark raving mad if you’ve not fully decorated your house by the 1st December these days. So we’ve struck a balance.

On Saturday we went to Wythenshawe Community Farm and bought our tree, a very handsome 7 footer. We propped the tree up in a cool corner in the kitchen with a promise to decorate it tomorrow.

That night he had an early night, so we sprung into action. The Christmas tree was put into position, decked with lights, baubles and treasured decorations. The mantlepiece was decorated and our stockings hung up, lights and garlands were strung everywhere.

We were exhausted, but the house looked lovely. Our last act was laying out some decorations and a note from Elfie our Elf on the shelf saying she’d not had chance to finish decorating the tree and could the small boy put the last few decorations on.

Morning came, he woke us up and we all went downstairs (hubs sneaking down first to put all the lights on). The small boy walked in and was stuck dumb with wonder. He jumped up and down and said “the tree, the tree!” And then inspected everything with a look of pure joy on his face. After a few minutes he said “is it Christmas time now?” And my heart melted.

Christmas magic

THAT is what Christmas is all about. We found true Christmas magic on Sunday morning. He’s utterly delighted that Elfie decorated the tree and we love that we’ve created some actual, real magic for him.

Christmas isn’t about presents, giving and receiving, or vast turkeys wedged in the oven. It’s about magic and love. It’s a beautiful thing to believe in magic, because it does happen, even if it’s manufactured by exhausted parents. Merry Christmas x

This post is part of the #MyChristmasMoment campaign by StressFreePrint to share your favourite Christmas memory.

Elf on a Shelf – December 8th – 14th

We’re doing the whole Elf on a Shelf thing this year, so far it’s a huge hit. We’re enjoying setting it up and the small boy is enjoying finding out what Elfie has been up to each night. I wrote about week one here if you want to have a look at what else Elfie our elf has been up to so far.

On Monday 8th December we found Elfie in the bathroom, she’d been writing on the mirror using toothpaste, even though she’d been very naughty we all thought it was very funny!

Elf on a shelf

On Tuesday we woke to discover Elfie had found some colouring books and felt tips. The cheeky Elf had been colouring in, so when he woke up, the small boy helped Elfie to finish that page. He thought Elfie was very, very cheeky!

Elf on a shelf

On Wednesday Elfie had had a quiet night and we woke to find she’d found a quiet corner and written his name in smarties. She can be very generous when she wants to be. Bless her.

Elf on a shelf

On Thursday we found Elfie in his bedroom, all of his favourite soft toys were gathered around listening to her reading a Christmas story. We then all snuggled in the big bed, had some breakfast and read the story together before school.

Elf on a shelf

On Friday it was the small boy’s Nativity Play and he was a King. Elfie had heard his news, so we found her tucked up in a cupboard wearing a crown and eating gold coins. Elfie is a King too!

Elf on a shelf

On Saturday we discovered that Elfie had been up to her old tricks again! She’s a little daredevil and we discovered her abseiling down from the light in the lounge carrying some candy canes. Silly Elfie!

Elf on a shelf

On Sunday we woke up to find that Elfie had put the tree up and decorated the whole house overnight while everyone was asleep. It was brilliant and it saved Mummy and Daddy so much hard work! The small boy loved that the house was full of Christmas magic. Elfie had worked so hard but hadn’t quite managed to finish everything in time, so left a note asking the small boy to finish putting the last few decorations on the tree. Elfie is so lovely.

Elf on a shelf

Elf on a shelf

Seasonal Scents from Febreze

Having grown up in the 1980’s I have a slight phobia of air fresheners; back then they came in a huge aerosol and were available only in cloying fragrances like “pine forest”, which just smelt like toilet cleaner. When your mum liberally sprayed the house before visitors came, it was like she’d washed the walls with cheap toilet cleaner; so determined to be different, my method of freshening up the house was always to light a scented candle and open a window.

That was all very well and good until we started a family; whilst I’ll complain about the odours the small boy produces, I wouldn’t like to inflict them on other people. Since day one of being parents, we’ve always had some Febreze on hand to spritz the house with if visitors were expected. We were really pleased when Febreze got in touch and asked if we fancied having a sniff of their Winter Collection. Then they sent this…

febreze

The hamper contained –
Febreze Air Effects Apple & Spice Air Freshener
Febreze Apple & Spice Scented Candle
Febreze Apple & Spice Set & Refresh Scented oil diffuser
A tub of Whittard of Chelsea Mulled Wine flavour instant tea
A colour in stocking and fabric pens

It was a mightily impressive hamper! I was impressed with the range as it’s versatile enough for my house. The scented oil diffuser is ideal for my downstairs loo which is located right next to the front door. I won’t go into detail, but I live with two boys who don’t always focus enough on the task in hand!

The scented candle is a winner for me, during the run up to Christmas I especially like lighting a scented candle in the evening, because I like the house to smell a bit more Christmassy and if you get cinnamon scented ones it smells like all the baking you’ve not got round to doing yet. Happily the Apple & Spice does contain wafts of those Christmas cooking spices, more of which later. The candle itself is attractive and wouldn’t look out of place as part of a display.

The Air Freshener isn’t at all like those 1980’s monstrosities. You don’t need to spray much, because unlike my mums “pine forest” it eliminates odours, it doesn’t mask them. This is just right for giving the place a quick spritz (take note mother) before visitors arrive.

The apple and spice fragrance itself is very pleasant, it contains a Christmassy blend of cinnamon, cloves, apples, berries and vanilla bean. The vanilla bean is very faint, which is a good thing, vanilla is a lovely scent but used in excess it can be quite sickly. The apple and spice blend is uplifting and comforting, the perfect kind of fragrance for this time of year.

The Febreze apple and spice range in their winter collection is lovely and they’re something I would fragrance the house with from autumn up until Christmas. I’m particularly impressed with the candles, so I’ll be getting a few more of those in to light in the run up to the big day. I’m looking forward to colouring in the stocking with the small boy on Christmas Eve too. Thank you for my Christmas hamper Febreze, Merry Christmas!

Note: We were sent the hamper free of charge, I was under no obligation to review or write it up. All images and opinions are my own.

Christmas Crafting at The Ministry of Craft Manchester

One of the best things about Christmas is it gives me an excuse to get my craft box out and create wonky rustic homemade items for our home. A few years ago I made cross stitch cards for everyone, I often think about making my own cards and presents but I lack both confidence and time, so it was nice to sneak off for an afternoon at The Ministry of Craft in Manchester, to indulge my crafty side and have a little bit of pre-Christmas me time.

We arrived at The Ministry of Craft in the basement of the Fred Aldous store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I’d never been before but it is heaven for crafters of all kinds. The Ministry of Craft is a lovely, peaceful room, fully kitted out for all of their craft classes. We were there to decorate Christmas stockings, drink coffee, eat cake and have a natter. Sunday afternoons don’t get much better than that.

Ministry of Craft

The lovely Ministry of Craft team gave us a quick run through of what we were going to do. We were given basic Christmas stockings and we were going to decorate them with fabric and bondaweb, with optional hand stitching, buttons, gems and anything else we could throw at it.

I opted to cut out and stick on three blue stars, the larger of the three I spent some time hand sewing some detail on with silver thread, then I used some adhesive gems to pick out the corners of the star, I was really pleased with how it looked, even if it did look a bit wonky rustic.

Ministry of Craft

Throughout the afternoon the Ministry of Craft team were on hand to talk us through whatever we were attempting. They were very patient and encouraging and made me really want to go back and try my hand at something else.

Ministry of Craft

Proudly displaying our finished stockings

It was a really restful afternoon in a too busy month, it was so lovely to take some time out to spend focusing on a nice task, drinking coffee and chatting. We were invited guests of the Ministry of Craft and Growing Up Milk Info and I think we all had a really lovely crafty afternoon.

Prioritising Me

I’ve been pretty good lately, my mood has been stable, there have even been moments of actual joy, happiness and hope. I know, get me! I feel more in love with my family every day and they bring me so much happiness and light, but with light there is always dark.

Today my anxiety peaked. It’s been a really busy month so far with Christmas preparations, doing my usual freelance work, blogging (Blogmas anyone?) and I’ve got a part time job in a small, independent and extra lovely toy shop. The downside of all this busyness is I’m not getting much time for me, my head needs a bit of breathing space sometimes, I need quiet, I need time just to recharge and refresh myself, this hasn’t been happening.

December has been full of lovely things to do as a family and as well as numerous nice trips out I’m busy literally every evening. My days are full, my nights are too and I’m dying for a few hours to myself where I’m not working or prepping something or getting ready to go out. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for being busy, I’m not.

My anxiety kicked off today at a really stupid moment. Sat in a room full of bloggers, some of whom I know pretty well, the low level anxiety I had that morning suddenly ramped up and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak, move or make eye contact with anyone, so I picked up my phone and made myself look really busy. I wasn’t, but it was better than sitting there staring into space hoping the chair would swallow me up,

It worked temporarily and then I was given a craft task, so I got on with that, focussed on the small details I needed to complete what I was doing. Folding, cutting, sticking, curling, sewing, all of that, it pulled me out of myself a bit, gave me a focus and all was ok.

Session over, I got the bus home. The anxiety started tightening in my chest again, a voice in my head telling me I’m bad, useless, a terrible, really terrible person, I’m not, I just need the world to shut the hell up for a bit. So I turned my personal Twitter off my phone and I won’t switch it back on until I can breathe again.

I love Twitter, it’s often been my lifeline, but now, tonight, tomorrow probably I need a break. The social noise needs to stop and I need to look after myself, nip this in the bud, it can be done, I know it can. I can’t stop the busyness, but I can turn off some of the social noise for a while and I can snatch moments of quiet here and there. Most importantly I can be kind to myself, something usually way down on my list of priorities.

So I’m sorry friends if I let you down this week, I will try my best to be everything you normally expect of me, and be the places you want me to be. But right now I’m prioritising my mental health, because I absolutely refuse to ruin another Christmas for my family. I hope you’ll understand. It’s not you. It’s me. Sorry.

My Sunday Photo 14.12.14

FullSizeRender (5)

My Fifteen Festive Favourites

I’ve been tagged to do my Festive Favourites by Old Fashioned Susie. So here’s how we roll at Christmas…

Favourite Festive Food-
Without question it’s the Christmas dinner leftover sandwich, with slices of solidified bread sauce. I’m veggie so it’s all the veg, stuffing and sauce. It’s even better than Christmas dinner and my favourite thing to eat full stop.

Favourite Reindeer-
Rudolph. Maybe. He seems a decent kinda guy.

Favourite Day of Christmas-
Christmas Eve. A spot of last minute baking and present wrapping. Going to the Christingle service with my family. Mulled wine and a wind down in the evening. Carols and a whiskey before bed. Love it.

Favourite Christmas Song-
Christmas hasn’t begun until I’ve heard Fairytale of New York in a shop or on the radio. In terms of carols I love Oh Come All Ye Faithful, it’s really rousing and Christmassy.

Favourite Present-
I’m not much into getting gifts and trinkets for myself. My favourite gift is my family. There’s nothing nicer than us all in bed together, unwrapping our stocking presents on Christmas morning.

Favourite Festive Film-
Elf. But also Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a bit of something for the grown ups.

Christmas films

Favourite Festive Cracker Toy-
Anything blowy. I love a kazoo or something similar. For no other reason than I enjoy being vaguely annoying.

Favourite Cracker Joke-
What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck?

A Christmas Quacker!

Favourite Christmas Decoration-
A few years ago we bought some new lights to hang in our window. They’re not gaudy, they’re pretty classy. They’re LED and they slowly change colour and they’re shaped like stars. They are much admired. They sound awful don’t they? Trust me, they’re not.

Favourite Christmas Candle Scent-
I’m a bit of a Yankee Candle-holic I’m afraid, I like their Christmas candles, especially the ones with cinnamon spices in, but we also get similar scented ones from Ikea or other budget friendly places. I don’t like vanilla though, it’s far too sickly for me,

Favourite Christmas TV Advert-
Annoyingly I don’t really watch that much TV and what I do watch tends to be the BBC channels. I guess I like the Sainsbury’s advert. I know it conjures up mixed feelings, but I first heard that story 20 odd years ago and I’ve been intrigued by it ever since.

Favourite Festive Tradition-
Pre-baby it was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, these days we can’t do the late night, so we go to the afternoon Christingle service instead. Lots of Carol singing, seeing people we know and love, huge amounts of Christmas spirit and a small mug of mulled wine. Perfect.

Favourite Place to Spend Christmas-
It’s got to be home. I like the parts of the day when it’s just the three of us. Occasionally we think about going away to a quiet cottage in the country, but home is where the heart is.

Favourite Christmas Fact-
Before Turkey became popular, the traditional Christmas meal in England was a pig’s head and mustard.

Favourite Snowman Accessory-
A carrot for his nose, obviously.

I’m tagging the following lovelies to do their festive favourites…
Expression Confession
Let Them Be Small
Finding Sunshine in the Rain

Elf on a Shelf – December 1st-7th

Love or loathe Elf on a Shelf, it’s something we’re embracing this year. I first encountered Elf on a Shelf a few years ago, one of my American cousins was doing it for her children. Back then in my pre-child days I thought it was a bonkers idea, but now I have a small boy of my own we’re loving it.

On 1st December a mysterious, yet beautifully wrapped parcel appeared, attached was a note from Father Christmas. He was very busy and unable to keep an eye on the small boy during December, so he was sending “Elfie” the elf to keep an eye on him. Despite being one of his favourite elves Elfie, we were warned, was cheeky and might get up to mischief while she was staying with us. Cheeky Elfie!

One signature of Elfie’s mischief is that she leaves a sprinkling of snow wherever she goes in the night. It must be when she returns from the North Pole after visiting Father Christmas each night. What a messy elf!

Elf on a shelf

On 2nd December we woke up to discover that Elfie had been playing with the small boy’s beloved train track and she’d also brought with her a liberal sprinkling of “snow”.

Elf on a shelf

On 3rd December Elfie got very cheeky and rolled a toilet roll down the stairs, not only that she’d got tangled in it at the top and right at the bottom she’d left a handful of magic money (chocolate coins) as a special treat.

Elf on a shelf

On 4th December Elfie obviously got a bit thirsty and we found her in the fridge drinking his milk. Naughty Elfie had left a sprinkling of “snow” outside the fridge too.

Elf on a shelf

On 5th December Elfie decided we needed to add a bit of festive cheer to our as yet undecorated house, we came downstairs in the morning to find she’d strung up some lights at the window and got herself tangled in them too!

Elf on a shelf

On 6th December we discovered Elfie in a marshmallow bath, she looked happy enough and seemed to have had a good soak. The marshmallows didn’t last long either!

The small boy was by now getting the hang of waking up to discover Elfie’s adventures.

Elf on a shelf

On 7th December the house awoke to a mess, Elfie had discovered the scissors and had been busy in the night cutting out snowflakes and sticking them all over the house.

Elf on a shelf

Elfie has been wonderful company so far this month, we’re really looking forward to seeing what other mischief she gets up to!

Are you doing Elf on a shelf?