Category Archives: Crafty Business

When a dinosaur comes to a party, it wears its best hat

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Birthday fortnight is over. Well, not really – H’s birthday is still to come next month, though because he’s blown out a glittery ‘5’ candle, he’s convinced he already is. And I say: fair enough. You can be five for a few sneaky weeks. Five is great.

It seemed like a good idea to move H’s party forward to before the end of term, to catch his friends before they went on holiday. He’d asked for a party, after all – unusual for this beloved people-wary child – and since we weren’t sure how many years he’d want one, we wanted to make this one good. Until we realised that we’d scheduled two consecutive party weekends for ourselves, which is the sort of way madness resides.

He chose a dinosaur theme. He wants to be a palaeontologist – he can pronounce this better than I can spell it – and most days I have a scheduled bare-feet run-in with a tiny rubber ceratosaurus and some muffled howling. So I went and drowned myself in Pinterest for a few days, spent a few more days whimpering at the extravaganzas on Pinterest, then chose a few decoration and game ideas I thought I might be able to do. I even made a spider diagram. This was getting SERIOUS.

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A word to the wise: even the simplest home-grown party is going to cost you some money. Party bags, my guys. Party bags. I know for a fact that when H comes home with a party bag full of small plastic bits, he is thrilled to his core while I’m only waiting a couple of days before I can quietly slide it all into the bin. It seems silly to spend money on them. But buy anything twenty times, let alone five or six things, and you’ll be weeping soft tears at the checkout regardless. In the end I was lucky, and found most of what I needed in pound shops and sales. You just have to suck it up.  I got these little paper bags from Party Pieces in red and green, and they were great: sturdy, and not so big that you felt the pressure to over-fill them.

So here we go. We’d hired our local village hall – inexpensive, roomy and with a good stock of child-sized tables and chairs – and arrived there with decorations to set up. I loved these balloon dinosaurs I found on the ole internet, and they really were easy enough to do: I wasn’t sure that sellotape would hold the arms and legs on, but it did. I hole-punched their heads in strategic places, and Tim strung them up in the air with sewing thread. Marvellous.

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I also spent a full hour of my adult life making tiny party hats for our larger dinosaurs. I did kiiind of feel like something had gone a bit wrong at this point – OR WAS IT VERY RIGHT – but hey. We got two helium balloons to tie onto their tiny claws, and they sat as centrepieces for the tables looking like they were terribly glad it was H’s birthday.

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I was lucky enough to find this set of dinosaur tableware – cups, napkins, and lovely straws – on sale a couple of days before. Why do kids get all the best party gear?! We’ve got some straws left over, and every now and again I use one so that my drink can feel ferocious.

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We played four games: a pin-the-horn-on-the-triceratops, a dinosaur egg-and-spoon race, a pass the parcel and a version of musical statues where they danced like dinosaurs and froze into fossils. It all sounded a bit cheeseball on paper, but with seventeen four- and five-year-olds leaping around, it was seriously adorable. Then we finished with a T-Rex pinata – a terrifying, crumpled beast we found on Amazon that was made, apparently and unfortunately, from strengthened steel. No matter. They had a whale of a time beating the heck out of it.

H's new photo face: look like someone's died. Think it'll catch on?

H’s new photo face: look like someone’s died. Think it’ll catch on?

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Making the cake was my favourite part. H has dedicated tastes when it comes to cake, and every year requests a chocolate cake as though he’s never eaten one before. So I used our old reliable standard, the Cake Hunter’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake, and put one of our behatted dinosaurs on top, holding a Happy Birthday sign. It cheered me up for days, honestly. Who knew that festive dinosaurs were such a tonic.

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By the time we got to the party, I’d been thinking about it for several weeks, and was starting to wonder if it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. But his face: surrounded by friends, feeling like the cool kid. I will never forget it. The next morning he woke up and said ‘I wish I could have slept at my party and had breakfast at my party and never left!’ When you’ve sat gluing spots onto party hats for toy dinosaurs and wondered how on earth you ended up here, those are the parts that remind you. Here you are, and here you should be. Pom-poms and all.

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‘Stop talking with your mouth. Smile with your mouth’ (and more things I said during Father’s Day photos)

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Ah, June. Where skies are clear (lol) and evenings are lazy (wut) and summer feels like it’s really here (OH STOP). And I will be found somewhere indoors or out, flinging sweets at two small boys and trying to make them smile simultaneously for a photo. Who was it who liked to believe six impossible things before breakfast? In June I do that too, and all of them are versions of ‘I’m sure this Father’s Day photo will be done in one take’.

Oh, self, no. No, no, no [kindly shake of head].

This year I saw a brilliant idea on Pinterest, where you cut out a message on thick card, get your kids to hold it up in the sun and take a photo of the shadow (plus their adorable feet). An idea which did not involve them looking and smiling simultaneously. SIGN ME UP. Of course, I forgot that we live in England, truly the damp sock in the holey welly boot of Europe. It rained solidly all week, and we had to take advantage of a ten-minute interval of sunshine, twenty minutes past bedtime.

After a bit of this (classic ‘Teddeeeeee’ face from Hen here)

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…we got this.

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Glory be.

(This is what the card looks like, by the way, if you ever want to do something like this. I used a cheap craft knife to cut out the letters, and spent an embarrassingly long time working out that it needed to be upside down for the photo to work.)

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However, because I couldn’t count on getting any sunshine at all, we needed an alternative. So the day before we’d gone off to the woods with signs, to have enriching conversations like this.

‘Alright, smile and hold up your sign! Hen. HEN. Stop talking with your mouth. Smile with your mouth.’

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‘Ted, darling, hold up your sign. Up. Up near your face.’

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‘No, not behind your face -‘

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‘Ok, that’ll do, that’ll – Hen, nice smile now, please, a nice -‘

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‘No, I don’t want to hear willy jokes. No willy jokes, PLEASE, no -‘

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‘Defo wasn’t that funny.’

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‘Ted, could you show me your sign, darling? Not so hard – oh, yes, broken, yes. Hang on -‘

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‘Alright, one more time with the sign, eh?’ Stay there, though. Guys! GUYS. STAY THERE.’

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Siiiiiigh. Got there in the end.

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Now comes the part where I wait for that modelling gig to roll on happily into our laps.

[waits]

[waits]

[waits]

Or maybe not.

How to make a birthday balloon wall

Or, what to do when you love decorating for birthdays but don’t have a crafty bone in your sad little body, and also your budget is small-to-non-existent. Balloon walls tick ALL YOUR BOXES, BABY. Bring it on.

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Start with balloons. Obviously. I got five packs of ten from Hobbycraft, at £1 each. And they were the heavy-duty helium kind, which I thought would be more hard-wearing. There’s also a wondrous wealth of snazzy balloons online.

Then blow them up. I would recommend an electric pump: I only had a bicycle pump, and I have to tell you that this pile took 45 pumps EACH, on average. By the time I finished I was a decent facsimile of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, only quite a lot less fabulous.

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Attaching them to the wall was tricky. I tried masking tape at first, but they floated right off again before I’d turned around. So Tim suggested tying the whole row to a piece of thread, and taping the thread to the wall. Unfortunately we only had black thread, which wasn’t the most inconspicuous on our cream walls, but heigh-ho.

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The easiest way we found was to tie a long piece of thread between two chairs, leaving it fairly slack, then knot the balloons on one by one. I’m not going to lie: it was hella fiddly. Make sure you knot them into position so that they’ll sit comfortably alongside each other when the string is taut, just touching. 

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Then onto the wall! We started at the bottom, over the (switched-off) radiator, so all the others would stack on top of it. They needed tape at each end and then at several points between, but we put the pieces of tape as close to the balloons as possible so they wouldn’t be visible. Once the strings of balloons were up, we did a bit of fiddling: taping some of the balloons together when they were sagging, so that they all sat in a rough grid.

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All done! He was so happy. It made for some great photographs. And it lasted more than a week – in a heatwave! – before some of the balloons deflated. So, I’ll be doing a new one next week then, cool? Cool.

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Party for one

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I have decided that first birthday parties are the best of all possible parties. Really, they are.

First, the whole thing is basically a happy celebration of the two of you looking after a baby for a year. He grew some inches, he crawls and he’s eating food: you win everything, parents!

Second, the celebratee has no idea what’s going on, so there’s no pressure: no need to go all out with elaborate themes, bouncy castles or housefuls of sugar-hyped children if you don’t fancy it. You can make it exactly what feels comfortable, however big or small that is.

I have years of badly-made costumes and bouncy castle hire ahead of me, I know. But for now I can get by, oh, very happily indeed, on a nice cake, a small crowd and a bit of bunting. I always end up messing around with the bunting some time after midnight the night before — but then, commemorating a year of baby with a night of no sleep has a certain poetic resonance. I have kept many a midnight watch with you, little bear. Let’s do it once more for the memories, eh? And the bunting.

Speaking of, I got this exceedingly simple idea from the marvellous You Are My Fave. I am drawn like a moth to a flame towards things that can be made using only a pair of scissors. If you are the sort of dunce that is intimidated by buying fabric [raises hand], then here’s a tip: go to Hobbycraft, and look for fat quarters. My mother-in-law, who sews, tells me this is A Thing, and not a joke. It’s actually a little selection of small pieces of fabric. Cut them up into strips, tie them on, and hey presto! I kind of want to leave this up all year.

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So much for bunting. For the cake, I made Nigella’s Autumnal Birthday Cake, from her How to be a Domestic Goddess. The title is not terribly self-explanatory, so let me tell you that it is maple syrup cake, with a meringue frosting. WHAT THE. My baking muscles are very rusty, and I started the thing at 11pm with a headache, but it still turned out alright. Because meringue frosting is the business. It keeps its swirly shape exactly, and sets with this slight crackle on top. I left out the nuts and threw in edible glitter. Teddy was a fan, and so was his face.

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(PS, is this where I throw in extra-casually, as per mummy bloggers, that this was Teddy’s first taste of cake and oh my gosh he loved it? Um, no. It’s not true. I have a feeling that will never be true of any of my children.)

Apart from that, I bought straws, nautical napkins and ice cream pots from the supermarket, strung up some photos, and that was it. The punch was a carton of cranberry juice mixed with a bottle of cloudy lemonade, with frozen raspberries floating on the top.

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We ate cold meat and salad brought by our family, then had birthday cake, chocolate fondue, and jelly and ice cream for dessert.  Note to self: find out how jelly moulds are supposed to work. Because right now you don’t know.

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We ate, opened presents and then went to the park. It was a sunny, gentle afternoon, and Mr Birthday had a great time. I have two more days till I have to really think about him outgrowing his babyhood, but for now this was a lovely way to ease us into it. And costumes can wait for another year.

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Boy with balloons

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We started Henry’s unbirthday by giving him a haircut that broke my heart.

Unbirthday because his birthday is actually tomorrow. But we held a little family tea party for him on Saturday evening. He has no clue what a birthday is, but he knew he had new hair, and people kept giving him exciting things, and suddenly there seemed to be no restriction AT ALL on cake. Add in the bunch of helium balloons I let him jump around with for an hour, and this Saturday just sky-rocketed to the best one of his life. I watched him dance on the edge of two, with short boy’s hair and a giant smile, and felt like I couldn’t hold him still for a second. He has a bike now. We’re stuck into boyhood, and there’s no going back.

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I knew that with Teds in the house and my mama visiting I wouldn’t have much inclination for party planning. And so it proved. It took a whole two days just to decide what birthday cake to make him, and I didn’t get much further than that. I settled on a Hummingbird Bakery Hot Chocolate Cake in the end, adapted from their Hot Chocolate Cupcakes, mostly because Henry would lick up hot chocolate from the floor if you let him. (I don’t let him.) He also calls it ‘hot cocky’, which is not at all awkward, particularly when he’s asking for some of Daddy’s at the top of his voice.

Anyway.

It’s called a Hot Chocolate Cake because there’s hot chocolate powder in it, instead of cocoa. I can’t say it tasted overwhelmingly of hot chocolate, but it did have an interesting sort of malted flavour that went well with the chocolate frosting. It turned out to be the sort of frosting that doesn’t ever go smooth, so I textured it like wallpaper from the eighties and hoped the chocolate sprinkles would cover the rest. I rather liked it, in the end. I recycled bunting from his party last year, and we made a trip in the morning to pick up a bunch of balloons. We made miniature scones, which we ate with jam, cream and strawberries, and put out cheese and crackers and chopped up vegetables. We opened presents and ate, and that was all. By gum, it was lovely.

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I will write a happy birthday post when I have made my peace with this boy being two, which might be never, but I will try my best. More later; I have leftover birthday cake to eat. What else is 11pm for?

Most of these photos are courtesy of my father-in-law, who is much better at this sort of thing than I am. Thanks, Jeremy!

Discovered: The Modern Baby

I don’t usually do posts like this – interior decor being the evil shimmery Kryptonite of my nightmares, if you want to get metaphorical about it – but I’m a little bit obsessed. And it’s good to share your obsessions, I hear. It dilutes them or something.

Here’s what I discovered yesterday, thanks to some marvellous people on Twitter: themodernbaby.co.uk. Not only is it UK-based, for once, but it’s all so b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l I could cry. You can click on the link below and find the details for the individual pieces, if so inclined. (Now I’ve said ‘pieces’ when I mean ‘cushions and stuff’, I must immediately go put my head in a bucket of water. I hate that. It’s only acceptable if you’re a curator in a museum. If not, check whether you’re wearing leather leggings and three pairs of sunglasses indoors. You can admit it, it’s ok.)

Elephants and bears and slightly sad pear prints, oh my. Don’t you just want it ALL?

The Modern Baby

Of course I technically don’t have a nursery at the moment – and stuffing poor Sarah’s room with yet more baby stuff wouldn’t be very nice for her – but I do wonder how she feels about sad pears.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just love it so much it makes my heart hurt. 

Outtakes

I know you wish your kid was as good at posing for photographs as mine. Let’s take a look at some of his best attempts at a Father’s Day card.

hey, will you hold this sign?

no.

(Doggy has already lost the will to live. Sarah and I shortly to follow.)

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HATE THIS CHAIR AND THIS SIGN AND ALL OF THIS.

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I accept your humorous face with reluctance. Let’s move on.

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aaaand, we’re done.

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I’ll sit down when I’ve finished my phone call. Do I disturb you while you’re working?

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fly, you fools.

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there’s something on your face. No, honestly. 

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Here’s what we went with in the end. He’s on the phone with a pocket calculator, but needs must.

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We also made an attempt at a Father’s Day video for Tim’s dad. These were the bits that didn’t make the final edit, oddly enough.

Outtakes for Father’s Day from Rachel Jeffcoat on Vimeo.

And PS!

I’m writing today on Oh! you pretty things for Josie’s Mothers on Motherhood series, and excited as heck about it. Have a look!

Quiet living in a little space

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Did I tell you about our flat? I love our flat. It’s true that cream carpets get OLD with a baby and a muddy cyclist leaving their mark on the floor. But I ran home to a new husband here, and brought my baby back to this room. This house has seen the best of me, as well as everything else.

So I’m not trying to make it feel bad for being small. Even though it was definitely made for two people, and it’s about to house five. Chin up, little house, we love you anyway. And we’ve just worked MEGA hard to make the very most of this space for as long as we can.

The idea of my doing a home decoration post is the sort of thing that makes me belly laugh – hello, I have enough belly to go around everyone at the moment – so I feel like a bit of a dork, writing this. On the other hand, I’m sure we’re not the only ones trying to fit more into less without choking on the claustrophobia. Here’s what I’ve found helpful over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve hit on anything that worked in your little space, give me some pointers!

big fish, little fish, basket, box

I live with a wires man. Timothy trails wires like a weird AI version of Edward Scissorhands. He’s the chap to ask if you need an audio cable, a tiny screwdriver, seven kinds of battery or a phone that went out of circulation five years ago. Most of this seemed to be living on the bookcases.

(Kidding, husband! I am just affronted when things go on the bookcases that aren’t my books. That space is at a PREMIUM, DO NOT TOUCH IT.)

Timothy threw away everything he didn’t need, then we ravaged the basket section of IKEA. He now has baskets that are categorised with titles such as Audio and Video, Flash Drives and Storage, Misc and Useful Misc. He decided not to use a whole basket just for different types of glue, in the end, but it was a close thing. We ended up with an entirely clear cupboard – that we’ll desperately need for other things – and a serenely uncluttered bookcase, with a row of baskets on top that look rather nice. Now I can stroke Wolf Hall in peace, thank you very much.

Also, thanks to Tim’s parents, we just inherited this beeeeeaaaaautiful family chest belonging to a Jeffcoat of Yore. It now sits in our living room where the coffee table used to go, and you wouldn’t believe how much we’ve put inside it. I’m so excited about having a piece of family history in our house that’s a century old at least that I keep wanting to embrace it. Furniture that’s actually a giant box: now there’s something I can get behind. 

clear, and clear, and clear

This one was hard. We let go of knick-knacks, clothes we never wore, shoes that were too battered to be seen in public, and lots of old bits-and-bobs we’d been hanging on to for no reason. I like the philosophy of minimalism-with-prettiness: clear out as much as you can, then add little touches you really love. On top of the little bookcase in the corner – just to the left of the old Tube map I adore – I keep an old, glazed jug, a painting by Tim’s brother, and a Piet-Mondrian-patterned tissue box. They make me happy whenever I look at them.

ups and downs

Without much obvious floor space, we had to think creatively about what would go where. So we stacked, high and low. We lined cupboard walls with shelves and free corners with tall shelving units, and used yet more baskets to keep little things out of sight. Henry’s toys now live in two large boxes under his bed, which means we have a place to put toys away, instead of just having them out all the time.

We did the same when it came to beds: we were lucky enough to be given a brilliant high-rise contraption (again, a family hand-me-down), and bought a child’s bed to slot underneath it, to replace Henry’s cot. I cannot tell you how much I panicked about this. Henry, free to roam the house at night, ingesting interesting pills and climbing into dangerous places. Imagine the possibilities.

We’ve only had to chase him back inside three times a night, so far. Ahem. No, he’s doing really well. Making up a proper bed with a car-printed duvet for this tiny boy just about broke my heart, but he was so excited. After his naps I fling open the blinds, he stands up to survey the scene out of his window, and lets out a great, satisfied ‘ahhhhhh’.

King of the world. It was worth it just for that.

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PS: thanks to generous parents, we’ve been able to reuse a lot of family furniture, which has saved us a heck of a lot of money. Otherwise, though, we’d be all over Ebay like a rash. Go second-hand or go home.

PPS: Sadly, Henricus discovered yesterday that he could climb onto the high-rise, which happens to have a VERY bouncy mattress. For our next project, we’ll be covering everything in bubble wrap. 

Superboy and the new bed from Rachel Jeffcoat on Vimeo.

Indoor gardening with a toddler: not for the faint of vacuum cleaner

It started with a spade. Happy Meal toys have gone seriously odd in the last twenty years, haven’t they?!

The spade came on a drizzly indoor day, with chips, as all spades should, and suddenly I was filled with an unstoppable desire to let Henry do some digging. We don’t have a garden, so we walked off to Tesco – during which I realised I’m now bump-compensating so much I walk with my butt stuck out further than Beyonce, slightly mortifying – and got some windowsill plants.

This is where I put in the disclaimer that I know absolutely nothing about gardening, and kill every plant I get. It is a gift. One day I’ll find a use for it. But we got a little bag of compost, a couple of red pepper plants and a packet of peapod seeds, then Beyonced our way home at a jog before it started raining in earnest. I do not think the poor souls queuing in cars down the Oxford Road were ready for that jelly, to be honest, but needs must.

I decided it didn’t matter too much if the plants never grew, as long as he got the idea. He did, if ‘getting the idea’ means ‘flinging soil on the end of a spade across the living room’

and ‘upturning the entire contents of the watering can onto the windowsill once he realised it had water in it’

and also ‘hassling the seeds until they were too shellshocked to do anything at all’

and finally ‘drinking the muddy soil-and-water directly off the plant tray’.

I have decided this makes him a nature lover.

By the way, indoor gardening on ripped-out Arts and Culture pages from The Week: the most middle-class thing I’ve ever done? Probably. (I couldn’t find any newspaper.)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night

Phew. The halls are decked, the presents wrapped, the sugar cookies made and iced and consumed in obscene quantities. My coffee-filter wreath is actually hanging – rather than being trampled in a corner by Henry – and my finger-knitted garland is f-i-i-inally finished and up – rather than being sucked surreptitiously in a corner by Henry. We’ve watched Home Alone and Elf, and have The Muppet Christmas Carol scheduled for tomorrow once my sister arrives. We’ve listened to so much Bing Crosby our ears are ringing with him. So it’s ok, Christmas: feel free to come on by.

I’ll be taking a little break from the blog over the holidays, but see you in the new year. Wishing you the very best of Christmasses: good food, good company, long nights and late mornings and much love. Enjoy!

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PS:

sugar cookie recipe (it’s a keeper) at the bottom of the page here

finger knitting tutorial (easy peasy, finger hurty) here

joy of the season (please watch, especially for intense Christmas cello face) here

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