Oh Christmas, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

It’s the 1st of December, which means only one thing – we can start opening our advent calendars!  Hooray, hooray, hooray!

I’ve been very excited about advent this year. Like, really, really excited…the fit to burst kind.  You see, earlier in the year I decided to save up and surprise Big Sis with the Selfridges beauty Advent calendar.

Big Sis's Calendar

To say I was thrilled that I managed to get one, despite them being limited availability and selling faster than the proverbial hot cakes, would be something of an understatement.

That has been exciting enough in itself, but then I’ve also put together personalised calendars for…

DIY Advent No. 1: Baby socks filled with gifts pegged on a string washing line - pre-printed numbers cut from an 'in the January sales' bargain price calendar and glued to ordinary laundry pegs
DIY Advent No. 1: Socks on a Line – Pre-printed numbers cut from an ‘in the January sales’ bargain price calendar and glued to ordinary laundry pegs. Baby socks were filled with gifts then pegged onto the string washing line.

…Mum…

DIY Advent No. 2: More 'bought in the January sales' bargains - this time little self assembly gift boxes which have been filled with little gifts and hung from a white tree branch. This is an artificial one with a stand which I already had, but you could spray paint an actual branch and wedge it in a pot.
DIY Advent No. 2: More ‘bought in the January sales’ bargains – this time little self assembly gift boxes which have been filled with small gifts and hung from a white tree branch. This is an artificial one branch with a stand which I already had, but you could spray paint an actual branch and wedge it in a pot.

…Barn…

This is Petit Man's childhood Advent calendar, now hanging on the fireplace of his first own home :-) Some left over pieces of green satin and cream damask pattern fabric were sewn into little pouches and numbers written on the fronts using a gold pen. They were then filled with gifts and tied onto a gold cord using contrasting ribbons.
DIY Advent No. 3: This is Petit Man’s childhood Advent calendar, now hanging on the fireplace of his first own home 🙂
Some left over pieces of green satin and cream damask pattern fabric were sewn into little pouches and numbers written on the fronts using a gold pen. They were then filled with gifts and tied onto a gold cord using contrasting ribbons.

…and a joint one for Petit Man and Mme. E (he’s green, she’s cream, and they both get something on the 24th).

So you see, since January I’ve been building not only calendars, but also a huge level of gleeful anticipation about handing them over 🙂

Gorgeous advent calendar containing handmade scented wax melts - from Busy Bee Candles
Gorgeous advent calendar containing handmade scented wax melts – from Busy Bee Candles

Then, when I went yesterday to deliver the goodies to Mum and Big Sis, they surprised me with an advent calendar of my own.  This tipped me over the edge of reasonable adult behaviour, such that I could barely sleep last night through sheer excited anticipation.

Owl burner

My calendar has a little scented wax melt for each day, and came with this pretty ceramic owl burner.  Today’s scent is called ‘Crazy’, which to me smells of pine and pepper – which is surprisingly nice.  A certain someone commented on the appropriateness of it for me.  I think that sort of remark’s just not necessary.

Mum, Big Sis and Barn loved their first gifts and sent pictures, which made my day extra fun too.  Petit Man will doubtless call me tomorrow morning about today’s gift, because he’s hopelessly disorganised like that 😉

1970s advent calendar

As Big Sis and I observed, advent calendars have come a long way since the days when we took turns to open little paper doors to find, if you were lucky, a picture of the Star of Bethlehem (if you were unlucky it was a drawing of a tree bauble).

Come to think of it, I think I’d actually still rather like one of those.  And now I wouldn’t resent it being Big Sis and Bro’s turn to open a door.  Probably.

Oh, and by the way, in case you hadn’t guessed it yet, I REALLY LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!  May the joys of the festive season be upon you too because more Christmas themed post are inevitably going to follow.  Only 24 sleeps to go… 😉

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Hog Roast & Hoopla

INVITATION Posted on blogAs chief party planner and celebration organiser within my family I get plenty of opportunities to play with ideas and indulge my creative whims.  As years have gone by a ‘How’re you going to top that?’ mentality has arisen within me.  This can sometimes lead to me getting a bit carried away.  I may have done that with my plan for Mum’s birthday party in June.

See, the thing is, this party isn’t only for Mum, it’s going to be a joint celebration with Little M, who will be visiting from New Zealand with Baby Bro and Lady S.  Much excitement!  There’s only a couple of days between Little M’s and Mum’s birthdays but until this year, physical distance has prevented the presence of either at the other’s celebration.  Of course this means I want to make this an extra special day.

On top of that, assuming Big Bro and Lady J can get down from Scotland (keeping all things crossed as we await their respective employers’ confirmation of authorised holiday time), it will mean that this will be the first time my entire family have been together for several years.  This calls for a extra, extra special party!

So, I’ve decided to throw a village fete themed party in my Mum’s garden.  There will be a suckling pig roast and BBQ, a beer tent, tea and cakes, games like hook-a-duck, hoopla and name the bear…and please, please, please, there will be good weather too.  All plans are being made with wet weather plan Bs in place, but it would be much better not to have to use them, so let’s keep things crossed.  I should probably point out at this stage that my Mum doesn’t live in a place with ‘grounds’ or anything…just your average suburban semi!

Getting this one right will involve a lot of crafting, pre-planning and organising…as well as some assistance from the ever helpful Petit Man and Medieval.

I’ve already designed the invitations (see edited version above) and have started creating lists of things I need to source…and sourcing them!  I’m going to have so much fun with this 🙂

Further posts as things progress.

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Vintage Sunflowers

When it came to styling and organising Mum’s 2014 birthday party I decided to go rustic with a yellow and brown colour scheme, using a sunflower motif throughout.Edited welcome signBirthday flowers in ceramic bootsBirthday flowers in a pair of ceramic yellow welly boots.  I spotted the boots lurking in the far recesses of a charity shop and gave the poor, elderly volunteer quite a shock as I let out a whoop of glee at their perfectness!
Birthday garden: water dish, centre front, beloved of small birdThe girl with the 500 other party plans still in her head!Birthday gardenThe weather was kind and people were able to sit out in the sunshine, enjoying the beautiful garden, whilst eating with friends.

_DSC7407Pack your own picnicThe savouries table was set up in a farmers’ market style – guests were provided with brown paper carrier bags and invited to create their own picnic.

market tableFreshly baked bread, crisp and juicy apples, a basket of speckled brown boiled eggs, cheeses wrapped in brown paper, pickles, miniature jars of chutneys, tiny tomatoes that burst in your mouth when you bit into them, and bunches of lively spring onions.

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Hats off to mothers

Mother's Day Hat CakeFor Mum, on Mothers’ Day.  This was two cakes, stacked.  Both were lemon Madeira, filled and frosted with silky smooth Italian meringue buttercream that had been flavoured with fresh berry purée.

Silver RosesThe roses were coming along nicely – still too thick, particularly in the centre, but leaps and bounds improvement on earlier efforts.  I particularly liked the silver lustre on these ones.

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Cake and Pimms, Dahling?

I started to get a clue that my cakes and family birthdays were becoming a synonymous thing when I received a telephone call from my mother, which went something like this:

Mum:  “Your sister and I have been discussing my upcoming birthday.  I’d really like to have a Pimms and cake party, but there’s a problem.”

(Pause to allow me to make appropriate querying noises)

Mum: “Yes.  You see, we have the Pimms side of things sorted.  We have the ingredients for Pimms cocktails.  We know how to make Pimms cocktails.  The problem is the cake.  We have such a severe shortage of it.  In fact, we have none!”

(Slight pause for dramatic deep breath…continues, in tones of faux distress…)

“This is such a huge problem, we don’t know how to get ’round it.  And I do SO want a Pimms and cake party for my birthday.  I don’t suppose you have any ideas, do you?”

(Pause, filled with expectant waiting and the sound of Big Sis giggling in the background.)

Me: “Would you like me to make you some cakes for your birthday party?”

Mum (in totally feigned surprise): “Oh, would you?  How incredible of you to offer!”

And so, this is how it came about that I made four fresh cakes for my Mum’s 2013 birthday party, including my third fondant covered and decorated cake.

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1940s

In 2012 Big Sis and I decided to throw Mum a 1940s themed party for her birthday.

Paper Invitation

Most of the invitations were sent electronically – to set the tone we created a video in the style of a Pathe Newsreel…making that was great fun.  For those who needed a paper invitation I edited a wartime ‘Careless Talk’ poster and printed them onto postcards with the information on the back (they were sent in envelopes…I didn’t think we really needed the entire mailing system knowing where the party would be 😉 )

We kept the decorations simple with home made bunting; we encouraged guests to dress up and played music from the era.Baz, James & Francesca B&W PhotoDevilled eggsNicole and MikeOld fashioned buffetDressing up the clothes and dressing down the food:

With a make do and mend’ attitude, guests sourced outfits from charity shops and made creative alterations to existing clothes.

The food was kept low key and old fashioned, served on mismatched plates and trays – devilled eggs, sandwiches, coronation chicken, potato salad, pickles and pies…not strictly 1940s food, but I couldn’t bring myself to serve up Woolton pie and spam fritters.Mum's 70th birthday cake collageFor Mum’s birthday cake I used my ever improving chocolate cake recipe to create this chocolate and strawberry box cake.  The panels were made from tempered chocolate spread onto transfer sheets.  The cake was filled with fresh cream and strawberries and covered with lightly whipped chocolate ganache.  The panels were then (very carefully) applied and the whole thing topped off with a heap of fresh strawberries and the all important birthday candles.

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