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‘Twas The Day Before Christmas Eve…

23 Dec

… and all through the house were the Ideal Homes-level decorations this blogger painstaking planned, selected, purchased, hung, arranged, made, tweaked, stared at for a while and then tweaked some more. And in the kitchen were the gingerbread and red velvet cupcakes this blogger baked and put into boxes decorated with the personalized Erin Condren gift labels she ordered in September.

label

And in the corner of the living room were the presents she’d bought for family and friends, all wrapped in co-ordinated paper and ribbon and all placed just so under the tree.

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And on the couch was this blogger, exhausted and wondering when Christmas had begun her full-time job. Seriously: I love it, but this is the first time I’ve had my own place to decorate (as in, a place that was mine but also ONLY mine, and so no ‘discussions’ about tinsel or multi-coloured lights, for example) and as I was out of the country for a few weeks and arrived back December 1st, things have been a little bit hectic.

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Now normally I do a gift guide (because it means I can browse online stores for hours, guilt-free) but there just isn’t time for that this year. I also can’t tell you about some of the ah-MAZE-ing presents I found this year, because the people destined to receive them from me may or may not see this post. So instead let me direct you to last year’s gift guides:

(There’s still time to buy gift cards or, in case of emergency, print out a picture of the item, place it in a frame, wrap it up like you would any present and explain that it’ll be a January joy…)

… and show you some of my Christmas decoration pics, if you need something to procrastinate with today. I mean, no one’s actually doing any work, are they? It’s practically Christmas, after all…

jar

Marks and Spencer’s were selling a miniature Christmas tree in a mason jar with a bit of ribbon around it for €20. I bought this gorgeous jar in Seville, Spain for €5, spent €1.50 on fake snow and used a miniature tree that came with a set of six (it’s actually a placeholder, the placecard slots down into the middle of the star) and wrapping I’d already bought.

starbucks

Also discovered in Seville: a miniature ceramic Starbucks mug in the form of a hanging Christmas decoration! It can’t go on my tree as there’s no red allowed on there, but it does sit nicely on my kitchen window sill with my coffee machine decoration.

coffee

Nothing goes undecorated, and that includes my cafetiere…

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Andrea (of Mousetrapped fame) brought me some US Christmas magazines, and Family Circle had a picture of framed prints wrapped in Christmas paper and hung on the wall like presents. I thought an even better idea would be to wrap some of my existing frames…

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I just had to have those sparkly gold mugs above when I saw them in Next (they’re sparkly! They’re gold! Think of how much coffee they hold!) and when I saw the matching cake-stand, it was game over. Of course, I’m not putting cakes on it. (I blame Pinterest for this level of craftiness. Christmas was so much easier before Pinterest…)

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A  big thank you to everyone who has read this blog this year and stayed tuned for news of an exciting 2014 project. In the meantime, have a VERY Merry Christmas!

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Catherine x

P.S. I’ll leave you with what has to be my new favourite Christmas song. How Christmassy is THIS?

Happy Christmas!

24 Dec

Christmas Eve is probably my favorite day of the year, because Christmas is practically here and all the excitement, presents, food, food comas and Christmas TV specials are still ahead of us. I’m writing this post ahead of time but if I’d to guess I’d say that right about now—Christmas Eve morning—I’m knee-deep in red velvet cupcake making, half way through my first pot of coffee, looking forward to the annual Christmas Eve re-watch of the Father Ted Christmas special later and just bursting to give my gifts because I’ve really outdone myself on the great ideas for presents front this year.

*smug*

Today is as good a day as any to thank all of you, lovely blog readers, for hanging around here this year and for not only reading my ramblings, but sharing them and commenting on them. I’m certain you’re all on the Nice list.

Have a very Merry Christmas! x

A Crafty Catherine Christmas: The Ultimate Hot Choc Hamper

22 Dec

If you were around these parts this time last year, then you’ll already know that I am great at doing Christmas. Like, seriously great. Potentially better than I am at anything else, which is a bit worrying. You can re-visit last year’s posts and check out my 2011 gift guides for writers, book-lovers and coffee-drinkers by clicking here, but today we’re going to talk about a gift I’m actually giving to someone this year. Someone who wouldn’t read this blog in a million years, let’s hope!

Here in Ireland, as you may have heard on news bulletins filled with terms like Celtic Tiger, the boom years, IMF, bank bailouts, and totally screwed, all our purse strings are a little tighter this Christmas, and so the days of waltzing into BTs and getting some shiny girl behind a cosmetics stand to put together a prezzie for you are long gone for most people. I’m not bothered by this; I see it as a challenge. And if you have any imagination at all, making a gift for someone not only costs less, but it’s fun too and a far better thing to receive, because it’s thoughtful, personal and unique. And you made it.

Now let’s be clear: when I say make I’m leaning more towards assemble than create. You won’t catch me knitting jumpers or glass blowing or glue-gunning glitter onto things and calling them art. I am, let’s not forget, The Girl Who Hates Tinsel. But I think a little DIY can go a long way, and My Ultimate Hot Chocolate Hamper is a good example.

What you need:

  • Jamie’s Epic Hot Chocolate Mix (see below)
  • A fancy jar to put the mix in
  • A bag of marshmallows (extra points for Christmas shaped ones)
  • About a meter of cellophane (a nice florist will sell it to you)
  • A basket or gift box
  • Some shredded tissue or paper
  • Ribbon, Christmas paper, gift tags. etc. to decorate.

What you need to do:

The idea of this hamper is that you give a hot chocolate-lover a unique gift: a hot chocolate mix that turns into a liquid hot chocolate much richer, much nicer and much more chocolately than anything they can buy in the shops or order in a café or restaurant, and you give it to them in a gorgeous hamper you made yourself.

Assemble the ingredients for your hot chocolate mix. I used Jamie Oliver’s Epic Hot Chocolate recipe, but as I’d a tall jar I had to double the amounts. The main ingredients are icing sugar, corn flour, cocoa, Horlicks (or something resembling it), cinnamon and grated or chopped chocolate. Layer them into your jar but don’t mix them. We’ll leave the recipient do that, and until then your jar will look oh so impressive.

Cut a square out of Christmas wrapper paper about twice the width of the lid of the jar, and secure it to the lid with a elastic band. I stuck a bow and some miniature jingle bells on there too.

This…

Next, fill the bottom of your basket or box with shredded tissue paper—or, shredded paper. I’m downright smug about my idea to take scraps of leftover Christmas wrapping paper and the red carrier bag the marshmallows came in and feed them to our shredder. Smug, I tell you. Especially since shredded tissue is like €4 a bag, and this way you’re recycling as well. Get you!

…becomes this.

Put your jar of hot chocolate mix and your bag of marshmallows into your basket, standing upright but leaning against the back of the basket. You might also want to add a festive mug, a bar of chocolate, a mini-grater or any of the other things you might associate with drinking hot chocolate at Christmas time. I just added a Christmas card to mine.

Before we start wrapping it, we want to make sure that everything is stuck in place as there’s nothing more annoying than having to undo the cellophane wrap to fix something that’s fallen over. I put a bauble in between the jar and the marshmallow bag to keep them in place, and I also secured the jar, the card’s envelope and the marshmallow bag to the back of the basket with sellotape. Cheating, I know but hey—it works!

Now comes the tricky bit: the cellophane. Cut a very large piece and place your basket in the middle of it. Our aim now is to gather the cellophane above the basket in the best way we can. I start by taking each end and holding it together above the basket with one hand, while folding the ends (the sides) in over each other as neat as I can. Then I just gather it all in an elastic band at the top. You might need a few goes to get it right but remember as well that this is supposed to look homemade, not perfect.

All that’s left to do now is decorate! Be sure to put the instructions for making the hot chocolate either in the hamper or on the gift tag.

Obviously this hamper idea doesn’t have to be confined to hot chocolate. You could also make:

  • A Christmas Movie Night Hamper. A couple of Christmas DVDs, a box of microwavable popcorn (or, if you’re in Ireland or the UK, “Reindeer Poppings” from M&S!) and a clapboard picture frame which you could frame your Christmas message in.
  • A Christmas Night In Hamper. A copy of A Christmas Carol (or any Christmassy book), a Be Jolly Yankee Candle, a pair of fluffy slipper socks and a box of Twining’s Christmas teabags.
  • A Christmas Morning Coffee Hamper. A bag of Starbucks Christmas blend, a festive cup, a red Bodum cafetiere and a handheld milk frother.

So that’s my Ultimate Hot Chocolate Hamper. Tip: give this to someone who lives with you so that (i) you get to enjoy it too and (ii) you get all the stuff back so you can make it again next year…

A Crafty Catherine Christmas: How To Wrap an Annoyingly Irregular Shaped Gift

19 Dec

If you were around these parts this time last year, then you’ll already know that I am great at doing Christmas. Like, seriously great. Potentially better than I am at anything else, which is a bit worrying.

You can re-visit last year’s posts and check out my gift guides for writers, book-lovers and coffee-drinkers by clicking here, but today we’re going to talk about gift wrapping, specifically wrapping annoyingly irregular-shaped gifts.

1. Assemble your tools: wrapping paper, ribbon (material, not curling—it needs to hold some weight) and embellishments (I used a bow, a gift tag and a couple of these adorable mini jingle bells from Paperchase). You’re also going to need a box or other solid object whose base is bigger than the item you’re attempting to wrap. I’m using a DVD box-set for my shaving bag gift.

2. Wrap your box, sealing it at one end only. Don’t scrimp on the Sellotape—what we’re basically doing here is building a kind of gift bag, and the end you’re taping now is going to be the base of the bag, so it’s going to need to be strong. Once you’ve done this, carefully tip it upside down and slide out the box inside. You should now be left with a wrapping paper “bag” open on top.

3. Put your gift inside. You might want to add some tissue paper if there’s a lot of empty space in there with it.

4. Being as neat as you can, carefully fold in the sides so the bag begins to taper towards the top. Hold these folds with some tape. Then, just above where you’ve taped it, use a hole punch to make two holes, one on either side of the bag. Thread some ribbon through them, creating a handle. Then fold in and down all the paper above the holes, hiding the knotted and excess ribbon in the process. Tape it in place.

5. Finally add your gift tag and other embellishments to the front of your “bag” and then look smug while everyone expresses their amazement at your advanced gift wrapping skills. Bonus: it will impossible to tell what’s inside if, like me, you enjoy tormenting yourself with a game of What’s in This? in the run up to Christmas.

Or, buy a gift bag.

But where would the fun be in that?!

For maximum wrapping fun this Christmas, I suggest a visit to my favorite store in the whole wide world (at least it will be until someone opens one stocked only with Oreo Cakesters…), Paperchase. Visiting their flagship store in Manchester a few years back was the closest I’ve come to a religious experience, and when I discovered that they’d opened a concession upstairs in A-Wear on Patrick Street here in Cork, I was like an Amazon Hater finding out about KDP Select. (I lost my tiny mind, if that wasn’t clear.) This year I’ve used their miniature jingle bells, mini silver Christmas crackers and clear jewel gems to embellish my gifts.

All my wrapping paper is from Marks and Spencer’s, who have 3 for 2 on almost all their Christmas stuff.

Catherine’s Xmas Gift Guide 2011: 5 Gifts for Coffee Drinkers (+ 8 Other Ones Too)

9 Dec

If you were around these parts this time last year, then you’ll already know that I am great at doing Christmas. Like, seriously great. Potentially better than I am at anything else, which is a bit worrying. One thing in particular I’m really good at is finding perfect presents for people, which I’m guessing has something to do with the inordinate amount of time I spent online window-shopping when I’m procrastinating…

But, um, anyway. I’ve made a Christmas (or Holiday, American friends) Gift Guide. We’ve already done Gifts for Writers and Gifts for Book Lovers, so today is our final installment, Gifts for Coffee Drinkers. Since there is LOADS of stuff you can get coffee lovers for Christmas, I’ve ever so slightly broken the “5” rule today…

Clockwise from top left:

From left to right:

Clockwise from top left:

In other not very coffee-related news, I CANNOT stop listening to Cold Coffee by Ed Sheeran. It’s on constant repeat—it’s like Damien Rice’s O all over again. I can’t turn it off, and when it’s not on I’m singing it in my head. Listen to it at your peril, and then send me help…

You can re-live 2010’s exquisite home décor, too-good-to-open gift wrapping and adventures in calorie preparation—read: baking—by clicking here, if you like. Help a coffee-addict in need of caffeine this Christmas: tell every new Kindle (or other e-reading device) owner you encounter about my cheap and occasionally amusing e-books, pretty please. I find a Post-It to the forehead works wonders. 

Catherine’s Xmas Gift Guide 2011: 5 Gifts for Writers

5 Dec

If you were around these parts this time last year, then you’ll already know that I am great at doing Christmas. Like, seriously great. Potentially better than I am at anything else, which is a bit worrying. One thing in particular I’m really good at is finding perfect presents for people, which I’m guessing has something to do with the inordinate amount of time I spent online window-shopping when I’m procrastinating…

But, um, anyway. I’ve made a Christmas (or Holiday, American friends) Gift Guide. I started last week with 5 Gifts for Book Lovers, and today it’s 5 Gifts for Writers (plus some other suggestions because 5 just wasn’t enough when there are SO many things out there you can get a writer for Christmas…)

Clockwise from top left:

  1. I mentioned Bound Custom Journals on this blog before, back when they were looking for start-up funding from Kickstarter. They got it, and now Bound for Anything is open for business. The idea is that you select one of their journals (original bound with a linen cover is $35; leather bound is $50) and then decide exactly what kind of pages you want inside it, choosing from standards like ruled, lined, maps, To Do lists, calenders, etc. and not so standards like music sheets, storyboards and even templates that let you plan or design items of clothing. It’s the storyboards that really interest me—my ideal Bound Custom Journal would consist of storyboards mixed with blank pages, which would be the perfect novel-plotting on the go companion, don’t you think? Watch their Kickstarter pitch video for more ideas. They also do gift cards, so you can buy your favourite writer one and let him or her decide on the content themselves.
  2. Writing magazine subscriptions might not be top of anyone’s list when there is so much writing advice (or “advice”) available online for free these days, but I think there is something to be said for settling down with a cup of coffee and a copy of Writing Magazine or Mslexia, and reading top quality articles from qualified sources. They are also great resources if you like entering writing competitions. A UK 1 year subscription to Writing Magazine costs just under £45, a European subscription £55 and everywhere else £60. Mslexia is a fantastic magazine aimed at women writers, and teamed with their famous Writer’s Diary 2012, a UK subscription is about £37 (European and Rest of World are just a little bit more, but you’d have to buy the diary separately for £12.99).
  3. If you’re looking for presents for writers or you are one and want to leave Santa some not-so-subtle reminders laying about the house on neon-colored Post-Its, you could consider The Literary Gift Company a one-stop shop. They just have so much amazing stuff it’s hard to whittle it down, but my five picks would be their “Go Away I’m Tweeting” mug (pictured) for £9.95, which also comes in writing, editing and proofing variations, this “Unreliable Narrator” T-shirt, £14.95, Jane Austen typewriter earrings (other writers available too), £20, Haruki Murakami typewriter pin (other writers available too), £4.00 and this “I Could’ve Been a Novel” notebook, £6.50. They also do amazing literary-themed typography maps, like this one of the USA. Okay that was six… I’ll stop now. Just pop over there and look at everything, okay?
  4. I was going to have the audacity to put a Faber Academy self-publishing and social media course that I happen to be delivering (London, February, 3 days, £425, me!) in this slot—oh, look what I just did there!—but I decided to pop this adorable typewriter laptop case (€37.50) in here instead. It’s by Ted Baker, but I found it on FionaTurley.com.
  5. Last year I blogged about my favorite movies for writers and so for a fun writer gift, why not buy a couple of them on DVD? My personal top 5 would be (links go to Amazon.com): Stranger Than Fiction, Adaptation, The TV Set, Misery and 1408. Yes, the last two do not exactly work out well for the writers in them, but hey—they’re great movies.

And now for the bonus section. Of course a great gift for writers, aspiring or otherwise, is a book about writing, trying to be a published writer or the practicalities of building a book. Regular readers will know I have amassed a vast collection of such books, and therefore am in a great position to weed out the good from the useless.

Here are my personal faves, the ones I think you have to read, along with how much they currently cost on The Book Depository which as I’ve said before does free shipping everywhere, no matter how many books you buy

And for the self-publisher:

  • The Naked Author: A Guide to Self-Publishing by Alison Baverstock ($16.23 or 30% off)
  • Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones—great for marketing ideas! ($9.42 or 39% off)
  • Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by me ($15.93). Um, obviously.

So what do you think? Would you like to get some, any or all of these from Santa?

Later this week it’ll be Gifts for Coffee-Drinkers. You can re-live 2010’s exquisite home décor, too-good-to-open gift wrapping and adventures in calorie preparation—read: baking—by clicking here, if you like.

Help a coffee-addict in need of caffeine this Christmas: tell every new Kindle (or other e-reading device) owner you encounter about my cheap and occasionally amusing e-books, pretty please. I find a Post-It to the forehead works wonders. 

Let It Snow (on Your Word Press Blog)

3 Dec

Is it sad that I’ve actually been waiting for this to happen this year?

Snow is once again falling on Catherine, Caffeinated, thanks to Word Press and their annual Snow Falling on Blog Option. Hooray! To start snow falling on your WordPress.com blog, go to Dashboard –> Settings –> General and check the box at the end. You and your blog will then be snowbound until January 4th, or until you uncheck it again.

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