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Salt Dough Christmas Tree Decorations

Give your christmas tree a homemade touch with these colourful ornaments. Salt dough is quick and easy to make and its a cheap alternative to shop-bought clay.

What you need
1 cup / 120g flour
1/2 cup / 150g salt
1/2 cup / 125ml water
Rolling pin
Cookie cutters
Baking tray
Paint and brushes
Clear varnish (optional)
Ribbon or string

1. Preheat the oven to 120C / 250F.

2. Mix the flour and salt, and gradually add the water until a dough is formed.

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3. Knead the dough well to remove air and roll out with a rolling pin.
TIP: Rolling the dough too thinly will make the decorations bend and curl up at the edges during baking.

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4. Cut out festive shapes using the cookie cutters and place on the baking tray. Don’t forget to add a hole for the ribbon – a drinking straw works well.
TIP: Once on the baking tray, neaten up any rough edges with a knife for a smoother finish.

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5. Bake for 2-3 hours until they look completely dry. This sound a bit vague but the cooking time really depends on the size of decoration and how thick you rolled the dough. Our decorations took 2 hours to cook.
TIP: If they start to puff up in the oven, just pop with a cocktail stick, pat down to remove the air then turn them over. Ours started to puff up after about ten minutes.

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6. Once cooled, you can paint them however you like. We use poster paint, but acrylic paint would work just as well – though is harder to clean off clothes, hands and the dining room wall…
TIP: Before the paint dries you could add glitter or other embellishments.

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7. If you just want temporary decorations and plan to throw them away in January then you can skip this step. If you want a keepsake which lasts for years, then you will need to add 3-4 layers of varnish, making sure that the entire decoration is coated so no moisture gets in. I know this because last year I lazily only used one coat of varnish and when I unpacked the decorations I was greeted with a soggy mess.
TIP: Apply the varnish thinly – it will turn white if it is too thick – and allow to dry between coats.

8. Add some ribbon or string and – ta-dah – handmade christmas decorations to add some colour to your tree. Now to clean up the mess…
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Christmas Pudding Cupcakes

Yesterday I made these tasty treats for Izzy’s preschool Christmas fayre. I made chocolate cupcakes in brown cases and covered with melted white chocolate to look like the sauce on top of the pudding. The holly was made using raspberry flavoured fudge from Tesco for the berries (though small balls of red icing would work too) and green icing for the leaves.

The chocolate dripped round the edges a bit but if they looked messy maybe people will assume Izzy helped me…

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Six months old: Weaning

Clara is six months old. How did that happen? Where have the last few months gone?

She now has three teeth – which have seemingly sprung from nowhere – and a week ago we introduced food. The greedy girl just can’t get enough. She wolfs down the portions of pureed carrot, parsnip, apple or pear and then cries when its all gone.
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I’ve been freezing portions of fruit and veg in small pots and ice cube trays, defrosting what I need each day to save time. But none of this starting with one or two ice-cube sized portions, oh no – within a week she is having 6 cubes worth at a time, 2 meals a day (on top of her usual milk feeds) and still wanting more.

I made homemade food for Izzy but soon shop-bought jars and pouches became a much easier option. This time I want to try and make more homemade baby food and try different flavours and combinations.

I have this Annabel Karmel book, which I highly recommend. Izzy loves the pasta recipes, and many of the toddler recipes are suitable for the whole family. I especially like the satay chicken kebabs.

These pots from Jojo Maman Bebe are great for small portions and the trays keep them tidy in your freezer.
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You could also use a regular ice cube tray and once the puree is frozen, tip into a freezer bag.
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I like the convenience of the Ella’s Kitchen pouches so I have bought some reusable plastic pouches from Wilkinsons to make my own homemade version. I haven’t tried them yet though.
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There are a lot of mini blenders sold specifically for making baby food, but some of these are quite expensive. A hand blender is all you need to make purees, and you can pick up those for around £10. Much easier to clean too than having to disassemble various blades and attachments.

Now all I need is a bigger freezer to store all the purees, Izzy meals and breastmilk in!

Christmas Crafts: Potato Print Cards

What you need:
Paint
Paint brushes
2 potatoes – one large and one small – halved
Paper plates (for the paint)
Coloured card
Some patience*

*Ok, a lot of patience when your child insists that Reindeers should be green and have ten legs, while you are trying to encourage them to create Pinterest worthy artwork something nice to give their Grandparents.

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1. Use the large potato halves to make bodies of snowmen, reindeers and santas, and the small ones to make the heads.

2. Then add the details – faces, hats, scarves, antlers etc – with the paint brushes. Alternatively, these could be drawn on with felt tip pen.

3. Leave to dry for ages because no doubt your child will have used ten times more paint than necessary.

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Boxtrolls: Easy Arts and Crafts for Kids

Despite the wealth of toys available to her, my three year old spent yesterday afternoon playing with a cardboard box. I opened up a box, cut out some armholes and let her loose with the crayons to decorate her very own Boxtroll outfit. Her little sister couldn’t be left out and is just the right size to fit in a Coke can box. 

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Instead of Boxtrolls, boxes could be made into robot bodies or painted/wrapped in gift wrap to make a Christmas present fancy dress.

The Countdown to Christmas – Top Eight Advent Calendars

Advent calendars have moved on from the plastic-tasting-chocolate filled boxes that we all devoured as kids. There are lots of alternative options available now, for both kids and adults, and here are some of my favourites.

1. Best for Mums
The Boots No7 Advent Calendar, £35, is the perfect treat to yourself – mini make up and skincare products each day will ensure you are looking your best for the festive season.
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2. Best for Boys (and Girls)
The Lego City Advent Calendar gives kids a piece of the play set each day, so they have a toy they can play with long after advent has finished. Also available in Lego Friends and Star Wars, each calendar is £20 from Boots – and as these are included in their 3 for 2 Christmas gift offer you can treat the kids and yourself at the same time.
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3. Best for an Ice Princess
Treat your Frozen-loving mini-me to her first beauty set with this Frozen Beauty Advent Calendar from Tesco. For £15, it includes hair accessories, lip gloss, nail varnish and more.
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4. Best for Chocolate Lovers
Unsurprisingly, chocolate is still a popular choice for advent calendars and I for one welcome any excuse to indulge! Hotel Chocolat’s dark, milk or white chocolate calendars are a taste of luxury, and at £12.50 each they are good value when compared to the rest of the company’s range.
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5. Best for Blokes
For a booze-filled run up to Christmas, the Best of British Beer calendar features 24 different bottles of beer for £88.50.
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6. Best for Beauty Lovers
The Benefit Cosmetics Calendar, £60, features trial-sized products including lip glosses, blushers and mascara. This limited edition calendar is selling out quick, so visit your local Benefit counter soon if you want to get your hands on one.
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7. Best for Teenagers
The Ski Lodge Calendar from Studio is one of the more affordable cosmetic-filled calendars (currently half price at £12.49), ideal for teenage girls.
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8. Best for the Personal Touch
Wrap up gifts or fill small envelopes, boxes or gift bags to create a DIY calendar. For adults you could include chocolates, scratch cards/Lotto tickets, beer, mini bottles of alcohol, novelty socks, Christmas tree ornaments, make up, nail varnishes, mini hand creams, hot chocolate sachets and puzzles. For kids you could include sweets, hair clips, beads, bobbles, books, small figures/blind bags, cars, puzzles and bubbles – visit Poundland for some budget friendly ideas! For more DIY inspiration check out Pinterest.com.

Clara’s first tooth and Izzy’s big imagination

Today, my little Clara got her first tooth. She has been drooling like crazy the past week and biting anything she can get her gums on, and finally today I felt the sharp little tooth, on the bottom right. We have been keeping a couple of teething toys to hand and using some teething gel, but she’s been a bit upset and unsettled for a few days now.

Luckily it hasn’t affected her sleep at night and as yet the tooth isn’t far enough through to be causing too many problems with feeding. Its a little uncomfortable but I’m not looking forward to when it comes further through! When she bites down with just her gums its bad enough, nevermind with teeth, but hopefully I will be able to continue breastfeeding for a while longer.

Talking of which, Izzy’s preschool teacher told me today that Izzy has been putting dolls up her top and saying she is feeding them milk. This was after she asked if Clara was ok now. After seeing the look of confusion on my face she explained Izzy had told her how I had to take Clara to the hospital last night because she was ill, and Izzy’s Daddy took her to a bonfire night party at her cousins house where she had sandwiches and cake and watched some fireworks in the garden. 

None of this happened. Not even close.

On the way home from preschool she continued the tale, saying how she was scared because it was dark in the garden and the fireworks were loud so her auntie said she could sit on her knee and they used torches to see. Such an imagination, she was so convincing she almost had me doubting myself!