Sunday, 21 December 2014

At the movies this Christmas

We've recently been spending a fair bit of time at the cinema, so I thought it was worth reviewing the current offerings for kids at your local multiplex.  Stand by for me to go all Claudia Winkleman on you.

Here's our thoughts on the new Tinkerbell movie, Paddington and Get Santa.

Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast

Whilst not especially Christmassy, this is a thought-provoking movie and the latest in the Tinkerbell series and is well worth a watch.

The main character this time is the feisty but caring Fawn the animal fairy who has a special affinity with all beasts.  Venturing into the dark cave she discovers the injured Neverbeast, and after fixing his wound, slowly but surely builds his trust and gains his friendship.

The rest of Pixie Hollow fear for their safety, but only Fawn can see past the scary face, and see what's in Neverbeast's heart.

It has the potential to be a hugely uplifting movie with morals of never judging a book by it's cover, the importance of understanding when to listen to your head or your heart, when to admit you're wrong, and most of all, the importance of doing the right thing.

Younger viewers may find it difficult to follow in places - I found myself having to give a quick science lesson about lightning and conductivity - and those of a sensitive disposition will more than likely shed a tear at the end.  Not wishing to give the game away, it's not exactly a bereavement, but near as, and incredibly sad.

Overall, we found this a fun and action-packed movie, with gentle laughs and big messages.

We rate it 4/5.


The much anticipated Paddington movie will appeal to adults of my generation who remember the 2D cartoon drawings and the unmistakable narration of Micheal Horden, as well as a whole new generation of younger viewers.

Yes, Paddington Bear has had a makeover, he's been CGI'd and his face is altogether more 'beary' but it doesn't take long to acclimatise yourself.

From the opening scenes in deepest darkest Peru where we see his pre-London life with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo, there's an almost Jungle Book feel to the frivolity and some of the bizarre Heath Robinson contraptions they've rigged up to make a bear's life easier.

Be prepared to shed a tear or two as natural disaster befalls the bears and sets Paddington off on his journey to London.

Once arrived on our shores, much adventure awaits once he's taken in by the Brown family - reluctantly on Mr Brown's part, but the kooky Mrs Brown is keen to show the famous welcoming British characteristics Paddington's long heard about.

This is a film full of belly laughs, slapstick comedy which will have kids (and pretty much most adults in our cinema) screaming with delight and exclaiming with disgust.

There's been much debate about whether it warrants it's PG rating, and I personally don't believe it does.  It's been suggested that Nicole Kidman's taxidermist character is too scary for little minds, but frankly I don't see her as any different to Cruella De Ville or Captain Du Bois from the Madagascar movie.  You need an 'evil' for good to conquer anyway but in fact, I found Kidman's portrayal of the character pretty lame.

She was outshone by Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown, who plays an excellently uptight Englishman, Sally Hawkins as the bohemian Mrs Brown whose entire wardrobe I coveted, and the inimitable  Julie Walters as all-knowing Mrs Bird.

As much as this was a story about the loveable bear and the nation's acceptance of foreign visitors it was an unfolding love-story of Mr and Mrs Brown who've slipped into the inevitable married life rut.  As Mr Brown shakes off his over-cautious personality and re-discovers his sense of adventure, so the flame is rekindled.

Showing a dysfunctional family, the typical teenage angsts of parental embarrassments and the need for acceptance from peers, it's simply a delightful tale of Britishness.

We absolutely loved this movie, it's the first time in longer than I can remember where the whole audience erupted into applause at the end and we rate it 5/5.

Get Santa

Definitely the most Christmassy of the showings at the flicks this year, this is another heart-warming and thoroughly British film.

Starring the wonderful Jim Broadbent as Santa who has accidentally crash-landed while testing his new sleigh, he needs the help of young Tom and his dad Steve who's freshly released from Her Majesty's pleasure.

The poignant story of the estranged dad and his determination to prove himself a reliable and worthy father takes them on an action-packed race against the clock to save Christmas.

But will he believe he's the real Santa?  Will anyone?

More tears, this time when Santa is wrongly banged up in prison for trying to rescue his reindeer, and proves he's the real deal to hardened inmates by revealing their childhood secrets and opening up long forgotten memories.

There's no getting away from the farting reindeer, and let's face it what child doesn't find farting highly hysterical?

Excellent performances by Jim Broadbent who makes a very convincing Santa and Rafe Spall as the desperate dad, but also from Kit Connor who plays 9 year old Tom trying to rebuild his life while his dad's been inside for 2 years and his mum's life has moved on.

There's real magic in the film, and we finally get explanations for how the reindeer fly, what the Northern Lights really are and how all the letters get to the North Pole. In my opinion the only thing spoiling it is the rather Benny Hill stlye antics of the police and the probation officer.

Definitely one to get you in the mood for Christmas, and where else can you see farting reindeer?  We rate it 4/5.

Have you seen anything at the flicks lately?  Got any recommendations for us?

Disclosure: We attended a gala screening of the Tinkerbell movie but the others were at our own expense.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Make your own Marshmallows

Marshmallow recipes aren't something you often see people talking about, so I had assumed they were incredibly difficult to make and would perhaps require magical ingredients and equipment.

However, Sainsbury's now sell their own DIY kits so I thought I'd give it a go.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without bowls of sweeties and treats dotted about the house, and what better than light and fluffy marshmallows in snow white to pop into your mouth as the mood takes you.

Turns out, they are incredibly simple and quite quick to make - you need to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before cutting, but the actual making part only takes about 20 minutes.

They'd make a lovely personal handmade gift too presented in a cellophane bag or pretty box, and just right for a last minute present.

As I said, the process is so simple, just boiling the sugar, dissolving the gelatine and whisking together.  The kit contains everything you need, you just need your own square tin and some cling film.

Frankly, the hardest part was turning it out from the cling film lined tin and cutting it up, but that's because I was a little frightened of it.  As it happens, marshmallow is quite robust stuff and can take a bit of tough love, you've just got to go for it.

The kitchen did look a bit like a snowstorm afterwards with all the icing sugar flying around, but then I'm not the tidiest of cooks.  It did however result in possibly the best bowl licking session of my life - warm, melty mallow straight from the spoon - ahhhhhh.

And the final result?  Delightful pillowy soft marshmallows - little squares of heaven.  Now I've made my first batch I fancy getting more adventurous with flavours, colours and shapes.  Cut with cookie cutters into different shapes they'd be even prettier and swirling through some lemon curd or Christmas candy canes to add colour and flavour is my next plan.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go and make a fire so I can try toasting these babies.

Disclosure: The marshmallow kit is available in store from Sainsbury's priced at £2.50.  Not suitable for vegetarians. I was sent a kit for the purposes of this review.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Have a DIY Christmas with Worx - Power Tool Giveaway

With the trend for a homemade Christmas, power tool firm Worx are asking us to take on the challenge of making a gift this yuletide.

Do you remember receiving a homemade present as a child?  I certainly do.  I remember the much-loved rag doll my mum made for me and the beautiful doll's house my dad toiled for hours in the freezing cold garage making me.  He'd crafted the doors and windows, the stairs and even wired it up so it had working lights.  I can't say I remember too many other gifts I got as a child, all those games and mass produced toys fade in my memory, but those two items which had taken hours and hours to painstakingly make will always be remembered.

Worx have come up with three projects, complete with comprehensive instructions and videos that you can make your child this year.  There's a simple pair of stilts, a pull-along wooden dog which is a little more challenging and for those who like to think big, there's plans for a doll's house.

We tackled the stilts and they really were straightforward, and took only about 10-15 minutes to assemble.  I love that you can customise or decorate them how you want, and I spent some time painting them for Ruby.

I'm so pleased with how they've turned out, what do you think?

We used the Worxsaw circular saw which has a very useful laser light, perfect for guiding your straight cuts.  It has adjustable saw cut depth and is powerful but so small and lightweight it can be used one handed.  Capable of cutting wood, tiles, brick, plasterboard and metal it's perfect for the hobby DIYer.

We also used the Worx Sonicrafter as a powerful and compact mini sander, but it has lots of other uses too including cutting pipes and removing tile grout.

The full details can be found on this video, and there's a link on the youtube with all the written instructions and dimensions.

Further projects can be found on the Worx channel.

To get you started, Worx are offering you the chance to win a Worx SD Cordless screwdriver.  Perfect for all those little DIY jobs round the house, or for crafting a Christmas gift of your own. It's pre-loaded with 6 different bits and the easy to operate slide action means you can flip from flat-head to Phillips quickly and easily.  It has a built in light making it perfect for those tricky jobs or working in poor light.

To be in with a chance of winning, complete the rafflecopter below before midnight on Sunday 21st December 2014.

Open to UK entrants only.  One winner will be selected at random.  The prize is supplied and fulfilled by Worx. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: The prize is kindly supplied by Worx and we received the tools to complete the project outlined above.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Support Save The Children with this cute Christmas book from Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee are this year supporting Save The Children's Christmas Jumper Day. Today, up and down the land people will be wearing their festive sweaters to raise money for a great cause.

But don't worry if you've missed the boat or your workplace/school (or in my case, working from home!) prevents you from joining in the frivolity, there's another great way to support the campaign.

Next time you pop into Costa Coffee (and let's face it, most of us are never far away from a Costa), pick up their adorable little book 'The Best Christmas Jumper'.

Priced at only £1.50 it's a great little stocking filler or gift for a class mate and you can feel warm and glowy knowing that £1.17 of that cost will go directly to Save The Children to help with their Read on, Get on campaign helping improve the literacy skills of disadvantaged children in the UK.

Join our national mission to ensure every child in the UK is a confident reader by age 11. Reading is the key to unlocking a child’s full potential and one of the best routes out of poverty for our poorest children. Yet in our country today too many children, including 40% of our poorest children, leave primary school without being able to read well.  - Save the Children

The story is a charming Christmas tale, featuring Santa, Snowman, Reindeer and Elf (you may recognise them as the coffee cup characters), who discover that working together as a team is the key to success.  A perfect book for Christmas bedtime reading or for your book advents.

Written by  award-winning children’s writer Rachel Bright author of the Love Monster series, and illustrated by Vicki Gausden of Noisy Circus fame.  It's suitable for tiny tots and young readers.  

We loved it!  And I'll be popping out to buy more for stocking fillers, knowing that the money will be going to a good cause.

Disclosure: We were sent a 'bedtime pack' including a copy of the book by Costa.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Folded Mince Pies

I have a strange relationship with mince pies it has to be said.  

I adore mincemeat, I could eat it all year round.  On occasions I can be found hiding in the pantry with a spoon, shovelling the stuff into my mouth direct from the jar.

However, mince pies? Not so much.  I can't abide the shop bought ones with inches thick of cloying pastry, you know, the ones which are more of a chore to consume than a pleasure.

I've never mastered the art of the homemade mince pie, producing either an undercooked offering with a soggy bottom, or else the filling busts forth, frothing and bubbling into a scalding hot mess, burning thick and dark onto the pastry top ruining the entire thing.

So this year, I'm trying something different.  Something altogether lighter in the mouth and foolproof in the oven.

I kind of Christmas samosa if you will.

I discovered this delicious hedgerow mincemeat from Wild at Heart at the Christmas London Foodies Festival last week.  I love the story behind the firm, two friends who left the corporate world to focus on a more family-friendly business, harnessing their love of foraging and their shared interest in good food.

Their hedgerow mincemeat is made with crab apples and elderberries, as well as the more traditional raisins.  It's delicate and fruity and the lack of suet means it's not only suitable for vegetarians, but it makes the whole texture so much lighter.  There's a beautiful zingy citrus freshness from the orange and lemon, and those who don't usually like rich, heavy mincemeat should definitely give this a try.

Ingredients for 10-15 'folded mince pies' - depending on size:

Pack of filo pastry
Jar of hedgerow mincemeat
30g melted butter.

NB one 260g jar of hedgerow mincemeat will do about half a pack of filo pastry, so just take half the sheets and re-wrap the remainder straight away and freeze for use another time.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Place your butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat to melt.

Cut your pile of pastry sheets into long strips.  I cut mine into three but you could cut them into 4 piles of strips if you want smaller, bite-sized parcels. I find it easier to use scissors.

Work quickly before the filo pastry dries out.  For each parcel use two layers of pastry.  Fold up the top one and using a pastry brush, brush melted butter onto the second sheet so the top sheet sticks to it.

Then brush melted butter along all four sides of the rectangular strip.

Place a teaspoon of mincemeat near the bottom corner.

Fold over the pastry to form a triangle, pressing down lightly at the edges.

Next, fold upwards, and continue folding in a triangular shape all the way up the strip, pressing down on the edges to seal as you go.

Once your parcel is fully wrapped, place onto your baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and give a brush all over each parcel with more melted butter.

Bake your folded mince pies for approximately 20 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

Sieve over icing sugar and allow to cool a little before serving.

Hedgerow mincemeat can be purchased online from Wild at Heart and costs £4 a jar.

I received a free sample at the food festival.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Littlest Pet Shop Play Sets Review

There was much excitement in our house when a huge bundle of Littles Pet Shop play sets arrived from Hasbro.  Ruby has quite a few of the figurines already - they make great pocket money toys - but we didn't have any of the larger toys or sets so this was like Christmas come early.

There are lots of different toys in the LPS Your World range, and they all aim to encourage imaginative play.  There's lots of opportunity to design the room sets your own way and customise them.
Watching the TV show or the new app for inspiration, or simply designing from your imagination, you can create your own little world of LPS buildings.
All the sets come flat packed and some adult assistance was required to make them up.  However, all three of the sets we had are assembled in broadly the same way, so once we'd mastered one it was fairly straightforward.
There are a huge amount of teeny tiny pieces so these toys are not suitable if you have young children around, and some of the parts would not hold up to boisterous or clumsy play - for example the scene backgrounds are card so you need to be a little careful handling them.  However, Ruby is playing with them respectfully as she loves them, so I expect them to last.
Blythe's Bedroom RRP £29.99

Blythe is the main character and can talk to animals.  She has a special relationship with all the little pets but is kind and caring to her human friends too.  She loves fashion and her bedroom is an extension of her fashionista style.  Arrange the furniture how you like, add stickers to customise or flip the background to turn it into a stage setting.

This set comes with over 90 different pieces as well as a Blythe doll and a Penny Ling pet figure.
We really liked the detail on this set with the little balcony front and window boxes.

Spa Style Set RRP £14.99

This set comes with Zoe Trent pet figure and lots of accessories to keep your Littlest Pets pampered and preened.  There's a shower and bath for grooming, scissors, hair drier and spray as well as a mirror for admiring the finished look you've created.  

As with the other sets, this stacks on top of others, or along side so you can create a whole town.  The roof lifts up so you can access either from above or through the front to play.

Treat Bar Style Set RRP £14.99
This set also comes with a Penny Ling character figure, but this time she's not so happy as she's spilt her ice cream!  

There are bar stools, a 'glass' display cabinet and lots of pet treats to display inside.
As with the other sets, the sides of the room are interchangeable and the background is reversible, so along with the stickers provided there's lots of opportunity to design it your way.


These sets have certainly kept Ruby occupied.  All of this past week she's got up in the morning and quietly played with them for an hour or so before coming downstairs - meaning these toys get bonus parent points for allowing lie-ins and unsupervised play!

I suspect there'll be a few more sets making their way onto her Christmas list now.

All the sets are recommended for children from 6 years.

Ruby's enjoying playing on the LPS app too.  There is supposed to be a way to scan your pets so you can play with them 'in-game' (the pets with a paw print symbol are scannable) however we haven't managed to find how to use this feature yet.  Perhaps you have to earn a certain amount of points before this feature is unlocked?  I'm not sure, so if anyone knows please let me know!

Overall the play sets were a big hit in this house.

Disclosure: We were sent the sets for the purposes of this review and a small fee for our time. All opinions are our own and the toys were tested by my daughter who is aged 6 3/4. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate Recipe

I've gone a bit candy cane crazy here lately, what with my candy cane Christmas wreath, but they just scream Christmas to me and I wanted a treat for us, so this seemed perfect.  Mint and chocolate are a winning combination always, and what could be nicer on a yuletide evening than a sweet and warming hot chocolate made with candy canes and real chocolate?  Perfect to have after a busy day's Christmas shopping or snuggled in front of the fire.  The candy canes give a mild mint flavour to the drink so even children should cope with this level of mintiness.  

Melting the candy canes into the hot chocolate will make it even sweeter than usual, so I've opted for bitter dark chocolate, although if you have a particularly sweet tooth you could use regular milk chocolate.

There's always chocolate and candy canes knocking about this house at this time of year and this is a wonderfully different way to devour them.

Ingredients (per mug - adjust accordingly to personal taste)

50g chocolate
1 small mint flavoured candy cane
200 ml milk
Whipped cream and marshmallows to serve (optional)

Break up your chocolate into small chunks (or use buttons or drops if you have them, they'll melt quicker).

Wrap your candy canes in a clean tea towel and bash with a rolling pin to smash.

Reserve the larger chunks of candy cane for decorating, and pour the powdered candy cane into a saucepan along with the chocolate and milk.

Heat gently stirring all the time.

Once all the chocolate has melted it's ready to pour into mugs.

Decorate with whipped cream, marshmallows and the reserved shards of candy cane.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Rag Rug Christmas Wreath

I mentioned yesterday about thrifty Christmas decorations, well I've also been learning to rag rug.  A traditional craft, this is perfect for using up scraps of materials and old, worn clothing so it certainly appeals to my make-do-and-mend spirit.

I recently spent a rather lovely day with Elspeth from Ragged Life along with some other bloggers, Ali, Maggy, Emma and Niki.  Elspeth taught us the techniques for rag rugging (both 'shaggy' and 'loopy'), as well as the best way to cut fabrics and gave us some inspiration to create our own Christmas projects.

Here's one that Elspeth bought along with her to give us an idea of what we could achieve.

We descended on her bags of fabric like maniacs, excited at the opportunity of a child-free crafting session, and armed with the tools of the trade, got ragging.

Ragged life offer workshops so you can learn the skills yourself and they sell the gauges and hooks online too.  Or if you're not so crafty, you can buy a ready-made wreath from her Etsy shop.

I'd thoroughly recommend attending a workshop.  Elspeth is a great teacher and is really relaxed and will help you get the most out of your new-found skill. The techniques are easy to pick up and once I'd got started on my design I took it away to finish at home.  In fact, with my little bag of scraps in my handbag, I continued on the tube on the way home!

A few more evenings in front of the telly and my circle was completed.  I followed her instructions online to make up the wreath and now it's proudly adorning my front door.

I love the wreath, it's so tactile and looks really effective.

I've already started snipping up scraps for my next project.  It's so satisfying cutting up old fabric that's been hanging around, redundant for ages and transforming it into something beautiful.

Update!  I've completed my second wreath!  Inspired by some candy canes, I've made a red and white wreath and attached candy canes so visitors can help themselves.  After the design was completed, I hooked some ribbon through the centre of each rosette and left it loose before attaching the backing board, hanging hook and felt to tidy the back up.  Then simply tie the candy canes on with the ribbons.  The wreath can be used year after year - just replace the sweets (if there's any left!).

Thank you Elspeth for teaching me a new craft!

Purchase a full rag rug making kit from the Etsy shop for £11.99 - a perfect gift for a crafty friend.

Purchase a ready made Christmas wealth from the Etsy shop for £30.

Disclosure: I was invited along to a workshop.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Magpie Monday - Charity Shop Christmas Presents

Yes, Magpie Monday is back!!!

Brought out of retirement after a rather unpleasant exchange on Twitter from someone who was vehemently opposed to giving second-hand gifts.  It transpires that she completely misunderstood me, but as she then blocked me she didn't see my further explanations, but what did cheer me was the huge positive response the discussion received from far and wide.  I'm a passionate supporter of preloved items.  My whole house is full of them and I see absolutely no reason why I can't buy gifts from charity shops too.

I mean, it's a win:win isn't it?  You get to make a contribution to a good cause as well as get some bargains at this expensive time of the year.  I like that I can give a unique gift too, one that's had more thought put into it than simply plucking it off the shelf in the supermarket.

I'm joining in with the Salvation Army's #MyCharityChallenge to show you some of the great finds I've got from charity shops lately which will be given as festive gifts.

Research shows that on average, Brits will budget to spend £208 on gifts and £32 on clothes for the big day ( and those stats are a few years old now so I suspect it's much higher this year).  Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could all pledge to spend a proportion of that money in a charity shop to support a good cause? Imagine how much money could be raised for charity.

It costs £9 for The Salvation Army to bring a homeless person in from the cold, £19 for a Christmas box for a family in need and £28 would pay for Christmas lunch for 5 older people giving them a meal and companionship on one of the loneliest days of the year.

When you put it like that, really, why wouldn't you spend some of your gift budget in charity shops?

There are rows and rows of fabulous party dresses, dinner jackets and children's outfits to buy for parties and Christmas day, and it's easy to find brand new items and gift sets in charity shops, which makes buying from there just as simple as buying from High Street stores.  From my time running a charity shop I know that most stores will be squirrelling away decorations; good quality gift items; party clothes and new labelled goods all year just for the Christmas shoppers, so take a look and see what you can find.

To hopefully encourage you further, I've put together a few gift ideas that I've sourced from various charity shops.

With a bit of imagination, used items can make great gifts on their own, or to bulk out other purchases.  There's nothing wrong with mixing old and new to make a unique gift.

Gift Ideas

Herb planter: Under £8
Old enamel bread bin - £1.99
Selection of herbs, 3 for 2 £1.25 each from supermarket

Full of fragrant and vibrant herbs, wouldn't this planter make the perfect gift for a food loving friend?

Beer and Nuts: Under £5
Glass tankard: 99p
Beer and peanuts from supermarket £3.80

A lovely glass paired with a bottle of craft beer or seasonal ale and some peanuts and someone's all set for some nice R & R!  Incidentally, I spotted identical glasses in John Lewis for £18 each.

Pretty Sweet Dish: Under £2
Floral trinket dish: 99p
Box of Turkish Delight: £1

Using pretty charity shop finds to  theme a gift is a great way of stretching your budget and giving a thoughtful token gift.  This attractive rose patterned Portmerion trinket dish was a steal at 99p, with a quick wash it makes the perfect container for some rose flavoured sweets.  Just wrap in cellophane with a pretty ribbon and when the sweets have gone, your recipient will still have a useful trinket dish to keep on their dressing table or desk.

Sweet Tin: Under £3
Vintage Home Sweet Home Tin: 99p
Chocolates: £1.99

Vintage tins are great to look out for for decanting wrapped sweets or chocolates or homemade cookies into.  The tin makes a practical gift in itself too.

Bath Decanter: Under £5
Glass decanter: £2.99
Bubble bath: £2

You'll often find glass decanters in charity shops.  We rarely use them anymore for wines and spirits but they make beautiful bathroom displays filled with colourful bubble baths.  Go for delicate cut glass decanters or more pared down versions like this one.  Make sure you secure the stopper with sellotape before wrapping to prevent spills.

Mini gardening set: Under £2
Mini tool set: £1.99
Seeds: free with a magazine

When we ripped out our old kitchen recently, we kept the old Belfast sink as a mini garden for Ruby. She's excited about having her own area to plant flowers and vegetables.  This little set of fork and trowels is just the perfect stocking filler for her, and I've added some packs of seeds to get her started.

Winter Wooly: Under £4
Angora Topshop Cardigan £3.99

I was chuffed to find this super-soft angora shrug/shawl cardigan last week.  It's in a beautiful pale sage colour and I'm quite tempted to keep it myself.  Check out the brand new labels from Topshop, and I got it for only £3.99.  Do look through the rails as you can often find things brand new with labels still on.  If you're planing on gifting clothes this way though, do check it over thoroughly for any flaws, and make sure it will fit the person you're giving it to or be honest about where you purchased it from - you wouldn't want the embarrassment of them trying to exchange it only to be told "sorry we haven't sold that range since 2010!"

Pet bandana: Under £2
Square scarf: £1.99

We are a nation of pet lovers, and we're estimated to spend £1.7billion on our pets at Christmas!!  Wouldn't it be better to spend some of that money with an animal charity and buy from one of their shops to support those animals who need care and love?  I don't think I've ever been in a charity shop that doesn't have a scarf rail, I mean we rarely wear headscarves nowadays do we?  Take a simple square scarf, fold it diagonally into a triangle (right sides together) and stitch around the sides leaving a small opening to turn it right side out.  Hand stitch the opening close and hey-presto you have a super-quick and easy bandana for your stylish pooch for less than £2!

Teacup Gifts - under £5

Search for pretty vintage teacups that you can get crafty with.  Either make some hot chocolate spoons so the cups can be used as intended, or get upcycling!  They can be turned into candles, pin cushions or pretty bird feeders like I did here.

Gift Wrapping

Each year we spend a fortune on gift wrapping paper, ribbons, gift tags and embellishments.  Let's face it, most of it ends up ripped and in the bin (unless you're frugal like me and save the ribbons for the following year and save your cards to make gift tags).  Why not wrap more ethically this year and not only save money and save waste, but raise some money for your favourite charity too.

Scarves are a great eco way to wrap gifts, and chosen carefully can be part of the actual present too, not just rubbish to go into the bin.

Scour charity shops for old, damaged or out-of-date maps, A-Zs, atlases and OS maps.  These make great wrapping paper and I bought 2 huge old atlases for 50p each which will give me tonnes of wrapping paper.  You can personalise them too with countries or places your recipient has visited and I like the idea of using this old map of Greenland and The North Pole for Christmas wrapping!

Sewing patterns are also often found in charity shops.  They make great wrap for crafty friends and relatives.  The paper is very thin so either use it like tissue paper for filling and protecting, or use several layers to prevent your gift from peeping through.  Finish with a stitched ribbon or better still, an old measuring tape if you can find one.  I paid 25p per pattern and there's loads of sheets in each pack.


Again, you can spend a fortune on decorations each year.  But many charity shops will have selections of baubles and decorations for sale.  If you're lucky you might find some vintage glass baubles, although these do get snapped up quickly.

Or, get creative with your decorations.  This Christmas tree is made from an old paperback book and cost me 50p plus a few hours idle folding in front of the TV.  I think I might make some snips into it to make 'branches' and maybe add a sprinkling of glitter, but I'm pretty happy with my first attempt!

So, have I convinced you to take a look in charity shops this Christmas?  What will you find?  Or are you a lover of thrifted items already?

I hope you're happy to see Magpie Monday back out of semi retirement!  I'm all fired up now to post on the first Monday of each month and I hope you'll join me in linking up your preloved finds.