My 21st Birthday

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Turning 21 in my family has always been a way bigger deal than turning 18. I think it’s because both my parents and grandparents alike felt that you were a ‘proper adult’ at 21. Though to tell you the truth I am still definitely pretending to be an adult and certainly not a ‘proper adult’ by any means. Adulting is hard and I’d much rather bury my head in the sand and paint and bake nice food all day.

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But, to celebrate my 21st birthday on the 15th September, I had a small garden party with my family and a couple of friends. After a glorious Summer of sunshine in England, the weather has taken a turn since and spent the majority of the first half of September raining and cold. This was the case on the morning of my birthday, however it brightened up in time for everyone coming round and we actually had a great afternoon.

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Photo courtesy of Steve Monks. During my Dad’s speech.

I wanted my party to be a proper fiesta; I had a lot of Mexican influences in both the food and the decorations, as well as some elements of Cuban culture too. I really just wanted my day to be a super fun, super relaxed event for everyone, complete with party games, a piñata and a cocktail bar serving mojitos!

 

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Photo courtesy of Steve Monks. Like mother like daughter! We both like sparklers.

I am really gutted that I hardly have any photos to share with you from the day! I had gone to so much effort creating everything from the decorations to most of the food: as always, I made my own birthday cake, as well as pineapple and flamingo themed cupcakes, cactus cookies, a vegetarian chilli, dips, tray bake nachos- loads! Jason’s mum had also been a great help too and had made an amazing upside down pineapple cake, as well as a chilli con carne and a delicious mac’n’cheese. The food table looked amazing- and I have no photos to share with you! Sorry! 😦

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My homemade birthday cake. This is after we lit the sparklers which is why there’s weird black candles on the top- though I can assure you it looked great when they were lit!

I also painted a bunch of cardboard signs for the day; one for my Dad’s mojito bar, and a few others featuring cactii, Dia de los Muertos candy skulls and some Cuban classic cars! (With the rather cheesy slogan, ‘Havana happy birthday!’).

I hope to be able to recreate some of the Mojitos we made for the big day and do a blog post on those for you! I made my Dad a recipe card featuring a mojito clásico, a mojito zarzamora and a mojito ruibarbo recipe.

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Photo courtesy of Steve Monks. My Dad’s Mojito Bar sign, along with some of the Papel Picado and my Mojito recipes.

In short, I had an absolutely amazing day. It’s always great spending time with my family, and it was so much fun spending my birthday with them. The excitement didn’t stop there though! The following morning, tired and only slightly hungover, Jason and I were travelling down to London in order to get ready for our flight from Heathrow to Rome!

We had an amazing time, and no doubt I will be updating you all on how it went in a future post!

Thanks for stopping by- I hope you enjoyed this post! Have you been celebrating any big birthdays recently? What did you do to celebrate?

Let me know in the comments!

 

My first attempt at sugar cookies

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I see sugar cookies all the time on social media. Birthday sugar cookies, baby shower sugar cookies, wedding sugar cookies, Christmas sugar cookies. I can’t seem to get away from them when I’m scrolling through Pinterest, but I’ve never actually had a go at making my own sugar cookies before. Well, until now that is.

I get the impression that sugar cookies are a much bigger thing in the US than they are here in the UK. The only time I’ve eaten sugar cookies before is back when I was at Primary school; my mum has a friend who grew up in Hawaii, and she always made sugar cookies for us to decorate when we went round to her house. (Side note: I loved going round to her house.)

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So, armed with a bit of spare time and some good old nostalgia, I decided to have a go at baking my own sugar cookies. My mum’s friend was kind enough to give me her recipe, so I was able to make the exact same yummy cookies that I remember eating as a kid.

I was really pleased with how these cookies turned out for a first attempt. They tasted just like I remember, and were perfect for icing. I decided to keep things pretty simple and go with a butterfly design for these cookies, but I’m excited to experiment and see what other designs I will be able to come up with using some different cookie cutters.

I’m already planning on making some of these for my 21st birthday party next week, so I’ll be uploading a recipe soon! I’m hoping to have a go at making some cacti cookies, what do you think?!

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Have you ever made sugar cookies? Do you agree that they’re way more popular in the States?

Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Mexican Paper Flowers

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What a week it has been. I am most certainly ready for the weekend, and I couldn’t be more grateful for Monday being a bank holiday. I spent today at a high school in Lancaster teaching a Maths and Science session as part of a Summer School for the new students starting in September. I always find working in schools good fun, but dear Lord am I tired. The kids seemed to enjoy it though so that’s the main thing.

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In other news, today’s post is a super easy DIY for you all. As some of you may know, I’m currently in the midst of planning my 21st birthday celebrations. It turns out that I love party planning- who knew? I guess it’s no suprise, I am an avid list maker and organiser. I know it sounds really boring for those of you who aren’t that way inclined, but what can I say, I do love a good list.

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So, onto today’s project. These Mexican paper flowers were sooo easy to make and I love how bright and colourful they are; they’re going to make perfect decorations for my party.

Here’s how I made them:

You will need:

  • Crepe paper or tissue paper, assorted bright colours.
  • Pipe cleaners.
  • Scissors.

Method:

  1. Cut your crepe paper into squares, about 4″ wide. You will need about 6-8 sheets of paper per flower. P1240636
  2. Place your square sheets of paper on top of each other and fold them together in a concertina style, as though you were making a fan.P1240638.jpg
  3. Wrap a pipe cleaner around the centre of the folded paper and twist the two loose ends together to secure. P1240642.jpg
  4. Use scissors to round out the edges as shown.P1240643.jpg
  5. Carefully peel your paper up, one layer at a time, until you create your desired flower shape.
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    Front view

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    Back view

  6. Use your flowers to decorate your home, garden, or wherever else you fancy!

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There we have it! I hope you enjoyed this post guys, have you ever tried making paper flowers? What have you been up to this week? Let me know in the comments!

 

Victoria sandwich cake and party planning

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Hey guys, how’re we all doing?

Despite only working three days a week at the moment, I’m feeling pretty worn out. When I go back to uni in October I know that I’ll be buried in a mountain of work once again, so I’m trying to fit as many things into this summer as I can. While this is great in some respects- I’m churning out enough baked goods to feed a small family for a year- I’m also feeling like I just don’t have enough time to fit everything in.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s my 21st birthday next month, so I’m busy looking forward to that. I’m not having a proper party- I decided to spend the money on a trip to Rome with Jason instead- but I am having some family round on the day to celebrate with me. Naturally, because I’m me, having a few family members round has turned into a themed celebration, so despite the small 18 people long guest list, I’m pulling out all the stops to create an awesome Latin American themed fiesta.

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I studied Spanish at school and fell in love with the language, going on to develop a huge appreciation for both Spanish and latin American culture as I’ve gotten older. Hence when I was thinking about a summer party theme, my mind instantly went to sunshine, papel picado and mojitos. Sadly, here in North England the sunshine isn’t a given, but with plans for a DIY cocktail bar and several Mexican paper crafts already underway, the other two are looking likely.

Alongside my fiesta planning, I’ve also done some very English baking for my Dad. Unfortunately my Dad’s birthday is in May, right in the middle of exam season, so I didn’t have time to make him a birthday cake this year. To make up for this I made him his favourite Victoria sandwich cake the other day while I was off.

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I love Victoria sandwich cake. Like, what’s not to love really? It’s the perfect combination of soft sponge cake, sweet jam, and light and airy cream. I personally prefer cake with buttercream instead of fresh cream, but seeing as this was for my Dad I sandwiched the sponges together with a whipped double cream and strawberries mixture, his fave.

It’s safe to say this cake went down very well- two days later and it’s almost all gone! If you fancy making your own Victoria sandwich cake, try using my vanilla sponge cake recipe.

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I’ve got plenty more baking planned for over the coming weeks, mainly preparations for my birthday- yay!

What have you been up to this week? Let me know in the comments!

My Morning Routine

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Going old school with these filters to make up for terrible lighting. Also lets pretend I didn’t cut my head of by accident and that we’re being cool and artsy- K?

As a person I would say that I awkwardly linger right in the middle of being a full on morning person and not wanting to be spoken to until midday. 

I love mornings. I love opening the curtains to a bright new day, the promise of a fresh start, and breakfast. 

I hate getting out of bed. 

But one thing I hate more than getting out of bed is staying in bed all day. I absolutely HATE lying in until the afternoon, or going a day in my pyjamas, un-showered and never opening the curtains.  So, I guess you could say that I am a morning person after all. 

Once I’ve built up the courage and strength to pull the duvet back and venture out into the cold, I actually really enjoy the morning. I am very lucky in that most of my lectures start late in the day, usually 11am or later. This means that I have loads of time in a morning to take it easy and really start my day right. 

8am- The dreaded alarm. 

If I don’t have a 9am start (which is most of the week), I will set my alarm for 8am. This includes weekends. I actually have the most cliche alarm ever- it’s birdsong. This is kind of a nice thing to wake up to, though I have noticed that in Summer I get woken up at the crack of dawn by actual birds singing. 

8:10am- Breakfast!

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The most important meal of the day. I bloody love breakfast, I will never understand how people can skip it. Even when I was waking up at 6:30am everyday for college, I always, AlWAYS made time for breakfast. Over the past few months I’ve gotten into the routine of eating porridge with honey, a chopped banana and ground cinnamon- it is so good. It really doesn’t take an age to prepare either, I get the little microwavable pouches of porridge oats that you just add milk to and pop in the microwave for 2 minutes. I chop the banana while that’s getting nuked and Bob’s my uncle.  

I also always drink a glass of water in the morning. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to start drinking more water as there’s so many health benefits of it, so this is a pretty new addition to the routine.

8:30am- Get on down to yoga town.

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Yoga has become an integral part of my life over the past year. I started it primarily as a method for dealing with stress amongst other things; fast forward and I am now in the best shape I’ve ever been, both mentally and physically. A morning started off with yoga is a morning started off right in my opinion. If you’re fancying starting your own yoga practice, I HIGHLY recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene on Youtube- it will revolutionise the way you see yourself and others, as well as improve your flexibility, strength and overall outlook on life. Honestly, Adriene is a miracle worker. 

I usually do around forty minutes of yoga in the morning, with the type depending on my energy level for that day. Sometimes I will opt for an ab or glute workout, or sometimes I will enjoy a slow morning sequence to help me wake up. 

9:15am- The boring stuff- shower, teeth, hair.

After I’ve finished with my yoga session I’ll hop in the shower, before cleaning my teeth and brushing my hair. Just the usual stuff here I’m afraid, nothing exciting. 

9:30am- The fun stuff- getting dressed and applying makeup.

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At this point in the morning I’ll usually do a quick check of the expected weather for the day and temperature and decide what to wear. As I live in northern England, the usual weather is the standard ‘freezing your tits off with an extra portion of rain’.

On a day to day basis I keep makeup pretty quick and easy; if I’m really rushing but still want a bit of something something, I’ll stick to just mascara, concealer, brow gel and blusher. If I have a bit more time on my hands I’ll add a bit of eyeshadow, bronzer, highlight and a lipstick too. And of course setting spray. I never wear foundation on a day to day basis, I like to keep my look pretty natural for uni.

10am- More food.

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If I don’t have to be at a lecture for 10am, I’ll squeeze in some extra time for eating before I head out the door. I have Gilbert’s syndrome, a liver condition that means I can get very lightheaded if I don’t eat regularly. Also I’m just a greedy b*tch. 😉 My favourite mid morning snack to have is some strawberries topped with greek yogurt and honey. I’ve recently been working on building my glute muscles, so the yogurt is pretty good for that. 

And there we have it!

There you are guys, I hope you enjoyed this little run through of my morning routine. My friends call me absolutely nuts for spending two hours getting ready in the morning, but I really think that taking some time for yourself to get your mind in the right place and ready for the day is so important. I can say that, at least for me, taking the extra time getting ready in the morning means that I arrive at my lectures awake and ready to learn, with a clear head and a full stomach, and the satisfaction that I’ve already done some exercise. 

What’s your morning routine like? Are you a morning person or would you much rather get up in the afternoon? Do you think I’m crazy for spending so long getting ready?

Let me know in the comments!

Love ya, 

Maddie.

Gingerbread House Recipe/ Welcoming in the New Year

Homemade gingerbread house- perfect for celebrations over Christmas and New Year.

Hi guys! I hope you all had a magical Christmas and are now eagerly looking forward to the New Year and anticipating what 2018 will bring you. I am pleased to say that a great Christmas was had by all in the Smith household; though a somewhat smaller affair than previous years, we had a wonderful time playing games, eating good food and enjoying each other’s company. Despite the obligatory workload that I must tackle before my return to university, I have been thoroughly enjoying my increase in free time, and have spent many a day in the company of Jason and my family. I will be sad to return to Lancaster in January.

Homemade gingerbread house- perfect for celebrations over Christmas and New Year.

But the holiday season is not over yet! Something that I have come to notice as I have gotten older is that I can continue to enjoy the festivities of the holidays even after Christmas Day has been and gone. Being 20 means that I can enjoy welcoming in the New Year more than I did when I was a kid, and I’m full of excitement now that Jason and I have begun our holiday search for 2018.

Make your own gingerbread house with this super tasty recipe!

So with the festive season in mind, today I bring you my homemade gingerbread house recipe. This was the third year in a row that I tackled baking my own gingerbread house from scratch. When I was younger, I used to get the kits with ready made gingerbread pieces, so that all you had to do was assemble and decorate the house. Now that I’m older and have developed more confidence in the kitchen (and my mum’s developed more confidence in my cleaning up the kitchen abilities!), I love to bake the gingerbread for the house myself.

Homemade gingerbread house- perfect for celebrations over Christmas and New Year.

It’s no small feat; making and rolling out the dough for this bad boy will take you a good few hours- let alone the hours spent icing it- but I think it’s totally worth it. I am never more proud of a bake than I am of my gingerbread houses. There’s something incredibly satisfying about not only achieving baked to perfection gingerbread, but also achieving a minor structural engineering feat while you’re at it. Plus, decorating gingerbread houses is a thoroughly enjoyable activity. I spent my Christmas Eve icing and adding all the sweets to my house, before settling down to watch a Christmas movie with the family; a suitably festive activity in my opinion.

Be the envy of your friends with this homemade gingerbread house recipe!

The original recipe that I used for this house is from the queen of British baking herself, Mary Berry (find the original recipe here!). Truth be told, this isn’t the tastiest gingerbread that I bake (at least in my opinion). If you’re looking for soft, spiced gingerbread cookies, you should check out my best gingerbread man recipe! But of course, seeing as you will be constructing a house out of your gingerbread, you need it to be a little harder than these and more structurally sound! Unlike my favourite gingerbread recipe, this recipe doesn’t contain an egg, making it a little firmer when baked. And don’t get me wrong, it still tastes really good!

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Recipe (original recipe from Mary Berry, on the BBC Good Food website):

Ingredients:

For the gingerbread: (Find the template here!)

  • 375g/13oz unsalted butter
  • 300g/10½oz dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g/5½oz golden syrup
  • 900g/2lb plain flour
  • 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger

For the icing:

  • 3 free-range egg whites
  • 675g/1½lb icing sugar, sifted

To decorate:

  • 15 boiled sweets. I like to use a variety of colours!
  • 1 x 30cm/12in square cake board, or the back of a baking tray I as used
  • 200g/7oz giant milk chocolate buttons
  • A battery powered candle to go inside, or a small string of fairy lights

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 (fan 180C).

  2. Begin by melting your butter, sugar and syrup together in a large pan.
  3. In a bowl, sieve your flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger, and combine. Make a well in the centre, and pour in your syrup mixture.
  4. Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, knead it together to form a dough. Divide this dough into five evenly sized pieces, before cutting one of these pieces in half, so that you have six pieces in total.
  5. Roll each piece out on a sheet of greaseproof paper, until it is about 3/4cm/1/3″ thick. Using the template (linked above), cut out the pieces for the walls, roof and front and back of your house. Top tip for ensuring a well cut out house: “Use a ruler and the rim of a cup to cut out the arched windows on the front and sides of the house. Using a star cutter, cut out a star in the front and back of the house.”
  6. Roll out the left over dough so that you can cut out your chimney and two trees. Bake your gingerbread for 7-8 minutes.
  7. While this is baking, place your sweets in a plastic sandwich bag and smash them with a rolling pin until they are a rough sand texture. Alternatively, if bashing things with a rolling pin isn’t your jam, you could use a pestle and mortar for this.
  8. Remove the gingerbread from the oven. Re-trim the sides of your pieces and the windows using a knife if your gingerbread has spread a little. Sprinkle the crushed sweets into the windows, before popping the gingerbread back in the oven to bake for a further 3-4 minutes.
  9. Remove your gingerbread from the oven and leave to cool on the baking trays for a few minutes, before trimming around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely.
  10. Now you can make your icing! Whisk your egg whites until frothy. Start to add one spoonful of icing sugar at a time as you continue to whisk. Continue until all of your icing sugar has been mixed in- it will be a very firm icing texture. If you’re not using your icing straight away, cover it with a damp towel.

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To construct your house:

  1. Spread icing onto your cake board/ baking tray that you will constructing your house on.
  2. On the back of the front piece of your house, pipe a thick line of icing along the two sides. This is where you will attach the side walls of your house. Now pipe a thick line of icing on the cake board, where you wish to position the front of your house, followed by two lines of icing where you will position the sides of your house. Place the base of the front of your house on this line of icing. Holding the front of your house in place, attach one side of the house, followed by the other. Add the back piece of your house, followed by the roof.
  3. Leave your house to dry for a minimum of four hours, but preferably over night, before decorating!
  4. Decorate your house as you wish- this is the fun part! I love to ’tile’ the roof using chocolate buttons, I think this looks great. Add sweets and ice as you wish, before dusting in icing sugar! Pop your candle or fairy light through the door of your house and watch as your windows light up!

There you have it guys! I hope you enjoyed this gingerbread house recipe- be sure to let me know how it goes if you try recreating it! Don’t feel daunted by making your own gingerbread house if you’ve never tried it before. I know it looks like it may be tricky, but this is actually pretty simple to do! 

If you’d like any help or advice in recreating your own house, please don’t hesitate to get in touch- I’d be happy to assist!

That’s all from me today folks!

Thank you to each and every one of you for all of your comments, likes and support throughout 2017. I wish you all the best for the New Year. 

Maddie x

DIY Advent Calendar

 

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Hello my lovelies! It’s finally that time of year! The time when you can start to get Christmassy and nobody can get on your case about it, because it’s practically December, so it’s totally allowed! And we all know what that also means, it’s almost the start of advent!

I actually love the start of advent, it’s the time when I begin to get fully into the Christmas spirit and excited for the big day. And of course, who doesn’t love getting a chocolate every day for 24 days? Side note: Yes, I am 20, and yes, I still get an advent calendar. But besides the chocolate, that’s what I really love about advent. Having a daily countdown reminding me of how close we are to the 25th is something that still excites me now, and I never start to feel quite as festive as when I open that first door!

I’m super excited as I’m writing this because I’ll be travelling home from university on the 1st December to spend the weekend with my family and Jason. We’re going to put the Christmas decorations up, which normally involves lots of cheesy Christmas music. My parents, Hannah and I have always done this together for as long as I can remember; it’s really the start of the festive season in our household. This will also be the fifth time that Jason’s helped out with it- I love having us all together.

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So, with all that talk of advent, you’ve probably already guessed that this post may have something to do with it (or maybe you just read the title). This year I really wanted to make my own advent calendar. At first I’d considered sewing one, but I don’t have room for my sewing machine up at university, so it wouldn’t have been too practical. I’m also not exactly swimming in free time, so I wanted a project that would help me get in the Christmas mood without taking an age to create! I’m also broke, so cheap was a necessity!

Enter my toilet roll tube advent calendar! The definition of frugal. Inspired by my toilet roll tube bats, this advent calendar was completely free to make, seeing as I already had some Christmas craft paper in, and I’ve been saving up my left over loo roll tubes since returning to uni. Side note: For another free craft project, why not check out my previous post? DIY Conker Wreath.

I’m actually pretty happy with the result, I really love the homemade festive vibe it adds to my room. The best thing about this calendar is that you can fill it with whatever you want, be it a festive poem for each day or a small christmas trinket. Or, of course, chocolate. Adding a little christmassy tissue paper inside each of the ‘parcels’ makes it seem a bit more upmarket and less toilet roll-y. 🙂

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There’s not much to say about how to recreate this advent calendar; I’m sure you can suss that out for yourself! But I thought I’d post it more as an inspiration for yourselves if, like me, you’re wishing to create a frugal and alternative Christmas countdown for this festive season. (Or maybe as some inspiration for next year!) I’ll still include some basic instructions though for those of you wanting to recreate this craft project!

So what did I do?

You will need:

  • Toilet roll tubes.
  • Christmas paper.
  • Scissors or pinking shears.
  • Small advent numbers. I had these in my crafting collection, from Hobbycraft, but you can purchase similar from most craft stores at this time of year.
  • Some acrylic paints- optional!

Ok, so lets get started! I’ll forgo my usual numbered instructions here and resort to giving you a basic description of what I did.

Firstly, the more observant of you may have noticed that my advent calendar only actually has 15 days- shock horror! No, I did not get lazy and couldn’t be bothered finishing it- well, maybe a little… 😉 – this is actually because I’m only up at university until the 15th December, so I decided just to make parcels for those days.

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The first thing I did when making my advent calendar was put on my Christmas music and settle down to paint some Christmassy designs on a few of my cardboard tubes. I opted for holly berries and snowflakes. Obviously this step is completely optional, but I really enjoyed this process, and I love how these parcels turned out! They are definitely my favourite.

Now all that’s left for you to do is the super easy and quick part! Cut out strips of Christmas paper, I used pinking shears for this but you could also just use scissors. Glue a strip of paper on the front of each of your tubes. I also chose to cut a small square of paper to go on my painted tubes.

Add your advent numbers, before folding the bottom of your tube in to get the nice, pointed corner, parcel shape that I had. Fill each of your parcels with a little tissue paper and a small gift, before folding in the top of your tube in the same manner as the bottom.

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Ta da! It’s actually that easy. Blu tac your parcels up like me, or pin them to a cork board. Or why not tie some string around and hang them from a ribbon on your wall?

I love how this advent calendar turned out! I think it adds a really sweet, homemade and cozy vibe to my room. And it was super cheap and super easy! You really can’t complain at that!

Are you guys looking forward to the count down to Christmas? Have you been doing any festive crafting recently? You know I would love to see your own seasonal projects, why not link them in the comments?

Wishing you all the very best of days as we head into December,

Maddie xxx