DIY Gifting – 2015 Calendar

It’s so close to Christmas you can just about hear the silver bells ringing out, ring-a-ling, hear them ring….

But, back to today’s post. This year LS and I set ourselves a budget for the gifts we buy each other for the whole year! Luckily, we only decided on this rule in October in time for our wedding anniversary (buying a house, expecting a little one, setting budgets, we’re basically mature adults!). For our first wedding anniversary, traditionally paper, I bought LS some dress serviettes from Third Draw Down… I thought it was pretty funny. I’m not sure that he agreed.

In any case, my budget was looking pretty good for Christmas gifts. However we are prezzie people. The stocking looked so empty. I decided I needed to get my DIY on and make a few extra stocking stuffers. Enter the 2015 calendar. I filled it with special pictures from the year before – happy snaps from our holidays, wedding, family gatherings, views we’d enjoyed. It’s a wonderful thing to look back and see how so many of our favourite memories were the ones that didn’t cost the world. As Coco Chanel said,

The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive.

I’ve included the template I made so that you can also make your own gramming calendar. It’s pretty simple to use. Let me know what you think.

Download: 2015 Instagram Calendar

  1. Download the template attached above.
  2. Copy and paste your own instagram pics (or any pics that you like, really) into the blank squares.
  3. I used pictures from the months in which special events occurred, such as photo from our wedding in October and a photo from when we spent Christmas in Paris for December.
  4. To personlise your calendar highlight special dates that are important to you. I’ve highlighted our birthdays, wedding anniversary (just in case I forget) and Christmas.
  5. Print on cardboard. I used whatever I had at hand, which was a slightly yellow colour. You could also take it to a print company if you don’t have a printer and they can print it onto some sturdy invitation paper.
  6. Cut out the months.
  7. Optional: also cut out a rectangle that is slightly longer than two months high. This can be used as a stand.
  8. I used the binding machine at work to bind the top edge of the calendar. Copy shops will also bind for you for a very minimal fee.
  9. And voila, a personalised 2015 calendar with pictures special to you.
Side view to check out the stand made from a long piece of cardboard folded over.

Side view to check out the stand made from a long piece of cardboard folded over.

A peak at my December pic. Bauble portraits in Paris.

A peak at my December pic. Bauble portraits in Paris.

You could also secure the calendar with bulldog clips to act as a stand. See my Papercut 2014 calendar below.

Calendar courtesy of Papercut

Use one bulldog clip as a calendar stand.

Courtesy of Papercut

Use two small bulldog clips to hang your calendar high.

Silver Bells

City sidewalks busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There’s a feeling
of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear

Silver bells silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
ring- a- ling hear them ring
soon it will be Christmas day

Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush
home with their treasures

Hear the snow crunch
See the kids bunch
This is Santa’s big scene
And above all this bustle
You’ll hear
Silver bells, silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Project Cost: Zero – I had the cardboard and binding materials already. All this project cost me was a bit of time.

Next Steps: Sit back and enjoy my beautiful photos. Oh, and wrap the calendar so I can give it away… next steps – make another calendar just for me!

Other Next Steps: I’ve also made some other gifts that I’ll share later, but for now, shhhh, it’s a surprise!


Project 2: Garden cosmetic facelift

There’s a lot you can learn about yourself, working in the garden. I’m more of an ideas person, it turns out, read: I think of great ideas, then get bored when implementing. My latest greatest idea is to paint our fence. A nice dark colour will help it recede, making our garden look bigger. A dark colour will also contrast nicely with our future pleached olive trees we’ll put in for screening (and yummy olives in 7-10 years).

I’d been looking forward to painting the fence for two weeks! The first week we had a family issue come up. And then it rained for a week. It was looking good for a sunny weekend in week 3. And sunny it was – it was gorgeous! Here in Canberra, after winter, we get excited about 18°C days. I got sunburnt.

Upon opening the paint tin, my first thought was, ‘oh, I guess it dries darker’. It has been said that on occasion, I may overreact. Well, on this occasion, when the paint went on, I may have had a bit of a tanty. The fence was supposed to be dark. Almost-black dark. Instead it looked slightly-overcast grey. I was not impressed. I was drafting strongly worded letters in my mind as I finished off the first coat. I’d had the garden ‘vision’ planned all out – the dark dusty grey/blue fence contrasting behind dappled olive tree leaves. Instead it was the colour of olive tree leaves. Well, for your future reference, here are a few lessons I’ve learned about painting:

  1. Do a test patch…and let it dry! Sounds obvious, but hey, who has the time. The colour looked 100 times better by the afternoon. And perfect by the next evening after the second coat. I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I’d just been patient.
  2. You will never have ‘just the right amount’ of paint. The amount of paint you need will depend on several factors, including the surface. Half of our fence was in great condition – the paint went straight on and we could do it with a roller. The other half was a different story – splintered, crooked, weathered – and required a heap more paint and time to fill in all the cracks. There are online calculators and tools you can use to estimate how much paint you will need, but if the surface is not perfect, you’ll probably need more.
  3. Break the job up. You’ll need to have a bit of time in-between coats anyway, but overall, painting a fence, Karate Kid style, can get really boring. Many folk asked if I found it meditative. My answer is no.
  4. There is very strong correlation between how boring the painting exercise has become, with how much you start slopping on the paint (see chart below).
Paint sloppage v boredom level

Paint sloppage v boredom level


Some happy snaps of the great wall:

First coat. A bit pale and patchy.

First coat. A bit pale and patchy.


Paint everywhere. Pumice is good for removing dried on paint. Blue paint on stockings also dries to look like epic bruising.

Paint everywhere. Pumice is good for removing dried on paint. Blue paint on stockings also dries to look like epic bruising.


Getting a bit of extra help from our friends. LW managed the entire retaining wall by herself. Hungover.

Getting a bit of extra help from our friends. LW managed the entire retaining wall by herself. Hungover.

The great wall. Looking good.

The great wall. Looking good.

Project Cost: $100 for two tins of paint. Had paint roller and paintbrush.

Next Steps: Get some plants in before it get’s baking hot.

Project 1: Garden Prep

As mentioned in the grand tour, there were a lot of scraggly plants to clear: ivy, blue periwinkle and wisteria creeping through the fence, and a heap of plants on such a lean, you’d think they were aiming for the ground.

Chainsawing: Bring out the big guns!

Chainsawing: Bring out the big guns!

We had plenty of gullible hardworking recruits who pitched in to pull plants out. It felt hard at times to remove every tree. We would have really liked to prune some of the trees into an upright position and save them (giving us a few established plants and saving some $$ in replacing them), but even the few plants we had earmarked to salvage just leaned too far out into the lawn. In the end, everything from the side and back was removed. We were able to keep a few natives from the front garden with some heavy pruning.

A shady corner

A shady corner

A lot of stuff pulled out.

A lot of stuff pulled out.

Is it ivy? wisteria? meh, just get it out!

Is it ivy? wisteria? meh, just get it out!

Heaving out the last stump.

Heaving out the last stump.


The space looks so open now, and light floods in. the garden faces North-North West and gets plenty of Southern Hemisphere sun. It’s going to be a great place to sit out and enjoy with company, or just a quiet coffee.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

Clean slate.

Clean slate.


Project Cost: Zilch. $0. The tip will take green waste for free, and I don’t count supplying our workers with ploughman lunches in the budget.

Next Steps: After a break to recover, we’ll paint the fence. Perhaps re-pave the courtyard. Will need new lawn after hauling trees through. And the mini bocce court!

Happy T Day!

Today is Turkey Thanksgiving Day in America. The giving of thanks dates back to the 1600’s in Plymouth, Massachusetts where Pilgrims and Puritans gave thanks for the harvest. Today Thanksgiving is a public holiday celebrated with family and the president pardoning a turkey.

Homemade pumpkin puree and base ready to go.

Homemade pumpkin puree and base ready to go.

While we won’t have a public holiday here today, I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with the in-laws and Yank Sis-Law on Saturday. I’m baking pumpkin pie with pecan praline sauce!

Let us give thanks for pumpkin, nutmeg, cream and pastry.


So, to properly get in the Thanksgiving spirit how can I give thanks today?

Today I penned a good old fashioned letter to a friend I don’t get to see much. I wanted to let her know I was thinking of her and thankful for our friendship. By writing down my feelings I was able to stop and really consider what our friendship means – the support we provide each other and how special and fabulous she really is.

I also made a conscious effort to give sincere thank-yous to people – to look them in the eye and really mean it when I said thank you – thank you for your time to look over my work, thank you for the care you took in making my coffee, thank you for the smile.

Lastly, out of respect to our American brothers and sisters, I’ll eat maple syrup peanut butter (a recent gift from my sister – thank you) and save lighting up my christmas tree till after Thanksgiving.


In other news, why give thanks? Studies have found that showing gratitude and mindfully giving thanks can improve our own happines. So do it for yourself, and say thank you today. Check out Authentic Happiness for more info. 

Let me take you on a tour

(Note, these pictures are from the open house – while I would love to live in such an un-cluttered house, that is not the reality I live in!).

The house is really lovely. Ready to move in. Nothing really needs doing. But it was built in the 90s and some rooms are looking a little worn out. Other features, like the terracotta tiles, we’re starting to realise might not be the best choice for our region, where it gets crazy cold in winter and tiles on a concrete slab just suck the heat out of the air, even with our ducted (ceiling) heating.

The entryway: Novel and quaint in a newer house. It’s a great place for us to keep our shoes and winter jackets handy. It needs a bit of a tidy up. The front door looks like it’s been painted while closed – there’s a gap of paint at the bottom which is weird. Might need a sign on the door, or a door knocker. A number of people have wandered around our house looking for the front door, somehow not realising that the only door, at the front of the house, is our front door. Project: minimal intervention.

Entryway - the introduction to our home.

Entryway – the introduction to our home.


The living room/dining room: Again, this space is ok. Over time, I’d like to make the flooring consistent (instead of half carpet, half tiles) and we will likely avoid tiles – they are just too chilly in winter. A big plus for this space, which I fell in love with at the first open house, are the huge windows on every wall in the lounge room. To take advantage of all that light without losing any heating/cooling, long term, we will look at installing double-glazed French doors. Project: minimal intervention; long term.

Lounge room - A sunny spot with plenty of natural light.

Lounge room – A sunny spot with plenty of natural light.

Dining room - on the small side.

Dining room – on the small side.


The kitchen: ah ha – here we have our first point of order. It’s not terrible. Like the whole house, it’s fine. It’s even quite nice, with a composite stone bench-top no less. But LS and I like to cook. And it just doesn’t fit two people in there. For instance, you can’t open the pantry and the oven at the same time. And if you’re using the stove cooktop, there’s no space for prep work. The draws and cupboards are getting a bit loose and dinted. And there’s not heaps of task lighting over the benches, making it a little dicey when dicing. On top of this, the hallway next to the kitchen has beautiful double doors that open out to our patio. Only problem is they can’t be opened as the hallway is too narrow. Project: Major – remove a wall (load bearing??), brick-in a doorway, replace flooring, build new kitchen.

Kitchen - Tucked in behind the dining room.

Kitchen – Tucked in behind the dining room.


The bathroom: Again, when people walk in they describe it as “fine”. The number of people who have had the guided tour get to the bathroom and say “oooh, it’s fine”!! It really is fine. There’s a shower-bath, with sliding glass doors. There’s a working sink with plenty of storage underneath. There’s a skylight for some natural light. There are HUGE mirrors. But it is a bit tired. And it would be nice to find hear other descriptive words like “luxurious” or “relaxing”. Project: long term. As it is “fine” we won’t be rushing to fix this up. Moderate project planned – replace fittings, but keep existing layout. Will also paint over the peach and mint trim that is visible on sunny days (!?).

Bathroom - Too small to get a clear picture.

Bathroom – Too small to get a clear picture.


Bedrooms: Here again I hear the same adjective every time – oh, they’re big! And they are. For a small Canberra home, we do have lovely spacious bedrooms. It’s a luxury to have bedside tables on both sides of the bed. And to have enough wardrobe space for the two of us. If I had to nit-pic, I’d say they are a little on the boring side. Maybe that’s just winter talking, but I think we need to inject a bit of colour and brightness into the rooms. Project: minimal – possibly replace floors while doing the dining, lounge, kitchen and hallway. A bit of styling could be done here.

Master bedroom - Spacious master bedroom.

Master bedroom – Spacious master bedroom.

'Guest' Bedroom - also spacious.

‘Guest’ Bedroom – also spacious.


En suite bathroom: Sometimes I think my guests have been handed a script at the front door. At the ensuit they exclaim with delight how “useful” an ensuit is… especially if you do decide to renovate the “fine” main bathroom. The room is compact. We don’t use it much as it doesn’t have much storage. Also why shower when you could bathe? I think the layout could be improved, but this will be something I’ll need to get some advice on. Project: Potentially significant. Shuffle the sink, toilet and shower. Add a vanity with storage. New tiles. New (waterproof) window.

Ensuit bathroom - a cosy little space.

En suite bathroom – a cosy little space.


Garden: oh my lordy, I’m glad we like to garden. Along the permitter there was an abundance of trees. Shame they were scarecrow trees, entwined with creeping ivy and wisteria (both weeds in Canberra). A big weekend with both families chipping in cleared the lot of droopy trees. And my goodness what a difference it made! Let there be light!

It’s great to have the bulk of removal already done. We evaluated every single tree we removed – we didn’t want to rip out trees that could still provide beauty or joy. Any trees or shrubs that could be saved were kept. Some of the native shrubs out the front will be moved to create a hedge and provided much-needed shading for our herb garden. Any trees removed will be replaced with varieties that are well-suited to the soil and local conditions.

The garden gets a fair bit of sun. The challenge will be incorporating producing plants (fruit trees and a veggie patch), providing privacy, letting light in during winter, and finding plants that can tolerate our local conditions (heat and frost). Project: on-going. It feels like a huge head-start to have had the help from our families. It took 7.5 people 2 full days of hard labour to pull out all the bracken and branches. We will upgrade our paved patio, add a bocce court/sandpit, plant some produce, add a gate for our four-legged visitors and get some grass growing! Oh, and weeding weeding weeding.

Patio - a glimpse at the garden.

Patio – a glimpse at the garden.


About the Journey

I chose to call this blog HouseHomeCastle after a brilliant quote from The Castle – It’s not a house, it’s a home. And a man’s home is his castle. The Castle is an Australian film about the strengthening power of home, family and community. In the movie, Darryl Kerrigan takes on the government to defend their right to stay in their house – their home, their castle. And that’s how LS and I feel about our place. It’s more than just bricks and mortar – it’s a place where family memories will be made, people will come together; it will become our site for sharing celebrations and sadness. The film was made in 11 days on a budget of $750,000. I think it’s inspiring that with a small budget, some hard work and the help of our friends, we’ll be able to transform our house into our own castle.

A lot of these kinds of sites show stunning transformations from dingy, decaying rooms made over into bright, airy spaces. Our house is not falling down (I hope). LS and I are not what you’d call “skilled”. We’re not builders or tradespeople. I’m not a designer or a stylist or a photographer. In fact, I write policy for the public service. But I am rather house-proud. We are very house-proud. This is a grand adventure for LS and I. The quote from the Australian classic, The Castle, resonates strongly:

It’s not a house it’s a home. And a man’s home is his castle.

Over the coming months and years I look forward to tinkering our little house into our own oasis – a place of refuge at the end of long days, and a site for family gatherings full of laughter and good stories.

My husband and I bought our (first!!) little house on the morning of celebrating our 30th birthdays. As we were having a big do that afternoon, a number of friends and family decided to come along to the auction (like, 13 people – more than the number of bidders). No pressure.

It was our second auction as registered bidders. We had our game-plan. We had our deposit. We had read the contract. We were all set to play it cool. Dear husband may not have stuck to the game-plan, but we did get the house, for about what we wanted. I was shaking at the end – we were pretty stoked with the purchase. Bottle of champagne in hand, we headed home victorious, to celebrate, and pack.

We moved in 1 month later, the same week I started a new job, and about the same time we found out our “guest” room would be occupied permanently in approximately 8 months by the first addition to our family. Team W (my family) and Team S (his family) were on hand with ute and truck and prius and barina to help us move gear in, and dead trees out. We met our lovely neighbours, enjoyed cake, dust, and dinner on mis-matched chairs. With all the help, we were in within two days. It was a whirlwind but great to have everything settled.

Special mentions: Pappa W who sacrificed his knee in the battle of the root system (ultimately a team affair resulting in a large hole and no ivy); Bro-Law JS – moved half our belongings in his prius, including a cannon (literally, a cannon!) and all our potted friends. Then he volunteered to clean our bathrooms for us before we moved in – what a legend); Team W and Team S for all their help; and the Fuvilles who came over for dinner, when we didn’t have chairs, to be our first guineapigs guests.

HouseHomeCastle - our future castle.

HouseHomeCastle – our future castle.