How to Make a Dried Fruit Christmas Wreath – Belle Amour Boutique

Make your own Christmas wreath like this one from Belle Amour Home.

Make your own Christmas wreath, like this one from Belle Amour Home.

This is a guest post from Caroline at Belle Amour Boutique; you can find Caroline and her treasure trove of beautifully crafted giftware and home decor at Urmston Market every Saturday (and on Eden Square’s Christmas market on Saturday, 13th December), as well as at many craft fairs and artisan markets.  Please pop over and admire Belle Amour Home’s Facebook page.  Over to you, Caroline …

How to Make a Dried Fruit Christmas Wreath

Dried fruit garlands and wreaths not only look beautiful but they add fragrance and color to your Christmas decor.   I love mine so much I think it will stay in the kitchen year round.   Dried orange slices especially will fill your room with fresh citrus scents while providing a natural, country look to your home. Complementary scented items, like cinnamon sticks or bay leaves, add texture and ambiance to your wreath.

Green oranges add a twist to this festive wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Green oranges add a twist to this festive wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Our handmade dried fruit wreaths have been really popular this year. It struck me as I was making them that, as it was such a lovely activity, people would enjoy and gain great satisfaction from crafting their own wreaths. Next year I am going to supply wreath making kits in addition to taking orders for our ready made wreaths. But … if you can’t wait until then here’s how to make your own Christmas wreath.

What you will need:

Fruit
Ground cinnamon
Garden wire
Wire cutters
Pliers
Ribbon
Grease proof paper

Method

Fill your home with heavenly scent as your fruit dries.

Fill your home with heavenly scent as your fruit dries.

The first thing is to decide if you are going to buy in or dry your own fruit.  Drying your own is very satisfying and makes your house smell divine. I used a combination of both home dried fruit and, due to demand and time, also bought fruit ready dried.  Citrus fruit ‘slices’ are by far the easiest to dry, (whole fruit are a little trickier ).

To dry your oranges:

– Cut your orange into slices about 1 cm thick and remove pips.
– Try to dry as much of the juice from your fruit as possible by gently pressing it using kitchen towel or a clean tea towel.
– For that extra delicious scent, sprinkle your prepared fruit with cinnamon powder or similar spice.
– If you want to be really fancy you can press cloves into the skin of the orange at this point.
– Place your prepared fruit on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray.
– Next you need to put your oven on the lowest heat setting possible and place the fruit in the centre of the oven, with the oven door propped open if possible; this allows moisture to escape and prevents the fruit from burning.
– The process can take up to 6 hours, filling your home with the most heavenly scent!   You should check your fruit and rotate regularly ( I burned many batches).
– When its ready it should feel dry but still slightly pliable and not look burned. You may need to leave them somewhere warm to fully harden for a day or so.
– You can spray your oranges with acrylic craft spray for a glossy look but i chose not too as it reduces the scent.

To dry other fruit:

– To dry apples, use the same method as above but you must soak your apples in lemon juice first to prevent them from going brown as they dry, and as before pat dry with kitchen towel.
– Whole fruit is dried by scoring the skin downwards about 3cm apart then gently pressing out the juice and drying on low heat for about 10 hours
– You can also use limes, lemons, grapefruit, cinnamon sticks & chilles.
– I also used a lot of bay leaves fresh from the garden; they need to be fresh as dried will split and crumble.

If time is short and lets face it we are all pretty busy at Christmas time, dried fruit is readily available from craft stores or online.

Assembling your wreath

Too busy to make your own?  Buy a wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Too busy to make your own? Buy a wreath from Belle Amour Home.

When you have all of your fruit ready it’s time for the fun part: putting your wreath together!  You will need to use strong, plastic coated garden wire. The wire needs to be strong enough to hold a circle shape when full of fruit but pliable enough for you to work with (wire cutters and pliers are needed here).

Start by cutting approx 1 m length of wire, then twist a loop as small as you can into the middle of the wire.  This is going to make the top of your wreath and you can loop your ribbon or string in at this point if you wish. Next, bend the two ends to form a circle shape. You are now ready to start threading your fruit onto the wire. A craft needle (I used an upholsterer’s needle) can come in handy for fruit that’s difficult to pierce. I found it worked best to fill both sides with fruit working alternately, with the loop (which will be the top of the wreath) resting on your knee. You can follow a pattern on each side so they match or be completely random!

Stop threading fruit leaving approximately 1.5″ (3.5cm) of wire on each end. Twist together the wire a few times until it’s secure (it’s tricky but pliers help) and snip off the excess wire with your wire cutters. You will then need to cover the join with pretty ribbon.

Visit Belle Amour's Saturday stall at Urmston Market.

Visit Belle Amour’s Saturday stall at Urmston Market.

Lastly turn your wreath the right way around and add a bow as big or petite as you like, and voilà, your wreath is ready to hang on your door or maybe in the kitchen or hallway.

We added a hand cut and painted wooden heart to the centre of our wreaths for that extra special ‘Belle Amour Boutique’ touch! Your unique, handmade wreath will last you for years if kept dry.  We also have available single fruit hearts and fruit garlands.  Our products are available to buy from our Saturday stall on Urmston Market and you can see out full product range by popping over to our Facebook page.

 

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Today is not your day – and tomorrow doesn’t look good either (Part Two)

 

Y U No - phone dude y yu no fix phone?

In yesterday’s thrilling installment I told how the guys at Fawlty Mobiles in Urmston had messed us around, fobbed us off and generally acted like huge donkeys.  I ended on a cliffhanger: having finally managed to extricate the phone from chez Fawlty, would the £95 we’d paid turn out to be money well spent?  I think we all know what’s coming here, don’t we?

Yes, you guessed it: they had given us back a broken, unusable ‘phone.   Back to Fawlty Mobiles went my poor husband – his fourth trip there in 24 hours.

Angry ‘Phone Dude showed no surprise when my husband arrived back at his shop: it was clear that we needed a refund.  We got our money back but Angry kept the ‘phone in order to remove the new screen.   Angry told my husband to come back in an hour.  He gave it two hours (he’s not daft) and went back to pick up the ‘phone. Guess what? He was sent away by Angry, who told him he was too busy to give him the ‘phone back and he would drop it off at our house “later”.

We’d heard the same thing less than a day ago and – unsurprisingly – decided we didn’t believe the guy.  I didn’t know whether I could smell a rat, a scam or a load of something commonly spread on farmers’ fields but I knew I wasn’t going to leave my ‘phone with those guys over the weekend.  You could say my trust in them had faltered – and ‘phones can contain a lot of data.

I went back into the shop myself and told Angry I would like my ‘phone back straight away. Now, I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t annoyed and dissatisfied (and justifiably so), but I certainly wasn’t rude or unpleasant- and yet from Angry’s reaction, anyone would have thought I’d commanded him to start sawing off delicate parts of his body with a rusty razor blade.

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

Me: I’ve come for my ‘phone and I’d like it back straight away.

Angry (already furious): I’m busy and I’m in the middle of something, you’ll have to wait.

Me: No. I’ve waited long enough. I want my ‘phone back and I’m not going until you give me it.

Angry: Bloody hell, I’m busy, what do you expect me to say?

Me: I expect you to say sorry and give me my ‘phone back.

Angry (turning to my husband): Mate. Have a word, will you?

Yes indeed: Angry ‘Phone Dude was imploring my husband (his ‘mate’ apparently) to ‘have a word’ with me, the implication being that he was failing to control his woman. Sexism AND attempting to rip me off for £95? What an incredibly poor combination of choices. Perhaps somebody should ‘have a word’ with Angry ‘Phone Dude and explain that if you want to build a good reputation for your business you should try apologising when you completely mess up instead of hoping your customer won’t notice their ‘phone doesn’t work and then shaking with rage and indignation when someone asks politely for their own property back.

First world Problems II - Rude to a customer Forgot about the internets

Angry’s somewhat maverick approach to public relations took an ever more surprising turn when he ranted at me that I was “a horrible person”. Poor Angry. If his criteria for ‘horrible’ really does include ‘asking for one’s phone/ money back’ I expect he will be meeting a lot more “horrible people” in future because while I was there someone else came in to complain that their ‘phone had been returned in an unusable condition, giving me an inkling that Angry might not be very good at ‘phone repairs.

Next, Shoulder Shrug appeared in the shop. Predictably, he shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing and said, “Sometimes repairs don’t work out.” Yes, that’s true, and probably quite frequently down at Fawlty Mobiles, but what reason could there be for repeatedly setting your own deadlines then not sticking to them and not keeping your customer informed by ringing them? What reason could there be for telling your customer the ‘phone is fixed and taking £95 for the repair when it isn’t fixed? Why not admit you have messed up and apologise?

I did try to explain to Shoulder Shrug that I was just trying to give him some good advice, but he assured me he didn’t need any and I was advised by Angry to “keep your advice to yourself” – a piece of advice I have clearly failed to take.   Shoulder Shrug eventually finished removing the screen from my phone and let me having it back. With an arrogant wave he dismissed me from the shop, saying, “We’ll leave it there.”  Well.  I think not.

I daresay neither Angry nor Shoulder Shrug will ever get as far as the end of this post, after all these are but the witterings of a mere customer, but for anyone who wants advice from someone who knows how to run a good business, here is one final piece of business advice: the only way to build up trust and good word-of-mouth for your business is to provide a good service and to keep your promises. And that, my report to Trading Standards notwithstanding, is where I shall leave it.

Today isn’t your day – and tomorrow doesn’t look good either

This week I endured my worst ever experience of customer service. It was so bad I have to wonder whether it’s a real shop or an interactive training facility where businesses can send staff to learn how NOT to treat customers. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity and the last thing these guys deserve is good publicity so I won’t name the place: let’s call it Fawlty Mobiles.

My husband took my water-damaged Samsung into the recently opened mobile repair shop in Urmston on Tuesday to see if it could be fixed. He was told they could repair it with a new screen and camera. The ‘phone dude said it would be ready by Wednesday or Thursday of the same week and that he would ring us as soon as it was ready. This made us very happy: a speedy repair which, at £95, would be cheaper than buying a new ‘phone.

So … we’d heard nothing by Friday. My husband called in at lunchtime. Come back at four o’clock, they said. It wasn’t that convenient but back we trailed at 4.15pm. The ‘phone dude (let’s call him Shoulder Shrug) was outside, smoking a fag. He took a drag, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Another ten minutes – we’re just running the final tests.” No apology for the inconvenience.

We didn’t really want to wait (partly because Shoulder Shrug hadn’t thus far proved a good judge of time) so Shoulder Shrug offered to drop it off at our house when it was finished. “I’ll ring you,” he said. There was something just a little bit shifty in his body language that made me think Shoulder Shrug was lying – there’d be no ‘phone call and no delivery. For the first time since Tuesday I started to think I might not be getting my ‘phone fixed at all. Sometimes you have to just allow people to string you along – it’s awkward to look a stranger in the eye and accuse him of lying. So, out of politeness, we nodded and smiled and went home to wait for a call that never came. We tried ringing but their phone line was unavailable.

On Saturday morning my husband went and fetched the phone – this time there was a different guy there – for reasons that will become obvious, we’ll call this one Angry ‘Phone Dude. There was no reason given for not calling us the night before (or in the morning). Never mind, we were just glad to get the phone back …

Here’s where I must leave it for now: this sorry story is a two-parter.  Before I go, here’s a little tip for you: if someone fixes phone, check it’s working before it leaves the shop.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Setting up your own business? Some points to consider

Working for yourself is empowering and stressful and kind of exhilarating.  Once you have tried it, you probably won’t ever want to go back to working for someone else.  But self-employment is no game: a bad day at work can cost you money; a series of bad days can threaten the roof over your head.  So before you go ahead and set up your dream business, there are a few points to consider.  Some of them are listed below:

1.  It’s not about what you want to do

Do what you love - but don't expect to make a business out of it.

Do what you love – but don’t expect to make a business out of it.

Let’s suppose you enjoy building matchstick models.  Everyone says how lovely your models are.  You give some away as gifts and people are delighted to display them.  They rave about them. You spend hours and hours on your matchstick models, so much so that you decide you want to follow your passion and use your talents to start up a small business selling them.  This is the number one error made by business start-ups.  Very few people can make a living from something that was once their hobby.  It really doesn’t matter how talented you are or how beautiful your matchstick models are, nor how many thousands of followers you have on social networking sites.  If there isn’t a demand for what you are selling, you won’t be able to make a business out of it.  On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy your area of business you won’t be able to make a success of it.  Do what you enjoy: but only if it’s a viable business.  This brings me to my next point:

2.  Do you need to run your business part-time or full-time?

Don't give up your day job to sell crocheted owls.

Don’t give up your day job to sell crocheted owls.

All businesses take time to build up so it sometimes makes sense to carry on with your ‘day job’ if you can.  This doesn’t apply to businesses such as cafes and shops, which really need to be open at times when people expect shops to open (Monday – Saturday from 9am – 5pm, as a general rule).

3.  Staffing is a huge luxury

At the inception of your business it is imperative that you do as much as you possibly can yourself.  This is partly because nobody will ever understand (or care about) your vision quite like you do and partly because staffing is expensive.  If you want good, reliable staff you need to pay them properly – and that’s a moral AND fiscal imperative.  Starting your own business always, always costs more than you think and every penny in wages comes out of your turnover.  You probably can’t afford to employ staff in the beginning.

4.  You have a new boss

You can win at running your own business - but only if you plan carefully.

You can win at running your own business – but only if you plan carefully.

The biggest revelation about self-employment is that you now work for … your customers.  Your customers are not like a boss; they don’t need to follow employment law or company guidelines.  If they don’t like your product or service or disagree with your prices, they can go elsewhere.  They’re not obliged to be polite to you or reasonable in any way.  This means that the ability to build a good relationship with your customers is very important.  Are you a people person?  You’d better be!

5.  You won’t make a profit for at least a year

Your business will not make a profit for at least a year.  Many businesses do not make a profit for two years or more.  Some never make a profit.  Turnover (the money that comes into your business) is completely different from profit (the money that is left over when you have paid your running/ manufacturing/ making costs).  You need to know this before you start out.

6.  Location can decide the success or failure of your business

Location may be key to the success of your business.

Location may be key to the success of your business.

Location is absolutely key.  First, consider whether you need premises.  Premises are a good idea if you need passing trade or if you need customers to come and see your goods or talk about your services.  Your matchstick models do not need shop premises.  Instead you could find shops that might want to stock them, sell them at craft fairs or at Urmston Market or sell online.  Online selling, by the way, is not an easy option and often requires considerable investment.

If you do need premises, try and make sure they are as visible as possible.  My own business is on Urmston’s main crossroads.  Thousands of cars and passersby see our signage every day. Avoid deserted side streets and take a good look at several properties before you rent.  Avoid being tied in to a lease for years on end.  Remember point number one above: it’s not about what you want, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve found a great location because it’s very close to your house.  You need a location with great footfall and close to other businesses that are thriving.

You don’t need a MBA to start your own little business but you do need to consider whether your business is viable, whether you can afford to strike out on your own and whether you’d even enjoy it.  I have been running my own business for close to six years.  I am uniquely qualified to advise on starting your own business because I run one of the most successful independent tuition centres in the country AND one pretty unsuccessful baby clothes business, so I do know the pitfall and the peaks of running one’s own business.  I hope to work mainly for myself for the rest of my career, but it’s not for everyone.  Is it for you?