Christmas, it is a bit of a bittersweet time for me. It is filled with the joy and excitement of two innocent boys, but also the memory of my mum’s unexpected and sudden death two years ago. Christmas Day will forever be associated with seeing my Mum dead in her kitchen on Christmas morning, but I can not let the past shape the future.
So my Memories are split in two. There is the memory of Christmas past, of tissue thin sheets of wrapping paper, eye shut tight of christmas eve listening for the sleigh bells, pillowcases instead of stockings, coming down on Christmas Eve to find my Dad standing at the door with a longed for Petite Typewriter. It is Christmas days long ago of a Sindy House rapped in a candy coloured stripped sheet. It is delicious family filled Christmas dinners after Dad and Granddad returned from a swift one at the Pub. Boxing days spent with cousins, parkin and corned beef pie. Board games and cocktails. Sisters living and loving each other.
Of carefree and joyfilled Christmas spent with family. Once the boys graced us with our presence we experienced the excitement though their eyes and Christmas became about crafting, cooking, making and creating memories. We made advent a time of activities. We cemented memories with our traditions. We went to my Mum’s to help wrap her presents. She helped me to cook Christmas dinner.
And then she was no more………………
So now I try to make Christmas a time of making, creating, cooking and crafting. I think of my Mum and the time we spend doing the same as I was growing up and in my actions I honor her memory. I allow the pain and grief to be there, but do not make it mark my days and nights. More than ever Christmas is about making memories, so that when my children grow they look back at this time with both wonder and joy and they come to realise that Christmas is all about family.
Christmas is not about how much money you spend, but how much time you spend with the people you love. I love Christmas and I love spending time with my family. I like Christmas Eve to be a day of joy. Since the boys were small we introduced Christmas Eve Elves. Basically they delivered each year a bag for each of the boys with things to keep them busy and entertained on this exciting day.
This year the bags include:
New Pyjamas (so they look their best on Christmas Morning in pictures)
A How to draw book each
New Gel Pens
A new family Movie – Brave
A family Game for the XBox
A new book for bedtime
On Christmas Eve I will visit Mum’s grave and take a basket of flowers. We then spend the rest of the day at home. MadDad prepared all the veg etc for the next day, then we settle down to family time. We make cranberry and popcorn chains for our tree outside for the birds whilst we watch a movie. We make our snowman soup, play board games and generally have quality family time together. We try to keep the day as relaxed as possible.
As the daylight fades we wrap up warm and go for a walk round the neigbourhood to take a peek at everyone’s christmas decorations and lights and to try and tire the boys out so they sleep.
We end the evening with a bath to carols, then we sprinkle our reindeer food and leave a special key outside so Father Christmas can open our door. The last thing the boys do before bed is to leave Father Christmas a mince pie and a drink on the plate that I made them
Matched with Martini Asti NV from the Piedmont region of Italy.I had never had Raffaello before, but they are now my favorite Ferraro chocolate. They are like little christmas snow morsels wrapped in a coconut waver and are very moreish. In fact me and Cass struggled to put these away and loved this combination. Martini Asti is my MIL’s favorite tipple and is perfectly matched to these delicate and delicious chocolates.
Ferrero Rond Noir
Matched with Dows Finest Reserve Port. I really wanted to love this combination, but couldn’t. Normally I am a dark chocolate person, but for some reason I wasn’t as keen. Now this may have been due to the fact that I really loved the Raffaello and nothing would match that perfect combination. However, MadDad loved the richness of both the chocolate and port and said if was the perfect indulgence for an evening in front of the fire (If we had a fire)!
Classic Gold Ferrero Rocher
Matched with Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambre‘ (Languedoc-Roussillon, France). Christmas isn’t Christmas without these delicious balls of heavenly crisp and soft chocolates. No one in my tasting team liked the wine on it’s own, but when paired with the chocolates it made a real difference. They really brought out the best in each other. This combination really testing me and I found that once I had a couple it really was appealing. MadDad did not like the wine at all.
I was firstly amazed at just how big the Ferrero range was and secondly just how delicious chocolate can be when paired with the right wine. It takes the whole chocolate experience up a notch and also makes it a really enjoyable experience.
Are you cutting back this Christmas? Research by the Co-Operative Bank shows that a third of us are spending less this year than last year and nearly two thirds of us keeping our budget the same.
I am a great believer that in order to have a good christmas, you need to take a step back and realise that it isn’t about what you get it is about spending time with the ones you love and really enjoying spending time together. We have had a fantastic advent, making, baking and just generally having fun together and I am so looking forward to spending some time with all my family over the next couple of weeks.
Looking at the infographic below as was shocked to find that I live in the region spending the most and just how much less we have spent. This just goes to reinforce with me that you do not have to spend to find happiness.
If you are still wondering about what gifts to give people, then why not take a look at my last minute gift guide.
ATK All Terrain Kart – £175
Now I do not have a review for you on this as the weather has not been kind to us and we haven’t had time to really put it though it’s paces, so will be coming back to you in Spring with a full review What I will say is it is a great size for older children when they outgrow their other ride ons. It is aimed at 7 to 12 year olds and it is a perfect pitch. My boys are beside themselves to go on it for more than 5 minutes!
Sound Asleep Pillow – From £12
My boys love listening to music in bed and often go to sleep with either music on or listening to a story and with these fab pillows they can listen to MP3 players without having to use speakers or headphones. Mini’s has come in very handy to play his Relax Kids MP3’s which I swear by. You can see Miss Frugal using hers. The boys are younger, so I make sure that I put the music on for them.
LEGO Creationary – £20
We love LEGO. In a BIG way. We bought he boys this for last christmas and it has been one of our most played family games. We ALL love to play this together, even I can win at this. You choose a card and have to build what is on it and your team member has to guess what it is. The wonder of LEGO games is that you can change the rules to suit you, so we have timed races, who can built the best, build offs and lots of other games all from the one box. It is brill and I do not say that lightly.
I am a tea monster and I love this set from Brabantia as it is perfect for me during the day when I want a cup of tea, but do not want to make a pot as I am a tea leave user. It is also perfect for herbal teas and infusions such as mint tea. It contains everything you need to enjoy the perfect cup of tea. The tea buddy is so handy it attaches to the side of the cup and can be used to carry your biscuit, cake, chocolate or even put your used tea bag in (Yes I know not everyone uses leaves).
Are you like me and get in to a baking frenzy at this time of year. I have already made mince pies and peppermint bark and a gingerbread house along with spiced cookies instead of cards for the boys to take to school Or are you lacking in inspiration?
Whichever is you, please come and join me over on twitter at 1pm tomorrow (Wednesday 19th Dec) as I will be co-hosting a twitter chat with @amylane in conjunction with along with Tots100 and Stork.
We are really looking forward to hearing all your favorite baking recipes, handy hints and top tips for baking with children. I am excited to be chatting alongside the team from Stork, who have more than 90 years of baking expertise and fill me with lots of memories of Christmas pasts.
And as if sharing your knowledge and learning new recipes wasn’t enough to tempt you to join in, there’s even going to be prizes You could win vouchers for Lakeland!
All you need to do is pop over to twitter Wednesday 19 December from 1pm to 2pm and use the hashtag #StorkBaking to join in. Make sure you are also following me @mum_themadhouse @Tots100, @bakewithstork and @amylane.
You can find out more details on the Tots100.
Meanwhile, combine the dark chocolate, cream, and peppermint extract in a saucepan. Warm over -low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is just melted and smooth.
Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes and pour the dark chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle.
Using a spatula chocolate in an even layer.
Chill until very cold , which is about 25 minutes.
Rewarm the remaining white chocolate over barely simmering water and then pour the white chocolate over the firm dark chocolate layer, using your spatula to spread it to cover.
Sprinkle with remaining crushed candy canes.
There is something about Christmas that just inspires me and I think I have said before we do not buy the adults in our family Christmas gifts, so this year I decided to make use of my dried orange slices and make some home made christmas wreaths for my mother in law and sister in law.
Artificial wreath (I wanted it to last year to year)
Dried orange slices
Cinnamon sticks (from the florist as they are much cheaper)
Decorations (I used both wooden ones and also felt one too)
I got my smaller wreaths from Tesco for 97p and the larger ones from Hobby Craft on a three for two for £3.49
Firstly I dried my oranges slices and allowed them to dry.
For each wreath I made five orange, ribbon and cinnamon decorations by tying a bow in the ribbon and threading some florist wire through the back, then thread the wire through the orange slice. Using the glue gun apply a blob of glue to the rear of the orange and attach the cinnamon stick and wrap with the wire and allow to dry.
Then position your orange decorations on the wreath and using the wire tie them in.
Attach any other decorations or embellishments either with florists wire or a hot glue gun.
As you know I have been taking part in the Tots100 Swagbucks competition along with 12 other fantastic bloggers and I wanted to tell you about my experience before the winner is announced next week. I am not sure yet that Swagbucks is for me, I haven’t been very stressful with it, but I do think there are a number of reasons. Firstly the toolbar doesn’t work in Chrome and that is my preferred browser and secondly the major one for me is that I think it is possible to get many more points if you are willing to use Swagbucks to register with gambling sites, but I don’t gamble, so it didn’t really work for me. Another issue was that often people post hints and tips to the Swagbucks facebook page and with the changes on facebook I often didn’t realise they were there until to late.
I am not sure that this time of year was the best time for me to focus on Swagbucks, as I am short of time and I think that if you have time to use it to do the daily poll, survey and searches via them you can make a lot of cash. Wendy made £100 in just three weeks, where I made less than £10! Pippa also made an amazing number of points too, which highlighted to me that it is more than possible and it was me that wasn’t using the site right!
Also I think it is really important that you get other people registered and using swagbucks as you get a proportion of their bucks too and neither of my referrals used the search function.
So my top tips would be:
Get in to a routine (I will try again after Christmas)
Use the seach toolbar
get your referrals to use swagbucks
So I am going to try again in the new year when I have more time and if you want to have a go with me, http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/MuminTheMadHouse
And I have kept saying no. But the boys love them and want them. They have played on Skylanders with Master Frugal and I am coming to realise that they will not need them all as they can share and swap with friends. Plus all their friends have them and they love to talk about them.
However, we have a rile at christmas, they are only allowed to ask for four things and as they both really want bikes, Skylanders are out of our price range But thankfully the Tots100 might be able t come to our rescue with their great Skylanders competition.
So this is Decay. He is a magic Skylander with his candy cane light saber which shoots sweets at you and tricks you in to getting bad teeth!
The boys chose their hats from the Zaini Kids range.
All Zaini Kids hats are fully fleeced lined for the utmost comfort and quality and are made from 100% acrylic which is extremely durable towards rain, snow and wind. It is not waterproof , but it will resist rain without altering the hat. They can be hand washed only at 40 degrees.
The idea of Zaini started in 2010 in a ski resort in Northern France, when Scottish ski instructor Miranda Harper started hand knitting hats for friends because she couldn’t find the kind she liked. Since then Zaini, and Zaini Kids, has become an established brand which sells and distributes hand made products throughout the world.
So back to the hat, how did it fair. Well he has been wearing it for a week, as it is fleece lines it doesn’t itch per say and he is doing much better than he has with any other hat. He loves the pom pom on the top and it has withstood both hail and rain. At £14.99 it is much more than I have ever paid for a hat for him, but as a cost per wear it is the best value hat I have ever had for him too!
My friend Cass at Frugal Family made a hand print Christmas Tree a couple of years ago, which I have admired each year, but the thought of cutting out all those hand prints really put me off because I am far too lazy. So I put my thinking cap on and when I was in the bargain store the other day I saw an A2 sized canvass for less that £3 and had an epiphany and the above is what was made.
I used things that I had in, so tempura paint in green and then added a little blue to darken it. Paper plates to hold the paint and decided that we would all get involved, even MadDad.
We had a great time making it and started with the largest hands at the bottom and then did each line with smaller ones. Even the star at the top is the boys fingers. Once the tree was dry we added a fingerprint garland and I used brown paint to add the date as the trunk of the tree.
Just over a week ago me and the amazing Penny Golightly,held a twitter party all about shopping habits and family treats. We found out how about how you stick to a budget, choose appropriate family rewards, spend your money wisely and that your shopping habits have changed recently compared to previous years. it was amazing, there were so many tips and ideas and I wanted to share them all with you. [View the story “#SavvySpender Twitter Chat Roundup” on Storify] The party was sponsored by Barclaycard and their Freedom Rewards credit card. This new reward card is potentially very useful for organised spenders who pay their balance off every month, as you earn points on everything you spend, that you can then more »
I have made no secret that as a family we love Micro Scooters. Both the boys have a Maxi Micro, we also have a Macro Sprite and one of their stunt scooters. We are also loving the accosories that they have and the boys have been testing some more out.
Scoot Beamz (£6.99)
These have been a huge hit and I have had four of the local mums ask me about them. They are lights that for on to any scooter. You can have them on fast flash, slow flash or constant and they come in four colours. They make the boys stand out on dark and dismal days.
So you have dried your oranges, what do you do with them?
Well I wanted to make wreaths for my nearest and dearest, so I bought some decorative cinnamon from the florists and set to making and creating.
It was very simple. I picked up the wreath for less than a pound at Tesco. I also used cinnamon, florists wire, ribbon and some wooden cuts pouts I purchased from Paper and String. They look great and smell delicious too.
I also made a selection of ornaments too:
Other uses for dried orange slices
Make seasonal potpori
Fill a jar with them for a table center peice
use them to decoprate wrapped presents
Make bunting by adding to popcorn and cranberry strings (great for outdoor trees)
Thread through florists wire to make a wreath
Use to decorate napkin rings
ave always loved the look of dried orange slices and there were plenty of them used in decorations at York Christmas Market when we visited, so I wanted to try making some myself They are very easy to make and really effective too.
Wire tray (I used one of my cooling trays)
The hardest part of this is having the patience to wait for them to be dry!
Slice your oranges in to 1 cm strips. Make sure that you cut the oranges cross ways so you get the pretty segmented look. Discard the ends.
Blot any excess juice on to a paper towel or tea towel.
Place the slices on to a wire rack.
Place in your oven at 90 degrees centigrade for 3 hours, turning once.
Allow to dry overnight.
I made a second batch and dipped them in lemon juice which is supposed to preserve the colour, but there was no difference at all! The house smelt delicious when I was drying them and you could also use a dehydrator if you have one, but it is days like today that have been dreaming about owning an Aga.
Both the boys have stockings that I made for them when they were first born and each year I fill them with an assortment of items.
So my top tips for stocking fillers this year are:
Playmobil Fi?ures (£1.97)
What can I say you can never have too much Playmobil!
Magic Spring £1.49 – Yellow Moon
Perfect for children of any age. My boys love watching it spring itsr way down the stairs! Size 75mm
Notebooks by Jennie Maizel £3.99
We are huge fans of Jennie in the Mad House. Mini is a big fan of her London range and her notebooks are fab. Great quality and super designs, plus free postage in the UK.
Speed Racer Sets – !1.49 Yellow Moon
Fab mini construction sets from Yellow Moon, which are easy to assemble and really great value for money.
We particularly love the EASY Original pen (£6.99) which is designed to aid children learn to write with easy to grip areas and specifically for left handers or right handers. We have loved these pens so much that I went out and bought the boys an EASYergo pencil (£6.99) each. The boys have found them very easy to grip and use.
Other items that go in every year are:
Chocolate coins, a toothbrush, a mandarin, marbles and lip chap.
As a family we love York. It is only an hours drive for us and somewhere that we enjoy visiting and browsing. This past weekend was St Nicholas Fayre in York, which is billed as one of the most popular Christmas markets in the UK, with thousands of visitors coming to York over the four-day event.
We hadn’t been to York for a while, so thought that we would try and do some Christmas shopping at the Fayre and gave both the boys their pocket money and we set off with a challenge to try and buy presents for my mother in law and farther in law.