Is it just me or is everyone racking their brains to come up with something a little different this year to give to their loved ones? Actually I lie, EVERY year it’s the same and whilst I read magazines and newspapers and flick through catalogues I want to make sure that my final choice will be The Right One.

There are loads of websites out there too that can be really helpful as they list their products under subtitles like gifts for her gifts for him and a quick scout up and down the list can often be the discovery of the gem you’re looking for. If only life was so simple, more often than not the pictures I click on turn out to be the most expensive! And so my hunt continues.

I always feel sorry for people with birthdays at this time of year too, it just seems so unfair that they don’t have their present receiving days nicely spread out through the year. My brother is one of these people and of course it makes my life more difficult as I have to hunt for a birthday gift on top of my Christmas list and needless to say he doesn’t do as well as he may if he had his birthday in a time of year that was less financially exhausting.

I start with buying for all the 12 children in my family, collecting ideas from my sister in laws and going out and buying quick to make sure I get the toys they want! I’m happy to confirm that as I speak only one child still needs to be catered for. Phew!

After the children it’s time to focus on the Golden Oldies in the family who have looked after us till now making sure all of our Christmases were perfect even though they are always the ones to say ‘Don’t worry about me, I don’t want anything.’ But how can we not get for them? Impossible.

People abroad need thinking of and I have plenty of those which reminds me I must check the last posting dates before I leave it too late (you can’t trust the Italian post believe me! I always give them an extra week or two)

All this excellent organising, writing of lists and buying on time but there’s always someone you realise that you haven’t thought of until the last minute and that’s when flowers direct come in handy, a quick search online, a couple of clicks and the plastic will do the job and save the day.

How’s your Christmas shopping coming? This weekend is Cyber Weekend where we’re all expected to go out and spend a fortune, well I’m staying in with my mince pies and a good Christmas film as I get my decorations out of the loft and get my advent calendar ready for next week, how about you?

Nativity wooden toy set40 days till Christmas guys and my Facebook timeline is buzzing with people talking about starting their shopping, even completing their Christmas shopping, how’s it going for you? In all honesty I have 2 boxes of chocolates and a couple of stocking fillers. I even went to buy two presents off of my list yesterday and the shop didn’t have them! So I am going to have to work harder. Ideally I’d like to have it all done by the end of November, surely it can’t be that difficult?

It’s now the 9th week out of 13 for the Craniac Christmas Competition, I hope you’ve kept all your answers safe, if you are new to the competition, don’t fear, you’re still in with a chance, find all of the answers for the 8 questions so far, all of which can be found here on Mari’s World and be ready for December 13th for the details on where to send your answers.

Today I’m showcasing a classical all time favourite of mine the John Crane Nativity Set, I’m a sucker for Christmas, I love the whole shebang but I also want my girls to understand the story of Jesus along with other classics from the Bible. Apart from the struggle Mary and Joseph went through to find a place that night ‘against all odds’ springs to mind – the thoughts of humble, pure and love shine through all important aspects of our major annual celebration that maybe get lost with all the presents, food and fun and these are what I’d like my girls to remember. After all if it wasn’t for this story we wouldn’t have Christmas.

Beautifully made wooden pieces that are ideal for little hands to pick up and put down, a sturdy stable and a click on star make this toy the perfect story telling piece and a game to play on the run up to Christmas. When I lived in Italy I heard of families that would set the stable up under the Christmas tree and to play out the story would have Mary and Joseph travelling with their donkey around one side of the room and the kings travelling around the other until Jesus arrives in the stable with the family on Christmas eve, the shepherds arrive Christmas Day and the Kings following on with their gifts on Epiphany 6th January, this is how I plan to use our Nativity Set

If you are interested you can buy one at Born To Toddle for £26.50 or check out the John Crane website for retailers close to you.

Here’s a short video of the girls discovering their Nativity Set for the first time

The NINTH Craniac Christmas Competition question is….. What is the name of the song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 that made Christmas Number One and stayed there for 5 weeks becoming the biggest selling single of UK Chart History? Check out the John Crane High Tea set for a clue

If you’re new to this treasure hunt of questions let me remind you that there are £300 worth of John Crane toys to win just by visiting every week and answering the questions we have laid out for you, a mystery parcel will be put together and sent around the 15th December in time for the Big Day. Just jot down all your answers somewhere safe and on the last week (13th December) you will be given an email address where to send your answers with a 100 word tie breaker so have a little think about that. You can find all of the questions on this blog by using the search box at the top right hand side and searching for Craniac Christmas Competition. Here’s last week’s question 8

For extra entries

  • Leave a comment below to tell us you’re in!
  • Copy and paste on John Crane’s Facebook page – I’m participating in the Mari’s World 100 sleeps to Christmas competition I’d like to find a ….. in my mystery parcel! (Fill blank in with your favourite John Crane toy that you’d like to find in your mystery parcel – go check out their web site)
  • Copy and paste on Mari’s World Facebook page – I want to win the 100 sleeps to Christmas competition. And LIKE the page whilst you’re there :)
  • Follow John Crane on Twitter
  • Follow Mari’s World on Twitter
If you are on Twitter join in the fun using the hashtag #100sleeps, I’ll see you there!

Competition Terms & Conditions:

• This Competition is open to all residents in the UK and ROI over 18 years of age, excluding employees of John Crane and its affiliates or agents, the families of such employees and any other person connected with this promotion.
• The Promoter will not be liable for applications not received, incomplete, or delayed. Last date for receipt of entries is 14th December 2011.
• All entries received by this date will be entered into a prize draw and the winner will be chosen randomly.
• The winning entry will receive £300 worth of John Crane toys.
• The prizes are as stated and cannot be transferred, sold or exchanged. There is no cash alternative. No bulk or third party entries accepted.
• The winner will be notified in writing by 15th December 2011.
• The Promoter reserves the right to substitute the prize with a prize of equal or greater value in the event of unavailability due to circumstances beyond the Promoter’s control.
• By entering this competition, entrants agree to be bound by the rules and by any other requirements set out in the promotional material.

See you next week for question TEN and another fabulous toy idea for your Christmas list

This sorry little lot above is what’s leftover from our Christmas food binge…before you think ‘that’s not too bad’ let me tell you we have been clearing up and finishing off since the start of 2011, first the fresh goods in the fridge, then we moved on to the freezer and now I’m left with cupboard goods, a lot of them of various chocolate products – all of which are not helpful to my 2011 diet which should be kicking in any day now with a bit of luck and willpower.

I also have a lot of cheese, different cheeses like Shropshire Blue, smelly, crumbly but utterly delicious, Cheddar with port and an Oak Smoked Cheddar to name a few all bought at the Taste of Christmas fair at Excel in early December so this afternoon these will see the end of their life cycle in the way of a Tarte au fromage, or cheese tart to you and me and that will do for my lunches for the next week or so.

It’s challenging isn’t it? Thinking what to do with a  ton of brussels, how many more ways can you present turkey and secretly polishing off Pringles and dips on the sly when no one’s looking. But with the new Super Me in mind, the one that loses half a stone, tightens up her jelly belly and strolls onto an exotic beach this summer looking like Ursula Andress in the famous Bond film. I must find homes for all this chocolate, some were gifts and shall be regifted out – so if you have a birthday soon, watch out :) Some are half eaten, like the Quality Street box, we’re left with the ones we don’t like so I shall pop them in Paul’s work bag and he and his colleagues can munch on them. The rest, well, if it’s not used by the sell-by date it may have to be binned.

Whilst on the subject of Christmas, hopefully for the last time for a fair long while. I forgot to write about my Secret Santa I received back in December. I know, there is no excuse acceptable in fact I don’t know why I enter these circles as I already know I’m stretched for time and finances but hey, the joy of receiving a gift is just too much for my childish mind and bang goes my name down again on another list. Note To Self – Stop it!

Anyway, I received in the manic rush up to Christmas a Lovely Dove gift set including Visible Effects body lotion, hand cream and a body brush all kept in a really nice gold wash bag which will come in very handy for keeping all my manicure bits together in one place. the creams are lovely and the hand cream especially nutritious for hands like mine – housework hands! I’m not sure who to thank yet because as per usual, I’m doing this all the wrong way round…but whilst we’re on the subject, I thought I’d check up on Worldstores to see when my gift was finally sent. December was snow time remember and I decided to have a look online and order to have it delivered direct. Easy right?

No! Due to my lack of promptness I didn’t order till the 9th (lazy, I know!) and then on the 16th I received an email saying, ‘They’re back in stock and will be shipped out this week.’ So I stopped worrying, I knew the post was bad but so did my receiver in Wednesbury, if it arrived shortly after Crimbo surely she’d understand.

Well, Gordon Bennet, I’ve just ‘tracked online’ and they haven’t even sent it yet!!! I phoned them immediately and got an automated voice telling me to email as they are receiving higher than normal calls…I bet you bloody are. So I have sent them a stinker of an email and hope to get my Mystic Ball whizzed over to Emma asap. I apologise to her in front of the whole blogosphere for my dreadful organisation skills and Worldstores even worse parcel delivery service!!! How could they do this to me? I’m mortified.

Have you had any similar experiences from ordering online? Is traditional High Street shopping the best and only way to make sure your gifts get there on time?

For us Brits the use of the words Please and Thank you are fundamental to our existence. It’s something we teach our children from the tiniest age, on handing a toy we say ‘ta’ or ‘thank you’ and when our little ones ask for a drink or a biscuit we always take the time to teach them to tag on the word please to their sentence. We expect these two words to be used in every day circumstances. I’d say we’re all pretty strict about it.

As a child I was expected to write thank you notes to all members of family who had kindly remembered me with a card and gift and as a child it was one of those dreaded, takes-for-ages tasks to complete. My first note started off with beautiful handwriting and well thought out sentences but by the time I was on the 5th or 6th they were barely scribbled and copied from the first one, omitting words even sentences to get the task completed A.S.A.P.

I must admit my favourite Thank you notes I receive are from Billy my nephew, aged 8 who has a fantastic imagination and in his letter you can feel he’s dying to get the task over and done with but still committed enough to make the note interesting. I even tried to dig one out to show you (I’ve kept them just in case they come in handy at his 18th) but after the house move last year Heaven only knows where I’ve stashed them. Oh and obviously I haven’t received this year’s yet – Billy?

Rosie, aged 10, my niece writes a lovely note too, hers are more heartfelt and very neat and tidy and recently we’ve been receiving notes from Samuel, our lovely three-year old nephew, written by mummy with the addition of his own signature, very impressive.

My mother has always been a stickler for Thank you notes and many a groan could be heard on the days off school after Christmas when mum would shout out,

‘What do you mean you’re bored with all those new toys you have upstairs? Have you written your Thank You’s yet, well if you’re bored go and do them!’ That told us!

All credit due to her, by the first day back at school in January they were all written and she saw to it they were posted off to the various recipients, all of whom would really appreciate our scribbled thoughts – albeit begrudgingly. When I say begrudgingly, it wasn’t the Thank you we didn’t like doing, it was the writing.

In fact in today’s age of computer games and heaps of homework children aren’t being gently reminded to write their notes any more which I can fully understand. Many of their lives are so more hectic than mine, what with Beavers, Football Practice, swimming, tennis, judo and so many other After School Activities, they haven’t got the time.

But the trouble is ,to a grandparent that note goes a hell of a long way, their hearts sing with joy at the receipt of a badly written note..’Thank you for my Toy Story Potato head, I really love it, love Billy xxx’ the note will be displayed proudly on the mantlepiece where any visitor can remark what a lovely child he is, how thoughtful. We know it was all down to his mum’s gentle art of persuasion but they are happy none the less. Also shouldn’t we be encouraging our children to appreciate gifts? To understand that thought and time and of course money was spent thinking of him/her and that should be recognised with a Thank You?

I have completed our Thank You’s for this year against Paul’s ‘I don’t know why you bother, just phone ’em up’ cries and posted with second class stamps as we’re on a tight budget from now till our lottery win and I think the recipients will be over the moon that we took the time for them…tell you what…can’t wait for the girl’s to be able to write them for me though :)

What do you think about thank you notes, a tradition of the past or something that we should encourage to continue?

iced duck pond

I would like to introduce my sponsor for Cybermummy 2011 – Loud Karaoke from California. I am absolutely blessed that they chose me and I hope to do them justice. Maybe I shall break into song during the conference, sign up to audition for the X Factor ( a secret dream that will never be realised but that I like to practise in the shower) or be ‘discovered’ by a major recording label and become the next SuBo? You never know.

As I write I am ‘almost there’ most of the presents wrapped, major shop done just teabags and bananas to get, Cards all posted – I think? I hope! Now I must just wait for it NOT to snow so I can make my brother’s home for a delicious meal (my 1st year in six that I won’t be in the kitchen!) and a fun day.

Christmas Eve, we have the family coming to us for a traditional fish and chips supper, from our local take away who produce a sterling job, we shall tuck in excitedly as we wait for Father Christmas to drive around the estate, passing just in front of our new house (handy that!) In fact here is a photo of the chap himself, we took the girls to their first trip to meet Santa last Monday, Alice cried all the way through and Bessie watched from the safe comfort of my arms, she even laughed in places! I think you’ll agree that is a massively impressive beard he has there.

santa in grotto

Boxing Day we’re at Paul’s family for a slap up meal and a lot of fun and then on the two days following we’re at home, no plans just enjoying our family. I can’t wait to play with the girls’ doll’s house and Paul has managed to get a train set on the girls Christmas list so that should keep him amused for a while.

One last thing I must mention is RED UNDERWEAR. Whilst living in Italy I learnt that an important New Year’s Eve tradition is to wear Red Underwear to bring good luck upon oneself for the coming year. How can I refuse? Red is not a colour I wear that often underneath so this provides me with a wonderful excuse, after all we all need a little extra good fate don’t we? So I’m telling you in good time, hunt through your drawers for that piece you haven’t worn in ages, order online or nip out to the shops (rather you than me) but make sure as 2011 breaks over the horizon YOU and yours are suitably attired to reap in bags of good fortune for 2011.