Christmas family traditions

Christmas. I can’t believe it’s almost upon us, only a matter of days now and it will all be over, however it is and always will be one of my favourite times of year and one where I enjoy our Christmas family traditions most. I guess each of us have different ways of celebrating but for me it evolves around family, food and fun.

Christmas has always been special family time for me, when I get together with my mum, my brothers and the people I love most. Christmas is an occasion that I start planning in advance.

Hang on a minute, when I say advance I don’t mean January. I won’t even think about it in September. For me the planning will not commence until the Halloween decorations come down and I will admit to getting annoyed when I see Christmas decorations in the supermarket in September.

Christmas family traditions

First I have to think of my family in Italy who work over the Christmas season and can never join me. I buy their gifts and cards and post them well in advance to be sure they arrive in good time.

I ask the twins to write a Christmas list but this isn’t set in stone as they continue to add and subtract items through the course of November, however by the end of the month I have a good idea of the ‘big’ present they are after.

I start to keep an eye out for gift ideas in magazines, online ads, supermarkets and my favourite stores, I have learnt that if you see something and like it buy it because when you return it won’t be there.

By mid December I have most of my gifts and I start to wrap them up in the evenings when the girls go to bed.

I prepare Christmas Eve parcels for the girls.

I prepare Christmas stockings for them.

I organise a visit to Santa. This year we met him at Dreamland and the girls took their autograph books with them.

Next my thoughts turn towards the kitchen and everything I will need to see me through the four days of festive fun. In fact that is exactly where I am now, writing lists and menus and jotting down ideas. What’s on the menu?

Well this year I want to  start with a vintage prawn cocktail, it’s been deconstructed on Masterchef but I’m going for a classic but adding my favourite – avocado into the mix and possibly some finely chopped chilli for a kick to the proceedings. Next it’s traditional roast turkey with all, and I mean all, of the trimmings.

And of course I finish with a Christmas pudding served with brandy butter, custard and cream.

christmas pudding

I have my own home made Christmas cake to enjoy in the afternoon, the girls will help with some home made mince pies and I always treat us to a box of chocolates, this year Hotel Chocolat has caught my eye.

Finally it’s Christmas Day night, everyone is full to the brim, champagne has been drunk, special bottles of wine and liqueurs too, the odd cup of tea to balance out the digestive system and at a certain point it’s time to get out some ‘bits and pieces’, some snacks. A cheeseboard with our favourite cheeses, a pork pie from Melton Mowbray, pate and crisps with dips.

It certainly is a time to celebrate in our house at Christmas.

Homeserve have launched a video “A Very Homeserve Christmas” which you can see below and they asked me to tell you how we spend our Christmas, is it similar to yours?

 

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with Homeserve

Bluewater winter Wonderland

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’  I heard Andy Williams sing as I wobbled around the Bluewater Winter Wonderland ice rink on my blue hire skates. I seriously thought I’d be better than this BUT I didn’t fall over. I wobbled, I reeled and I waved my arms madly at one point but I did not go down.

That was how we spent Sunday morning this week, at Bluewater Winter Wonderland, the annual fun event situated in Bluewater shopping centre just off the A2. We had been invited along to test run the fun and we put our heart and soul into the job.

Bluewater Winter Wonderland opening times

Winter Wonderland opens at 10am and we had our ice skating booked for that time but as traffic can be very heavy getting into Bluewater on the run up to Christmas, we left early and sailed into the car park with bags of time to spare. This is not a problem as there are plenty of coffee shops open, of course lots of other families have the same idea so a queue starts to form at the shutters into the Grand Hall.

At 9.55 the shutters went up and everyone made their way to their first attraction. If you have a 10 am appointment to see Santa in his grotto you are ushered in through a side door from 9.45 onwards so as to be able to meet Santa at 10am.

Opening times can vary as can closing times so please do check the link above for exact timings on different dates.

Bluewater Winter Wonderland ice skating rink


Our first activity of the day was ice skating and the twins were very excited as we haven’t been before. Everyone queues at the entrance to the rink, tickets are checked and you make your way over to the boot hire desk leaving your shoes in the place of the hired boots included in your ticket.

Penguins are available for hire at £5 and we got one each for the girls. Each child is given a wristband with the penguin’s number on it. This avoids confusion on the rink as to whose penguin is whose. It worked a treat as it gave them confidence to move slowly around the ice, gaining speed and improving their skating too. By half way through the hour both had let go of the penguins but after a fall they gladly used them again. By the end of the hour the penguins were no longer needed and we gave them back to the hire shop. Both girls are saying they won’t need them next time but my feeling is they will.

The ice skating proved to be an enormous hit and I am sure they will want to go again. Family tickets are around £35 – 40 depending on the time and day.

Snow Slide

The snow slide is a 40 foot white slide. You take a large blown up tyre/donut with you to sit in, younger children can come down with an adult. The ride costs 3 tokens for 2 rides. Tokens can be bought on site (one token costs £1). The girls (and dad) loved it and we went back for a second go before leaving.

Giant bungee trampoline

A huge favourite with the twins and costs 5 tokens. The girls loved jumping and learnt to do back flips and front flips. I must admit it seemed they’d only been on minutes when their turn had finished and I couldn’t see anywhere how much time you got for your tokens.

Bluewater winter wonderland

Ski Jump

A huge blow up construction with stairs to one side and a sheer drop slide followed by a couple of bumps. The girls loved it but Bessie did get scared when she was a bit too eager and ‘flew’ rather than slid the first part.

Santa’s Dodgems

Classic dodgem cars, the girls were allowed to ride their own dodgem and enjoyed the bumps however, Alice at one point got hit two or three times in succession and came off in tears as she’d bumped her head with all the bumping around. It can get a bit rowdy.

Carousel

This is what I would call a preschooler’s carousel however my two wanted to have a go and we let them.

Overall impression

It is a lot of fun, I would have a plan of action and fixed tokens per child before you go in, it’s all so exciting they will want to go on everything. There is a bar and toilets on site and plenty of other amusements to try out.

Keep in mind that an hour’s ice skating is hard work, the girls were getting very hot and sweaty, fortunately I had dressed them in layers which were easy to take off to keep them cool. Also worth noting, no phones are allowed on the ice in case you drop them as of course the glass shatters and will need clearing up. I was also asked to leave my bag in the cloakroom for the cost of £1 as it was considered too big.

We had a great time and after a couple of hours had had enough. The girls were tired and we took them to eat in Bluewater where there are lots of different restaurants for all tastes and budgets.

Disclosure: We were given a family ticket for the ice rink and VIP wristbands for the purpose of this post.

christmas presents

Since Christmas is just around the corner, we need to start talking about the big holiday shopping and all the expenses that come with that. Naturally, the most significant money “eater” in this case is gift shopping. I bet you have a lot of people around you that you wish to pamper with excellent gifts, but all that sums up to big spendings after the holiday.

To help you out a bit, and, in fact, reduce spendings radically, I gathered a few very handy tips you are welcome to use! They do work if done right, and so – that guarantees big savings, discounts, and smaller spendings for sure. Don’t believe me? Then read the article bellow and learn it all by yourself!

Shop now

Why wait the last minute before the Christmas Eve if you can shop right now calmly and a lot cheaper too! It might be hard to notice, but some retailers tend to make prices get bigger before the big holidays, rather than lower it. And so you can avoid being robbed by simply shopping now – just about the month before the Christmas. Furthermore, you will be able to enjoy smaller masses of people and get in touch with the salesperson a lot better if you need some help of pieces of advice. 

Shop online

You might be surprised how much you can save if you just simply shop for gifts online. Especially if those gifts don’t need to be checked or touched before being bought – you will inevitably save tons of money because of that! Moreover, online you can use many great services that will help you find the cheapest price on every item there is. Also, there are tons of coupons as well. Just check special coupons websites. With various online coupons, you will save for sure! Combine it with shopping a month before the big holiday and you will save even more! Simple and efficient! 

Get a budget

Of course, every time you wish not to overspend (and I bet that is all the time) you need to have a pretty strict budget! Try to count down how much you are going to spend on every person’s gift and then do everything that it takes to fit into a budget. Coupons, which I mentioned before, might be very handy. Also – plain self-control. But be honest and include everything that you are going to need for presents – even holiday cards, bows, and wrapping paper. This is the only way how you can work effectively with your budget. 

Maybe DIY?

If you are crafty, are a good cook or just like to make things by yourself, consider embracing your hobbies while looking for gifts too. Handmade gifts will be excellent for sure. It will show how much you thought that gift through and how much time you spend doing that as well. If you are not very crafty yet, but wish to be one someday – online is just full of various DIY manual you can watch or read and learn super fast.

Priorities first

And finally, just make some priorities first and then head to a store. Better buy gifts first for those people you care the most about – family members, husband or wife, kids, and just then think if you wish to buy something for the whole office. On the other hand, you can also try to ask people to throw in some money and purchase a group gift for someone. For example, your whole family can buy one great gift for your parents-in-law or cousin’s family. Just get a little bit creative, think outside the box and make priorities. Maybe you won’t need to pamper so many people with small value gifts then you can pamper your closest ones with great presents instead.  

 This post is written in collaboration with Chameleon John.

 

Swig hip flask

The people at SWIG got in touch recently and asked if I’d like to review one of their hip flasks. I clicked on the website to have a look and I was really taken back at how gorgeous they are.

I clicked through the various possibilities and spent quite some time working out which one was my favourite.

Luckily for my younger brother it was birthday time of year and of course he kept popping into my mind as he is quite difficult to buy for and I never know what would really make him smile. I had a feeling that a SWIG hip flask would do just that.

swig hip flask

He is a man who appreciates an object of beauty, one that has good design and attention to detail. He is also a practical person and a hip flask would fit very nicely indeed in his life, for music festivals, weekends away and many other occasions where it is fun to take a swig of your chosen tipple out with you.

When the package arrived I opened it and knew immediately that he would appreciate it. Presented beautifully in a black box with red ribbon, it can’t fail to please.

swig hip flask

I love surprising people, don’t you? When we were in London to celebrate my niece’s 16th birthday early August, I passed over my gift and apologised he’d had to wait so long for his present. I watched as he opened and could see that he really liked it.

For once I got something for him without asking if he ‘needed’ anything. You see nobody needs a hip flask but once you’ve got one it’s like you always had one.

swig hip flask

I asked him a few hip flask questions

What’s the best occasion to use a hip flask?

I am going to use it to take a drop of the good stuff up to the boat. The size is perfect for a weekend break. Instead of lugging a heavy 0.75 lt glass bottle. I’m always trying to lighten the load we carry.

What’s your favourite tipple to fill your SWIG?

I think I might christen it with a nice nautical rum like Kraken I have just seen a really cool ginger beer as well. Or it would be a malt whisky like Dalwhinnie.

Who would you buy one for?

I think all guys like a hip flask so any of my mates.

Disclosure: I received this beautiful SWIG hip flask for the purpose of this post, all opinions are my own – or my brother’s.

Spicers of Hythe

I know, I know you’re expecting posts on West Bay in Dorset and Folgaria in Italy and they will come I promise. What you are not expecting is for me to talk about Christmas as… well it is taboo to mention the word before November. People will frown and tut at me. They will ask me if I have gone mad and the answer is absolutely not.

The very kind people at Spicers, who have been in the grocery business since 1926 when great grandfather Percy opened up his store in Hythe, have sent me a Christmas hamper to review. It arrived in between holidays (that makes me sound so VIP) but hang on in there as I really want to let you know about my hamper because, these guys put them together for all sorts of occasions; birthdays, weddings, get well and every occasion you can think of. Mother’s day, Father’s Day and even Valentine’s Day.

There’s even one that would be perfect for my beer loving husband.

Spicers of Hythe

Price

The beauty is there is a wide price range and a huge selection to choose from, The Belmont for the ‘all singing and dancing hamper’ comes in at £115 whereas the lowest is priced at £15.95.

Interesting fact #1: There are 55 luxury hampers within the specialist Christmas hamper range.

What’s included?

I have just munched my way through a packet of The Dormen chocolate raisins, in the name of reviewing of course and they were delicious stating on the packet ‘perfectly pampered chocolate raisins.’ I’m glad Spicers included these as I haven’t heard of them before.

I have biscuits, fudge, toffee, chocolates, tea and coffee. I have preserves, crisps, wine and a cordial (Belvoir which I adore) I have mulled wine, shortbread and cake and I also have Rhubarb and Custards, which I have not had in years by Monty Bojangles. Try saying that with a Rhubarb and Custard in your mouth!

There is also a very interesting relish by Scarlett & Mustard intriguingly called Auntie Frog’s Lime & Chilli Dressing, ‘A zingy, piquant and aromatic dressing.’ which I am looking forward to trying out.

Interesting fact #2: 3500 pallets can be held in the Spicers warehouse

Spicers of hythe

The packaging

My hamper arrived in a box. A box in a box. A beautiful big, red cardboard box with a printed black and white lid on top depicting vintage scenes of Spicers shop in the olden days. Gorgeous, and much to my husband’s dismay I shan’t be throwing the box out as it’s way too pretty to depart with.

The bottles are carefully wrapped in corrugated cardboard and all of the products are protected from bumps and knocks with lots of those polystyrene bits that shops used to use for their Christmas snow displays.

Interesting fact #3: Santa’s sleigh would need to travel at a speed of 2,340,000 mph to reach every home in the world in one night. Spicer’s have a 24 hour courier service to UK mainland.

Verdict

A big thumbs up from me. I love the choice of products selected as they are all special and unique. I would be very happy to receive any of their hampers as a gift. I love that this is a family business grown internally since 1926.

Disclosure: I have received the above mentioned hamper in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.