Blogmas Day 22 (aka Day 25): Happy Christmas from London!

I’m not really sure what’s happened to my counting skills but I must have missed a day or two somewhere because I’m not yet at Blogmas Day 25 and I should be because if anyone is reading this, then, well today is Christmas day!

So Merry Christmas one and all! I hope you all have the most wonderful, relaxing, fun and family filled day and may you know that Jesus is the reason for this season too.

As I write this, it’s Christmas eve. And I think I actually prefer this day to the 25th because of all the excitement and expectation that hangs in the air. Today my family and extended family too are going out on a scavenger hunt and a hot chocolate and tonight will involve Dominoes pizza and cheesecake and games and an alcoholic beverage or too. It’s going to be great.

But last night, Christmas Eve Eve, was pretty great too.

It started off with homemade eggs royale and a bottle of bucks fizz and some pigs in blankets and lounging around in PJ’s watching Christmassy things on TV. And then we got on a train to London in the late afternoon, just as the sun was setting. The darkness was the perfect back drop for the many, beautiful Christmas lights and we mooched around taking all their sparkle in.

The display in Covent Garden this year was amazing, I was a big fan of the illuminated mistletoe, giant baubles and the disco balls sparkle that glittered around the place.

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With the lights still shinning in our retinas, we headed to one of our favourite restaurants Big Easy, where they serve all things Bar.B.Q and Lobster. And boy, do I love lobster.

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Another thing I really love about Big Easy, is that the Lobster meals all come with salad, fries and an alcohol beverage, all included in the £20 price tag. I think that’s quite a bargain, especially when the food is this good.

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There was a delay on their whole lobster delivery, so on this occasion I opted (I do realise how much I apparently love and over use this word, whoops!) for the Lobster roll. And it did not disappoint, it was full of loads of chunky lobster meat and it was right up my street. And it came with prosecco, what more could I want.

Oli went for a Bar.B.Q meat platter thing which he devoured and enjoyed very much. The food and atmosphere at Big Easy really is top notch.

Suitably full we practically rolled out of the restaurant and it was time for me to reveal to Oli part of his Christmas present. We were going to see Jersey Boys and my parents were coming to join us. A family Christmas theatre outing.

Oli was super excited and I felt very pleased with myself that I’d managed to keep this whole treat a secret for almost a month.

With time to spare before the show, we grabbed a coffee and waited for my parents, sheltering a little from the rain that had started to fall. Thank goodness we weren’t going ice skating or we would have got pretty damp.

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The show was amazing, even better than I remembered it when I first saw it seven years ago. The music is phenomenal and makes your chair shake when it kicks off, even when you’re at the very back of the theatre. It was so hard for us not to sing along, I had to settle for miming and doing actions instead. If you haven’t see it, then go quickly before they show it for the last time in the West End at the end of March.

My parents had driven up to London and so we all bundled into the car and drove home after the show – so much more preferable than the train. But before that, we walked to the carpark via some more Christmas lights. They are so pretty and twinkley this year.

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And then we ended up back at Covent Garden, before we reached our carpark in Drury Lane, and there was one section of the mistletoe lights cascading from the air and the giant Christmas tree was standing in the background and I just couldn’t resist getting a cute little picture of me and Oliver under it. Thanks to my Dad and his camera skills!

It was such a special, relaxing and fun night and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. And now, I need to get up and have breakfast and spend this special time of year with the people I love most.

Merry Christmas, let’s make it a good one!

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Blogmas Day 21: Christmas Reads

One day I’d love to own and run a book shop. It would be called Pages and would also sell excellent coffee and big slabs of homemade cake. It would have comfy, buttery, deep-seated leather armchairs and wooden floors and the best events, workshops and literature based discussions.

And at Christmas, I would have a Festive Reads section, laid out on a table for people to grab themselves a Christmassy read to suit their reading tastes just perfectly. Because sometimes watching a Christmas film, drinking a Christmas coffee and wearing a Christmas jumper just doesn’t cut it. You need a Christmas story to peruse and immerse yourself in.

At least, I do anyway.

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So this year, I raided my own bookshelf and the library’s too. And there were slim pickings at the library let me tell you; there was no certainly no Christmas collection, easy and accessible for me to look through. A pretty big shortcoming.

Let’s start with my very own festive books…

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I bought Let It Snow, when I worked at Waterstones, as a little Christmas present to myself. It’s a book full of festive fun and romance and although it’s super predictable, it’s an enjoyable read from three different authors, that will undoubtedly leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. The sort of book that you can demolish in one sitting, whilst sucking candy canes and sipping eggnog. (Although, I’ve never had eggnog, so don’t quote me on this accompaniment).

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I absolutely loved My True Love Gave To Me; not only is the front cover beautiful but so are some of the stories inside. The book contains twelve winter stories each with a romantic angle, each of them very different and easy to read. Normally I’m a whole-novel-kind-of-gal, rather than a dipping-in-and-out-of-short-stories-kind-of-gal. But I loved meeting different characters and settings and themes, I couldn’t recommend this more. It’s the kind of book you need to read when sitting by a warm, open fire whilst drinking a hot chocolate with plenty of whipped cream and those mini marshmallows.

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Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm was given to me as a stocking filler from Father Christmas aka my parents. I received it a few years ago and I still haven’t found time to read it, so this year is as good a time as any. I love the cover, it looks so cute and wintery.

And now for my library haul. A word of advice though, if you want some Christmassy reads, good ones, then I’d head to the library a little bit earlier on in December than I did because there wasn’t a whole heap of Christmas related books left. And the ones that myself and the librarian found, weren’t necessarily books that I would normally pick. But it’s Christmas and I wanted something vaguely appropriate to read whilst my Christmas dinner is digesting so I took out all the books I could find.

So here goes…

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From romance to family drama and a certain kind of englishness, I’m hoping that I’m going to enjoy at least one of these borrowed Christmas reads. I’ll keep you posted.

And in the meantime, if you have a favourite festive book that you love, then please let me know! At least then I can get next years list ready, nice and early.

Happy Christmas reading people!

Blogmas Day 20: Seasonal Bookseller Throwback

Round about this time of year but back in 2013, I worked as a Seasonal Bookseller at Waterstones Piccadilly; the flagship store. And in short, it was the best job I ever had.

That’s right. You heard it here first.

I loved it, I loved being surrounded by books, stroking their spines and restocking them, making them look pretty in a display, practising the art of pyramiding them on a table and most of all recommending them to other people, sending the books off to good homes and talking about literature all day long.

It was ideal for me.

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And yes, some of the customers were exceptionally irritating and quite a few of them were rude and used to expect the outright ridiculous from me.

Like one young lad, who came into the Children’s department (where I used to work) and asked me to look for a specific book that he’d loved from his childhood.

But the only thing he could remember about it was the image on the front cover.

No title. No author name. No ISBN. Just, ‘Umm, can you help me find this book that I used to love? It had a girl with a bowl of fruit on her head on the front cover? Thanks!’

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Thank goodness for Google, is all I can say. And then, after finding out that it was called Handa’s Surprise and establishing that we only had one copy left and literally searching high and low for it, including the stock room and our whole, long shelving unit full of picture books, I found it and handed it to him proudly, expecting him to rush to the till to pay for it, only for him to take it, snuggle up with his girlfriend, read it to her and then leave the shop. Leaving a massive pile of picture books that they had spent the afternoon leafing through, out on the table for me to stack away again.

And the amount of times that I got asked if we sold DVDs! Each time, I so desperately wanted to shout ‘No, this is a bloody book shop. We sell BOOKS! The clue is in the name! Go to HMV and leave me alone!’ but I held my tongue and instead, politely informed them that, ‘No, sadly we do not stock DVD’s but I will take your point to Head Office and who knows what could happen in the future.’

Or the time, when a Head Master from a school in Abu Dhabi came in to the store and I sold him our entire stockist of the Biff and Chip books; he couldn’t get enough of them. I made a sale of about £700, just in that one transaction. I felt like I should have signed up for The Apprentice right then and there.

And another time, when a man came in very close to Christmas, needing to buy some presents for his nieces. And he bought literally everything that I suggested, I mean everything. A whole stack of books and several soft toys too. I felt like a personal shopper.

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I used relish my breaks, in the staffroom that was practically made of books; there were that many stacked up in the place. It smelt like paper and ink and good coffee. And the sofas and chairs were comfy and leather and they just cried out to be sat on. And boy, did my feet ache doing that job. Retail-foot-ache is a real thing, the struggle is real.

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Oh and my 50% discount was pretty sweet too. And on my last day, me and my friend Maddy went crazy and bought most of the shop and every book we’d ever wanted to read, brand new and half the price, was popped into our basket. It was all kinds of wonderful.

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But one of the best things about working in this magical book kingdom, was the fact that it was during the most wonderful time of the year; at Christmas.

And it was in London where everything is heightened and automatically grander and much more wonderful and enchanting. There’s something quite special and secretive almost, about pottering around in a giant shop, in the quiet of the early morning, before the city is properly awake, or nearing midnight when the city is just starting to drift off into slumber, there is something special about busying yourself in the shop, preparing it for the masses who will soon descend.

If you ever get the chance to be a bookseller, even if only for one day, grab it by the pages. You won’t regret it.

Blogmas Day 19: Why?

Sometimes horrible things happen. Terrible, awful things. Like earthquakes. And floods. And hurricanes. People die, families are torn apart and there is grief. Real and palpable and painful, everywhere.

And we, as humans, we look up. Up to God or some higher being and we raise our arms at Him or them, or whatever it is that we believe in or don’t, and we cry out in despair, ‘WHY!?’

‘Why did this have to happen? Why did you let this happen? How could you?’

But then an unnatural disaster occurs. It hits us out of the blue, it cuts through the humdrum, the relative peace and, to some extent, obliviousness of our lives and it shakes us. It wakes us up and it forces us to take stock of what’s around us, of what is really important. And it makes us question humanity.

Because this time, the thing that caused deaths and hurt and tragedy isn’t an element of nature. It isn’t the wind, or a convection current gone wild; we can’t pin it on shifting plate tectonics.

Because it’s human.

It’s down to one person, or a group, so controllable, so preventable and yet completely unknown, unforseen, unpredicted and unexpected all at the same time.

How can one person wreak such havoc and leave such pain in their wake?

And more importantly why do they want to?

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I was naively talking the other day about how magical Christmas markets are, how twinkly and pretty and how quintessentially festive they are. But now, I have a feeling that something so innocently synonymous with this time of year, will be forever tinged and tainted by immense sadness and injustice.

Yesterday a lorry was hijacked in Berlin, where it ploughed through a Christmas market, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 50. Innocent people, minding their own business, meeting with friends, laughing most probably, chatting, catching up, sipping mulled wine and buying presents for loved ones. Happy, content, joyful even. Doing exactly what I was doing on saturday.

And then all of a sudden, they were completely and utterly caught of guard. Rabbits in headlights, unable to escape. Panic stricken. Because of one persons desire to harm and hurt, maim and kill.

How truly, truly awful.

And for what? Why?

Just, why? I can’t stop asking, why?

I don’t understand it. And it scares me that all over the world, we are hurting each other. That people are displaying such cruelty and hatred to others. Life is short enough as it is without all this terror.

My prayer this Christmas is for the people all other the world facing fear and adversity, tragedy and cruelty. My prayer is that those families who have lost loved ones this year, who are hurting and finding it hard to make sense of all the disaster and despair around them, that they would know God’s peace.

And that all this hate and anger and animosity would finally cease.

Amen.

 

Blogmas Day 18: Carols by Candlelight

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The church looks gorgeous at this time of year. And nothing makes it look prettier, than a candlelit service. And nothing says (or perhaps, sings is more apt) Christmas like a good old-fashioned carol service.

And on Sunday, after a frantic day of organising, running and speaking at a youth service, having a Christmas lunch with our village friends and having my family over for cheese and biscuits, I got five minutes to catch my breath. I haven’t stopped this weekend. It’s just been one thing after the next. And they’ve been lovely things, don’t get me wrong but they’ve been non stop. And I’m tired.

So actually getting to sit down in the church that I’m normally running around in, was a bit of novelty. Sitting there with my family and Oli and letting the true meaning of Christmas wash over me, was pretty special.

Even if Sophie (my four-year old niece) did keep pulling my hair and laughing, as well as whispering, ‘This is very boring!’ in one of those whispers that is actually very loud and therefore not at all whispery.

And as the Vicar reflected on all the major events and ups and downs that this year has held, I suddenly felt a wave of excitement. Because yes, 2016 is the year of Brexit and Trump but it is also the year that Oli asked me to marry him. When the church looked exactly as it did right then, covered in candlelight. Beautiful and special and warm.

And as we say goodbye to another year, we welcome in a new one. A bright, shiney, brand spanking new one. And this new year is the year that Oli and I are going to say I do. In this very church, most probably packed out like it is at the carol service. The pews rammed and full and expectant.

And at this service, this time next year, we’ll be man and wife. Mr and Mrs, at Chirstmas time. Finally.

 

Blogmas Day 17: Head in the clouds…literally

I love London. And at Christmas it is even more magical and grand. What with all the lights and the Christmas markets and the decorations everywhere.

This Saturday was reUNIon day for me and my University housemates. We don’t see each other all that often, what with life being so busy and all. So we always make time at Christmas for a special day out together. And whether we’re bottomless brunching or just sipping a Starbucks, it’s good to be in the company of the girls that I lived with for three years.

Only, one of them was ill and unable to join us. Which was an unexpected shame. But we carried on regardless and the annual Christmas reUNIon resumed.

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And so we met at 12.30 at mooched around the Christmas market in Hays Galleria and by Tower Bridge. There were cute little stalls to look at and umm and ahhh over and a lot of cheese samples to consume. It was ideal.

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There’s something so lovely and special about Christmas markets, those little wooden huts do something to me. And it was fun, walking three abreast, chatting about our lives, looking out at a very foggy London, stopping every few minutes to look at a stall.

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The weather, however was a slight dilemma especially considering the fact that we were headed up the Sky Garden that afternoon at half past two.

With the Christmas markets done and dusted, we ducked into Starbucks and enjoyed a good old coffee before we headed to the Sky Garden entrance, ready to ascend. And once our bags had been scanned and our bodies frisked, we clambered into the lift and arrived in what looked like a huge, snazzy conservatory.

I was quite impressed with it to be honest, it’s amazing that you can go up there for free. That was the best thing about it. The Shard certainly isn’t free, in fact it’s the opposite of free. Ok, so the Shard is a lot higher but still. I like things that are free. I like the Sky Garden. Get yourselves up there! ASAP!

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Once we’d looked at the plants and walked about a bit, we decided to get some refreshment. Our eyes had caught sight of some amazing looking doughnuts on our way around the plants and so we each bought one and found a recently vacated cosy little, blanket laden nook to eat them in. The girls also bought a glass of prosecco to accompany their sweet treats but to save money, I went for a classic cup of tea. It was a good and cost effective choice.

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It was lovely sitting in our little cosy space, nattering away, laughing, reminiscing and sharing little snippets from the past year, wrapped in blankets and enjoying the moment with absolutely no need to rush.

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We had even less need to rush because the foggy weather had obscured any potential view from the Sky Garden, so we could literally see nothing from our vantage point in the sky. Our heads were quite literally stuck in the clouds.

This is what the Sky Garden had looked like from the ground…

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…so you can imagine how opaque the sky must have been up there.

But after a few hours of talking, we turned our heads to look out the window and saw that the cloud was lifting. And soon enough it had completely shifted and the viewing deck was reopened. And we went outside, the sun having set and peered down at London all lit up.

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Once we’d seen all the possible angles of London from the sky, we descend and went for a drink before I said goodbye to them.

It was a lovely day, chilled out and relaxed and with no great agenda other than catching up and taking a little rest within the crazy, whirlwind of this busy time of year.

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I’m a lucky girl, to have friends like these, in my life.

Blogmas Day 16: Wreath wrestling

Every door needs a good wreath this time of year. A pretty little circle covered in holly and ivy and glitter and gold and snow spray…obviously.

My Mum loves a homemade wreath and it’s a bit of a tradition in our house to make our own every year. I normally help my Mum collect all the branches and leaves and then leave her too it. If I’m lucky I might get asked to spray something gold.

But this year she bought me and my sister a ring of oasis and encouraged us to make our own to deck out our very own front doors. Well, Oli’s front door. And the door of my sisters house.

The easiest bit of constructing your own wreath is definitely collecting the foliage. All you need is a good pair of shoes, a pair of secateurs, some gardening gloves and a big bag for life.

That’s the easy part.

Once you’ve collected all the green stuff you need, it’s time to prep your oasis. I soaked mine in a lot of water for quite a while in an effort to keep the foliage alive and fresh looking for as long as possible.

I let the oasis dry for a bit and then before I even began shoving bits of tree into the damp foam, I tied a bit of string around the wreath so that I could eventually hang it off of the front door.

There are many different approaches to wreath assembly. I opted for the stick-it-in-and-manipulate-it-around approach, tying everything in place, bit by bit, with gold ribbon.

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Until it looked a little bit like this. I trimmed away any straying branches with my secateurs and stood back to look at it, pleased and content.

And then I reached for the snow spray and got a little bit crazy with it; evident below.

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To ensure that the gold ribbon was covered and to add a bit more depth to the wreath, I popped in some ivy as a second layer to my wreath. The little buds in the ivy look great when sprayed gold and add a nice texture to the wreath. They always feature heavily in my Mum’s yearly wreath.

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I also popped in some artificial red, glittery berries on wire, which I was able to get from Wilko’s for a £1. I went crazy with them and they look great snuggled inbetween the holly I put in and spray painted gold.

And there you have it, here is the finished product.

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It looks pretty and festive hanging next to Oli’s door and I feel like I’ve joined in with the rest of the neighbours who have also put up there offerings, outside of there houses.

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Come on Christmas, we’re ready for you!

Blogmas 15: Decorating the family (Christmas) tree

My Mum works like a Trojan. She’s a nurse, you see. Her work just never seems to be done. Hence why she sadly hasn’t had time to put up the family Christmas tree.

So this responsibility fell to me instead. She asked me to do it. And seeing as I’ve been trying so hard to suppress the urge of buying a tree for myself and Oliver, this seemed like the perfect activity to channel all my I-desperately-want-a-Christmas-tree energy into.

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I started the task off properly with a hot chocolate in a Father Christmas mug; it seems only logical. And between sips and the unfolding artificial branches, I set about erecting (oooh errr) the tree.

And as much as I’ve wanted my own Christmas tree this year, it’s not as if I have any first hand experience of actually putting one up. (My family opt for the artificial tree, not so much to benefit the environment but to reduce the amount of December related, living room vacuuming that needs to take place. Although having said that, a lot of vacuuming was required once the tree was assembled; it turns out that artificial trees do in fact shed needles if you pull and bend the branches around enough).

Putting the tree together, involved colour coding the ends of the branches and lots of tweaking but it was nothing compared to the stress of twinning the lights around it.

Good grief, that was tough.

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I thought it would be easy, having only ever done it on a miniature tree. But it was anything but. The wire kept getting caught on the wrong branches and I got dizzier and dizzier as I went around the tree. At one point, I had to sit down to steady myself.

I got in a bit of a tangle to say the least. Here is some photo evidence.

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It looks like I’m wearing a rather jazzy crown of thorns. It was an exasperating experience.

But eventually, I won the battle with the lights and not only was the tree standing but it was glittering also. Sparkling in fact, with multi-coloured and warm white lights.

Then it was the turn of the dreaded beads. My Mum loves her red and gold beads. So stringing them across the branches was my next challenge.

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And I’m not sure which was more fun; the beads or the lights. But I did the very best that I could, especially considering the fact that I was exceptionally dizzy after all this draping things around trees business.

Once the foundation of the tree was laid, it was time for the very best part. The ornament placing aka the decorating. This was the bit that I was always given to do, most probably because my mum was suffering from extreme dizziness after having wrapped all the beads and lights and the best part of herself around the tree.

But I know how to hang baubles and little knik knacks from a tree. I know all about distributing them as evenly as you can. I love rifling through all the decorations that my family have accumulated over the years, from the many Christmases before this one that we’re on the cusp of celebrating.

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In fact, that is one of my favourite part of Christmas. The rummaging through the big box of decorations that my Dad has just retrieved from the loft. I love sitting on the living room carpet, cross-legged, bits of artificial tree fluff all around me as I dive into the box of ornaments and reminisce about what each one means; remembering where we got it from.

So this afternoon, I picked out the very best of our vast crop and set about hanging them in an organised but random way; the correct way to decorate a Christmas tree. And they looked a little bit like this when they were all swinging from the tree.

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And I was rather pleased with my hard work. I really cannot iterate enough, how very tiring it is decorating a tree single-handed. I take my hat off to my Mum for all the many years that she has done just that.

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So there you have it, my afternoon spent slurping hot chocolate, decorating my family tree and watching Gilmore Girls all at the same time.

There’s something really special and unique about Christmas trees. Ours is eclectic and traditional all at the same time. It’s skinnier than I would like and maybe a real tree would be just that bit less gappy and well, more real looking I guess.

But I still love it, despite all this. I love my Dad’s age-old, homemade tin foil star that has sat on the top of our tree – the crowning glory – for as long as I’ve been alive. I love the beads – even if they’re not to my taste – because they remind me of my Mum and they are synonymous with Christmas for me.

But most of all this tree reminds me that I get to spend this special time of year with the people I love most in the world. And that come the 25th, we’ll all be sat in this room that’s just a bit too small for the eight of us, giving each other presents; little tokens of our love for one another. Laughing, smiling and wading our through a sea of wrapping paper, sipping Malibu and Coke, stuffing our faces with my Mum’s legendary trifle, even though we’re still so full from my Dad’s legendary Christmas Dinner.

I simply cannot wait.

Blogmas Day 14: How to fill a stocking for a one year old for under £20

My littlest niece, turned one this October. So this year, Christmas will be a lot more exciting for her as she has more of a concept of presents. And although she’s often more excited about the wrapping and the packaging, rather than the actual present underneath or inside, I have a feeling that she’ll enjoy two of these stocking fillers rather a lot.

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I stumbled across this gorgeous, knitted gingerbread man in my new favourite shop, Wilko. When I saw him, I immediately thought of little Pops and could just imagine her tucking him under her chin and walking about with him in her arms. And at £3.50 he was just perfect to pop in her stocking. He’s a nice, chunky, cuddly size and he’s just that little bit different to all the other many soft toys that Poppy has to her name. She’ll just love it.

Another thing that Poppy will especially love is these Kinder chocolate Santa’s for a £1 from Poundland. She loves chocolate, she takes after her Aunty in that respect. These are such a great, little stocking filler too.

The stocking itself – like Sophie’s one – is also from Poundland; it’s knitted but stretchy and flexible enough for quite a few presents to be squeezed and squished into it.

The next few presents are more practical than fun perhaps, but Pops will look super cute in them all, that’s for sure. The pink rabbit jumper is from Mothercare and was in the sale reduced from £13 to £9, so more on the pricier side of life, especially when you consider that you can buy an adult jumper at a very similar price. But it’s adorable and the fluffy rabbit on the front is super soft. The leggings, purchased to go underneath the jumper (and other outfits in Poppy’s wardrobe), were £3.50 for two pairs from Primark. An absolute bargain!

And there you have it, a little stocking for a little person.

I can’t wait to give these presents to her and to spend Christmas day with these special, gorgeous little nieces of mine.

Blogmas Day 13: Sunday – sip, stroll, repeat.

As I may have mentioned before (erm, maybe just a few times) one of my favourite things to do is to go for a walk, whilst cupping a fresh, hot coffee in my palms on a brisk, crisp and sunny winter day with the man I love.

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So this Sunday, after a morning session of planning the Youth Christmas service at Church with the young people, and before cooking them a full, blown Christmas dinner that evening, we decided to carve out a little time for ourselves and brush the cobwebs off by heading outside. Because as much as we wanted to snuggle up on the sofa, drinking hot chocolate whilst watching copious Christmas films or Gavin and Stacey episodes, we knew we’d feel better if we didn’t waste such a gorgeous, winters day slouching around indoors. So out we went. And we certainly didn’t regret it.

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We strolled around, treading on the fallen leaves, sipping our coffees and holding hands and chatting about our upcoming wedding and all the many things there are still to do. Making a mental to-do-list, one bullet point at a time. And it felt good, progressing on the walk, feeling the ache in our legs and feet, knowing that we were on top of things and in control.

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And knowing that just like our walk was drawing to a close, so is this year. And soon it will be next year. 2017.

And that year is our year. The year that we say I do.

We’ve got a whole lot of Sundays ahead of us. All the Sundays for the rest of our lives.

And we can stroll, sip and repeat until our hearts are content. Together. Forever.