Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Making Time for Family at Christmas

I know I have said it before and I will almost certainly say it again before the weekend rolls around, Christmas is one of my favourite times of year.  I love the festive spirit in the run up to Christmas, the choosing of the tree, the decorating, the gift selection for loved ones and of course the excuse to indulge in a treat or two!


But the thing which I love the most is that we get 2 weeks together as a family.  That is no work, no distractions...just good, quality family time.  This year has felt a bit all over the place if I'm honest.  With the October half term being so late (and actually being the November half term!) and Christmas being on a weekend...the kids seem to be finishing quite close to Christmas and James won't finish at work until Friday and then Christmas will be HERE.

When Slater & Gordon (http://www.slatergordon.co.uk/family-and-personal-matters/) invited me to share what makes family time so precious for me, I knew this was the perfect time of year to think about how we've spent time together as a family in 2016 and what I love about spending time together over Christmas.

It is so important to make time for family, especially at this time of year.  I think maybe I have overstretched a little as well, committing to Vlogmas, the Kindness Elves, a Carol Concert, a VIP evening for the homeless in Southport and just about everything else you can imagine which might be taking place in December so I am more than ready for this break to finally roll around.

We tend to spend Christmas Day as just the four of us, enjoying things at our own pace but we always plan time to see extended family over the 2 weeks that the kids are off school and James isn't at work as well.  It's something about this year which just really puts me in mind of families (whether blended, non-biological or otherwise...) and the sense of togetherness which is so important.


I've loved seeing all the posts on social media just recently for restaurants, coffee shops, churches and even people's homes which are being opened on Christmas Day for those who are on their own.  I think it is a wonderful thing to do around this time of year as I imagine it can also be an incredibly lonely time for some people as well.

Our Christmas Day is a pretty chilled out affair, with the main focus being on just relaxing as a foursome.  We take things very much at our own pace which we wouldn't be able to do if we were rushing out for Christmas dinner.  We start with stockings in our PJ's, followed by a cooked breakfast.  We take a quick break to get washed and dressed and then it's into the lounge for under the tree presents.  We have found this works to stop the kids from getting overwhelmed and turning into little terrors who just rip presents open left right and centre (one year I think Meg accidentally opened the majority of mine!).  Then we pop a Christmas movie in and snuggle up whilst James heads into the kitchen to make the dinner...oh I'm feeling it already!

We might go out for a walk if we need some fresh air later and to let the dog run off her energy, I think last year we went down to the beach and then it's home for some warming hot chocolate and a chance to play with any new toys Santa might have brought for us.

Total simplicity and yet the best kind of family time in my opinion.  I can't wait!

How do you spend time with family over Christmas?


*This is a collaborative post*


Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Importance Of A Good Workspace ǀ Writing

Way back in 2013 when I decided I wanted to try my hand at freelance writing it felt like a very spur of the moment decision.  I had my laptop and that was just about it.  I initially worked from our dining table and although it wasn't ideal, it was a case of making do.

Over the following months, as my business grew and developed, it became clear that I needed something a little more formal.  As I was trying to balance freelance work and lack of childcare the amount of time I had to sit down and work was very precious and having to set up and take down my work station each time cut into that time.  I would have left my laptop up but after making that mistake once and having a small person remove all the keys from the keyboard I quickly learned my lesson!


I can't tell you the importance and the difference that having a proper work space can make when you are working from home.  One of my top tips for anyone who is thinking about going freelance is to try and get into a 'work' mind-set in order to help you focus.  This means, as tempting as it may be, not working in your PJ's or from the sofa (where possible) and trying to set yourself working hours and targets.  The second piece of advice I would give is to have a space where you can go and work.  It all helps to get you into the right mind-set.

And in fact, I'm not the only person who has come to realise this; Furniture @ Work have recently created an ebook all about having the right furniture at work - predominantly having the right kind of chair but this knowledge also extends to surrounding yourself with the kind of things.  Things which are going to motivate you and not cause you to get distracted or disheartened.

I was lucky enough that when we moved to the North West I was able to upgrade my working situation and get my own home office.  Getting to pick the type of furniture I wanted around me, the things that I thought would motivate me and let me work in comfort was quite an exciting time and I have found that I am much more productive on the days when I sit in my office as opposed to when I give myself a 'break' and head downstairs to work, or when I am trying to balance work and childcare during the holidays and have to work with one eye on Meg and Eli.

Going freelance was the best move I could ever have made and I love the flexibility it gives me but it is important to think of it as a 'real' job (despite what other people would suggest!) - I would always tell anyone thinking about going freelance to absolutely go for it; I was utterly terrified in the initial weeks and now, three years on I can say that it has been amazing.  But it's important to think about how you will operate day to day in order to get the best out of yourself and having the right work environment is a very important part of that process.  


In fact, my top tips for anyone wanting to go freelance are as follows:-

*Plan Ahead - don't quit your day job without a basic understanding of what you will be doing and how you will pay the bills!

*Tell People - you will be surprised at how many of your friends and family will recommend you.  Almost all of my work in the early days came from word of mouth.

*Have A Space - I think we have covered this above!

*Gain Experience: If you are branching out from the experience you have then appreciate that you may have to take any and all jobs in the early days to build up a portfolio.  Once you are more established you can become more picky about the jobs you take and the rates you charge.

*Set Yourself Working Hours: Probably the most tricky part about being freelance but where possible, get yourself into a routine.

*Don't Be Afraid: This could be the best decision of your life so GO FOR IT.  You can always return back to your old type of work if you decide it isn't for you.


*This is a collaborative post*

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Announcing Your Pregnancy Online & An Exciting Giveaway!

When I think back to being pregnant it seems like something which happened to somebody else; it has been almost 6 years since I was last pregnant although I can remember clear as a bell both times I told James I was pregnant.  The shock and then the sheer joy is something I will forever love and hold dear.



Both times we knew quite early on; I used the best pregnancy test for early detection I could find, there are a number of options on the market these days which will even tell you how far along you are but these weren't as popular way back in 2009! But we waited until after our 12 week scan to share the news with others.  It was difficult to keep the news a secret as we were so very excited and wanted to tell everyone we met but living away from our parents, we knew that we would need to contain the news as we wanted to tell them face to face.

I don't remember sharing anything online until after our 20 week scan when things were starting to get a little more real and we had begun to decorate the nursery and finally buy things for the baby.  We did keep the gender of our babies a secret both times from everyone, even though we found out ourselves.  Gender reveals have also become a much bigger thing during pregnancy than they once were; I'm afraid I'm very old fashioned in this regard and wanted the gender and the name of our babies to remain a secret until we announced their arrival...which we did do online!



Announcing your pregnancy in a unique way has become much more commonplace that it once was; there are so many different creative ways and just a quick internet search will throw up thousands of ideas on Pinterest with suggestions of how you can share the news with family and friends.  I suppose that with the advancement of social media, and the fact that we share so many of our personal moments online nowadays, it would only make sense that people would also use their social media channels to announce their pregnancy to the world as well.

Even second time around, I kept my pregnancy mostly offline.  My social media posts at the time were mostly centred around the antics of a cheeky 2 year old Meg and less about the newest upcoming addition to our family.  I suppose that I would share more if I were to have a third; I didn't have the blog or the majority of my social media platforms so there were less places to share.  I'm fairly certain that I would still keep the gender and name a secret though...there should be some surprises in store.  

I know that there are quite mixed feelings about using social media to announce pregnancies but, despite the fact that I was quite private about my pregnancies, I do enjoy watching how other people choose to announce theirs...a pair of booties hung on a washing line, a little umbrella on a rainy day, a chalkboard held in front of mama's tummy...I think if I had my time again I would definitely try to come up with something a little more unique and creative.  My favourites are the ones where other siblings are involved...and they often look less than impressed at the news.  I always want to reach over and tell them that it'll be okay...they've got a ready-made best friend cooking in their mama's tummy and it'll soon be the best thing that ever happened.

And now onto the giveaway...

Once you have announced your pregnancy, it is time to start making a list of all the things you will need for your arrival and I have partnered with Nakturnal to offer readers the chance to win a $50 gift card which can be used at Diapers.com.  If you would like to enter this giveaway then you can do so by using the rafflecopter below.

International shipping is available but please do note that the cost of the shipping will vary depending on the items ordered...something my UK and European readers might want to bear in mind!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck!

*This giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal, with a prize of a gift certificate*

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Getting Muddy with Bogs Wellies ǀ Review & Giveaway

Back in October (which already feels like a lifetime ago and not just 2 months!) we were invited to an event being hosted by Wynsors World of Shoes and we were provided with a pair of Bogs Wellies for Meg and Eli.

As a family who love being outdoors, I cannot stress enough the importance of owning a decent pair of wellies.  We don't have to worry so much about Meg but Eli will really put a pair of boots through their paces.  If he sees a puddle, he will wade through it, no matter how deep.  If he sees some mud, he will jump in it.  If he sees something that can be climbed...you get the idea!


As a result we have discovered a number of brands which just don't offer the durability he needs from his boots; as well as keeping his feet warm and dry they also have to stand up to the rigorous testing he puts them through every time we head outside and I was curious about whether the Bogs Wellies we had been sent would be able to withstand Eli.


He has worn them pretty consistently for the last two months; it's the kind of weather now where you can't always risk heading out for a walk in trainers as you don't know what you are going to come across so whether we are going to the park, down to the beach, or through the woods, we turn to our wellies.


The first thing we really like is the way the wellies have been designed and this is something which a number of other people have commented on when we have been out and about.  They have little handles cut into the wellies to enable children to pull them on by themselves but they are far enough down in the boot that they aren't going to damage by a bit of pulling.  We have had a couple of pairs with the handles which stick out of the sides and these have snapped within a couple of wears...I don't think this will be the case here.


Bog wellies are also lined with Bogs Max-Wick™ to keep feet dry and technology to help keep the boots smelling fresh as well.  In addition they are incredibly soft and flexible which makes climbing up sand dunes and trees in the woods that bit easier as they almost seem to mould to the foot rather than being rigid which cheaper brands of wellies can often be.




You can no doubt see that thus far we have been really impressed with the wellies; we have welly socks for the kids which are thermal socks so we know that their feet will always be warm but we haven't had any complaints about the wellies letting in water and last weekend we discovered that they are just the right height for some wave jumping in the freezing cold sea...no accidental water seeping in over the tops.

Prices for the wellies start at around £35 which is a little more expensive than you might usually pay but we have honestly no complaints to make.  In fact, we weren't asked to write this separate review but we wanted to share with you how fantastic the wellies are and how much use we have gotten from them.  You don't want to head into winter without having a solid pair of shoes for your kids to wear and I really feel like Bogs Wellies tick all the boxes for us.

Fancy winning your own pair of Bogs Wellies?  The winner can choose between one pair of adult bogs or one pair of kids bogs.  Simply use the rafflecopter below to enter.  UK entrants only; the giveaway will end on 10 January 2017 and all entries will be verified.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck!


Monday, 12 December 2016

Our Kindness Elves...

For the last few years, each December has seen the arrival of the Kindness Elves.  In our house these are Glaede, Fred and Elska and they are small elves who pop along each day to suggest some way that Meg and Eli can share a little love and kindness during the month of December.


This is our 4th year of doing the Kindness Elves and each year I am amazed at the way Meg and Eli so effortlessly get on with what they have been asked to do.  For us the Elves are about taking the focus away from what presents will be under the tree on Christmas Day and moving it towards thinking of others during this festive season.

I have been sharing a lot of what the Elves have been getting up to over in our Vlogmas videos if you want to take a look over there but I have to say, although sometimes it gets to 11pm and I realise I haven't yet set anything up for the next day, and although it feels like sometimes it is a little bit of an extra effort, I really think it adds to the Christmas magic and I absolutely love seeing the kids' faces in the morning when they come down and try to find where the Elves are hiding that day.


The Elves will stay with us until the 24th December when they will return to Santa and the North Pole and leave behind a little something for the kids (and I have a really amazing thing planned for this which I will share more about closer to the time)

Usually I try to give a weekly update on what the Elves have been getting up to, in case it inspires ideas in others as I know how tricky it can be to come up with things for the Elves to be doing but with Vlogmas and work this year I just don't know how active I will be on the blog so I've decided to share my ideas for the month with you here; feel free to use them for yourselves!


Look out for a child who doesn't have anyone to play with Ø Read a story to a younger child Ø Festive fun day (craft, tree decoration etc) Ø Give someone an extra big smile Ø Buy food for the food bank Ø Toy sort out: give away to charity Ø Gold coins as a well done for the effort made so far Ø Looking after belongings: tidy our rooms Ø Make Christmas cookies Ø Share Christmas cookies with friends Ø Make a bird feeder Ø Simple acts of kindness: hold a door and say thank you Ø Send some happy mail and write Christmas cards Ø Take donations to the local animal shelter Ø Super spy mission: do something kind for someone without them noticing Ø A treat for being so sweet: build a Gingerbread house Ø Carol singing Ø Picking up litter Ø Party time: take in treats for classmates  Ø Gifts for teachers Ø Making thank you cards Ø Calling a relative to wish them a Merry Christmas Ø Christmas Eve Box

What do you think of our ideas?  We have tried to create a good mix of doing things for other people (realistically), taking care of things within the home and little rewards for all the effort made as well.

I hope you can put some of them to good use!


Thursday, 8 December 2016

A Last Minute Family Holiday for Christmas... ǀ Travel

For years my mum has talked about the family going away for Christmas; not just around the Christmas holidays but actually over Christmas itself and I've always shied away from the idea thinking that it would be strange to not be at home for Christmas Day but recently I've begun to soften a little to the concept.

There are many reasons why it might be nice to go away for Christmas: where we live in the North West of England, we don't really get snow so I can see the appeal of heading somewhere colder where you can get that magical Christmas experience; holed up in a log cabin surrounded by snow, with a fire burning merrily in the background...I could definitely get on board with that!

But what about going somewhere warm instead?  Some friends of ours went to Thailand last year over Christmas and although they found it strange initially, they now have some amazing memories of a Christmas spent somewhere exotic; and they didn't have to battle the grim British weather.


Last year in December we travelled to Oslo and it was absolutely amazing.  Although we were home in time for Christmas Day, it was brilliant to see the city dressed up and everyone getting ready for the festive celebrations.  Meeting a Nordic Father Christmas was also definitely one of the highlights for Meg and Eli.

There are lots of places which would be warm over the winter period and which are great locations for tots to travel.  But whether you are seeking the sun or that wintery feeling, it isn't too late to book that last minute family holiday for Christmas.  If the idea appeals to you, but you feel like it might be a little too stressful then worry not: here are my top tips for stress-free travelling over Christmas:-

Plan, plan and plan again...
A surprising amount of people travel around the Christmas period, either because they are trying to get home to friends and family or because they have been inspired to head to somewhere a little different this year.  You will find that airports are a lot busier than you might have anticipated so planning is key.  Make sure you have copies of all your travel documents, passports and anything else you might need to hand to ensure you can pass through security seamlessly.

Get insurance
Depending on where you are travelling from and where you are travelling to, the weather around this time of year can seriously impact on travel arrangements.  Flights and trains could be delayed or grounded, maybe even cancelled.  Nobody wants to see their travel arrangements thrown off kilter but by making sure you have the right kind of cover, you can at least be prepared in case something unfortunate should happen.

Pack light
I think I might find this one the trickiest of all but unless you want to pay a whole heap of excess charges then it might be better to leave any Christmas presents at home and open them on your return.

Keep the kids entertained
You can put together items to keep the kids entertained on long journeys fairly inexpensively these days, and it can be a real sanity saver if you've thought ahead and organised some things for them to do.  Tablets, iPads and game devices can all be brilliant but most kids will get bored of them at some point so having a few back-up items can really help (including snacks).


Consider flight times
It goes without saying that the cheapest flights are usually the unsociable ones but it might be worth thinking about paying a little extra to get a more reasonable flight time, especially if you haven't left time to recover either side of your holiday dates.  Occasionally the price differences aren't too bad and it's definitely something to bear in mind to help you keep your sanity and not come out the other side of Christmas feeling utterly exhausted.

So there you have just some tips to mull over if you are considering a trip around Christmas time.  I'd love to know if you've ever thought about travelling over Christmas before and any other tips you might want to share!


*This is a collaborative post*

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Breakfast With Santa at Brewers Fayre

You know Christmas is just around the corner when you pull up outside a pub on a frosty, bitterly cold Saturday morning with two small people bouncing around the car in utter excitement ready to have breakfast with Santa.  Or is that just me?


We were recently invited along by Brewers Fayre to try out their new 'Breakfast with Santa' experience and we headed to the Coach House at the intu Trafford Centre to give it a whirl.  The Coach House has a soft play area for families which is separated from the rest of the restaurant and this is where we headed first (if only to allow the kids to burn off some energy!)

Whilst we waited for the other guests to arrive and for Santa to be ready, the kids ran around and made the most of the play area and we enjoyed a hot drink from the safety of the seating area.  Then it was time to head back into the main restaurant and meet Santa!




I have to say, that of all the Santa's we have met in the last 8 years, this was probably the best one.  He never stopped being in character, even when the kids were sitting down to eat their breakfast, even when he was talking to the adults, even when no-one was around to see him.  He was funny and engaging, he took the time to speak to each child individually and to try and put them at ease...in short, I was very impressed.


He even allowed myself and James to sit on his knee and tell him what we'd like for Christmas.  Is that a good Father Christmas or what?!


The breakfast was a hot buffet for adults and a small selection of cooked items already plated for the kids.  I loved the detail which had been put into the experience, such as the chair covers; it just made it that bit more festive.  After a few minutes, once the children had all settled down to eat, Santa again took the time to walk amongst the tables and chairs, chatting to each of the children and really building their excitement for Christmas.




The actual area for Santa was well done as well, and when he gathered all the children to sit around and listen to a story it looked very atmospheric.  Again, Santa was really captivating and the staff who were helping were really good at getting all the children to sit down and engage with the story being told.




After the story it was back to the soft play area where the children we given free rein to run around and enjoy themselves.  There was also face painting available and an Elf Workshop for any children who wanted to have a go at colouring and quiz sheets.  The staff were on hand at all times, encouraging and chatting with the kids and even Father Christmas made a quick appearance before he headed off back to the North Pole.


Overall we were very impressed with the level of thought and detail which had been put into the event.  The kids were generally awed by Santa and didn't stop talking about him the whole time.  I loved that it wasn't just a quick 'meet Santa, get your gift and then be on your way' type experience but that they got to chat with Santa and listen to a story before being given the opportunity to play and engage with other activities.  It felt like you would really get your money's worth if you decided to book.

It costs £8.99 per person for the Breakfast with Santa experience and this includes a meet and greet with Santa, Christmas activities, all you can eat breakfast and access to the soft play.  When you consider how much you are getting for the price then it really is worth it.  The experience is available at selected Brewers Fayre restaurants from 5th December.

Thank you to Brewers Fayre and the team for making it such an enjoyable visit and thank you for inviting us along!

We were invited to Breakfast with Santa free of charge in exchange for this post.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Shopping ǀ Surviving the Festive Season

A couple of years ago we made the switch to online shopping, especially around birthday season in May and Christmas.  When you are ordering en masse it just makes sense for things to be as convenient as possible and yet, as a lover of all things festive, I missed that sense of wandering around a shopping centre or city centre, soaking up the atmosphere and physically selecting gifts for family and friends.


It is possibly this which drove me to Liverpool City Centre last weekend, to brave the crowds and begin my Christmas shopping for the year.  I know, some of you may sit back smugly and know that you have already bought, and wrapped, your presents but I'm just not wired that way!

Liverpool is just about the best place to go if you are based in the North and want a whole day out experience.  There is Liverpool ONE, Albert Dock, the Ice Rink...there are also tons of restaurants in Liverpool which make the perfect place to have a pit stop after you've spent a few hours shopping.

Of course, begin so close to Christmas, it was absolutely rammed and it got me thinking about my top tips for shopping (and surviving) during the festive season:-

Have A Plan
The absolute worst thing you can do is turn up without a clear plan of where you'd like to look.  This doesn't mean knowing what presents you want to buy but it does mean knowing which part of the city you want to head to.  For example, Liverpool ONE is home to more upmarket stores such as Zara, Michael Kors and Harvey Nichols whereas the High Street (Church Street) is where you will find your large department stores and brands such as as Primark and H&M.

Have A List
Not necessarily a list of the things you want to buy but it will definitely help to have a list of the people you need to buy presents for.  That way you won't get home and realise you bought something for every except Auntie May and have to head back out again or online.

Save the Big Items Till Last
If you know there is something large you need to buy then leave it until the last minute to avoid having to carry a bulky item around.  The city will be busy enough and navigating the crowds is never an easy task but you certainly don't want to be doing it with a giant bag in tow.  If you're worried that something might sell out then maybe head for that first and take a quick walk back to the car instead.


Make the Most Of It
There is so much going on in Liverpool over Christmas that it makes sense to make a whole day out of your visit, especially if you aren't local.  Get your shopping out of the way early on in the day and then you can pop your bags in your car and head on down to the Christmas pop-up market stalls (and enjoy some mulled wine), visit St George's Hall and the Dreamworks Lantern experience, or check out the Ice Festival down on the Pier Head complete with Ice Skating rink or enjoy a meal at one of the many fine restaurants the city has to offer instead.

What are your top tips for surviving Christmas shopping?  Or your favourite things to do in Liverpool; let me know!

This is a collaborative post.