How to Give Your Family a Christmas to Remember

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I wanted to write this week about our Christmas tradition.  I’ve been doing this for 5 years now, ever since my eldest was 1.  And it’s come to be what Christmas is all about for us.  Instead of asking how many days until Christmas Day, my kids ask all year round, “How many days until we start the gold envelopes?”  It’s our own version of an advent calendar.  Though before you fear for them, they do get their chocolate version too!

 

It involves quite a bit of planning, quite a bit of pinteresting, and the organising of buying all the materials.  But as we’ve been doing it for so long now we often get to re-use bits from the year before.  So I can say it’s getting easier and less work each year. 

 

So as of the 1st of December they open a dated golden envelope every morning with a card in containing their Christmas activity for the day.  Now this is where the planning really comes in, because once I have my list of activities it does have to be tweaked so I’m not doing some mammoth baking or craft task on a school night where we’re in and out going to after school clubs with very little spare time.  Not to mention I want my bigger activities to fall on a weekend when we’re looking for something to fill the day.  So this is my list of activities for this year:-

 

1st December     Put up the Christmas tree

This falls on the 1st every year, even if we have to get up at 5am and start it before school and finish it after.  We always put ‘The Snowman’ on in the background too, and it just sets us up for the month.

2nd December    Make snowflakes for the windows

This looks fantastic.  I give them both a piece of cotton on a needle and they thread about 5 pieces of cotton wool or polystyrene on each.  Then I space them out randomly and stick the pieces across my living room windows to give the effect of falling snow.  Any excuse to play with a sharp object and my kids are on board.  But I have to say the look is fantastic and it cheers me up all of December.  Which is mad really, as the reality of snow falling sends me into a blind panic that I won’t get my car down the hill that we live on and we’ll be cut off from society for goodness knows how long.  Yet I seem to be okay with fake snow!

3rd December    Make paper chain decorations

Another must for the living room, and so simple for a 4 and 6 year old.

4th December     Write a letter to Santa

This is the one that sends me into a frenzy when their entire list suddenly changes from what they’ve been wanting all year.  But it has to be done.  And in reality they do just make it up on the spot and forget anything they asked for a couple of weeks later.  It’s just part of the magic of Christmas to write that letter.

5th December     Make cloved oranges

Now for some reason mine always rot and go mouldy on the Christmas tree, so I’ve not quite mastered it like I did as a child, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without the smell of cloved oranges in the living room.

6th December     Make paper snowflakes

This is just a simple craft activity to further decorate the house.  In reality this falls on my street fit class night so it had to be something easy so I don’t miss my one guaranteed night of the week to socialise!

7th December     Grow candy canes

My absolute favourite activity.  We take a tub of sugar, plant tic tacs, and overnight they grow into candy canes.  Now worryingly I’ve just had to explain to a 50 year old work colleague that no, tic tacs don’t actually grow into candy canes.  So whilst I’m not assuming you are not of the same intelligence as this lady, I will point out, as I had to for her, that I in fact take out the tic tacs whilst they’re asleep and replace them with ‘grown’ candy canes.  Just wanted to be crystal clear in case anyone messages me to say their tic tacs haven’t grown!

8th December     Buy and deliver food to the food bank

Another of my children’s favourite Christmas activities because it involves them let loose in Aldi with a shopping trolley and the amount of cash contained in the envelope.  They know the drill, canned and packet foods only.  Nothing fresh.  And they get as much as they can and get to pay the till assistant like a proper grown up (much to the annoyance of the growing queue behind us!)  Then we take it all to the food bank, where they’re made an absolute fuss of.  They sometimes even get a certificate or sweets from the staff.  But either way we have lots of conversations on the way there and the way back as to who the food is going to and maybe what circumstances they may be spending Christmas in.  We get to discuss what the children think Christmas would be like without any proper food in the house, let alone the full roast and trimmings that we have.  And I just think it’s a really good lesson for them to learn.  In fact my eldest saved up in the summer time to do the same exercise because it touched her so much.  She did sell some of my stuff without me knowing to raise the money, but we’ll let that one go as she’s only 6 and therefore just using her initiative!

9th December     Christmas shopping for the boys

The girls have two cousins that they absolutely adore.  And again, they will find a small amount of cash in their envelope that day to take to the shops and pick them both a present.  It’s a great exercise in teaching them the gift of giving, and they totally get the excitement that we all get in finding that perfect gift.  In fact the secret rarely makes it to Christmas Day before they’ve told the boys what they’ve got them!  But each year we’re working on that.

10th December  Make sparkly icicles

Another Pinterest idea.  Basically we’re crafting foil into icicles, painting them in glue and dipping each icicle in glitter before hanging them around the house.  This is a new one this year so I’m yet to find out how this one goes down.  But anything they can get sticky doing is usually a hit.

11th December  Decorate the garden

A nice simple one.  A couple of pounds spent in the pound shop on Christmas decorations, then off they’re sent into the garden to hang them all around on anything with a branch or hook.  It’s usually mid-summer before we’ve taken them all down, but it does cheer up the garden while it’s looking so colour-less.

12th December  Write Christmas cards for your friends

A little pre-planning in the form of a class list, a few boxes of cards, and off they go. 

13th December  Decorate a gingerbread house

Now this activity has been off the list for a couple of years because my husband is OCD with mess and the whole living room got caked in icing.  But I’m bringing it back this year.  I got my gingerbread house from Ikea, and although I’ve got to assemble it myself with icing, I managed to get the decorations too.  So we’re all set to go.

14th December  Deliver cards to the neighbours

Hopefully this year I’ll be there to supervise this activity, as my husband was on his phone last year and they all got posted to any house they found.  I’m sure a couple of people re-posted them to the correct house, but everyone else probably just thinks I don’t know their names and it’s been too many years to correct me!  Either way, the kids love posting things, so this is always a hit!

15th December  Visit Santa

I don’t know where we’re going yet, but I’m thinking the little steam train at the local garden centre.  It’s the most random Christmas ride as it’s decorated in very non-Christmasy things like model aliens, and Disney gnomes that are missing heads or limbs.  But the kids are oblivious to the scenes and love it.  Us grown-ups call it the Chucky train and we’re convinced that anything that gets broken in the garden centre and is therefore unsellable becomes a decoration on this ride.  But it’s certainly a unique experience for all!

16th December  Buy presents for each other

This is the day I take each child out individually and we buy for the other child.  It’s just like the day we buy for the boys, except they get a little one-on-one Mummy time.  So this year I think I’ll take each for a cup of coffee and a cake while we’re at it!

17th December  Make stained glass lanterns

Another simple craft activity.  Glass jar, glue, tissue paper stuck on and some battery powered string lights from the pound shop.  And everything can be used again next year.

18th December  Make wrapping paper and wrap presents

The kids love this one.  A big roll of paper, lots of Christmas stickers, stamps, glue and glitter and they get to decorate their own paper to wrap their previously bought gifts in.  Then we can proudly display their finished product under the tree.

19th December  Make mulled wine and mince pies

My favourite activity as I get mulled wine.  As they’re 4 and 6 it’s a case of ready rolled pastry, a jar of mincemeat and some cutters.  And as for the mulled wine, I set the slow cooker going so it scents my house all day long.  Then they imagine mixing potions as they mix orange juice, cranberry juice, slices of orange, lemon, cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg.  We leave it to cook for several hours and then they usually taste it, say they don’t like it, before I adopt it for myself and pour the port in.  Not your traditional mulled wine, especially as I put no actual wine in it so it can be non-alcoholic on the off-chance they like it this year, but I like it!

20th December  Drive around to see the lights

There’s many a famous street in the area that goes all out, so I can never fail to deliver on this activity.  But just being in their pyjamas in the car, with a McDonalds drive through if I’m feeling flush, is a great little activity to do.

21st December   Make a bubble wrap snowman

This is new this year on the basis I have a job lot of bubble wrap.  My plan is to roll and tape the bubble wrap into a snowman shape, then either papier mache or paint the bubble wrap before they dress him.  I’m going to wing it on the day, but I think the 3 bin bags of bubble wrap will be enough excitement before we even start the activity.  My husband is going to freak.  In my head I’m imagining something like the giant Santa that hangs on Manchester Town Hall, but we will have to see if my vision is accurate!

22nd December  Family games day

This year my kids have really got into playing things like UNO and scrabble.  And as I don’t do the big Christmas meal because we go to my mum’s, I thought I’d have all the family round with a buffet style feast, and force them to play games with my kids.  I don’t know how this will go as both the girls and their cousins are extremely competitive, but we’ll give it a try!

23rd December  Make eggnog, shortbread and watch a Christmas movie

I’ve never had eggnog, so this is a first too.  But this day falls on a Sunday, so I want some nice food, some nice drink, and to snuggle down under the duvet and watch something like ‘The Grinch’ or ‘Santa Claus the Movie’.

24th December  Crib service and Christmas Eve box

I love the crib service.  The kids drag their feet until they’re given chocolate by the church as a bribe to enjoy, but in all honesty it’s what Christmas is all about.  I feel so emotional listening to carols sung in a church, so this is Christmas to me.  And they’re totally geared up for kids with low attention spans, so I can enjoy this without worrying about whether my kids are sitting on their seats or lying on the ground telling me they’re bored.  Then we all walk home to open their Christmas Eve boxes filled with new pyjamas, a Christmas story book, hot chocolate and marshmallows, a cookie making kit, the key for Santa to let himself in, some reindeer food to scatter in the garden, and the plate to put out for Santa for his mince pie, milk, and a carrot for the reindeer.

 

So that’s my very lengthy Christmas tradition of the gold envelopes.  If you follow me on Pinterest at Recipeforhappinessnow or Instagram at recipeforhappinessnow I will be sharing pictures of my Christmas activities throughout December.

 

But please don’t read this and feel overwhelmed or that this tradition isn’t for you.  Even if you don’t have kids I think it would be a fun thing to do with a partner or even on your own.  You could challenge yourself to do something Christmassy every day, or to make or bake something Christmassy every day.  Or what about a random act of kindness every day?  You could even just keep it to weekends to cut a little of the planning work out.  Maybe a Christmas get together with a different friend every Saturday and Sunday throughout December! And you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.  Pinterest is a fantastic source for so many good ideas.  We’ve been building this up over so many years that I have all the envelopes, cards, and a lot of resources all ready in my box in the loft.  At this stage I only have to tweak the list each year and replace a few activities they’ve outgrown to add in some new fresh ideas. 

 

So let me know if you have any different traditions at Christmas, or if you do anything similar to celebrate Christmas throughout the whole of December.  I wanted to get away from the kids just thinking of Christmas as a day they get presents.  And I hope over the years we’ve managed to put a bit of Christmas magic, a bit of religion, a few random acts of kindness and thinking of the less fortunate, and lots of glue, mess and chocolate into our Christmases.  And despite the immense planning involved, I have to say for me it’s all worthwhile because I know for my kids when they look back on Christmas in adulthood they will always remember the gold envelopes and hopefully bring back a few of their favourite activities into their own family Christmases. 

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How To ‘Up-Level’ Your Life

 

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There’s a phrase I keep hearing, a new buzz word – at least it is to me; ‘up-levelling’.  I hear people that have made it saying they’ve ‘up-levelled’ their life; they only travel first class, they only drink champagne, they’ve finally got the Chanel bag that they’ve always wanted.  These things or situations make them ‘feel’ that they’ve made it.  And it got me to thinking how I could ‘up-level’ my own life.  What could I do that would make me happier, that would make me feel like I’d made it in life, that I would do or buy if I had the money to?  And what was realistically achievable from that list?  So gradually I set about re-prioritising my money to invest in ‘up-levelling’.  And it really didn’t put me any more out of pocket.  So here is my list of how I ‘up-levelled’ my life:-

 

  • I started buying fresh flowers for my house. This was something I always felt was only realistically going to appear in my house if it was my birthday or maybe from the odd generous visitor.  And in fact it did start from that.  A friend popped round with a bouquet of flowers and they lasted 3 weeks.  It made me so happy, this little thing of having fresh flowers all the time, that as some started to wilt I bought a small bouquet for about £2 and just replaced them as and when.  I continued to do this every week when I went shopping.  Such a ridiculously cheap thing to do.  For less than the price of a coffee (the currency I rank everything against) I could have fresh flowers in my house constantly!

 

  • I started having my nails done. I went on holiday, the only occasion I would have my nails done, and booked a friend of a friend to come and do my nails.  And when I met the girl who had been recommended to me I realised she was so cheap yet so accurate, that for £15 I could probably afford to keep this little treat up.  But I got so much more from it than that.  I made a friend.  I thoroughly enjoy going to her house every 3 weeks and having a real good natter.  We have a good laugh, we have a lot of mutual interests, and it turns out even our kids know each other.  So it’s become more of a social event.  And what I’ve come to find is these people that are just desperately working hard to start a little business are so eager to impress and do a fantastic job.  They’re not some number in a big corporation; their business depends on their effort.  So you often get a really good value and quality service.  I also heard on a You Tube video on law of attraction, and I wish I could remember who it was to credit it to them, that rather than saying she ‘spends’ money she is actually ‘circulating’ it; she is ‘giving it to someone to feed their family in exchange for a service or goods’.  And when you think about it like this you could almost argue that you’re supporting someone’s dreams and goals by having your nails done!

 

  • In the same way I’ve come to have a massage every 2 months. I have always kept this up and genuinely believe it to be beneficial for my relaxation and therefore my migraines and general health, so it’s another investment in me!  Again, the lady is working from her home to support her family and the value I get from her far exceeds the service I’ve had in bigger businesses.  We’ve come to know each other well and I really look forward to catching up with her and having a little treat while I’m there.

 

 

  • I got myself an ironing lady! Now in reality I’ve only used her once, but I know I can ring her again any time I get overwhelmed.  And the £12 for a massive bag of clothes was so worth it.  When I thought what £12 meant to me as opposed to losing 2 hours of my life to stand and iron, it was a no-brainer.  And she too was just a mum trying to start a little venture to earn some extra cash for the family.  I knew she’d do a better job than I would, and she far exceeded my expectations.  In fact she was so good I had to confess to my husband that I’d had some help as they were too perfectly ironed to be down to my handy work!

 

  • I signed up to a food delivery service. Wow, this has been a life-changer!  My whole family will eat nothing other than some form of frozen breaded meat and some form of frozen breaded potato to go with it.  Not the diet for me.  I love my food.  I’m a real foody.  I’m not ashamed to say that food makes me happy!  I was getting totally overwhelmed trying to cook myself a different meal every night.  So I signed up for this deal where I get the recipe card and the sauces and I buy a few fresh ingredients myself; a much cheaper option for me than having the whole lot delivered.  And the food I’ve been making is nothing short of restaurant quality!  In fact I’m almost gutted to say it attracts the rest of them to just try a bit, and I’m soon sharing my amazing food with the whole family that had no interest in different tastes prior to this!  And the best thing is that I’m eating fresh food that’s cooked from scratch, so I feel like I’m eating less processed food, which again is something I’m really trying to do to alleviate my migraines. 

 

So they’re my little perks and treats that make me feel like I’ve up-levelled in life.  And because they all haven’t really cost me any more money because they’ve just become the priority to pay for over things I used to buy, I hope I can keep adding to that list as and when I think of things that I’ve always thought were just for the privileged, but in reality I can attain myself!

 

So what could you do to up-level your life?  It could be the simplest of things, like adding fresh flowers to your home, or maybe you’re going to go straight for the ‘only travelling first class’!  Whatever it is, start a small change today and build on it.  Integrate things slowly if needs be, but don’t spend your life thinking a better life or help with the jobs that overwhelm you are unobtainable and only for people better off than you.  Do a good deed and ‘circulate’ your money to help someone else, and in the process build yourself a better, easier and more enjoyable life!

Happy Memories Jar

shallow focus photograph of clear glass mason jar with fairy lights

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With the New Year fast approaching I wanted to write about a little family tradition we have in the hope it inspires people and gives you time to prepare if you want to try this with me in 2019!  Wow, how did we nearly get to 2019 already?

I heard of this a few years ago and I just thought it was absolutely brilliant.  It’s a happy memory jar.  Every year I buy a big glass jar and a pad of post-it type paper.  My OCD needs everything to match so God forbid I use scraps of paper or we have more happy memories than there are sheets of paper in the pad!  But of course if you aren’t inflicted with this terrible desire to have everything match then any container and scraps of paper will do the same job!  Then anything that makes us happy gets jotted down, folded up, and put in the jar to be read by the family on New Year’s Eve.  Now this can be anything as long as it’s positive and a happy memory, from things people have done or bought for me, trips out and holidays, pleasant surprises, special events, funny things the kids have said, funny things that have happened at work or in text conversations; anything that brightened up your day.  What a good way to remember all the little things over the year and again, go to bed on a good note, literally writing a little happy memory for ourselves to re-read one day. 

 

One note that we found the other day from an old jar that really made me giggle was something my nephew came out with while sat on the toilet at about aged 4.  “Grandma, if you hear me shout “f…” it means I’ve finished but I don’t know how to say the word ‘finished’!”  Now would we ever have remembered that had it not been jotted down and popped in the jar that night?

 

And now that we have children too the prospect of making a night of New Year’s Eve has gone out the window, and to be honest if we make it past 10pm it’s a miracle.  So our tradition now involves us all ordering takeout and laughing and reminiscing over the jar.  But if you still have a social life it would make a great Christmas or New Year’s Day tradition too!  Whatever fits your family. 

 

I do also think that it would be a fantastic thing to have if you ever felt really down and overwhelmed by life.  Who cares if you cheat and dip in halfway through the year for a little pick-me-up?  If pulling out a memory of the time that friend left a couple of cans of G&T on your doorstep because she knew you were stuck in alone with the kids asleep in bed and had had a day where you desperately needed a drink (another one from my jar) reminded you of how loved you actually were, what an amazing jar of positivity to have at hand!!!!

 

You can get the kids involved too, or let them create their own jar.  Me and my nephew made one once and the things he wrote that were important memories to him were beautiful: “When Daddy reads to me at night,” “The day me and Isaac were allowed to eat our dinner on a picnic blanket on my bedroom floor was the greatest day of my life,” to remember a couple.  And when his parents read them they couldn’t believe the little things that this 6 year old counted as his most joyous moments to date! 

 

So give it a go and let me know how you get on.  Maybe next year we can all come back and share our happiest memories of the year! 

 

A Star is Born

So this wasn’t the post I was going to put out today, but I have to write about this because if I don’t I have nowhere else to put these thoughts out there, and I just feel I need to speak them out loud to somebody.  And whether 99.9% of people reading this don’t get it, it’s about the 0.01% that will understand. 

 

Today I watched the film ‘A Star is Born’.  I admittedly watched it not expecting a lot, other than a bit of eye candy in Bradley Cooper and what I thought was going to be a predictable easy watching story.  Just the kind of films I love; not too much thinking!  If you haven’t watched the film I won’t ruin the storyline.  And if you have, you may even read what I’ve got to say and wonder which bit of the film I’m even talking about.  But I just have to put out there that I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film that has impacted me so deeply.  And the reason it’s affected me is very personal to something I thought I was dealing with well and was more or less over.  But seeing it played out in front of me just made me cry; and cry uncontrollably at that!  I felt I had my tears under control in the cinema and I’d hidden them well in the darkness.  But I’ve just walked around a shopping centre afterwards and gone for a meal and repeatedly just welled up. 

 

And the message that hit me like a tonne of bricks was that we never know what someone is going through fully.  That the words that we say to someone can impact them beyond anything we could possibly comprehend.  That when somebody is trying their best just to make it through each day we can have our own agenda and totally kick that person for our own gains, with no regard for the outcome.  And some scenes in this film just really highlighted that to me.  I resonated completely with them, knowing that I too have battled and battled with depression and then someone has just done or said something from a completely narcissistic point of view and set me back years, not knowing or even caring for the impact they have had on me or my ability to then care for my little family.  I was reminded of myself and knowing my intentions to just be happy and make other people happy, and how someone can completely knock that out of a person.  And what an absolutely disgusting act that is, to purposely intend to kill someone’s spirit.  And perhaps the scenes that upset me in this film allowed me to release something I’ve needed to cry out for so long.  My husband certainly thinks I’ve lost the plot right now as he left the film saying, “Let’s watch something with a bit more action next time!” unaware of me making my excuses to go to the toilet where I could sob in peace. 

 

So for all those out there that would also watch this film and cry for the people in this world being knocked day in day out, that are bullied and tormented but keep fighting and fighting to keep going; maybe you’ll get it.  Maybe you’ll get it a little bit, or maybe you’ll get it a whole lot!  Maybe some will watch this film and get to the end without even knowing which scenes affected me so deeply.  I think a lot of people will resonate with this film for a whole host of different reasons though.  But although this post is far from an advertisement in happiness, it is meant as a reminder that there is hope.  There are people out there, myself included, praying for all those people fighting demons.  And from a purely grateful angle I thank God to be on the right side of wanting to help and uplift people fighting with everything in their body just to get through each day.  If you’re one of those people please keep fighting, because you are loved.  And if you don’t feel very loved right now then there will come a day when you will feel it again!  We haven’t met everybody we’re going to meet in our lives, and we haven’t experienced everything we’re going to experience, and tomorrow could be the meeting or start of something completely life changing.  So please, PLEASE keep fighting for your happiness.