How To, Seasonal

Seasonal How to: Dress the Christmas Tree

So this is the first of my How to guides and to be perfectly honest it’ll probably be my favourite.  Dressing the Christmas tree is after all one of my favourite things to do.   I find it really therapeutic and relaxing, I do understand though that some people find it very stressful and feel they can’t seem to ‘get it right’.  With a little guidance and patience though you can achieve a lovely dressed Christmas tree without too much extra effort.

Now whether you go for the real deal or artificial the main principals of dressing the tree are the same so following the process below should have you a beautiful tree in no time at all.

Step 1:

Turn on the Christmas tunes and get your tree in position!
If it’s a real tree it’ll want a good drink of water so make sure your base has a well you can fill up and turn the tree around to find it’s best side. 
If it’s artificial be sure to spread out those branches.  It really makes a huge difference!

Step 2:

The first thing you’re going to dress the tree with are the Lights – Take them out of the box, plug them in and check all the bulbs are working.  If all is good the next thing is to take the string of lights and start at the top of the tree.  Wind the lights from side to side across the tree trying to keep as evenly spaced as possible.  If you can make the room dark do so, it makes it easier to see any big gaps so you can adjust accordingly.
I like to use 3 sets of lights on our tree; 2 sets of Warm White Cone style lights and a single string of Candle lights which give the tree a nod of traditional style.

Step 3:

Next comes the tinsel, now I’m not a huge tinsel fan but I like to use it to add depth to the tree by pushing it in towards the main trunk filling out any gaps between the branches and giving colour further into the tree.  I think this gives a much nicer effect than swaging it all over the tree. 

Step 4:

Beads – I use some lovely chunky bead strings on our tree (they’re about half and inch diameter beads.)  They are draped around the tree in the same way you do the lights.  I find the beads add colour and a sense of luxury without over powering the tree.  

Step 5:

Flowers – Now again this might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love to use flowers on the Christmas tree.  I have sprigs of artificial Blossom, Mistletoe and some miscellaneous with butterflies.  Be sure to place these throughout the tree, ensuring they stick out enough to be seen overhanging the edges of the tree. 

Step 6:

Next come the Large Fabric Bows – I use wired ribbon for these as they hold their shape beautifully.  I’ve chosen a lovely white ribbon with a gorgeous scrolling tree detail also in white.  I use only a few placed sparsely over the tree.

Step 7:

This is the best bit, the baubles! When it comes to placing the baubles take your time and place them by size and colour combinations.  Larger baubles towards the bottom of the tree and smaller ones towards the top.  If you use sets of baubles try and make sure you space them out equally and if you can don’t place two of the same colour shape or size right next to each other otherwise it can look unbalanced.  Also don’t forget the tree is a 3D thing and the sides and back will need the same attention as the front.  Make sure the decorations aren’t all hung on just the ends of branches, create layers to add to that depth of decoration.  Step back away from the tree from time to time to check the balance of ornaments is right.  Another thing I always try to do is make sure my favourite baubles are in view from my favourite seat too!

Step 8:

The fairy! – No tree can be deemed dressed until it has a topper.  In our house we have Fairies and the one for our main tree is absolutely beautiful.  She’s always the very last decoration to adorn our tree.

Step 9:

Finish off with a beautiful tree skirt to complete the look!

There you have it, a beautifully dressed tree perfect for Father Christmas to leave your presents under on Christmas Eve!

Now as this is Georges 1st Christmas and 80% of our baubles are very fragile Glass ones with deep sentimental value we have chosen to baby proof the tree this year.  We have done this by way of a wooden play pen and it’s fantastic! Tree looks great and George loves having free reign still and being able to get close without touching it!

Baby proofed! We have pretty much 90% Glass baubles so for safetys sake the Wooden Play pen is a MUST!
Seasonal

Christmas Traditions

So its nearly time for the tree to come down from the attic, the lights to be detangled and the spirit of Christmas to take over the house.  I really do love this time of year and one thing in particular is all the traditions that come with it.  As a child you often don’t realise just how special some of these things, that seems a little silly at the time, actually are!  Before I had the children I used to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve however with little ones in tow that isn’t so practical anymore.  We do however strive to keep up as many traditions as we can and also create some new ones!

So I’m going to share with you some of our Christmas Traditions and maybe it will inspire you to start some new ones too!

  • Decorating the Tree – This is definitely my most selfish tradition…. only Mummy is allowed to dress the main trees.   You see the problem is I appear to suffer with the seasonal “illness” of so called “Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder” meaning that I deem no one else capable of decorating the main trees to the perfect standards I expect and love. No little mittens shall be getting involved with the precious glass ornaments here! Now YES this is SELFISH and YES Christmas is meant to be all about the children and in every other way it is but please don’t despair at me yet! I have solved the unfairness of the “P.O.P.D” issue by providing each child with their very own 2ft tree that they can decorate in any way they see fit and Mummy won’t get involved (promise!) unless they ask for help of course! 
    This tree dressing tradition has been ongoing ever since I got my own home and it’s one that sadly for anyone else is not going change anytime soon! #sorrynotsorry !
One of my “P.O.P.D” Christmas Trees
  • Miniature Village  – This tradition was started by my Auntie Ann who adored Christmas just as much if not more so than I do.  Her house was always filled to the brim with Christmas decorations and her Christmas Village scene was always amazing!  I began my collection when I got my own home and now have amassed rather a large amount of Lilliput lane cottages.  I love creating my Christmas Village and I try to make it different each year. This is also a very important tradition I would like in time to pass on to my children.
Christmas Village scene
  • A New Bauble/Decoration – This is a Tradition that started between my Mother and I when I got my own house.  We buy each other a new tree/Christmas decoration every year, the challenge is generally trying to find something to fit our strict colour schemes! (I do believe Mother has the same “P.O.P.D” as me but she just isn’t as reactive as I am!) 
    I really love this tradition because I just love bauble/decoration shopping, and this gives me the perfect excuse to usually find some more for us too!  Over the past few years I have started buying my eldest a decoration each year for his tree too and I hope in time he will also continue on this tradition.  Georges 1st Christmas will see him receive his own special tree and 1st Christmas Bauble which I had handmade especially for us by Dudley & Roo.
George’s 1st Christmas Decoration – Picture Credit Dudley & Roo
  • Chocolate Tubs/Tins – So this is a special and very dear tradition to me, one I remember as a child and one I am making sure my children will always continue.  My Grandad George started this tradition and it is now impossible for me to not do it!  Roses or Quality Street it doesn’t matter which but it has to be the big round/hexagonal tubs. 
    So the tradition goes that you take the tub of sweets and before anyone is allowed to eat a single chocolate you have to tip the entire contents out onto a table or better still the floor and sort them into their different varieties.  Once you’ve sorted them only then can you select only 3 chocolates you would like to eat.  Once you’ve made your choices you then have to mix all the other chocolates back up and put them back in the tub ready for next time. 
    Now I’m almost certain Grandad made this up just so I wouldn’t sit there eating all the sweeties but I’m so very pleased he did.  It is one of my fondest memories of him and of family Christmases when I was young.  It is so important to me hat this is done each time you open the sweets tub in our house and regardless of if you’re guest or not you’ll be obliged to join in too!
Roses Chocolates – Picture Credit Amazon
  • Chocolate Gold Coins – This is another Grandad tradition, when I was little he used to hide chocolate gold coins all about my Mum & Dads house when he came to visit so I could go off and find them! Such a nice little treat to do when visiting friends or family with young children around Christmas time (just be careful if they have dogs that they are shut out or that the chocolate is safely out of their reach and of course ask Mum & Dads permission first!)
Gold Chocolate Coins – Picture Credit Amazon
  • Films – Ok so this is a bit more of a vague tradition but over the Christmas period I will always watch all the Harry Potter films and The Polar Express even if the kids aren’t interested!
Harry Potter DVD Boxset – Picture Credit Amazon
The Polar Express DVD – Picture Credit Amazon
  • Christmas Eve – So far we’ve stuck to the fairly traditional plate with a Carrot for the Reindeer with a Mince Pie and Schooner of Port for Santa (as rumour has it Santa prefers Port to Whiskey if you know what I mean, wink wink). We also hang up Santa’s special key and some years ago we also left Sparkly Reindeer food outside too (although at the time we didn’t realise just how harmful those glittery mixes were so we’ll definitely be searching for an Eco wildlife friendly version in future!).  Now unfortunately Santa was a bit heavy handed a few years ago and broke his special key to our house so this year we had Dudley& Roo make us a lovely new one that we hope Santa will look after a bit better!
    This year we are looking into doing Christmas Eve Boxes as this seems to be a really sweet idea that’s very on trend at the moment.  I love the idea of the kiddies having a surprise little token pre-present and lovely new Christmas themed bedtime story with a mug of Hot Chocolate and maybe even some Lebkuchen, who knows the possibilities are endless! I found these lovely ones from Seth & Noah.
Seth & Noah Christmas Eve Boxes – Picture Credit Seth & Noah
  • Present Opening – Tradition for us is this is done first thing in the morning but not before 6:30am! I have two rules after that the first being; I get a coffee before we even start and the second; that before you move onto opening the next present you let me make a note of who bought you it otherwise the thank you cards can go VERY wrong!
Coffee 1st – Polar Bear Mug
  • Crackers – In our house you simply can’t have Christmas dinner without pulling a cracker first!  We try and go for ones with useful things inside rather than cheap plasticcy things that are of no use nor ornament! I’ll be on the look out for more Eco-friendly ones this year, maybe even some Charity ones. I found these Mistletoe ones at Graham & Green!
Set of 6 Mistletoe Eco Christmas Crackers – Photo Credit Graham & Green
  • The Food – Again we’ve always kept things very traditional and cooked either Turkey or Goose, my personal favourite being the Goose.  I always make sure we buy local meat and last year ordered a fantastic Christmas Meat Hamper from Simpsons.   No Christmas day meal is complete without a Christmas Pud despite no one else in the house liking it! I have to have one and I love the whole tradition of setting the Pud on fire and making a wish before the flame dies out. Granted this can go wrong in so many ways (and on the odd occasion it has, setting light to not only myself but the kitchen too!) but it simply wouldn’t be Christmas any other way!
Goose Christmas Dinner – Picture credit ukgamefair.wordpress.com
  • The Queens Speech – Now I am a Royalist and I am extremely proud of our English Heritage. For me the Queens Speech is the calm amongst the crazy of Christmas day and I love the tradition of everyone gathering together after dinner with a coffee or sherry and watching the Queen address the nation. Very humbling.
The Queens Speech – Picture credit the Express
  • Christmas Supper – Traditional Turkey and Mayonasie sandwiches! Nothing else will do!
Turkey & Mayonnaise sandwich – Picture credit Allsandwiches.com

So those are just a few of our families traditions, if you’ve got an interesting family Christmas tradition please let me know!

Just for Grownups

Grown Up Getaway: London, UK

Well we’ve just returned from a Grown Up mini break in London and my goodness what a great time we’ve had! This trip was the very first time my partner and I had ever left our little one and, after the initial flood of tears from me when we departed, it was actually lovely to just be a couple again and for me to be me and not Mum for a few days.

We stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel which is a really great central location, perfectly suited to our weekend of exploration. The Hotel itself was lovely and check in was fast and simple. We made our way to our room (258) and were pleasantly surprised to find we had a small suit complete with a living room too! The décor was modern but cosy and the double bed I found really comfy. Despite the hotel being lovely and the staff all incredibly helpful I have to say breakfast was sadly a total let-down. The cooked breakfast buffet was tepid at best matching the coffee which along with being tepid smelled like cigarettes, YUCK!

Moving on, I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan and as the premier of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was on only a day prior to us visiting London, Wizarding Magic was obviously filling our minds. Whilst trawling over Facebook the day before our trip my partner had discovered a Magical Cocktail Experience Pop Up Bar called ‘The Cauldron’ not far from our hotel and after reading reviews decided to book us a place!

When it was time we opted to walk to the bar as I’m super nervous of the Tube and as we got closer and closer, I begun to seriously regret that decision. It looked like we were heading into a much ‘less salubrious’ part of town and every inch of my being was telling me to get the hell out of there. I stuck it out though and when the Sat Nav on my phone cheerfully stated ‘You have arrived at your destination’ my heart literally sank, it was a Shipping container with a tent roughly shoved on top! I was absolutely horrified!

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It goes to show though you should NEVER judge a book (or in this case a bar) by it’s cover!

Upon entering it really is like what I imagine walking into ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ would be like, it was amazing! Every ounce of doubt I’d had instantly disappeared and we became fully fledged Witches and Wizards for the afternoon! Capes and Wand included! It was EPIC! Cocktail making was just the best fun and I simply can’t recommend this place highly enough! It’s an absolute MUST if you’re into Harry Potter and Cocktails! We made the ‘Blood Boiling Curse’ and ‘Time Transfixed’ which was my favourite.

We were very lucky to catch up with family whilst in London and we arranged to meet up and go for an evening meal. Our venue choice was Madison, as we had wanted a London Skyline style meal with great views over the city! Madison filled that brief and proposed to serve a menu selection which was more suitable for us country bumpkins than some other restaurants we had considered as they did Burgers, Venison and other food we had actually heard of!
Madison is located on top of a shopping centre and, after the trauma of catching the tube, it is safe to say on arrival we felt more than a little lost! Thankfully our family spotted us and directed us to where we needed to be! The venue itself was what I can only describe as ‘Vibrant’, the views from the terrace were absolutely stunning, and from our table we had a lovely view of St. Pauls Cathedral all lit up in the London Skyline. Now as I said the ambience of the place was ‘vibrant’ which for us Country Bumpkins basically means you could barely hear yourself think over the ‘music’ if that’s what you can call it. Thankfully the ‘vibrancy’ could not cast a shadow over the deliciousness of the meal! I chose the Venison and I was definitely not disappointed, it was cooked beautifully and with the accompaniments was a real treat. My partner opted for the Burger which also looked fantastic, a real nice thick patty in a toasted cob with all the trimmings. The service was also excellent and despite struggling to hear the staff they were more than happy to recommend a nice Rosé wine for us which again was delicious! After our meal we opted to try and find somewhere a little less ‘vibrant’ so we could regain our hearing and maybe hold a conversation without having to shout!
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As the family we met live and work in central London and know the area far better than we could ever Sat Nav our way around we followed their lead and walked around taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Big Smoke. It was a lovely evening and both myself and my partner thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our next London adventure was breakfast in the Sky Garden! Now this was very special and something I would highly recommend doing if you ever get the opportunity! The Sky Garden is located at the top of the Walkie Talkie building and boasts outstanding views over the city! Luckily the weather had begun to clear from the foggy day that we had arrived to the previous day. After the airport style security check in when made our way to the 35th floor and the sun was burning through glistening on the Thames and allowing us to see more and more the longer we were there. We had Croissants and Pan au Chocolat with Lattes which came to a very reasonable £14. Not bad for breakfast with a stunning view (although if like me you feel the cold you’ll need your big coat as it is a bit chilly that high up!) Now my partner is immensely terrified of heights and having gone a ghastly shade of green going up the Guinness Tower in Dublin I had my reservations about this being a good idea. He did however cope remarkably well and even mustered walking up to the top 37th Floor and with a little encouragement, stood looking over the highest balcony! A fantastic experience and one I would happily do again, I imagine an evening meal here is epic!

Hamleys was our next port of call, a firm favourite for both of us and we enjoyed looking around immensely, we obviously bought George a present, a Hamleys Marching bear and when we gave it to him when we got home his little face was an absolute picture!

For the rest of the morning we walked about London taking in the sights; Leicester Square, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square etc etc and stopped at Pret a Manger for a bite to eat for lunch. I had a Hoisin duck salad wrap and a Latté and they were so good, the wrap really was delicious and the coffee far better than the hotels at about quarter of the price! It was here that my partner, having now ‘conquered’ his fear of heights suggested we go on the London Eye! (Now I’m not sure if he was delirious from the earlier trauma of the Sky Garden but nevertheless, I wasn’t going to say no!)
The London Eye is something I’ve always wanted to go on ever since it was built! My parents took my eldest on it and my Grandma and they both really enjoyed it but knowing how poorly heights usually make my partner it was something I thought we just wouldn’t do together. This time though he’d packed his bravery pants and we we’re going! EEEEEKKKKK I was so excited!!!!

We had booked our tickets online whilst sat in Pret and Fast Tracked them and thank god we did, when we arrived it was heaving with people, but we managed to get aboard the Pod within about 10-15 mins. I would certainly recommend Fast Track if you ever want to ride the Eye, worth every penny if you’re limited on time like we were. The experience was amazing, the views breath-taking and as we’d timed it the sun was just setting making the city transform beneath us as we gracefully glided round. I loved it and would highly recommend it, even with the little ones in tow!

All in all London was a fantastic grown up getaway, even for Country Bumpkins. It’ll certainly be somewhere I will go back to as there is just so much we’ve yet to discover and do. My next wish list will be to go up the Shard and Tower Bridge as friends have told us both these are very good!

Just for Grownups

Grown up days out

We all know being a parent is tough, it’s fantastic, but just sometimes it gets a bit much! Some people may frown at that but that’s ok, they might be SUPER MUM or SUPER DAD but for little old me it truly can get a little overbearing at times. That’s when a Grown-Up day out can save my sanity!

Now I would never say I prefer a grown-up day out more than a family day out because I adore taking the kids out with us but there are some places that kids just don’t want to go! It’s easier when they’re younger as they don’t really have an opinion and just go where you go BUT as they get bigger, more hormonal and attitudal TRUST ME you’ll be lucky to drag them out of their room for food let alone go out!

So the grown-up day out relieves all that stress and agro! No huge heavy changing bags to lug about, no pushchair to wrestle in/out the car or up and down steps, no thinking about what time they need feeding next, dirty bums, or where the nearest toilet is, no constant questioning of ‘When are we going home?’ or ‘How much longer are we gonna be here?’! Just drop them off with the sitter/grandparents/nursery/childminder and away you go!

A grown-up day out is, quite simply, delightful!

My Fiancé and I have been on a few Grown-up days out and over the next few weeks I’ll happily be sharing with you my favourites so far.

So to set the ball rolling here’s the first….

Chatsworth House & Gardens

Home of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire and passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family Chatsworth House is located in the Peak District, Derbyshire and quite simply it is breath-taking!

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The glorious gilt façade glistening golden in the Autumn sunlight is truly a spectacle to behold! The gardens are equally beautiful throughout the year with their glorious water features and stunning planting.  When you go inside you are sure to be blown away by the opulent beauty of the house, the vast collection of wonderful artworks is magnificent from paintings to sculptures and items of historical importance.

There really is nothing I don’t like about Chatsworth and although I’ve already been several times (with and without the kiddies) I could happily continue to come back again and again and never tire of the stunning landscape and of admiring the glorious house.

They run various events throughout the year, courses, exhibitions and activities.  I recently attended a herbalist course held in and around the Kitchen garden and found it to be very informative and thoroughly enjoyable.

From 10th November 2018 the house is dressed for Christmas, they have a different theme every year, and what a sight to behold! This years theme is Once Upon a Time and promises to be enchanting! I can’t wait!  The festivities also include the already sold out Masquerade Ball and I am determined ‘I shall go to the ball‘ one of these years!

The Café and restaurant serve fantastic food and the wonderful Orangery gift shop or in fact any of the gift shops are bound to entice you to take home a little memento of your visit!

I would say this is my perfect Grown-ups day out!

(I must add there are activities for children too, The farmyard and playground are a huge hit with the kiddies and they are made very welcome around the gardens and house too, although no pushchairs or backpack style carriers are allowed in the house.)

Holiday Heaven, Holidays

Holiday Heaven: White Cross Bay, Ambleside, The Lake District

Like many people from all over the world I ADORE the Lake District, it is one of those places where you can simply be and that’s ok. In our busy modern everyday lives, you very rarely get the opportunity to just be, to not rush about, have a million things to do and commitments to keep. The Lakes take that all away the moment you arrive.

Driving up from Nottinghamshire takes a good few hours, but as the journey progresses you can feel the tension easing from your shoulders, your tongue remove itself from being pressed against the roof of your mouth and your jaw relax. The scenery surrounds you and almost hugs you welcoming you into this new place of being, it’s quite simply heaven on earth.

Now yes during the summer it is very touristy but that doesn’t detract from the shear beauty of this amazing place. Even when you’re in the hustle and bustle of Windermere you still feel the sense of tranquillity and calm that this place bestows upon you.

My favourite place to stay is White Cross Bay, a caravan/chalet park just outside Ambleside. It really is special, the chalets and caravans are lovely, impeccably clean and the setting is right on the shore of Lake Windermere. If you’re lucky enough to have your own boat, you can moore and launch it here too. There are privately owned chalets and caravans, but everything here feels inclusive, it’s a real family friendly place. Having stayed in both the Chalets and Caravans I can tell you both are equally lovely!  My preference is actually the caravans purely because you’re generally a little bit nearer the centre of the site.

The facilities here are great there’s a lovey swimming pool, not huge but perfectly sized for the demand of the place, a small shop selling essentials and souvenirs, the LOVELY Boathouse restaurant for a very special evening meal, a fast food outlet serving pizzas etc, a Bar with live entertainment in the evenings and even a small arcade. Not only that but the outdoor facilities are great too! A fantastic children’s play area and as I said the marina is beautiful. Another great thing about White Cross Bay is they will allow you to bring dogs* (*selected accommodation only and limited numbers) and there are some stunning walks especially in the springtime when the Bluebells in the woods on site are spectacular!

From White Cross Bay you are perfectly situated to explore everything the Lakes have to offer! We’ve been all around and found some breath-taking views and places to stop and have a coffee and cake! The traditional hotspots such as Windermere and Coniston never loose their appeal though and going on a Windermere lake cruise is like a tradition for us now! The Chocolate dipped ice creams from the parlour near the boat drop off are also amazing and a MUST whilst you’re there!

If you’re self catering or just want to pick up a bite to eat the supermarket Booths in Windermere is lovely.  It’s clean and a really nice place to shop,  there’s lots of special treats and what’s great is they’re not too over priced.  We always go here for our holiday food shopping.

One of my favourite, more secluded and out the way places to visit is Tilberthwaite Ghyll. It is down a very narrow single track road running along the side of a VERY steep mountain with a sheer drop off. The Herdwick sheep roam freely around here, and you can get some lovely pics from the car! When you finally arrive at the end of the lane you’re greeted by an amazing force (Waterfall). It’s such a lovely place to stop and have a picnic, walk the dogs and paddle in the force, you can explore up the slate mine and the views from the top are truly amazing.

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We’ve visited so many places; Windermere, Coniston, Kendal, Bowness, Grasmere, Ullswater, Wastwater and Hawkshead to name but a few! We’ve also hired boats on Windermere, travelled aboard the Steam Gondola on Coniston Water, visited The Lakes Aquarium, I’ve even been on an experienced rider Horse Riding Trek up the mountains overlooking Lake Windermere (which by the way was absolutely AMAZING!).

Hawkshead was a revelation when we discovered the Hawkshead Relish Company! Wow they do some seriously scrumptious stuff! Their Hawkshead Relish and savoury jellies are absolutely divine! I love them so much I even order their products direct online!

There quite literally is so much to do and each time we come to the lakes we’re discovering more and more things and amazing places to visit!

Come rain or shine the Lake District has something to offer everyone, the atmosphere of the place changes with the weather but never in a bad way.  The rain brings glistening new beauty, the mist and fog more intrigue and in a thunder storm there’s nothing more spectacular that watching the lightening over the lakes!  The sun sharpens the views casting deep shade over the sides of the mountains and highlighting the peaks but no matter what the weather this place is certain to grab your soul and never let go!

So if you’re planning a UK holiday I most definitely recommend White Cross Bay
and The Lake District!