10 Things You’ll Forget To Buy This Christmas (& Free Printable)

I was going to title this piece “The Mother Distracted Guide to Humbug-ery” and then I thought “best not”. Anyway, here’s my helpful list of things you might want to add to your Christmas shopping list on the basis that I like to be fully prepared for all possible emergencies, medical, psychological and social.

Christmas shopping list - cartoon of a small red car with an enormous Christmas tree on the roof

Most of these items are unremittingly dull.  But nowhere near as dull as trying to find a corner shop open on Christmas day whilst the husband is left to cremate the turkey and the kids dismantle any item costing more than a tenner which needs batteries….. which leads me to…

Things to add to your Christmas shopping list

1.  Batteries.

Best to buy in bulk over the internet if you’re organised.  If not, best join the queue in Argos for a pack big enough to power a space shuttle and spend 20 minutes watch the blinking TV screen as your order number takes an age to appear on the glamorous metal racking at the back of the sales assistants who would rather be anywhere else – probably doing their own Christmas shopping.

2.  Indigestion remedy.

Christmas is the only time of year when we are unnaturally possessed to consume our own body weight in dried fruit.  It ain’t pretty.  Better stock up on the indigestion remedies or some peppermint tea.

3.  Plasters.

Fabric.  Waterproof.  The sorts that are so strong that pain is involved in removing them. All other plasters float off as soon as they get wet, particularly any featuring Winnie The Pooh / Hello Kitty etc.

4. Wire cutters or very strong scissors.

Even the magician Dynamo would struggle to get out of some of the packaging toys come in these days.  You’ll need the fabric plasters to wrap around your fingers after it has taken you an entire festive episode of  Midsomer Murders to free Barbie and her range of microscopic accessories.

5. Tweezers.

After Caitlin’s “bead up the nose” incident, I’m taking no chances.  Plus I can’t remember the last time I actually scrutinized my eyebrows. And since we’ve got rid of the carpet and hubby has painted the floors, the risk of splinters in the foot (and even more annoyingly, shredded hosiery) is high. Less micro-pedi and more micro-shreddy.

Christmas shopping list - selection of Christmas baubles and berries with a lit tea-light lantern

6.  Bin bags.

Just remember that the ratio of packaging to gift for most of the stuff we buy these days is 85% packaging and 15% gift. However, failure to recycle correctly in this here shire may result in heavy tut-tutting from the locals and possibly a short prison sentence.  In our area, the council has decreed 2 black bags per wheelie bin every fortnight.  Good luck with that over Christmas.

7.  Fuel for the car.

No really.  If you’re off to see Aunty Vi in the back of Abercwmtwch, you just know that there won’t be a garage open this side of the Severn Bridge on Christmas day. Although come to think of it, that might actually be a good thing. You really don’t need a pasty and a copy of What Car magazine either. Don’t forget to make sure your car is fully prepared for winter travel too.

8. Enough cream..

Without fail if I buy a small amount, everyone wants some and if I buy it in pints, everyone wants custard.  I’m sure it’s deliberate.

9. A gravy boat and a cream jug.

What has happened to the nation’s fleet of gravy boats?  Are we all using Pyrex jugs or those strange jugs in the shape of a cow?  And I never have anything suitable to put cream in.  It’s not the same served straight out of the carton, is it?

10. An emergency present.

Tricky.  I find boxes of Matchmakers or Ferrero Rocher chocolates kept for this purpose usually vanish. You’ll just have to be strong or invest in a prettily wrapped gift card from somewhere like Marks & Spencer.

I’m sure you have your own list.  Let me know.  I bet there are loads of things I’ve forgotten!

What would you add to this Christmas shopping list?

For a free printable list of all my essential not-to-be-forgotten Christmas sundries, click here.

Fitting In Family Time Leading Up To Christmas

The festive season is busy for everyone. For mums with kids still at home, it’s chaotic, to say the least. We aren’t just mothers, we’re playing Santa, chef, event planner, and sometimes, even dad. The lead up to the “big day” on December 25th often gets in the way of time spent with the children, but this defeats the object. Quality family time at Christmas is surely what it’s all about?

You really don’t want to go out. The shops are packed, money’s tight, and besides, it’s really, really cold. But you can still have a good time even if you’re just staying at home.

Here’s how to spend some quality family time at Christmas.

Make your own Christmas presents and cards

Kids these days are often accused of not doing anything that doesn’t involve technology, so why not get them writing some good, old-fashioned Christmas cards? It shows discipline, and the family really love receiving them. You can even go that one step further and make the cards yourselves, to really get those creative juices flowing. Of course, why stop there?

There are so many different gifts you can make as well! People really appreciate something that has love, time and effort poured into it and will cherish something made by the children as opposed to store-bought. Things might not look super professional, but guess what? That’s honestly okay.

Have A Movie Night                        

Everyone loves films… not many people love the hole in their wallet after taking the entire family to the cinema. This time of year is the perfect time to get all cosy on the sofa, light the fire, and put on some classics. Why not introduce the kids to The Snowman? Or perhaps Home Alone is more your thing. Older children will love Love Actually (okay, maybe mostly just the mums).

Snacks are a big deal, too. You can think outside the box – it doesn’t just need to mean popcorn (although that’s absolutely okay as well). There are loads of unique ideas for movie treats, from Mac & Cheese balls to chicken tikka nuggets; and you can even order in, thanks to the money you’ve saved from not going to the actual movies!

You’ll also find some great ideas for waistline-friendly snacks here if you’re watching the calories.

Bake Christmas Treats

The odd movie is fine, but you don’t want the kids getting square eyes! Using your time with them to learn new skills is ideal, but baking is a really special treat running up to Christmas. Whether you’re having a Christmas party, or you’re literally keeping in the family (who could blame you), this is a time for letting healthy eating slide a little and for all things sugary sweet to rule the day. Christmas cake, gingerbread, fairy cakes or even tree decorations, there is an abundance of things that you can make.

This is a really magical time of year, especially for the kids. It’s not always about going to the best panto or buying them the best gifts. Don’t miss out on the little moments that make it so special. They won’t be young for long!

How do you ensure you have some quality family time at Christmas?

Tips To Make Sure You Don’t Break The Bank This Christmas

Christmas is the time of year when it’s easy to spend more than you can afford and, if you have kids, it’s tempting to buy them everything on their Christmas lists. This means that many of us find it a struggle to make ends meet at the start of a new year. Budgeting at Christmas has little appeal when there’s so much fun to be had but it really can make all the difference to how you start the new year.

These are just common sense, but here is a reminder of some simple things you can do to avoid emptying your wallet and maxing out your credit cards.

Write a List and Stick to it 

So easy to say but how many of us actually sit down and take the time to write a list? Whether you prefer handwritten or typed, there are so many apps and journals available to take the dullness out of what can be a bit of a chore. Make yourself a hot chocolate, get cosy and start writing.

How many of us mums remember to include ourselves on the list by the way?

Set a Budget

Budgeting at Christmas is key. Just jot down who you intend buying for, what you’re thinking of buying them, and the amount you’re thinking of spending on them.  This way it will be easy to see if you are likely to go over budget before you start online shopping or head out to town.

When you have an idea of how much you want to spend on each person, set a budget that you can afford. If you think money is going to be tight, work out where you can cut back on your occasional spending or be ruthless with who really should be on the gift list.

You might also want to talk to your immediate family to agree on an upper financial limit to gifts or perhaps restricting gift-giving, as my sister and I do, to our kids and just giving each other a bottle of wine.

You don’t really need to give gifts to relatives you see once a year, I think and certainly don’t go mad for friends who wouldn’t put themselves out for you.  Very often I think we spend out of guilt or in an attempt to win friendship.  That very rarely works.

The other thing that can swallow up your cash if you’re not careful is stocking fillers for the kids and pets, as well as advent calendars.

Again, budgeting at Christmas can make all the difference.

Start shopping as early in the year as possible

The earlier you start putting money towards your budget in the year, the better you’ll feel when it’s time to go Christmas shopping. Yes, Christmas shopping in August can be depressing, but it all helps to avoid being broke during the new year.

It’s also a good idea to have a review of your finances in July to see what other bills are looming and how much realistically you can free up for Christmas.

Don’t forget the ‘incidentals’

It’s a cliche but true nevertheless that it is the thought that counts but remember that the smallest amounts can really add up.  It’s not just the gift, is it?  There’s cards, wrapping paper, gift boxes and bags, postage and even fuel to deliver them in person.

There are always those things that you forget to buy and end up desperately scrabbling around your corner shop at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.

You can find lots of helpful gift lists online if you need some inspiration and Pinterest is a great place to look.

Gift wrapped with handmade paper and adorned with a sprig of spruce and a fir cone

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Use credit wisely

Obtaining a credit account is an option, although you’ll need to proceed with caution because too much credit and particularly defaulting on payments will have a negative on your credit score.  This might mean being turned down for important loans in the future – for example, a mortgage.

The question is, can you trust yourself to make all the repayments on time, without incurring compound interest and late payment fees?

You may be able to spread the cost of Christmas by shopping with some of the catalogue stores who offer credit accounts but make sure you know what you are getting into and if the credit is interest-free.  Otherwise, the cost of your purchase will be much higher than the advertised price.

Compare Prices

Before buying something, compare prices in different stores first to see if you can get it any cheaper. Every little helps, especially at this time of year.  Do try to support smaller businesses and your local traders.  This year is going to be a tough Christmas trading period for lots of the smaller retailers and crafts folk who are fighting the might of Amazon and the like.

My personal feeling is that if we don’t start to support our local traders then the high street as we know it may well just disappear and, much as I enjoy the convenience of internet shopping, there is nothing like the experience of Christmas shopping in a shop – if you are prepared and sensibly dressed for it that is!

Get creative and make your own gifts

Why not get creative and make some stuff yourself? This will save you a ton of money, and people will appreciate the thought and effort you’ve put into their gifts a lot more. You could make a food hamper, pamper hamper, cupcakes, a canvas, or anything else you can think of.

Give to Charity

I think it’s fair to say that charities have had as tough a year as the retailers and my personal preference is to support the smaller, local charities where I can see that my donations are actually making a difference.

If you want to give a gift to someone who has everything and is a supporter of a particular charity, why not give to charity in their name? Of course, there are plenty of charity Christmas cards but I find that more and more of us are relying on email and texts.  It’s not the same, though, is it?

I hope these tips will serve as a useful reminder that, with a bit of planning and budgeting, you can take control of your Christmas spending and avoid the stress of wondering when the credit card bills and email reminders will start appearing.

And don’t forget that you deserve a gift too – if it’s only some time out for pampering and whatever form of self-care works for you.

Christmas Shopping? 8 Ways To Keep Your Cool.

There are times when those of us prone to getting a little ‘tired and emotional’ need to treat ourselves with a little more care than usual and especially if you are menopausal!  And Christmas shopping is definitely one of those times.

If, like me, you find yourself getting too hot, too tired and decidedly cranky with kids in tow, here are eight ways you can mitigate the damage before you either blow your top or end up spending far too much money because you just want to go home!

Here are my “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips.

keep cool when Christmas shopping - indoor shopping mall

Keep cool when Christmas shopping

Decide how much you are going to spend on presents

This is THE most difficult aspect of all but you really need to be clear about your budget and how much you can afford to spend on each present.  It’s so easy to feel pressured into spending too much but we all know that after the kids have the thrill of ripping the wrapping paper off, so many toys languish ignored after a day or so.

Make a list of what you’re going to buy.

An oldie but a goodie.  Make a list of what you’re planning to buy for everyone and stick to it.  The list should include stocking fillers as well as main presents. It is amazing how bits and pieces such as novelty chocolates and tiny games can add up.

Research prices online before you go.

For bigger ticket items, it makes sense to at least have an idea of what the big retailers are offering and most of them will price-match (John Lewis, for example).

If you’re shopping for gadgets, make sure you are comparing the like for like technical specification and check what extras are included.

You might also want to check any consumer reviews you can find in magazines like Which? or on Amazon. Whilst you need to be able to read between the lines when looking at reviews, generally, you will get a sense of whether a product is OK or a complete dud not worth your precious cash.

Check sites like Topcashback, Quidco, and Vouchercloud to see whether there are better online deals for your gifts.  Sites like these also have mobile apps you can use to check prices and earn cashback on the go.

There are numerous other price-checking apps for your smartphone that you can use in-store such as Red Laser or Price Grabber.

Cash or credit?

Make sure you’ve set a budget and know how much you can afford to spend.  If you’re spending on your credit cards, make sure you’ll be able to make the necessary repayments without incurring hefty interest charges.  Nobody wants to start a new year with a Christmas debt hangover.

Plan Your Route

Once you know what you want to buy and where the best deals are likely to be, it’s easier to plan your route.  Make allowances for the day and time you go shopping.  If you hate crowds, first thing on a Sunday morning will be a nicer experience than mid-afternoon on a Saturday!

Dress Appropriately

I like to wear warm, casual clothes in layers with a stylish but comfy pair of boots that I can walk for miles in. You can find a great selection at Esprit.

If you’ve got kids, make sure they don’t get overheated in all-in-one bodysuits and that their clothing is easily removable for dashes to the toilet!

Plan A Break

Particularly if you have kids, you’ll need to schedule a toilet/drink break.  We like John Lewis as there is a good choice of food and snacks for kids, plenty of room, clean toilets and a welcoming environment for families.  Trying to cram into a tiny coffee bar with a pushchair and umbrellas is never a nice experience!

Make sure you have some bottled water and some healthy snacks (mini boxes of raisins or bananas) to stave off hunger pains.  If you’re on a diet, a little snack pot with some fruit and nuts and perhaps a few cubes of cheese may help you avoid an enormous slice of fudge cake and a calorie-laden festive coffee.

Keep Receipts

Why not start a folder specially for Christmas present receipts?  Just pop them straight in when you get home and you’ll know when to find them should anything need to be taken back after Christmas. Lots of retailers will now email you your receipt to save on all those annoying bits of paper.

Do It All Online Instead!

If you can’t face the crowds, online shopping is the answer.  Just make sure that you take into account any delivery charges, last order dates and returns policies.  Not all online retailers offer to cover the postage costs of returning item.  If you’re ordering a perishable gift, such as a cream tea hamper, make sure the recipient will be in to receive it.

It also helps to sort out a safe place for delivery as there is nothing more annoying than coming home to a missed delivery card.

With a bit of planning before your shopping trip, you can minimise the stress and hopefully save yourself some cash into the bargain.

Do you have any “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips to share?

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Review: Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake Kit

GIFTED: These days, more and more of us are adapting our diets, either through choice or because we are managing allergies and food intolerances. If you’re looking for a gluten-free Christmas cake, though, read on.

At Christmas, when we are likely to have more visitors than usual, wouldn’t it be good to know that, no matter what your guests’ nutritional needs are, you can offer them something special and tasty – for example a gluten-free Christmas cake.

This year Tesco’s Christmas campaign is “Everyone’s Welcome” and to prove the point they sent us their Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake Kit to try.

It’s a vanilla cake mix with a decorating kit, all packed up in one little box so it would be easy to keep in the cupboard just in case.

The kit contains four sachets – vanilla cake mix, icing mix, chocolate drops and coloured sprinkles.  You need to supply 225g dairy free spread and 3 medium eggs (or egg substitute). You’ll also need greaseproof paper to create your cake template.

Make sure you keep the box because when you open it out you’ll find your template for the Christmas jumper.  All you do is trace the outline of the jumper on to some greaseproof paper, cut it out and place to one side until your cake is baked.

Caitlin was tasked with creating the template which she took very seriously.

To help us out, we were also sent a lovely Acacia mixing spoon made from handcrafted wood, a non-slip 4-litre mixing bowl and a Homebake Superior square baking pan from Tesco Go Cook range.

Assembling the cake is easy.  Simply place the contents of the vanilla cake mix sachet in a bowl with the eggs, spread and a tablespoon of water and mix.  That’s it!

25 minutes later (Gas Mark 4) you have a lovely golden cake ready for cutting into a jumper shape and decorating.

Once the cake has cooled, place it bottom side up on a flat plate or board and put your template on top.  Carefully cut around your template to create your jumper-shaped cake.

Then, turn the cake the right side up and prepare your icing.

Once again, this was a doddle – add 100g dairy-free spread or butter to the contents of the icing mix sachet and mix until smooth.  I had to add a little hot water to get a smoother consistency.

Cover the cake top and sides and smooth.

Then you are ready to decorate.

Now, this is the part where we came slightly unstuck.  You are supposed to melt the chocolate drops in the microwave and then return the melted chocolate to the sachet they came in. Snipping off the bottom of the sachet is supposed to create a piping bag.

I found the chocolate drops difficult to melt – probably due to the cold weather! Getting the chocolate back in the bag is a bit of a struggle and piping it was equally difficult.

Rather than have random chocolate blogs on top of my nice white cake, I let the kids go mad with the sprinkles.

You may be more creative than me (it’s entirely possible!) but next time I’ll add the chocolate drops as they are.

I think our creation is perfectly acceptable and looks just as exciting as a non ‘free from’ cake would look.

The Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake kit retails at £4.50 and you’ll need to stock up quick because it will only be available for delivery until 23rd December. It’s a great choice for a gluten-free Christmas cake.

Win The Holiday Of Your Dreams With Hallmark & Tesco Elf

The film Elf is rapidly becoming a Christmas classic.  Who doesn’t love Will Ferrell as the outsize elf Buddy who discovers who he really is and teaches his family the true meaning of Christmas?  The film captures the child-like glee that we all feel (well I do, the Husband is closer to The Grinch) as soon as the twinkly fairy lights appear and “Fairytale of New York” is played on repeat in every department store through the land?

To celebrate all things elfin, Hallmark has created a range of cards feature everyone’s favourite elf (Buddy of course) and his helpful sayings and we were sent a selection of these, together with a selection of elf essentials to throw our own elf party.


Our house elf is called Olly and he has been recently joined by a couple of interlopers from Bluestone’s The Kingdom of the Elves, oh and a robin or two from Santa’s workshop.

Given that we are in the middle or redecorating and replacing our dining room ceiling, the place looks like the sort of Christmas grotto Morrissey would design if he was having one of his perkier days.

If we woke up tomorrow and found Banksy had visited in the night and done us a mural on the dining room wall I wouldn’t be remotely surprised (and very happy given the potential value of his artwork!).

An elf with ... the film elf

So we were definitely in the mood to celebrate, helped in no small measure by my favourite Christmas compilation (Now That’s What I Call Christmas) and plenty of candy canes, chocolate Christmas puddings, jelly beans, spaghetti and maple syrup.  Actually I think that describes Ieuan’s ideal diet in one sentence.

We then settled down to watch our favourite film as Buddy travels to New York to cause mayhem.

How to win your dream holiday

If you fancy a trip to New York as much as Buddy does in the film Elf, this year Hallmark and Tescos are running a fabulous competition to win a £2000 gift card to use towards the holiday of your dreams.


To enter, all you need to do is to purchase a Hallmark Elf product in a participating Tesco store, pick up and entry form and tell them where you would go on your dream winter holiday, who you would choose to take with you and why.

Complete your entry form and send it off to the address on the form.  Or you can email a photo or scan of your entry to TescoElf@hallmark.com.  Don’t forget to keep your receipt though.

Terms and conditions apply which you can find at www.hallmark.co.uk/TescoElf and be quick because the competition closes on Boxing Day, 26th December 2017.

The winner will be the entry judged to be the most original.

And there are plenty of lovely Hallmark cards to choose from.  These are some of our favourites.

Our ideal winter holiday would be to Lapland or the Swiss Alps to learn to ski – well the Husband and kids, I’ll be nursing a Gluhwein and reading a book back at our picturesque log cabin but the thought’s there.

Don’t be a cotton headed ninny-muggins.  Make sure you pick up your entry form and send a Buddy greeting to your nearest and dearest.  Just think you might be able to take them to the North Pole with you.

Good luck!

Helpful Christmas Stocking Filler Tips For Kids And Pets

It’s less than 2 weeks to Christmas Day and as usual I am running late on my self-imposed deadline of 1st December for getting all my Christmas shopping done. No – I haven’t even started! If you’re like me, wouldn’t it be handy then, to have some helpful Christmas stocking filler tips, not only for your kids but for your fur babies too?

Dog in Christmas hat by Christmas tree

It’s not the big presents that pose the problem – it’s easy (reasonably!) to set expectations about what Santa might or might not be prepared to lug across the skies in his overloaded sleigh.

But if, like us, you give your kids a Christmas stocking as well as their main present, you’re probably familiar with the last minute running round, head scratching and the worry that you’ve spent almost as much on the stocking contents as you have on the main present or worse, forgotten something really important.

As a child, I had one of dad’s walking socks which was usually filled with the same thing each year – an apple, an orange, some Walnuts and Hazelnuts (in shells), a tiny box of miniature liqueurs (!) and a tube of either Rowntrees Fruit Gums or Fruit Pastels.  Occasionally, Santa would go mad and supply Smarties or Chocolate Buttons instead.  There might be a teeny tiny book of poetry (one year I got a miniature copy of Shakespeare’s MacBeth too or, memorably, one year we had a cap gun.  My sister and I went through a phase of pretending to be Charlies’ Angels and arguing about who was Jill and who was Kelly.  Sabrina was always a bit too scary.

So I suggest you set a firm budget and write a list.  If you’ve got more than one child you have to make sure the financial value is the same (kids somehow know these things) but here are some ideas. These will obviously vary depending on the age of the child but Caitlin will be 10 and Ieuan will be 8.

pile of prettily wrapped Christmas presents with bows

These lists need not be gender specific of course but simply reflect what my two would like.

You can pick up lots of cheap and cheerful stocking fillers in places like Poundland, Wilko and ASDA – there is no need to break the bank if your budget is tight.

Girls Stocking Fillers

Nail wraps / Nail varnish
Gift card (e.g. New Look, Claires Accessories)
Notebook or diary
Flavoured lip balm
Scented pens (have a look in Smiggle or Flying Tiger)
Chocolate coins / selection box
Craft items – stickers, writing sets, crafting kits
Purse / key ring / mobile phone charms
Hair bands / bobbles, glitter spray
Puzzle books
Bubble bath / hand cream / body lotion /body spray
CDs or iTunes voucher
Shopkins / Magiki Mermaids
Fun socks
Skipping rope

Incidentally one of the best presents I remember from my mum was a washbag full of perfume and cosmetic samples – mini body lotions, soaps, a travel toothbrush and a pretty flannel.  You could do the same by saving up the freebies that come with magazines or your hotel toiletries.

Boys Stocking Fillers

Torches, keyrings
Craft kits / tracing paper / colouring books
Pencils and paint kits
Dinosaur cards / Top Trumps
Toy cars
Book marks
Mini Lego sets / Playmobil Figures
Minecraft Guide
Character Flannel (Ieuan’s outgrown Spiderman, now it’s Star Wars)
Activity sticker books
Character bubble bath or toiletries
Horns / bells for bikes
Paper aeroplane set
Chocolate coins / selection box

And then there are our pets to consider.  Not everyone bothers of course but for many their pet is an equal member of the family and gets treated at Christmas too.  There’s the additional stress of what to give the pet who has everything!

You can’t go wrong with new bedding, leads or collars, a new food or water bowl, a squeaky toy and some doggie or kitty treats.  But please, no chocolate!

Actually, now I think of it, Christmas shopping is a lot easy for your pet than your kids, isn’t it?!

Do you budget for a stocking for your kids or pets?  How to control the costs and what do you include? I’d love to know.

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Our Visit To Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail

We love Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail. Maintained by The Forestry Commission, The National Arboretum is situated roughly 3 miles south-west of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, it’s probably the best-known arboretum in the UK.  It’s also an easy hour or so’s drive from Cardiff for us.

Collage of Caitlin and Ieuan at Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail 2017

Westonbirt is home to 15,000 labelled trees (around 2,500 different types of tree) and 145 champion trees (the largest or tallest in Britain and Ireland according to the Tree Register of the British Isles) and also Westonbirt’s rare or endangered trees.

There is something to do at Westonbirt all year round but we particularly love visiting Enchanted Christmas, the illuminated trail which opens to the public at the beginning of December each year.

It takes roughly 45 minutes to walk the length of the trail during which you’ll find an exciting array of beautiful light displays scattered amongst the trees which makes the whole place truly magical.

Before and after the trail you can visit the Christmas Village, where you’ll have the chance to meet Father and Mother Christmas, listen to local choirs perform festive classics, have a ride on our traditional carousel or enjoy a warming meal in the restaurant or merry marquee.

The Christmas Village at the Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail 2017

We arrived just after 5 pm which was our official entry time.  It was already dark and the weather was crisp but, thankfully, dry.  We whizzed through the turnstile and then it was up to the Christmas village. Once the kids had done their traditional perusal of the gift shop we set off to experience the brisk wintry air and the magic of the lights.

Beautifullly lit scenes in the trees at Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail 2017

As you walk along you see various displays of lights hung amongst the trees, some of which are interactive.  For example, there was “12 Drummers Drumming” where lights lit up when enough force was applied by little hands drumming or another display where the power of your vocal cords was needed to illuminate the scene.  (Not a problem for most mothers in my experience!)

Video and sound are used to great effect and gives an almost other-world feel to the place which, were it not for the displays, would be in total darkness.

Impressive light displays at Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail 2017

How to book tickets for Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail

The event is so popular that entrance is by advance ticket only and I book ours in September.  This year’s Enchanted Christmas trails are almost over and completely sold out with the exception of Thursday 14th December if you’re quick!

Children under 5 go free and there are group discounts for advance bookings of 10 or more tickets. Friends of Westonbirt get a membership discount on Fridays.  No dogs are allowed.

This year, Adult tickets are £14, student tickets are £12 and children’s tickets are £7.  The event runs from 5 pm to 9 pm so once you are in you can stay until the end if you want to.

Our Tips

*Book well in advance.  Sign up to the Arboretum’s mailing list for notification about this event and the great music concerts Westonbirt plays host to every summer.

*Remember to print out your tickets if you can.  Printed tickets are preferred – it’s certainly quicker – but if need be you can show your tickets on your mobile phone.

*Make a note of the entry time for the trail you have booked – entry is staggered on an hourly basis.  We always go for the first entry time of 5 pm to avoid the later crowds.

*Allow plenty of time to arrive and park. Popular events at Westonbirt see high traffic levels which can create cues both in and out of the Arboretum.

*Depending on the weather, take wellies or walking boots.

*Wrap up warm  – blankets for little ones in prams and pushchairs; hats and gloves for everyone.

*Dogs are not allowed on the Enchanted Trail.

*Our two loved the LED lightsabers in the gift shop but savvier (and frugal!) parents wrap their kids in battery operated fairy lights.  Torches are also a good idea because it can be quite dark in places and easy to lose each other if you don’t stick close together.

*We ate at nearby Hunters Hall in Kingscote but we have eaten in the village ‘tent’ before.  There isn’t much choice and we found the burgers last year to be dry and uninspiring with the eating area to be crowded and consisting of rather rickety plastic picnic tables which needed a good clean by the time we got there.

Prices were rather high too, for both the food and retro sweets.  Prices in the main gift shop, however, are reasonable and there are a number of snack stalls selling things like hot chocolate and mulled cider on the way around the trail.

*There are plenty of toilets, although to avoid queues head for the toilets next to the gift shop rather than the ones just past the entrance turnstiles.

*The trail is just over a mile long and on hard paths. It is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, but the path can get muddy. The main event area is also wheelchair and pushchair friendly.

We were lucky to get to our Enchanted Christmas trail this year as the next day was “Snow Bomb Sunday” and that night’s trail was cancelled.  I understand that tickets were automatically refunded but, as with any outdoor event, be aware that nothing is ever guaranteed and have a contingency plan.

We’d highly recommend visiting Westonbirt Arboretum at any time of year as it’s great for families and the trees are beautiful.  Christmas is a particularly magical time though with all the nearby villages on the drive there decked in twinkly lights and, on this occasion, the wide-open fields covered in frost (and snow on the Sunday).

For more information visit Westonbirt’s website.  You can also telephone the Box Office on 03000 680 400 (Mon – Fri 9 am to 5 pm) or email them at boxoffice@forestry.gsi.gov.uk.

Have you ever visited the Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas Trail?

Tips To Avoid A Christmas Debt Hangover

It’s very easy to get so carried away with budgeting for Christmas presents, decorations and a delicious Christmas lunch that we can forget that we still need to meet our December and January household bills. Yes, avoiding Christmas debt can be a challenge!

A lavishly decorated Christmas tree - avoiding Christmas debt

We’ve been saving a little each day towards the cost of Christmas using Skintdad’s 52 Week Saving Challenge which helps you save around £650 by saving the same number of pennies as the number of the day in the year.  So, on 1st January you save 1p, 2nd January 2p, 1st February 32p and so on.

I would highly recommend trying this out next year and we will certainly be repeating the exercise, but that doesn’t help with the general household bills and the costs of things that can go wrong, like the heating, the boiler, or the car.

The chances are, as soon as the cold weather hits, anything that’s about to break down or leak will start to do just that and, unless you have a savings ‘cushion’ you’re left to find the funds to put things right.

Most insurance deals now offer emergency cover for this kind of thing and it is certainly worth shopping around when you renew your policy to see if this extra protection can be added on cheaply. Don’t forget to do your comparisons though using a search engine like gocompare.com.

If your car won’t make it through the winter and you need finance to purchase another one, make sure you do your research and use a site with a car finance calculator.  That way you’ll be clear about exactly what the true cost of your loan is and whether the repayments are manageable. You might want to consider car leasing instead.

Here are some other things that might help.

Plan for Next Christmas as early as possible

As I mentioned above, simple savings plans like Skintdad’s can provide you with a nice safety cushion to cover the costs of the big day.  It’s obviously a bit late now – but you can at least console yourself that next Christmas will be paid for.

Don’t blow all your December pay packet on Christmas

Easier said than done if you’ve bills to cover!  Lots of companies pay their staff earlier in December – at least a week earlier – and it’s easy to spend on luxuries and extra presents because you’re in the Christmas spirit.  There’s also your Christmas party outfits to consider.

Remember, it needs to cover you to the end of January – a looooong 6 weeks away.

Make sure you don’t miss vital payments like your mortgage.

Missed mortgage payments are likely to get you into very hot water, not only by denting your credit score for future loans but with your lender.  Meeting these is far more important than new fairy lights or a state of the art TV to watch Christmas telly on.

christmas presents wrapped in brown paper

Talk to your bank if you need an overdraft

Don’t get clobbered by high interest rates because you have not agreed an overdraft.

Use credit cards wisely

Credit cards can offer protection if you purchase goods costing over £100 because, if you have a complaint against the retailer, the credit provider can also be liable. But, the best advice is to pay off your credit card in full every month to avoid interest charges, or shop around to see if you can find good balance transfer deals.  Don’t forget, though, that credit is generally an expensive way of paying.

Similarly, don’t take out extra store card which often have very high rates of interest, or extended finance schemes which you might struggle to pay back come spring.

Manage the kids’ expectations

It’s best to be upfront with kids who are pretty good at understanding when money is tight.  Tell them that Santa will be bringing them one special present this year rather than promising the full Christmas list – particularly if a mobile phone or other tech gadget is on their list.

Share the costs with your family

Are you the one who always organises Christmas?  If you have siblings (and it won’t cause a riot) try to agree to rotate the festive hosting between you.  If you’re cooking Christmas lunch, get your family to bring another course, or a Christmas cake, mince pies or wine.

Budget for nights out

It’s easy to budget for presents and food but forget all the extras that come with drinks after work and things like taxis back and forth from office parties (those were the days!).  Then there’s your office party outfit, Secret Santa presents and tubs of Quality Street to keep your colleagues happy.  Don’t forget to add an allowance for these ‘incidentals’ and try to stick to it.

With a bit of planning and some positivity you will hopefully be able to rein in the excessive spending which can grip us all at Christmas and face the New Year without a Christmas debt hangover.

If you need advice about your financial situation now, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau who can help.  Avoiding Christmas debt can be done with some careful planning.

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Late Organising Your Office Christmas Party? Some Last Minute Tips!

As December quickly approaches, the panic to plan an office Christmas party to remember is in full swing. We have put it off for as long as possible, and now it is falling swiftly upon us. If you are struggling to put together an office Christmas party at the last minute, here are some last minute office Christmas party ideas to help you out.

Revellers at a disco - last minute office christmas party ideas

Find or Create a Venue

It is safe to assume that all of your traditional venue types are booked up by now. However, this just means you are going to have to get a little creative.

Depending on the size of your office, you could go to the theatre, go bowling, or check out your nearest Christmas market and converse over some mulled wine. If you do want to keep it a little more traditional, look into some smaller independent bars and restaurants rather than big names.

Alternatively, you can take the true budget option and see if a coworker will offer their house as a venue, or push some things to the side and transform your office space into a dance floor.

Whether you are feeling creative or not, having some flexibility and making use of what you have is essential to the last minute Christmas party planner.

Cafe window advertising mulled wine - last minute office christmas party ideas

Book Your Entertainment

You may have to compromise on your choice of venue, but hopefully you won’t have to do so when it comes to booking your musicians. As much as everyone wants to hear the dedicated office DJ’s playlist all night long, nothing brings the life to a party like a professional band or DJ.

Having entertainment gives everyone a spectacle to enjoy and dance along to. Thanks to entertainment booking platforms such as Headliner, you can find quality musicians even if it is last minute. Sure, you may not get your first choice, but you will find some good options that will get the party started and your colleagues out on the dance floor.

Have a Flexible Schedule

Celebrating Christmas with your colleagues on a Friday in December is not going to be easy to pull off with such little time left. Having some flexibility and booking earlier into the week, such as Monday or Tuesday, is going to give you more availability. Most venues also offer a smaller minimum spend on an earlier weeknight, so you also may get to cut some costs with this option.

If you are dead-set on having a Friday celebration, morning Christmas functions are a strong option. Champagne breakfasts or bottomless brunches are a great option and are offered by most popular restaurants. Just don’t expect your employees to come back to the office afterwards.

Maybe you won’t get your dream venue, Friday evening slot, or perfect DJ, but you are still going to have a great time. Just get planning, and don’t forget, a bit of creativity and schedule flexibility will get you a long way.

What kind of office party will you be having this year?  Have you any last minute office Christmas party ideas to share?

Brilliant Ideas For A Creative Family Christmas Card

Are you looking for some handmade Christmas card ideas?  I think that, even in this era of e-cards, there’s really nothing nicer than getting a hand-addressed Christmas card in the mail.

It’s an especially personal way to send the ubiquitous, generic gift card that seems to have replaced the carefully chosen and wrapped presents of yore.

They’re easy on the giver and probably easier on some recipients, but plastic doesn’t have much soul.

handmade Christmas card ideas - Mum and her daughters making Christmas Cookies at home

A Christmas bake-off can provide a great photo opportunity for a personalised Christmas cards

Handmade Christmas card ideas

You can run out to the shopping centre and buy some boxed greeting cards, of course. But there’s still time to create your family’s own personalised Christmas cards and here are some super fun ideas for them:

Re-Invent the Family Portrait

There you all are, scrubbed up and in your matching sweaters for the annual family picture. Oh look, Junior – or the family dog — is wearing reindeer antlers. There’s no denying he’s cute, but it’s not as if no one’s ever thought of doing it before.

This is the year to bust out and try something new that will be fun for all of you to do and fun for everyone who’s lucky enough to be on your mailing list.

  • Wrap the family up like presents. Either everyone popping out of his or her own box or the whole gang tied up in a big ribbon and bow.
  • Dress up in costumes. Pick characters from your favourite television show, film, or book. Stick to a Christmas theme as Scrooge and the Cratchit family, Mr and Mrs Claus and the elves, or the Grinch and some residents of Whoville, for example. Or if you’ve got a real theatrical bent, you could recreate a scene from Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Frozen, or whatever seems like it fits the family.
  • Go on location. For the family photo this year, bundle up and head to a Christmas tree lot or a tree farm if you live near one. Or take the kids to see Santa and all of you get into the picture.
  • Bake up a photo. Gather all the makings for festive Christmas treats and everyone gets to work with photos documenting the process – the messier the better – as well as the finished products.
  • Share the holiday fun. Take the family photo while you’re outside putting up the Christmas lights, inside decorating the tree, or all gathered ‘round to wrap gifts. Unless you fake it, you might have to do a few of these things a bit ahead of your usual schedule to get the cards out in the post, but the benefit is that you’ll have more time near the holidays to relax and enjoy everything.
  • Include the pets, of course! Some people make their pets the entire focus of their cards, which can be done very cleverly, but folks want to see you, too, particularly if it’s been a while. So absolutely get the dog, the horse, the pot-bellied pig, or the turtles into the picture, but don’t leave out the rest of the family. And good luck convincing the cat to pose.
handmade Christmas card ideas - Mummy, daddy and baby posing for a photograph surrounded by Christmas trees and snow

Make the most of your winter holiday snaps for Christmas cards

Incorporate Your Message in the Photo

There are lots of ways to include your greeting right in the picture. Make a set of poster cards with one word on each so that every member of the family is holding part of the message.

If you want, you could make a purposeful mistake so that someone is holding his or her card upside down.

You could also make a banner to hang in your scene, write your greeting on a chalkboard, use children’s alphabet blocks to spell out the message, or if you’re baking, write it out with icing.

Make it the Best Photo Ever

There are a few simple things to remember so that your personalized card shows the family to its best advantage. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect… unless you all are, of course.

If you’re not recreating an otherwise recognizable tableau, aim for easy poses, natural smiles, and even laughter.

Watch out for awkward juxtapositions with items in the background; you don’t want it to look as if a chandelier, for example, is growing out of the top of dad’s head.

As for everyone’s clothes, and again, that’s if you’re not in costume, outfits, and colours don’t have to match but they should be harmonious so that the eye isn’t drawn to someone who stands out in bright green while everyone else is wearing red.

Tell the kids to save their logo and graphic t-shirts for another time.

And by all means, have a good time taking the pictures. It will show!

What do you think of these handmade Christmas card ideas?  Do you have any tips to share?

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5 Ways You Can Handle The Toy Mess This Christmas

Christmas is coming, and your children are no doubt getting excited by the minute. In the days leading up to the big day, you will probably be swept up in all the excitement as well, but you might want to consider one important aspect as you prepare for the festivities. The mess!  Not only have you got the get the house ready but you probably need to spend time organising toys in preparation for the arrival of the next batch too!

organising toys - pile of presents under the tree

(image credit)

From remnants of food to the tinsel and glitter, your home is going to be inundated by mess and clutter. As any parent knows, however, the biggest mess will come from the children’s toys. While you could be a Scrooge and buy them nothing, you won’t make Mum Of The Year. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help keep a tidy house this Christmas.

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Ideas for organising toys

Here are some ideas for organising toys.

1. Get ahead of the mess

Before the big day arrives, tidy up your home as much as you can. Considering there will be added mess over the festive period, you can deal with any unnecessary clutter beforehand to give yourself a head start. This includes the housework, but you might also want to show some Christmas spirit by donating your kid’s old toys to charity to make room for the new pressies they will be unwrapping under the Christmas tree.

2. Look for storage options

You’re going to need somewhere to put the kid’s toys, so invest in some extra storage space. There are cheap bedroom furniture sets online, with under the bed storage options. Then consider toy boxes, shelving units and storage benches that may complement their bedroom decor. Storage trolleys are also useful, as you can easily load them with the kid’s toys, and wheel them out of the way before the relatives arrive.

3. Make it fun

Housework is a chore, and when it comes to your kids’ toys, you will spend ages trying to keep everything clean and tidy. Therefore, reduce your hard work and get your kids to work. Of course, you don’t have to let them know it’s a chore, so make tidying up their toys into a game. Set a timer, for example, and see who can tidy up their toys the fastest. The winner can choose a chocolate decoration from the tree, though you should probably give any runners-up a little prize so as to avoid temper tantrums.

4. Create a designated play area

Not only do kids make a mess, but they spread mess wherever they go. Bless’ em. However, when it comes to their toys, you can limit them to one room in the house. If this isn’t possible, find a space in the house that can be used as a play area. Therefore, any mess stays in one place.

Provided you have toy boxes on standby; you can also rotate the number of toys they play with. Then follow that everyday parenting rule: if they want to play with something else, make sure they put away what they have previously been playing with first! The kids will moan, but tidying up after themselves is a life skill they will have to learn.

5. Buy them less

Finally, this is possibly the simplest and most cost-effective suggestion. You don’t have to buy your kids everything, even if they have given Santa a giant list this Christmas. You aren’t doing your children a favour if you spoil them, even if it’s you who is prone to go a little crazy in the toy shop.

Teach them the value of being grateful for what they have been given, and hold back on buying further toys until their birthday. It will save you money in the process, and your children will learn to enjoy what they have, rather than having toys that never get played with because they have too many!

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