Getting started on gift shopping – 50 Days of Christmas with Boots

In collaboration with Boots
Despite my best intentions, I am generally a last minute shopper at Christmas time. Yes, I’ve been known to hit the shops and even the supermarket one year on Christmas Eve and I can’t tell you how dissatisfying I find doing things that way. Buying for the sake of buying sucks any spirit that’s meant to reside the experience of gifting.

Not only that, but it’s a surefire way to spend more money than I intend and to wind up going with less ethical options than I would otherwise. Every year I have been getting better at planning ahead and simplifying Christmas and this year, with us hosting for the first time, I’m dead set on sorting out all our gifts well in advance to open up headspace for other things.

Thinking about gifts at a more leisurely pace has given me time to think about what we really want to do in terms of gifts. I’m in the process of decluttering at the moment and so I’m keenly aware that we are often overwhelmed by stuff, so much of it unused. So I’m focusing this year on ensuring that the gifts we give are either genuinely useful or focus on experiences.

Boots invited me to check out their Christmas gifts range and I was impressed to find options there that fit our criteria for this year and that I would have never expected to find there. While there are the bath and beauty gift sets one expects (though a few surprised me with high quality items like hats or gloves included), they also offer electronics, books and even experiences. We were invited to choose products to review and I was sorely tempted by vouchers for an archery taster or a spa card.

In the end, I chose a recipe book for Laurence, Deliciously Ella With Friends. It fits the bill as something useful and an experience facilitator. Laurence loves to cook and, when he’s around, he does most of the cooking. He’s actually not at all familiar with Deliciously Ella (I know, where has he been?!) but I know he’s going to get on with her recipes famously as he’s both wheat and dairy intolerant and the recipes in the book avoid both. They’re also vegan and avoid refined sugar which fits well with the way we mostly eat. They’re also simple to follow and, as the name insists, delicious! OK, this may actually be a gift for me too as I get to enjoy the results. A gift that keeps giving.

I also chose a Harry Potter notebook for Talitha with a wand-shaped pen from the Christmas gifts for her section. She’s fallen head over heels for the world of Hogwarts, having read the first book, a gift for her birthday. We also listened to it on audiobook because she kept referring to it and I realised I didn’t at all remember it. Oh, it’s so much deeper and more thrilling than I remember. This is an interest I’ll happily feed. She’s also into journalling in a big way so a notebook certainly ticks the useful and experience boxes.

Have any of you made a start on your Christmas shopping? Are you thinking along similar lines in terms of the kinds of gifts you’re going for this year?

This post is in conjunction with Boots but all thoughts are my own

Planning ahead for a greener Christmas

This post is brought to you by UncommonGoods. It’s something that’s genuinely been on my mind and I hope we can share some ideas around it.

I know, I know! How can I breathe the word “Christmas” when it’s only August? The thing is, I’ve finally accepted that if I don’t plan ahead for Christmas I end up not just spending more money than I would otherwise but not necessarily making the most ethical choices with my spending either. I reckon planning well in advance makes for a greener Christmas overall so this is what I’m kick starting now, a few months in advance.

Making presents
Every year I say I want to make some decent presents for our family but I wind up leaving it too late! Now’s the time to get the sewing machine and crochet needle going. I’ve started collecting ideas but if it gets to November and I’ve not begun, it won’t happen.

Cutting down the cost of Christmas spending goes hand in hand with trying to make more eco friendly and ethical choices because when money gets super tight, we wind up having to go with whatever option’s cheapest, it’s just a reality. So one way we’re getting around that is asking people we’re spending Christmas with to share responsibility by bringing dishes with them.

Spreading the cost of ethical purchases

In the vein of the above, we need to budget well to ensure we buy things we believe in. That may well mean buying some of it now and considering retailers like UncommonGoods, which are committed to sustainability and social responsibility. UncommonGoods features recycled, handmade and organic products and even donates a percentage of its proceeds to non-profit organisations. From quirky gifts such as an upcycled sari robe or a set of tea from around the world to gadgets gifts like wooden brain teasers to gifts for wine connoisseurs like birthstone bottle stoppers, they boast a genuinely intriguing collection.

Contemplating traditions

I’ve started evaluating the traditions we’ve picked up over our last six Christmases with kids and though it’s definitely still a work in progress, I’m fairly certain we’ve been wasting money on stuff they and we really don’t need. I want us to focus on traditions that don’t involve spending or acquiring, like putting together activities to take us through the Advent Calendar or making a Jesse Tree.

Making wrapping “paper”
My mother-in-law has been sewing cloth gift wraps for this year’s birthday presents and though I’m not committed to this as another item on our to-do list, it’s really given us something to think about. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable and we get through so much of it, it can be a real problem. Even if we just potato print or hand print recyclable paper, we’ll want to get an early start and that means scheduling it in at some point, thinking now for the Autumn.

Sourcing the Christmas tree
Every year we are pretty last minute on our tree and don’t give it much thought but this year I’d really like to try to change that whether it means picking up a tree a school is throwing out, buying from a member of the British Tree Growth Association or looking for a tree that can be replanted. The thing is, it bears thinking about ahead of time, even if we’re just telling the kids not to expect the tree as early as we often get it because we’re waiting for a “used” one.

Collect ideas and junk for decorations
I love making decorations with the kids and this year I’d like to rescue more from the recycling for our decorations. We’ve used an old hanger to make a wreath in the past but I have my sights set on a cardboard gingerbread house this year. Hopefully they go for it and don’t insist on the sweets. Maybe we’ll do both if they do.

Still pretty proud of these stockings I made for the girls with Laurence’s old jumpers. I’ve another jumper ready to become one for Delilah

Over to you. Anything you’re planning to do differently this year? I can’t be the only one thinking of Christmas already, surely.

10 ideas for celebrating Epiphany with children

I’ve been trying to observe the Christian calendar with my children a bit more this year. I didn’t grow up with it so it’s interesting delving into it myself and making discoveries alongside them. On January 6th, we celebrated Epiphany, the day the wise men found the child Jesus, having followed the star God put in the sky.

We’d been talking about it beforehand and I gathered a few fun ideas for simple ways to celebrate Epiphany with our family. As it turned out, between our home education co-op meet and Talitha’s ballet class, we didn’t have much time but I’m sure this list will be useful again for this coming Epiphany and I may add to it too.

1. Take down the Christmas decorations. We listened to lots of versions of the Twelve Days of Christmas on Spotify while packing the ornaments away and taking the tree outside.

2. Read the story in Matthew. We followed this up with the children’s version in The Beginner’s Bible. This year we’ll look at it in The Jesus Storybook Bible.


3. Negative space star painting – I stumbled across this idea on Explore and Express. I love her explanation: “the star as a symbol of God’s revelation that often comes after a long spiritual journey. I left it white as a metaphor for revelation being an empty or blank place in us that God fills.” However, when I tried to explain that God fills the empty space inside of us, Talitha told me that she was full of yoghurt. So I may not have done the idea full justice – ha!

4. Take the wise men to see Jesus. Our Nativity scene doesn’t have three kings or any kings so I suggested we look for a few amongst her toys. They were almost dinosaurs but in the end two Little Misses and one Mr Man stood in for the wise men. We lit a candle and talked about the story some more.

5. Talk about the three gifts and what they mean. Objects would work well here, perhaps little boxes wrapped up for the children to open, one with gold jewellery, one with frankincense essential oil and the other with myrrh crystals. You could even burn some frankincense. I was going to but in the end, I just explained that gold is what my wedding ring was made of and that they gave it to Jesus because He is a king, frankincense is a perfume that’s used in worship and that they gave it to Jesus because He talks to God for us and myrrh is something that they used to put on people’s bodies when they die and that they gave it to him because He would one day die on the cross.


6. Make a crown. She made this one at the church in her grandparents’ village a couple of days ago.

7. Cook and eat Three Kings Pie. This is gorgeous. The recipe comes from a vegetarian cookbook called Gaia’s Feasts. It’s like a cottage pie but replaces meat with mushrooms and all sorts of wonderful spices. I confess, I made it and Talitha helped a little bit but time ran on and it was ready after they’d already had their supper. Next time.


8. Exchange gifts. Some parents follow up the story of the wise men giving their gifts with a small gift for their children. I know someone who staggers all of the Christmas gift giving. Her children have stockings from Santa on St Nicholas’ Day, gifts from family on Christmas Day and gifts from their parents on Epiphany. This sounds like a great way to avoid the gift overwhelm.

9. Give to charity. This year, we did a clear out of toys, books and clothes and dropped them off to a charity shop.

10. Make star biscuits. I really wanted to kick start the year’s baking with some savoury stars, especially as Talitha loves any excuse to get the cookie cutters out, but there just wasn’t enough time.

A family Christmas tree – Pines and Needles

For weeks, Talitha has been excited about our Christmas tree delivery on December 1st. Its promise proved a potent pick-me-up when she started to get the blues about our holiday in Madeira coming to a close.

The day after we got back, a friend took her to a home ed group and I dropped Ophelia to her childminder, dashing back to await the exciting delivery from Pines and Needles (tracking is available if you live in London but it’s not an option for Bristol deliveries just yet).

When both got home, they were ridiculously excited about the packages in our livingroom. I unwrapped their mini trees, which they’ve since decorated and put on the dining table, watering them every day. Then we took out the garland which now dons one of our banisters, making us look a little over-the-top enthusiastic about the festive season, which is probably accurate.

Pines and Needles Christmas Tree

Yet the grand attraction waited in its box for Laurence’s arrival later since I knew there was no way I’d manage to stand an 8-foot tree on my own, and besides, I’d forgot to ask him to get the stand down from the loft (I physically cannot get up there).

When he got home, Talitha requested “O Christmas Tree” on Spotify while we put the tree up and was keen to get it all decorated right away. Sadly, it was late by then and both children were rubbing their eyes so they put on an ornament each and we took Christmas books up to bed for story time. Delayed gratification and all that.

Finally, we got decorating over the following week. We’re still not completely done as I like a busy tree and the girls seem to follow me in that. So, I think we’ll be making a few more bits to add to it over the next few weeks.

Pines and Needles Christmas Tree-7

We’ve finally reached a point where it feels like we’re building a collection. I look at all of our decorations and they all tell a little of our family story.

There are a few pound-shop baubles I bought the year we were married when we were skint and I wasn’t as confident in my crafting. There’s the star I bought at a craft fair I visited with my mother-in-law the year I was pregnant with Talitha.

The white clay ornaments Talitha and I made the year I was expecting Ophelia are still going strong as is the angel that tops it, a gift a few years ago from my mother.

And this year, the three of us have added some super cute but rather simple pipecleaner and bead creations. My mother-in-law also bought the girls a the lovely cork star pictured at the start of this post, as a memory of our trip to Madeira.

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Pines and Needles Christmas Tree-4

We took some photos of our beautiful Christmas Tree yesterday and Ophelia kept saying “Kissma Chee”. We may not have decorated it as a thing of magazines but I look at it and already see so many memories in just the six years since Laurence and I got married.

Thanks to Pines and Needles for sending me this tree and other accessories. According to their website, this 8-foot Norman Fir costs £81.95. For information on booking and what other services are available (they even offer full installation and decoration sets) visit Pines and Needles.

Pines and Needles Christmas Tree-8

“Something Wonderful is About to Happen” – Win £100 with Virgin Experience Days

We’ve unashamedly got the Christmas feeling around here. Virgin Experience Days has asked me a few questions about what makes the lead up to the big day exciting in our home, so that’s probably got me feeling even more festive.

When does Christmas start?

I think Christmas officially starts for me in November. That’s when I start itching to listen to parang (Christmas folk music from Trinidad and Tobago) because it would already be on the radio by then at home. We’ve been listening to parang since Bonfire Night and the kids have fully embraced it, the older one asking to put on the “Spanish Christmas music” and the younger launching straight into her classic crazy dance as soon as it’s on.

At the same time I feel strange about seeing people’s trees up already (and I have!) but who am I to judge?

Other markers that Christmas is starting include soaking the fruits for our black cake in rum (check) and making Christmas cards and decorations (taking advantage of Talitha having chicken pox by starting on these today).

I’ll have to make pastelles (cornmeal pies) soon to really get into the season, though Laurence proved last year that he makes them as well as or maybe even better than I do, so maybe I’ll relegate that task this year.

Iced Trinidad Black Christmas Cake

What are your family’s Christmas traditions?

Year by year, we’re starting to build some Christmas traditions. Advent, which I didn’t really grow up with but have come to love, has become a big deal around here. We get our tree on December 1st, a real marker that the season has begun.

I want to start a new tradition of all of us camping out under the tree that night but we’ll see how that works out!

I’ve also started putting together little bags of activities for the girls for each day of Advent to go with some numbered pegs my mother-in-law gave me.

Two years ago we started the tradition of new pyjamas on Christmas Eve. We just might have to keep that one going this year.

What is the best present you’ve been given or have given to someone else?
Our first married Christmas, Laurence made a poster putting together lots of tiny photos from our wedding and honeymoon, including little phrases that had come up in that time. It’s framed and hangs in our dining room. Every day I see it and feel grateful for this life we’ve started together. It only cost time and printing on his part but I don’t think he could have given me a better present that year.

It’s harder for me to think of what the best present I’ve given is. I think I’ll go for a little baby doll we got Talitha the year she was two. She’d kept insisting that Ophelia was going to be called “Sally” so I figured we’d give her a baby doll who could be called Sally instead. That little doll was breastfed, carried in slings, pushed around in pushchairs, fed at the table, sung lullabies to and taken to bed most nights. Sally is still much treasured, beloved by both girls. In fact, I’m getting Ophelia another doll in the same range this year so they’ll hopefully stop fighting over Sally!


What is your earliest Christmas memory?
Actually, one of my earliest Christmas memories is a baby doll my parents gave me one Christmas. Well, the card was signed Santa and Mrs Claus but I literally can’t remember a time I genuinely believed there was a Santa so I think my parents probably never encouraged it much. He was called Mr Bello and I loved that he was anatomically correct! I can still vividly remember how he smelled and dressing him at my paternal grandparents’ house. My mother had taken us to a toy store a bit before Christmas and saw me admiring him so I was absolutely delighted to unwrap him on Christmas morning.

What is your favourite Christmas movie?

That’s a bit of tricky one because watching Love Actually has become required viewing every year but, actually, I get really nostalgic for Miracle of 34th Street (the one with Richard Attenborough) so I reckon that’s got to be the one. Talitha’s favourite so far is Mickey Mouse’s Once Upon a Christmas but I’d love to show them all the stop motion movies I grew up with like Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer. Answering this makes me want to watch something Christmassy tonight!

Tell me what your favourite Christmas movie is and enter the Rafflecopter widget below for your chance to win a £100 voucher to spend on a weekend break with Virgin Experience Days.

You can either leave your answer as a comment on this post or by tweeting @AdeleJK with your answer and the hashtag #RubyandRalph but do be sure to enter the Rafflecopter too as I’ll use it to draw a winner at the end.

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In association with Virgin Experience Days

Getting ready for Christmas in the Summer

This is going to sound a bit mad but I’ve started turning my thoughts to getting things ready for Christmas. The last minute rush of it all just isn’t for me – too stressful, too expensive and not really what Christmas is about at all.

My mother has always soaked dried fruits in alcohol for Trinidad black cake months in advance. There’s dispute over whether or not this is really necessary but it’s a tradition so ingrained in me that I never feel I’m doing it right if I don’t soak fruits well in advance. So I’m thinking about getting that going either in July or August.

I know some people hit the January sales for next year’s presents. I’ve not done that but I have been picking things up here and there, if I happen to come across a craftsperson’s stall or if I spot a good deal on something.

I also want this Christmas to be a bit more handmade. I do every year, really, but end up giving up on the thought because I only ever remember in November, by which time it’s too late. So, I’m thinking that getting started in July gives me more of a chance of making it happen.

Hand in hand with that, I’m pinning stuff to my Christmas and Winter board on Pinterest all the time. Complete with humming “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to myself, which feels especially odd on a hot day like today!

Follow Adele’s board Christmas & Winter on Pinterest.

It’s interesting to think that this year’s Christmas trees are growing right now, being lovingly looked after. Last year we had a Pines and Needles tree which we were very pleased with and we’ll be reviewing another this year. Pines and Needles plant, grow, harvest and sell their own trees. It’s amazing to think of the care that goes into each tree through pruning and bud-rubbing to nurture it into the perfect shape.

Pines and Needles are offering Circus Queen readers a “halfway to Christmas” code. Book your Christmas tree between now and July 25th using the code “CIRCHW2C15” and you’ll get 10% off, a free 10″ decorated wreath, free holly, free mistletoe and a free mini tree.

After July 25th, book using “CIRC15” and you’ll get a free 10″ decorated wreath, free holly, free mistletoe and free mini tree.

Have you started making any Christmas preparations yet? Please say you have…

A Christmas photoshoot – Personalising our Christmas cards with Postsnap

We had a bit of festive fun over the weekend running a little family photo shoot for our Christmas cards. I’d already bought Bristol-themed cards from a charity shop but Postsnap asked me to try their service so I thought we’d save those for another year.

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Postsnap Christmas cards-5

Postsnap Christmas cards-4

I say, fun but I think the girls and I were having fun. Laurence was finding it a bit stressful because Ophelia kept on moving! Talitha is actually really good about staying still to have her picture taken (blogger’s child!) but even she got bored after a while. We all loved looking at the results, though.

Postsnap Christmas cards-3

Postsnap is a free-to-download photosharing app which enables you to create greeting cards and postcards from a picture stored on your iPhone or iPad or uploaded to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. You get to personalise them and can even address them straight to the recipient, all from your phone.

It’s a breeze to use. I signed up in seconds and made my order within a couple of minutes. I’m waiting for the results now (I only ordered today) so will be back to update this post once I have the cards in hand.

As is often the way, we ended up going with the first photo we took (the first image in this post). We tried to get all of us in but it wasn’t working. I thought I was really clever by getting our festive socks on but Ophelia wouldn’t play along, unsurprisingly!

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Getting these cards done is just making me think of all the people who we love but don’t see often. Whenever we think about abandoning this tradition of sending Christmas cards, I’m glad we don’t because, though I’m rubbish at staying in touch, I do want to keep sending a tangible message to our friends and family that we are thinking of them, treasure their place in our lives and hope to see them soon.

Postsnap Christmas cards

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