Gift ideas for preschoolers from The Works

Talitha and Ophelia’s stocking fillers “from Santa Claus” are all sorted now. It’s good to get that out of the way. I have an idea of what to get them from us but haven’t settled that yet. I know, time is a-ticking. I always find that I lose inspiration when under pressure, especially in I’m buying gifts for children who aren’t the same age as my own. So I’ve put together a brief list of gift ideas from The Works for anyone buying something for a preschooler.

1. Bead Set
These are melty beads in the style of Hama beads. You use them to make a design on a pegboard, iron them and they fuse together. Talitha has been obsessed with them since she was just gone two. At £4.99 for 5500 beads, they’re incredibly cheap.

2. Sock Friends
Under-fives seem to universally love puppets. With this set, your child can have fun making her own sock puppets. I love that kits take all the fuss out of having to find bits and pieces for your craft.

3. Tiny Tots My First Shoe Book
This looks like such a cute little book for the child learning to tie laces. Talitha doesn’t actually have any shoes with laces, funnily enough, but I’m sure she’d still have fun with this. She’s fascinated by me lacing and tying mine.

4. 2 in 1 Magnetic Chalkboard And Whiteboard
This would be a great addition to a busy bag, I reckon. There are so many possibilities, so many combinations of shapes and pictures for little ones to tell their own stories.

5. Gruffalo and Friends CD Boxset
We don’t own all these books but we’ve read them all either at the library or at someone else’s house and they are dearly loved. Who hasn’t fallen under Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s spell? We’re at prime audio book listening time. When my three-and-a-half-year-old needs some down time, she loves curling up on the sofa and asking me to put a story on.

6. Kids Big Bag Of Craft

A kit like this would be such a big hit here. In fact, we have a similar box that arrives each month for a craft project we participate in and her eyes grow wide with it. Of course, you could supply ideas or look for a craft on Pinterest but any child would being let loose on a box like this to see where their creativity leads them.

This post was brought to you by The Works

Decorating a Christmas tree – the real life version

In a perfect world, the Christmas tree would have arrived. Ophelia would have slept or otherwise happily entertained herself. I would have tangibly demonstrated “you don’t need a man to do it” by putting the tree up myself. We would have spent an easy afternoon decorating the tree.

I would have taken the photos and this would have been a post about the bliss of establishing a Christmas tradition for our little family. And I would have surprised the heck out of Laurence when he got home.

Instead, our tree was delivered by Pines and Needles on Tuesday. Ophelia was having a fussy day so I stuck The Snowman on for Talitha while I tried to get her baby sister to sleep. She was a bit disappointed because she thought it was going to be Frozen, which she’s heard everyone talk about so much but which she’s not yet seen. She did enjoy it in the end, though.

Pines and Needles Christmas tree-2

Our lovely six-foot Nordmann Fir Christmas Tree lay in a red bag, across our livingroom, just waiting for discovery. In the end, I gave up on Ophelia sleeping and stuck her on my back so we could cut the bag open. We ooed over it and took in the smell of pine needles. I got out the water-holding stand that Pines and Needles had also sent.

Then I remembered that we needed to saw off a bit of the base so the tree could drink in the water effectively. At that hurdle, I gave up. It was too much for me with a fussy baby. I’ll be honest.

I told Talitha that we needed Daddy to come, not because it was a “daddy’s job” but because two grown ups needed to do it together. This explanation held no water when Laurence came home and put it up on his own with no trouble at all. Oops.

It’s probably worth noting that Pines and Needles do offer the option of getting the tree set up when it’s delivered, just so you know in case that’s something useful for you.

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I couldn’t believe how full the tree was when we opened it. I know some people like to go see the trees before they buy so they can pick a shape but I am so pleased with this tree.

The tree was ordered from Pines and Needles for me and I got an email receipt as I would’ve had I ordered it myself. The friendly delivery woman helped me bring the tree, the base and two mini trees (for the girls – we’ve put them on the dining table).

I never feel like you can really tell whether you got a tree in its prime until you see how well it’s lasted the season but so far, so good. We’ve been watering it lots and it seems in good shape. I’ll be back to update this post later on to let you know how well it’s done.

Laurence put the lights on because I hate doing them and because once he’s done that he feels he’s done his part in the tree decorating process and leaves us to it. Three quarters of them didn’t work. I know they were cheap lights but still. It was disappointing.

We agreed I’d buy lights the next day and let Talitha hang a few decorations because she was so excited about the whole thing and we’d let her stay up extra late until Laurence got home so she could do it. That was Tuesday.

Pines and Needles Christmas tree-5

The next day I bought a load of little strings of lights because they were all I could find. Common sense failure. Where were we going to plug all these things in? How messy were all these wires? That was Wednesday.

On Thursday Talitha kept asking if we could decorate the tree so I half-heartedly joined her in adding a few more. Laurence came home that night with a beautiful set of lights he’d bought in his lunch break!

While I was upstairs settling Ophelia to sleep, he was downstairs, late into the night, taking off all the lights and stringing on the new set. Bless that lovely, lovely man. That was Thursday.

Then yesterday, Friday, we finally decorated our Christmas tree. I put on some carols to set the mood. I put Ophelia on my back. I pretended I wasn’t feeling under the weather, though I was. I tried to make it the experience for Talitha I hoped it would be.

Pines and Needles Christmas tree-6

Instead, we ended up disagreeing over where to put things. She kept insisting on tinsel which I kept veto-ing. She lost interest. She came back. I let her direct me a bit more. We negotiated some things. I tried to ignore my pounding headache.

I vacuumed the room (a few needles have been falling but not too many, I’d say) and we looked at the tree together. She said she wanted to add more things. I agreed we’d make pom poms for the tree.

I said we’d think about a star for the top. The angel is a gift from my mother but I think all the books with pictures of stars make Talitha think a Christmas tree should have a star.

It was hard to tell how she felt about the whole thing. But we all spent the evening out and when we got in, she wanted to show Laurence the tree, first thing. She is so delighted with our tree.

Yes, it took four days to decorate our Christmas tree. Yes, life moves more slowly with a baby in tow. Yes, adults and children don’t always have the same ideas about things.

Thankfully, the experience didn’t had to be perfect. It only had to be “ours”.

Pines and Needles Christmas tree

PS: Pines and Needles sent me this tree for the purpose of an honest review. In case you decide you’d like to purchase one of their trees, they’ve given me the code “CIRC14” which will entitle you to a free a gift and give me a small referral fee.

Skating into the Christmas spirit

This time last year, the tree was up, the Advent calendar had been homemade way in advance, the carols had been playing for a while, festive activities planned for each day and I was some version of Father Christmas gone bridezilla. It was all had to be merry or else – got it?!

But I am just not feeling it yet. Yesterday morning, Talitha asked for “Jingle Bells” so I put it on. Our tree is arriving today. She opened the first window of her Advent calendar yesterday. The markings of Christmas coming are there, even if part of me feels like I just want to go back to bed (preferably on my own, without any children), pull the duvet over my head and pretend it isn’t happening.

Christmas spirit-3

I’m feeling a little Grinch-like partly because we overdid things this weekend. It’s so hard to get the balance right. Should you make the most of the time together and pack in lots of fun out and about or should you just spend the whole time vegging at home? This weekend, we ended up doing all the things. And that’s with me cancelling some of the things.

Christmas spirit-2

Saturday started with charity shopping and a pub lunch (wonder if my mum used to buy us gifts in front of us too? Talitha didn’t notice). Then we went for a walk in Prior’s Wood with friends. We took home happy, tired girls. A friend from uni stayed over and it was lovely chatting with her into the night.

Christmas spirit

On Sunday, Laurence and Talitha went to church while Ophelia and I stayed home because she was snuffling with a cold and I figured she should have her morning nap for once. After that it was go, go, go rushing off to the Bristol Vintage Clothing Sale. We had a quick lunch with my brother and his wife at their flat. Then it was off to The Mall at Cribbs Causeway for the weekend’s main event.

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All weekend, the thing we’d most been looking forward to was taking Talitha ice skating for the first time. I think we must have sold it really well because she wasn’t even that fussed about seeing Santa Claus. The whole time in the queue to meet him, she just wanted to know about the ice skating.

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I have to say, I’m not such a Grinch that I wasn’t affected by my three-year-old’s excitement about her first time on the ice. I do wish we’d had a quieter weekend leading up to it, but even though she was tired, she skated for almost the entire thirty-minute session. She only had a five-minute break.

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While Ophelia enjoyed chilling on my back in the sling, looking up at all the crazy lights and colours that make up the Cribbs Winter Wonderland, Talitha had her skates strapped on and just couldn’t wait to get out on the ice with her father.

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She sat on a plastic seal for a bit, which she loved because they could gather speed, but for most of it, he held her hands and gave her a go at skating herself. I think it was a much better introduction for her, heading out with a confident skater, than it would have been if she’d gone out with me, stumbling about.

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While I can’t say I’m really feeling it yet (maybe I will after our tree arrives today), I’m living with a small child who definitely is and I think her enthusiasm just might prove infectious.

cribbs winter wonderland
PS: We were provided with free passes to come visit The Mall at Cribbs Causeway’s Winter Wonderland

I’m not going to try so hard this Christmas

I may have over-extended myself a bit last year. I planned 25 activities for us to do with 2.5-year-old Talitha every day of Advent to Christmas Day. And good golly, somehow we managed it all.

We even did lots extra that wasn’t on the list, like making gluten-free, dairy-free mince pies – and failing miserably, I might add.

I think it must have been some pregnant, hormonal thing where I felt so strongly that I wanted to build our holiday traditions as we were growing our family. I also wanted to make the most of this special time where Talitha had my sole attention during the day before Ophelia was born.

Even though I still think traditions are fine and valuable things, I’m being easier on myself this year and possibly paring them down a bit. It was all a lot of fun last year but it was tiring and I do think the mentalness of it distracted a bit from the reason we were celebrating.

As Christians, we use this time to remember the Great Light that came into the world. So this year, I’m hoping for more quiet reflection and less rushing around crazy, loud shopping centres and wringing hands over a Christmas pudding that isn’t just right.

I will probably do another post about fun activities to do with children as we thrive on a bit of structure anyway in our day-to-day lives but it will be a short one and that will come later. For now, here’s a few ways we’re considering simplifying this Christmas.

I'm not going to try so hard this Christmas-3

1. We’re committing to not spending money for the sake of it
Why must Christmas send us to into financial distress every year? The reality is that if we haven’t saved for it (and we haven’t) we have to be realistic about what we can spend on gifts and how many outings we can take. So, with calendar in hand, we’re planning the month, budgeting for it and just being honest with ourselves. Stocking fillers can just be things the girls need. Talitha likes a good toothbrush.

2. I’m thinking about not making pastelles
I know some of you don’t know what these are. They’re a savoury Trinidad and Tobago delicacy eaten especially at this time of year, spiced minced beef (or fish, chicken or vegetables) wrapped in cornmeal. There’s a great recipe on Simply Trini Cooking if you’re interested.

I do love them. They remind me of my childhood Christmases and I have made them almost every year I’ve lived here. I want my children to grow up remembering a Christmas that isn’t just British so part of me wants to make them this year.

BUT, they are a pain to make, Talitha won’t eat them and Ophelia is too young to remember either way. So I’m thinking, reluctantly, I’ll give them a miss this year. If my brother and his wife are reading this, however, they are welcome to make them! *hint, hint*

3. I’m going to do less crafts and more printables

We do a lot of crafting around here, even with a baby in tow but I must admit it is very tricky with Ophelia around and not able to join in. It’s also really annoying having to assemble stuff for millions of crafts the night before when I’m tired, have a ton of work to do and would rather just read something or watch TV. So I think we’ll get our Christmas fix with printables this year.

4. We’re having a Christmas tree delivered

So, we’re being sent a real tree to review by Pines and Needles and it’s been ordered online and will be delivered in a couple of weeks.

I’ll tell you what I think of the tree and full service once it’s here but I think the whole idea is a great one. Every year sorting the tree is just another thing on a bursting to-do list and I always threaten to get a fake so we don’t have to go through it again. Laurence would rather have no tree than a fake so this might be the answer for us.

Pines and Needles have also given me the code “CIRC14” which entitles you to a free gift and gives me a referral payment if you decide to make an order.

5. I may not even make a Christmas cake
A part of me wants to hold on to making gluten-free, dairy-free Trinidad black cake as a family tradition we’re establishing with our family.

But realistically, the girls won’t eat it (Talitha doesn’t like fruit cake and it’ll be too rich and sugary for us to give to Ophelia), I don’t want to eat a huge load of cake and they’re expensive. I may just make a little chocolate log or something.

I'm not going to try so hard this Christmas

6. We bought our Christmas cards early

We spotted a couple of sets we liked in a charity shop and just picked them up, no fuss. So we’re drawing up the list right now, getting addresses sorted and will be sending them off early. The mad dash to make the last postal date does my head in every year.

7. We’re having a simple Advent calendar

My mother-in-law gave me these sweet little pegs she picked up in New York recently and I’m just going to pin Scripture readings to a bit of string. No making advent calendars from toilet rolls this year. No activities. Just readings.

8. We’re starting later
Apart from the tree and Advent readings, we’re saving the festivities for when my parents get here mid-month. Last year, I definitely experienced a bit of Yuletide burnout by the time the day was upon us, simply because I started it all too soon.

9. I’m buying any “free from” Christmas treats, not making!

After driving myself to unholy despair over gluten-free mince pies and Christmas pudding, homemade Christmas can do one.

10. I’m taking social media with a HEAVY pinch of salt

Every year, our timelines fill up with all the festive fun everyone’s getting up to with their Elf on a Shelf, Santa meetings, complex Advent ideas and endless crafts and decorations. All of it is lovely. I really do enjoy looking at them and think there’s nothing wrong in sharing pretty things. I’m no Grinch.

But I am susceptible to seeing those things and feeling like I should be doing more. This year, I’m just going to look, “like”, maybe even “pin” and move on. I’ve already decided on how much and how little I’m doing this year. There many years ahead to do all those fine things.

What about you? Any thoughts on whether you’ll simplify Christmas this year?

31 Weeks Pregnant – On growing a baby over Christmas

I printed off a free 2014 calendar the other day and wrote in the pregnancy weeks as I keep finding myself making plans for next year and struggling to figure out how pregnant I’ll be by then.

Then I worked out that by the time I’m in a place to focus on getting things ready for the new baby (or rather, before the new baby, since she herself doesn’t need much) I’ll be 34 weeks pregnant. I’m almost expecting to go to 42 weeks so that makes it 8 weeks from then, less than 11 weeks from now.

I’m really glad I’ve not had too much time to overthink things but I’m also becoming conscious that there are things I need or want to sort out in that short time – shorter because life with a toddler carries on.

Activity Advent Calendar

But there’s no time to think about it now. We’ve had a wonderfully busy Advent, doing most of the things I hoped we’d do. Talitha has loved her activity Advent calendar and asks for it every day.

It’s got us to decorate far more creatively than I would have done otherwise and to get the cooking done mostly on time. I’ve started showing her that it’s almost done (ours finishes tomorrow).

White clay ornaments - moose

We’ve been talking a lot about Jesus, his birth and why we celebrate Christmas. She dressed up as a bear for the church Nativity on Sunday but refused to go on stage (as I suspected she would). Dressing up was fun for her though.

She also met Santa Claus at a toddler group and she stayed as far away as possible until he offered her a present. She reluctantly went up to get it from him and mumble: “Yank you.”

We even went to Westonbirt Arboretum for their Enchanted Christmas which was absolutely beautiful and though I got unduly grumpy about our party getting split up, I’m really glad we went.

Iced Trinidad Black Christmas Cake

I was a little worried that the Christmas season might lose its momentum with so much planned and from so early. I did have a sense of humour failure a couple of times when I’d stayed up too late. I pretty much said Christmas could do one next year.

That was a mixture of pregnancy exhaustion and having the cold (ill for the 3rd time this month!) talking and, in reality, I don’t need to do anything I don’t want to do. It’s remembering that. It’s not exactly as if anyone is honoured by me cussing over icing a Christmas cake, after all.

And if life is a bit overwhelming next year with a 9/10 month old and a 3.5 year old, well, we’ll just do it all more simply. Hopefully I’ll remember I said that and just buy the damn gluten and dairy free Christmas pudding.

Gluten free dairy free Christmas pudding

We had a real stress out over the tree this weekend when we realised it needed to change pot as it wasn’t taking up water properly. Laurence ended up having to hack off branches and go get a big pot with sand at B&Q. We even ended up moving the tree to another corner of the room. The whole thing was enough for me to swear we were going for a fake tree next year and for him to almost agree (he’s a die hard real tree guy).

In the end, it looks SO much nicer than it did before and we’ve even ended up using the branches to line the stair case. But, it did give me the reality check that children don’t need this big fancy tree. They don’t need a tree at all and, actually, one of the tiny £5 trees we’ve seen on sale would probably do just as nicely!

Stair case decorated with holly, tree branches and orange slices

Something I’ve been struck with in all this Christmassing is that while I’ve finally got it into my head that our baby is already with us and that we are welcoming a whole new person into our lives, it isn’t as real to Laurence yet. It probably won’t be until the birth.

He keeps referring to the future, talking about our child rather than children and is surprised whenever he feels the baby’s strong wriggling. It seems weird that Talitha’s always thinking about it. Now that I can feel lots of movements and sometimes even see my bump moving, I’m really conscious of the baby coming too. Yet, he’s not there yet. Not that he’s bothered, mind, but it’s like the three of us (me and my babies) have this little secret club that we’re just waiting to invite Daddy to.

Christmas card display

Every time Talitha asks for “milky” she takes a moment to talk to the baby and asks when she can see her. She tells the baby that she’ll have lots of milky when she comes out. My colostrum has come in fully on both sides now, which makes it more comfortable to breastfeed but I still find it irritating so I limit Talitha, which she’s fine with. Oddly, she’s started telling me that milky is a bit yucky. She’s becoming a bit more take-it-or-leave-it about the whole thing too. To know what she’s thinking about it!

Our Christmas tree

Maybe the New Year will make the life change seem more real to all of us. And maybe we’ll get stuff done before the baby comes. Or maybe we’ll decide that, just as with all this Christmas prep, quite a lot of it is unimportant after all.

Make a Christmas Wreath from Natural Objects

Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me when we made this. Alas! We were at my in-laws for the weekend and we swapped this craft into Talitha’s Advent Calendar activity for the day for convenience. I’m so in love with it, though, I need to share it.

Make a wreath from natural objects

We started off with a metal hanger and stretched the body of it into an “O”. The hook broke off, otherwise that would have been useful to leave for hanging. The neck of the hook has been useful in its stead though.

We’d collected holly, ivy and some other fun bits of brush on a walk out in the countryside. These were attached using green floral wire, adding bits until it all looked nice and bushy.

Make a wreath - add some colour

We slotted in this cute decoration my mother-in-law wasn’t using to add some detail and Talitha painted some of the berries with red nail varnish.

Then I made a big bow using a length of ribbon triple folded then tied into a bow. I then flared out all three of the bows it formed and cut the loops on the ends.

Make a wreath - the bow

We created a loop with some more floral wire in order to hang it and, there we go, Christmas wreath!

Peter Spier’s Christmas!

My mother-in-law unpacked her Christmas decorations this weekend, much to Talitha’s delight. As expected, since she’s a bookbinder, many beautiful and interesting things emerged from the boxes. I was quite taken by a book of illustrations, Peter Spier’s Christmas!

Christmas Cards Peter Spier

Talitha and I flipped through together, pointing out to each other the many details on each page, both of us caught up in this wordless story of family Christmases in Britain gone by. The pictures are just so intricate. There’s lots for both of us to focus on. As an adult, I’d happily sit and examine each frame on my own.

Creche Peter Spier

The book is deliciously nostalgic, conjuring up all things Christmas.

postman Peter Spier

In one sense, it’s looking at the festivities through the eye of child-like simplicity. It’s magical.

Carollers Peter Spier

Yet, it’s not simple at all. The effort these families are going through for Christmas is mental! I get a bit exhausted just thinking about their to-do lists!

Church Peter Spier

And at the end of the day, it’s a satire commenting on the excess of it all.

After Christmas Peter Spier

Because, of course, they’ll do it all again next year.

Next Christmas Peter Spier