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

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.

Pines and Needles Christmas Tree-3

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

This Homeschooling Life – November

That time’s rolled around again to look back at what we’ve been up to as a home educating family.

This has been a month of contrasts. At the start of the month, we got up to quite a lot of in terms of organised activities but things got looser as the days passed as I’ve not been feeling well and Ophelia’s going through a rough patch sleepwise. Actually, that mix suited us just fine. That’s one of the brilliant things about home educating, slowing down is not a problem when life calls for it.

Time for the highlights:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Activities for kids
Falling in love with chapter books
We’ve dipped in and out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the past but my four-year-old enjoyed it but didn’t seem to quite follow it so having read quite a lot of the book, we shelved it. Then a friend suggested My Father’s Dragon and that was a blast.

On the hunt for the next winner, I picked up a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was clear from the start that it would be a hit so I themed some activities for us to do alongside it. Check out my list of Ten Charlie and the Chocolate Factory activities for young children.

We’re fully into The Magic Faraway Tree now – such a trippy book and already well-loved.

The tricky thing about reading longer books is finding ways to engage Ophelia while we’re reading so I often wait until she’s having a nap but she doesn’t nap that reliably at the moment (could be linked to the crazy nights above). So I’m often pulling out something for her to do or requesting cups of tea from the toy kitchen while we read.

Diwali in our home-8
I totally forgot when I first published this post that we did loads around Diwali this month! And Bonfire Night of course! We made our own diyas and read and looked at lots about India and the Hindu festival of light. Diwali is a big deal in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from, so it was a chance to connect my kids with their heritage too. Here’s what we got up to on the day itself in my post, Diwali with my kids.

this homeschooling life november-3
Christmas decorations and other crafts
We made so many Christmas decorations this month. Personal favourites are these pipe cleaner beauties as both girls were able to do them.

We also rearranged the diningroom furniture, making the scrap box (an enormous chest full of recycling) accessible to the girls so they’ve been busy pulling things out and involving the most random objects in their games. Talitha has also been getting the glue and scissors out and making all sorts of amazing things from robots to play food, totally on her own.

On one hand, leaving them access to junk and art supplies makes for a lot of mess (the toddler scribbles on our walls speak the truth of this – thanks, Ophelia). On the other, the creativity, confidence and independence that emerges from it is well worth it. Now that most things have a place, they find it easier to help tidy up too.

Holiday in Madeira this homeschooling life november-2
We spent the last week of November in Madeira with Laurence’s parents and what a brilliant holiday that was. It’s not something that would have been doable if Talitha were in school (certainly not once she’s five) since the term’s still going, so I’m counting it as a home ed highlight.

Of course, being in Madeira raised so many fascinating questions about airports, airplanes, maps, climate, countries – you name it! Kids’ curiosity is primed for learning.

I hope to blog about it later this week, which may interest any families considering Madeira as a holiday destination.


Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess, Polly and Laura. I’m sure I’ll have lots more to share next time around. Do read more about it below and if you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Circus Queen
Laura who blogs at Side Street Style
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up

Simplifying Advent

The moment Talitha woke up this morning, before she’d even got out of bed, she asked in the dark (I was still in the bed beneath with Ophelia), “Mummy, can me and Effie open our Advent calendars?”

In years past, I’ve made intricate calendars like this toilet roll tree, complete with an activity planned for each day and a Bible passage.

This year, I spotted standard chocolate Advent calendars at a fundraising fair for Easton Jubilee Trust, a non-profit organisation my brother and my sister-in-law are involved in, and I thought, “Why not?” I’m absolutely certain the kids found these as exciting as any homemade option I could have offered.

We will probably do some form of a Jesse Tree, starting later today (if I can summon the energy) and no doubt we’ll get up to lots of Christmas activities throughout the season but I’m quite relieved not to have tied myself into something intricate this year. I’m intrigued too by the kindness elves but if they make an appearance, it’ll be patchy, and if they don’t, that’s OK too.

Advent offers an easy place to access the salvation story with children. The birth of a baby? They get it, they’re captivated by it. On one hand, I want to make the most of that in the lead up to Christmas, a valuable marker on our calendar as Christians. On the other, they are so good at celebrating all of life – it really doesn’t take much on my part!

I’m enjoying the freedom of “maybe we will, maybe we won’t”, conscious too that what they see in me speaks louder than any Advent calendar could anyway.

Am I longing for Jesus to come or am I distracted? Am I in tune with the suffering in the world or am I insulated in my comfortable lifestyle? Am I doing something with the “love”, “hope” and “peace” we talk and sing about at this time of year or are they just sentimental buzzwords? I have lots of questions of my own in the dark.

“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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