All posts by alex m

5 Surprising Ways To Bring Down Your Food Bills

5 Surprising Ways To Bring Down Your Food Bills

We all know the standard advice for cutting down the amount we spend on our weekly food shop – do one food shop per week, make a list, meal plan, don’t shop when you’re hungry, shop at discount supermarkets etc. While all this advice is perfectly valid, there are a few other tricks you can use to save money on your expensive food bill.

1. Study the shelves

If you think items are placed on the shelves at random, you’d be very wrong. Supermarkets invest big money in research to determine exactly where they should place items to maximise their profits. They want you to spend more money, so they place the more expensive items at eye level. However, if you have a good look around the aisle, you’ll probably be able to find a different brand of the same product for a cheaper price at the very top or bottom of the shelf.

2. Find out what’s in season

Plan your meals to comprise fresh ingredients that are in season and you will save yourself a fortune at the tills. Locally sourced fruit and vegetables are not only  cheaper, but by buying produce with less food miles,  you’re helping the planet too.

3. Use a small trolley

According to research, if you use a big trolley, you’re more likely to fill it. So, choose a smaller trolley or even a basket if you can – this will prevent you from adding unnecessary items because it will fill up quicker. You’ll have to fight against the tight space and really consider whether to add each item.

5 Surprising Ways To Bring Down Your Food Bills

4. Don’t go to the deli

The deli section is crammed full of tasty-looking meats, cheeses, pastries and dips. All are packaged beautifully and served directly to you by a member of staff – but you are paying a premium for this service. If you hunt around the store, you’ll often find the same items at a fraction of the cost.

So, don’t be fooled by the swanky deli counter – often its food is of no better quality than other items you can find on the shelves.

5. Do Your Research

Meal planning and list writing are great ways to make sure you don’t overspend, but dedicating a bit more time to preparing for your weekly shop can save you even more. Research the deals available to loyalty card holders and try to plan your week’s meals around what’s on offer. Using coupons and other vouchers in the same way can also shave off £ from your bill.

There are plenty of apps, such as My Supermarket, available to help you find the best deals and some, like Top Cashback, also offer discounts to their users. Some supermarkets even have their own apps to help their customers access the best deals. If you have a bit of dead time during the day, for example when commuting, use it to research the best deals on your food shopping.

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Our Kids

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Our Kids

I always thought I would be the one to teach my daughter about life. I’m her mum; that’s my role. But as time rumbles on, I increasingly find that she is the one teaching me.

Adults can spend years working on personal growth. We read self-books, stubbornly practise mindfulness, see therapists and embark on valiant expeditions to find ourselves.

What if we always knew the truth we seek? It seems that at some point during our turbulent transition from child to adult we managed to unlearn the life lessons we came hard wired with.

BE PRESENT

Children, unlike adults, tend to live in the moment. Adults often carry the baggage of the past or the worries of the future around so intently that we forsake the present.

One day after school, my daughter told me she had seen a friend from the year above, who we had visited a theme park with the week before.

‘Did you talk about our trip to the theme park?’ I asked her.

Her answer was so innocently perfect. ‘No’.

Why would they discuss what happened a week ago? Their conversation clearly centred on the here and now.

This short exchange spoke volumes to me. My daughter unwittingly reminded me that I need to remain present at all times. Some would call this mindfulness. My daughter would just see it as common sense.

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Our Kids

DON’T HOLD GRUDGES

My daughter and her friends often have little tiffs over who plays the lead part in a game or who plays with a toy first. These disputes lead to tears, tantrums and, of course the threat of, ‘I’m telling!’

What always surprises me, however, is how quickly they become best of friends again. It’s as if nothing ever happened – one minute it’s tantrum city and the next they’re back to harmonious play.

The argument passes over like a short summer storm and before you know it the sun is shining again.

On the contrary, adults can hold grudges for years. Often, we don’t even talk about the reasons we feel wounded and hurt, preferring to hold it all inside. Important relationships can be damaged through lack of communication and the inability to forget.

It strikes me that children deal with disputes far more effectively – have it out, apologise, accept the apology and move on.

BE CREATIVE

Most children enjoy creative play and activities. They fill their time with their favourite creative pursuits. From drawing to writing stories, building Lego houses or baking, as soon as my daughter finishes school she engages in some kind of creativity.

As adults, we know how important it is for children to be creative and play make believe. This is how they learn important life skills.

It’s a shame that we don’t place such importance on our own self-growth. At what age did we decide to stop making time to be creative?

I realise adults, especially busy parents, don’t have nearly as much time as children to spend on hobbies and bucket-filling activities. But often we could make more of an effort to find time for our own creativity.  In fact, it’s imperative to our well-being that we do so.

SHOW YOUR EMOTIONS

My daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. I can see how she’s feeling inside by just looking at her face. If she’s upset she’ll cry, if she’s angry she’ll stamp her foot and if she thinks an injustice has occurred she won’t be shy in voicing her displeasure.

As we grow older, we become expert at keeping our emotions hidden deep inside where they are destined to become toxic.

Obviously we can’t jump up and down in a tantrum when we’re angry or cry at the drop of a hat but we can communicate our feelings with others more often. Or even the simple act of writing down our feelings can be a great release when anger or disappointments take over.

Children rarely try to hide their feelings and this enables them to deal with their emotions quickly and more effectively (often with the help of an adult if needed). If only we could do the same.

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Our Kids

TAKE PLEASURE IN SMALL THINGS

To children the world is a huge place full of wonder. My children go out and have amazing adventures in the garden while all I see is some grass, flowers and over-grown bushes.

My daughter can spend hours marvelling over a smooth pebble from the beach or a funny shaped stick she picked up in the woods. It never ceases to amaze me how much pleasure she takes from objects I normally wouldn’t pay any attention to.

If we could see the world as we did when we were children, think how exciting each day would be? There would be magic, possibilities and fun around every corner.

We see exactly the same world as our children and yet we choose to perceive it in a different way. Perhaps it’s time to strip back to basics and appreciate our surroundings, finding pleasure in even the smallest of things.

LAUGH OFTEN

During the course of the day children laugh a lot, often at seemingly ridiculous things. It doesn’t matter what they’re laughing at, children laugh because they enjoy the act of giggling and chucking. Simply put, it makes them feel good.

And with good reason. Laughter is an amazing healing force and great way to bond with others. Even if you feel like you have nothing to laugh about, research has shown that forcing yourself to smile or laugh will make you feel happier.

If adults laughed and smiled as much as kids do perhaps the world would be a better place.

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Our Kids

ASK FOR HELP

If my daughter needs help with something, she asks. She doesn’t try and soldier on in a martyr-like fashion, hoping someone will eventually notice her distress (as I have been known to do).

Children don’t feel embarrassed about asking for help and they don’t worry about putting out the person whose assistance they seek. As adults, we tend to like being asked for help by family or friends because it makes us feel useful and trusted. But, bizarrely, we can feel awkward if we are the one making the request. It doesn’t make sense at all and children know that.

In fact, many of our adult behaviours don’t make sense. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why children have so very many questions about life.

It turns out my daughter may be the finest self-help book ever written.


Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.

parenting expectations

Why Learning To Lower My Expectations Has Made Me A Happier Parent

I’ve lost count of the number of baby showers I’ve attended where the guests are asked to proffer a piece of parenting advice on a frilly piece of card for the mum-to-be. I always struggle with this; it takes more than a few lines of generic sentiment to share anything worth knowing about parenthood.

Is there a catch-all piece of advice to make parenting an easier experience? Categorically not. But occasionally a light-bulb blazes within, something clicks and you think ‘Yes! I wish I’d realised that sooner!’ This article is a result of one of those epiphanies.

Why Learning To Lower My Expectations Has Made Me A Happier Parent

It came about one uncharacteristically glorious day at the end of April. The sky was an expanse of uninterrupted blue, the sun was making its debut and the air was balmy, so my husband suggested we take the kids to the beach after school.

As soon as we arrived, our toddler son had his own ideas about what he wanted to gain from the trip and they didn’t tally with ours. His idea of fun was blithely running away from us, licking the floor, trying to throw stones at dogs and throwing an epic tantrum when it was time to come out of the sea.

Our six year old daughter found every possible opportunity to moan about how we were hell-bent on subjecting her to insurmountable boredom. Furthermore, we were the worst parents in the world because we only bought her one ice-cream. The sea was too cold, the seaweed too gloopy and the sand too sandy – all factors which we had purposefully engineered just to annoy her. She made it clear that she would much rather be at home watching Harry Potter for the zillionth time.

Why Learning To Lower My Expectations Has Made Me A Happier Parent

As we packed the kids into the car, my weary husband turned to me and said, ‘Next time I suggest a quick trip to the beach after school, remind me it is NOT a good idea’. His brow-beaten expression was all too easy to read. He hadn’t enjoyed our impromptu beach visit at all.

The funny thing was, despite the moaning, tantrums and questionable behaviour, I had really enjoyed the trip.

Why were mine and my husband’s experiences of the same outing so different? The answer had to lie in our expectations. My husband had clearly envisioned a fun-filled and relaxing excursion. His mind had us walking hand-in-hand along the shore, all tousled hair and wide smiles. The reality was entirely different. It was stressful, trying and energy draining. So why did I enjoy it so much? Because I had expected nothing more.

This led me to think about the role expectations play when it comes to parenting. It hit me that every time parenthood has left me disappointed, stressed, frustrated, angry or upset it is because I set my expectations too high.

Why Learning To Lower My Expectations Has Made Me A Happier Parent

Let’s take it back to the very beginning and my first pregnancy. I spent months browsing catalogues full of cute baby clothes, organising baby toiletries into beautiful displays and imagining cosy days by the fireside with my gurgling new-born. She would sleep, naturally, and my life would continue in relative undisturbed harmony. In imagining that nothing much would change, I had already set my expectations of parenting way too high. I was destined to experience the despair, worry, exhaustion and tears which became the reality of her first few weeks on earth.

While no first time mother can fully grasp the way parenthood changes every fabric of her being, perhaps some lower expectations would make the whole transformation period slightly more palatable. Motherhood turned out to be nothing like the vision portrayed in the stacks of catalogues I had placed in my baby’s colour coordinated nursery.

Fast forward a few years to the birth of my son and my expectations were wholly different. During my pregnancy with him, I anticipated that the early days would be exhausting and difficult. I expected to have no time to myself, for neither of us to sleep and for my life to be completely given over to this tiny new person. I drew on my experiences of my first baby and lowered my expectations to ground level.

Imagine my delight when he arrived and I coped just fine. In fact, unlike my initial fraught weeks of motherhood five years earlier, I really enjoyed his early days. Yes I was tired, but not as much as I expected to be. I had moments of bewilderment and exasperation, but on the whole it was far easier than expected.

Learning not to set my expectations of other people on par with my own high self-expectations has helped me greatly in avoiding disappointment and unhappiness in my life. I find this applies equally to parenthood.

If I expect someone to empty a packet of cornflakes over the living room floor moments after I vacuum it, I won’t lose my temper. If I expect my toddler to push his plate away while screaming ‘Yuk!’ in response to my carefully crafted meal, I won’t feel disenchanted. If I expect an outing to our favourite restaurant to result in an hour of attempting to prevent my son escaping from his highchair while listening to my daughter moan about being bored, I may actually enjoy myself. And moreover, lower expectations may cause me to be pleasantly surprised on occasion.

Once we have children, we eventually become accustomed to our new child-centric lives. However, we may hang on to our pre-parenthood, high expectations for too long. My husband has lived through countless outings similar to the aforementioned beach trip and yet he still hadn’t learned to lower his expectations accordingly.

My one piece of advice for every mum-to-be at every future baby shower I attend will be just that. Leave your high expectations of parenthood at the door. One of my friends perfectly summed up the reality of parenthood when she said, ‘Motherhood has made me and broken me in equal measures’.

parenting-expectations

I know exactly what my friend was getting at. I’m sure every parent does. By all means expect joy, unconditional love and fulfilment from parenthood. It will certainly deliver on all three counts. However, by expecting parenthood to flaunt its difficult sides on a daily basis (stress, frustration, worry and exhaustion to name but a few), I have found my experience of parenting has become a considerably happier one.


Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.

5 Things I Would Tell My Pre-Elf-On-The-Shelf Self

6 Things I Would Tell My Pre-Elf-On-The-Shelf Self

Four years ago, when a friend educated me about the whole elf on the shelf craze, I decided to give it a bash. A little house guest from the North Pole would be a simple and fun way to enhance the Christmas magic for my two young children, right?

Anticipating that my sensitive daughter would be freaked out by the official version, I opted for two merry little plush elves – one for each of my kids. Charlie and Christina arrived on the 1st of December in all their green and red glory and were an instant hit. I didn’t like the idea of the elves watching over the kids or that the kids couldn’t touch or cuddle them, so I scrapped those parts of the tradition.

Simple fun, I thought to myself in glee. Simple.

Maybe not.

Four years on, this is what I would tell my naïve, pre-elf-on-the-shelf-self about life with our critters from the North Pole:

You will lose sleep over the elves

This year, the night before our friends arrived from the North Pole, my daughter woke up at 3am. She thought she heard them thumping around the living room and couldn’t contain her excitement. My son bounded into my room at 5am, screaming ‘can we see our elves now?’ as he jumped on my head.

We’ve had this 5am wakeup call ever since they arrived – it’s becoming ever so slightly tiresome.

You will lose the elves

I was snuggled under a blanket one evening, in a state of bliss as I watched Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas with a glass of wine, when something elf-related on the telly made me sit bolt upright. I hadn’t seen Christina all day.

My peaceful evening was exchanged with a frantic search for Christina.

‘We’ve lost one of the elves!’ I yelled at my unsuspecting husband, before wrenching him off the sofa.

‘Oh f**k,’ he sighed as we embarked on a thorough search of the house. Christina was eventually located in a Lightening McQueen pencil case which had been stuffed into a saucepan in the kitchen cupboard. Obviously.

You will lose yet more sleep because of the elves

At 2am one morning, I was just turning over in bed when an image of the elves flashed into my head. A cold finger of panic poked me in the stomach as I realised I forgot to move the little buggers. I jabbed my husband in the back and whispered, ‘We forgot to move the elves!’

‘Oh s**t,’ he mumbled, before rolling over and letting out a little snore.

Of course, it fell to me to creep downstairs in my dressing gown and locate the pesky things before thinking up a funny position to put them in, while my husband enjoyed his uninterrupted slumber. B***ard.

You will lose all enthusiasm for the elves

It was cute at first. The kids’ bright, joyful faces and the love they have for our impish visitors. But, by day twelve, the whole thing becomes a royal pain in the bum.

It doesn’t take me long to run out of elfin ideas and the fact we keep losing the blasted things is annoying to say the least. My husband suggested we make the elves write the kids a letter, saying they are awfully sorry but Santa has called them back to the North Pole on urgent business.

Tempting. Very tempting.

You will lie. A lot.

It was fine for the first couple of years, but when my eldest hit seven, tricky questions about the elves began to materialise. Why are all the shops selling them? Why don’t all children have them? Why don’t they ever get older?

I’ve wrapped myself in a complicated web of elf-related lies and I only have myself to blame. I can’t even remember most of the porkies I’ve proffered in relation to those elves. But my daughter, the eight-year-old elephant, remembers every word. One slip-up and the whole elf-on-the-shelf house of cards will come tumbling down around my ears.

This may not be such a bad thing

You’ll forget all the above next year

Next November, when the kids start shaking with excitement over the elves’ impending arrival, I’ll forget what a drag they are. Hell, I’ll probably look forward to the whole charade while I’m still in my fuzzy, pre-Christmas bubble. Elf amnesia is a thing, you know. I like to call it elfnesia.

How much trouble could two cuddly elves be anyway?

___________________________________________________________________________

Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.

Christmas Fire Safety Tips

Christmas Fire Safety Tips

Christmas is the best time of the year for many reasons. Spending time with family and friends, the tree, the lights, cosy evenings by the fire, parties, presents and festive tunes are all reasons to adore Christmas.

So, during this busy and happy time of year, we don’t mean to put a dampener on your Christmas celebrations by going on about the risks of fire. But, it’s important, so we’re going to. A fire could be totally devastating. It could be fatal. Of course, you already know that.

Please read these important tips and make sure you and yours are as protected as much as possible this Christmas.

TEST YOUR SMOKE ALARMS OFTEN

We’re assuming you have smoke alarms in your house. If you don’t, stop reading this immediately and go and buy some. Or you can contact your local fire brigade for advice as some offer a free Home Fire Risk Check (find the number online DON’T call 999 for this please!) You should have AT LEAST one smoke alarm on every level of your home but, to be honest, more is better.

Smoke alarms can and will save your life in the event of a fire. But they’re no use to you if they don’t work. Test them once a week and replace the batteries once a year or if they no longer work.

Please read the advice from the government’s Fire Kills Campaign on the proper use of smoke alarms here.

TURN ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES OFF

Christmas tree lights, outside lights, illuminated window decorations etc. all make Christmas extra special. However, you should switch them off and unplug them when you’re not home and during the night.

This advice actually applies to all appliances in your home. When not in use they should be switched off and unplugged. A washing machine or television left on stand-by could cause a fire if a fault develops. Any appliance that is drawing in current has the potential to fault. This may only be the cause of a small proportion of fires, but why run the risk?

So make sure everything not in use is switched off at the mains and unplugged. This includes the washing machine and tumble drier. As well as saving you some pennies from your energy bill, taking this simple action could prevent a fire.

Also, don’t leave your washing machine, tumble drier or dishwasher on when you go out or overnight – just in case it causes a fire to start.

Christmas Fire Safety Tips

DON’T OVERLOAD SOCKETS

You may find yourself using extension leads at Christmastime to enable you to use all your lights and decorations. Don’t be tempted to overload a socket and never plug an extension lead into another extension lead to add more to it. Be mindful of how much power each of the items you have plugged in uses. High powered appliances should not be plugged in to extension leads. For more information on the correct use of extension leads please read this leaflet.

TAKE CARE IN THE KITCHEN

Most house fires start in the kitchen so you should be extra careful here. Never leave the kitchen unattended when something is cooking. Also, don’t cook if you’ve been drinking alcohol. Save the wine or Baileys until the Christmas dinner is cooked and on the table!

HAVE YOUR CHIMNEY SWEPT

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… If you have an open fire, it will most certainly be in use a lot at this time of year.

Please make sure you have your chimney swept. An unswept chimney represents a fire hazard.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue produced this hilarious video of firefighters dancing to Step in Time from Mary Poppins to get the point across. Well worth a watch if you want to see a cartwheeling fire fighter! And there is useful safety advice about open fires scrolling along the bottom too.

BE CAREFUL WITH CANDLES

Candles are another Christmas tradition, really adding to the festive atmosphere in a home. However, they prevent a significant fire hazard. Please never leave a candle unattended, even if you just pop out of the room for a few minutes. It’s just not worth it. Also, never place candles near your Christmas tree or anything else that could catch fire. Candles should always be placed in an appropriate holder.

Christmas Fire Safety Tips

HAVE A PLAN

In the unlikely and unfortunate event of a fire, do you have an evacuation plan? Do you know who would get the children and which way you would exit your house? If you don’t have one, you should think about making one and ensuring that the whole family knows it. There’s more advice on how to make an evacuation plan in this handy leaflet.

If a fire starts, follow the fire brigade’s advice ‘Get Out. Stay Out. And call 999’. If there’s lots of smoke, stay as low down as possible because the air is clearer further down.

NEVER waste time trying to grab important paperwork or high value items before you evacuate.

Sleep with your front door keys and your phone next to you on your bedside table. That way, in an emergency, you won’t waste valuable time scrabbling around trying to find them. You will be able to exit quickly and then call the fire brigade right away.

Please note that these tips are not exhaustive and you should not rely on them solely. The government’s Fire Kills campaign has produced many fire safety leaflets – you can access them all from here. There is a specific Christmas Fire Safety leaflet available here. And you can also contact your local fire brigade for advice.

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

How To Host Christmas On A Budget

What with all the gift buying, stocking filling and party hosting, it’s safe to say that Christmas is an expensive business. In 2016 the average family spent £174 on Christmas dinner – undoubtedly a hefty amount to add to your total Christmas price tag.

If it falls to you to host Christmas dinner this year, panic not, we have some handy tips to help keep costs to a minimum.

Get organised

As with everything Christmas-related, planning is key. Make a list of everything you’ll need for your Christmas dinner, right down to the last Brussel sprout. When you’ve finished your list, check through it and be ruthless – cross out any items that aren’t strictly necessary for a successful dinner.

If you meticulously stick to your list and avoid impulse buying, you can keep track of your spending, ensure you have everything ready for the big day and shop around to find the best prices.

If you want to plan your Christmas feast digitally, Trello is a nifty (and free) project management app, which will help you organise every last detail.

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

Trawl through your cupboards

Before you plan your Christmas dinner menu, have a rummage through your cupboards and see what you can use. A packet of gravy or bread sauce from last year, if still in date, will save you a few pennies this year. If you’re hosting a dinner party or buffet, you could base the menu around what you already have in your kitchen.

Sorting through the darkest corners of your cupboards also provides you with an excellent opportunity to get rid of all those out of date items!

Shop around

Once you know what you need to buy you can shop around and make sure you get the best deals on all your essentials. Discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl offer excellent value for money, while stores like Poundland and Home Bargains enable you to buy cheap decorations and accessories.

My Supermarket is a handy app that will help you find bargains in the aisles, so you never have to pay more than necessary for your festive foods and trimmings.

Buy a little every week

Every time you do a weekly food shop, add a few items from your Christmas dinner list. This will help you stock up all you need for the big day while avoiding the need for a big splurge a few days before Christmas.

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

Ask guests to bring a dish

If you’re cooking for a lot of people, there’s no shame in asking guests to contribute. Perhaps some could bring along side dishes while others supply puds, nuts or crisps. And everyone can bring a bottle. Sharing the burden will really help to keep costs down.

Portion control

Avoid mountains of waste this year by controlling portions. It’s natural for us to pile our plates high at the Christmas dinner table, but inevitably we can’t eat it all. Try and dish up the meat and vegetables before the plates reach the table. You don’t have to be stingy with the portions but be realistic. Guest can always ask for seconds if they wish.

 

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

The days are drawing in, hats and gloves are out and frost is chilling on windowpanes – winter has well and truly arrived. For many of us, with the warmth and light of summer a distant memory, it’s depressing.

Winter days are literally dark and for some (especially those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder) figuratively so too.

Winter has a habit of promoting lethargy and depression. Even with the excitement of Christmas on the horizon, it can still be a struggle. It can seem hard to get out of bed in the mornings and motivation can crash to an all-time low.

If you dread the bleak winter days, here are some ideas to brighten them and make the long, desolate winter more bearable:

Light!

 Sounds obvious right? However, actively filling your home environment with lamps, fairy lights and candles will really help to lift your mood. It’s also a good reason to get the Christmas tree up as soon as possible! The twinkle of the pretty tree lights and other  festive illuminations really make you feel happier.

When the sun is being miserly with its own light – create as much of your own as you can!

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

Inspiration

A daily dose of inspiration can really help you to keep going during the long winter.

While it’s true that inspiration often finds you in the most unsuspecting of places, if you’re feeling demotivated and uninspired you need to seek it out. Draw out positivity and motivation from any person, place or thing you can find.

It could be  listening to podcasts by people who inspire you as well as interesting TED talks. Or you could try a regular dose of inspiring quotes and stories.

Whatever or whoever inspires you, make sure you get your daily fix of them to keep you feeling stimulated and alive.

Try Something New

 Starting a new project or learning something for the first time is always exciting. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? Now is the time to give it a go.

Hots Baths With Essential Oils

 A hot, steamy bath with a few drops of essential oils is a fool proof way to feel lighter. Add in plenty of candles, a face mask and a good book and there’s no better way of feeling rejuvenated at the end of a dark, drab day.

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

Blankets

 A cosy, plump blanket is an essential part of any winter survival kit. Make sure you have warm blankets folded up all over the house – ripe for snuggling under and getting cosy.

An Early Night…

Like most parents, you are probably faced with the daily conundrum of going to bed early to catch up on sleep or staying awake to finally get some ‘me time’.

During the winter, an early night usually wins. Like a hibernating animal, you may need more sleep during the long winter months.

…And An Early Start

Waking up super early, (around 5am), may sound utterly bonkers but it will give you a delirious hour and a half to yourself before the kids wake up.

This could possibly to be the most productive time of the day because you’re more alert and energised than in the evenings.

Starting the day with some good quality time to yourself will really set you up for a better day and puts you in a positive frame of mind.

Slow Cooker Meals

 If you have a slow cooker, dig it out and use it often. There’s nothing better than coming in from the rain and bitter wind to a warm house full of the tempting aroma of whatever is bubbling in the slow cooker.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Christmas in the 80s seemed to be a far less complicated affair. I don’t remember my mum running round like a headless chicken, hiding elves on shelves and making life-sized advent calendars stuffed full of homemade toys. She never had a to-do list as long as her arm and seemed completely nonplussed by the whole event.

Her 1980s laid-back attitude towards parenting extended throughout the festive period with abandon. She was as cool as the Snowman, which in the absence of on-demand TV, we watched when it happened to on (unless someone had the foresight to video it.)

When I was a kid, I remember members of the older generation harping on about how Christmas was far too commercialised compared to the festive seasons of their youths. They were probably right, though I’d need to experience a 1950s Christmas to be sure. Thirty years on, however, I’m going to do some harping of my own. Christmas these days may be even more commercialised than it was in the 80s, but what gets to me is the amount of pressure we heap upon ourselves to provide our kids with the perfect Christmas experience.

Elves on my shelves, Christmas Eve boxes, all-singing and dancing advent calendars, handmade Christmas cards, credit card inducing trips to see authentic looking Santas (no polyester beards in sight)… I admit to trying and failing to do it all.

Who am I doing it for? Would the kids even notice if I stepped back a few decades and treated them to a Christmas from my youth? My advent calendars didn’t even contain chocolate. It didn’t matter to me – opening the little windows to find a new picture each morning was the highlight of my day. I was more than happy with a shopping-mall Santa, who we came across by chance while my mother was buying doilies in Debenhams. He may have been sitting in the most garish of grottos, framed by a few bits of tinsel and polystyrene snow. He may have dished out a truly crap present. Yet, in my childish state of wonder and excitement, I just didn’t care.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

We left mince pies out for Santa on an ordinary plate from the kitchen and he didn’t even mind that it wasn’t a specialised Christmas plate containing a personalised message. I didn’t have Christmas pyjamas, a box full of yet more gifts on Christmas Eve or a specially delivered message from the North Pole. And I survived.

I did more than survive. My childhood Christmases were memorable and magical. They fostered a deep love of Christmas within me and it has stuck until this day. As an added bonus, my mother wasn’t worn out from staying up past midnight trying to potato print Christmas trees onto homemade cards.

In my vain attempt to strip Christmas back to basics and recreate a magical 1980s Christmas, I’ve decided on the following actions:

Unplug

My mum never had the ‘highlight reel’ of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to contend with. If little Patrick from down the road went on a sleigh ride with real reindeer, she wouldn’t have known about it unless she spoke to his mum. She didn’t have hundreds of other people’s Christmases to compare ours with – and I’m sure she was all the happier for it.

Yesterday I made gingerbread men with my kids. My son insisted on eating all the dough (despite being told not to) and then totally lost the plot when he realised it was all in his tummy and he had no gingerbread men to show for it. My daughter carefully prepared a whole tray of the little blighters. Unfortunately, I accidentally spilt Mr Muscle on them while they were cooling. In total, after an hour of misery, we were left with just two gingerbread men.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Had I uploaded a picture to Facebook of my (hastily baby-wiped) children grinning and holding up their creations, you may have been fooled into believing it was a wonderfully magical experience. However, such an image wouldn’t have conveyed their tears and tantrums, my flour-bombed kitchen and me losing my shit.

Social Media never shows the whole picture. This Christmas, I shall remember that.

I’m also going to remember to give the people in my living room my undivided attention. In the 80s, no-one was taking selfies or tapping away on their individual screens, oblivious to what was actually going on around them. There was a real sense of togetherness, as we all gathered around the same telly to watch the Christmas movie of the day or see who had made it to be Top of the Pops. I miss that.

Ditch the guilt

My mum never woke up at 3am in a cold sweat because she forgot to move the blasted elf. She didn’t felt guilty about the fact we weren’t going to Lapland. In fact, if she were here today to discover that Lapland UK is situated in the forest a few miles away from my childhood home, where we used to walk our dog, she would have roared with laughter. Until she saw the price of a visit, that is.

I can’t do it all. I have neither the money nor the inclination. This year I’m not even going to try.

Instead, in true 80s style, I shall get sloshed on Baileys, safe in the knowledge that Father Christmas has it all in hand. He’s the main attraction after all – the anticipation and excitement of his arrival was always enough for me as a child. I didn’t need Christmas Eve boxes, countless Christmas craft activities and personalised jumpers, pyjamas and crockery to make Christmas special. And I doubt my kids really need all that stuff to enjoy Christmas either.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Remember what it’s all about

We seem to put so much pressure on ourselves to buy the most expensive and sought after toys for our kids (Hatchimals last year anyone?!) only to marvel over how they play with the wrapping paper and the boxes.

I’ve watched my daughter ripping open presents, tossing one aside for the next without even really looking at the contents. The toys are soon forgotten as she plays games with her auntie and grandparents and wants to set the table and help in the kitchen. Even though she doesn’t know it, the presents are the least important part of Christmas Day for her. As long as she has some toys to unwrap, they don’t have to be the most expensive and I shouldn’t have to go into debt over it.

When I was about eight years old, I remember waking up mega early on Christmas day (about 4am), bombing downstairs and tearing open my presents. No-one else was up and nor were they going to wake at such an hour. Halfway through my present opening spree, I came to a realisation. Unwrapping presents alone in the early morning silence, without excited faces to share in my delight and my mother chasing after me to pick up the wrapping paper, was boring.  So I wrapped up all the presents again and went back to bed.

When I woke later at a more appropriate hour, I unwrapped the presents alongside peals of laughter, the flash of my dad’s camera, Christmas music and my mum with her bin bag. I also delighted in seeing the others open their gifts. This was my first lesson on the true nature of Christmas. And you can’t put that on a credit card.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

A few presents under the tree, which is glistening in the glorious imperfection of its haphazardly placed ornaments and a house full of laughter and love. That’s what it’s all about. My mum knew that and so did I.  Somehow in the years between experiencing Christmas as a child and trying to create one for my children I forgot.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to ditch the to-do lists and pointless pressure to be perfect and enjoy Christmas as it should to be. An unplanned and non-colour-coordinated free for all, where the focus is on people instead of things. I don’t think my kids will be disappointed in the slightest.


Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

With Christmas just around the corner, children the world over are beginning to feel the excitement as they eagerly await the big day. As parents, we want to make the festive season as magical as possible for our little people. Luckily, help is at hand. We’ve scoured the internet and found the 14 best Christmas websites and apps to help parents spread some cheer this festive season.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

1. Portable North Pole

Sprinkle a bit of Christmas magic with Portable North Pole. This clever website will create a personalised video message to your child from Santa for free. The video itself is beautifully made and will leave children of all ages completely mesmerized.

2. Capture the Magic

Using this website or app, you can give your child proof that Santa was indeed inside your house. Simply upload a photo of the room in your house that Santa visited and add one of their Santas to it. Voila – a picture of Santa in your house for the kids to treasure!

3. Christmas Countdown

‘How long is it until Christmas?’ Are you fed up of being asked this question? With Christmas Countdown you can pinpoint how long they have to wait to the second, so you’re always ready with an answer.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

4. North Pole

North Pole is your ultimate Christmas resource. Packed with crafts, games, gift ideas, recipes and letters from Santa, this website is a must for adults as well as kids.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

5. Why Christmas?

Why do we have Christmas trees? What is Santa’s first name? Find out everything you need to know about Christmas, including the stories behind all our Christmas traditions, on this informative website. There are also Christmas games and activities to delight the little ones.

6. Jinglebell Junction

For all your Christmas downloads, look no further than Jinglebell Junction. Avatars, wallpaper, ringtones…you’ll find it all here plus fun activities and games for the kids.

7. Elfster

If you’ve been tasked with organising Secret Santa for your or your child’s friends, Elfster is a handy website to guide you through it with ease. Each participant can create a wishlist, upload their details and Elfster will conduct the draw plus send out reminders and thank yous. For stress-free Secret Santa, Elfster is a must.

8. NORAD

Thanks to the North American Aeorospace Defence Command, you can track Santa as he flies through the skies on Christmas Eve. Your little ones will be beyond excited to watch it all as it happens.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

9. Elf Yourself

Elf Yourself is loved the world over and is fast becoming a Christmas tradition for the digital age. All you need to do is upload a picture of yourself or you child and you will be transformed into a dancing elf. Magic!

10. Email Santa

As the name suggests, this website allows your child to receive a personalised email from the big man himself. Simply fill out a form with a few details and your message from Santa will appear within seconds.

11. Santa Tracker

This beautiful creation from Google provides stimulating games, activities and animations for the kids. You can also learn more about how children all around the world celebrate Christmas.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

12. Live Santa

From the 1st December you can watch all the comings and goings in Lapland via the Live Santa website. Watch Santa prepare for Christmas, see the elves and reindeer and marvel at the beautiful, snow-covered landscape.

13. Claus

With Claus.com you have access to your very own Christmas village. Check to see your naughty or nice status and find songs, games and interactive activities.

14. Letter from Santa

For a suggested donation of £5, you can order a beautiful, personalised message from Santa, while helping children in need this Christmas.

 

And if you’re worried about how much Christmas is gong to cost, don’t forget to check out our Christmas money saving tips here.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

With the average British household spending £753* on Christmas last year, many of us will be looking to save as much as possible on festive expenses this year. Now Halloween is over, the stores will be ramping up their Christmas displays and so the financial outlay begins…

Helping families save money is our whole motivation here at Baby and Children’s Market. With this in mind, we’ve put together some Christmas money saving tips to help you get the most bang from your buck this festive season.

1. Make a list and check it twice

When it comes to saving money, preparation is key. Make a list of everything you’re going to need this Christmas, including gifts, food, drink and accessories. If you stick to the list, you can avoid any unnecessary spending.

You can use your list to work out a budget – so you know how much it’s all going to cost. Keeping a tab on what you buy and how much you spend will really help avoid any nasty surprises with the incoming January bills. The Money advice Service has a handy online budget calculator to help you plan your Christmas spending wisely.

2. Make some extra cash

Selling items your children have outgrown can be a simple way to make some extra cash for Christmas. You could hold a stall at your local Baby and Children’s Market and flog your pre-loved items to other parents. As well as taking home the money, you will clear some precious space for all the new toys Santa is going to bring!

Also use Ebay, Gumtree and Facebook selling sites to sell any other items you don’t need anymore – from clothes and unused toiletries to household and garden items.

Matched betting is another way you could try and make some pre-Christmas cash. Check out this guide for more information.

3. Buy second-hand toys

Children don’t care where their toys come from or if they are brand new. Buying your children preloved gifts will save you a fortune and is also more environmentally friendly.

In the run up to Christmas our Baby and Children’s Markets are often packed to the rafters with toys which you can buy at a fraction of the cost of high street prices. Many charities, churches and community centres host toy sales in November and December. Don’t forget to see what’s on in your area.

4. Find the cheapest deals

Make sure you shop around to find the best deals on all your Christmas shopping. PriceRunner compares the prices of millions of items from hundreds of different retailers to find you the cheapest price. To track prices on Amazon, try CamelCamelCamel and you’ll be alerted when the prices of your desired items drop.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

5. Embrace Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a brilliant way to save money on gifts while ensuring nobody misses out. Suggest organising a Secret Santa amongst all your different friendship groups – work colleagues, old school friends, parent friends etc. You can also organise a Secret Santa with your children’s friends too. To make this process super easy, use free Secret Santa website Elfster.

6. Be ready for Black Friday

Utilise the Black Friday sales wisely, by being prepared to spring into action on the day. Know what you want and make sure you get there early to avoid disappointment. This year Black Friday falls on the 24th November.

And don’t forget Cyber Monday! The same principle applies – plan what you want to buy and from where. Get online as early as possible on Monday 27th November to ensure you don’t miss out.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

7. Cut down the gift buying

Take a look at your gift list. Are there any extended friends and family members on there that you could strike off? Have a word with them and mutually agree not to buy gifts this year. They’ll probably be as relieved as you to save the pennies!

8. Santa freebies

Your little ones can post a letter to Santa and receive a reply – all for the cost of a stamp. Royal Mail has it covered here. And don’t forget to create your free, personalised video message from Santa at Portable North Pole.

The International Space Station is passing over the UK on the 21st December this year. The flyover can be sold as an opportunity to see Santa’s sleigh as a bright light passing through the sky. For more information on times, check out the NASA website.

9. Book train tickets in advance

 If you’re travelling to see friends and family this Christmas, make sure you book your train tickets as soon as possible to save on the ticket price. Check out Trainline to see the best prices.

10. Make your own gifts

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

Delight your friends and family by creating thoughtful gifts with the personal touch – and save some pennies at the same time. Kids will love getting involved in making Reindeer Poo for their friends or why not try some homemade fudge or bubblebath?

Take a look at some homemade gift ideas here and here. And you’ll find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest!


*Figure taken from http://www.gocompare.com/press-office/2016/cost-of-christmas/