Monday 30 December 2013

Best Bits: Christmas 2013

Morning lovely people, how are you today? Can you believe that Christmas is officially over, isn't that sad? Every year I'm surprised when the celebrations are over as they always seem to zoom past without you really realising - it must be to do with it being my favourite time of year. The best moments always whizz by I find. So today's edition of smiley happy things is clearly going to be all about the Christmas excitement, so here are my standout moments of the last week...

Dad dropping loads of present hints...on Christmas day when it was far too late to do anything about it. {Note to self a Private Eye subscription and coffee bean grinder are on his list}.

Creating the most wondrous gingerbread biscuit Christmas tree - I'm so proud of this!

Hours spent playing games - Linkee and Bananagrams are my new favourite games. Plus of course the train game.

Buying a stupid amount of stuff in the sale - jewellery mostly. I seem to have an affinity for thin and simple gold items at the moment. Oh I also managed to get a load of the Cath Kidston Christmas mugs which I've been eyeing up for the last couple of months. Score!

Opening lovely presents from family that I'd forgotten I'd even put on my list. There were so many lovely things I don't think I could choose.

Taking a stupid number of selfies, mostly of us wearing Christmas hats!

Smiling at people's reactions to my gifts, I love it when you know you've hit the nail on the end. Be it with the jumper that Dad wore solidly for three days or the jars of sweets and jars that get opened and munched on within moments.

Eating so much I couldn't move.

Spending the morning colouring in place mats (courtesy of Santa) rather than any useful jobs. I'd forgotten how therapeutic and calming colouring in is!

Not watching any Christmas TV - just Christmas DVDs. I'll catch up on Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Death Comes to Pemberley at some point, but game playing and chatting with family was far too important

Almost getting stuck in the most mud ever.

Munching on Dad's homemade Christmas leftovers soup - a sure sign that Christmas is almost over.

Decorating the table for Christmas day with the cutest napkins ever - Christmas jumpers!

Reading some brilliant books - Linger, Tinder and The Night Circus

Crying with laughter on the traditional Christmas day walk as we tried to take a picture of all of us and Dad walked into a post. Hilarious! Plus there was the Krypton Factor tree climbing moment resulting in a couple of ruined coats, but I'm sorry I still maintain that when you see a fallen tree (or five) you have to climb over them.

Enjoying wearing Christmas themed clothes and not having to get properly dressed.

Loving spending time with my favourite people for a whole week with no other commitments - apart from the eating, game playing and nattering of course!

So there we have it, one week of awesome rounded up into one blog post. How was your Christmas, was it a good one and did you get to spend it with your favourite people too?

Sunday 29 December 2013

My 2014 book challenge

It’s no secret that I’m an avid reader, in fact one of my great passions in life is books. I work in children’s publishing, always have a book on the go and I currently have a to-read pile pushing three figures. In 2013 I set myself the reading related challenge of reading 52 books in the year. Having the challenge really did make me keep a track of my reading and properly evaluate each one, that was also due to the blog too. So as I enjoyed 2013's reading challenge so much I thought I'd set myself a new challenge for 2014, but this time I don’t want to make it about the number of books I read. I'd rather give the challenge a bit more substance and make it about what I'm reading.

So for 2014 my aim is to tick off some of the books I've been meaning to read for ages, try some new authors and read some of the books that were big this year. So with than in mind I'm setting myself a series of mini challenges, I'm not planning on necessarily completing them all, I just want to give as many of them as possible a go. So without further ado, below is my list of book challenges for 2014.

  • Finally finish all the books in The Chronicles of Narnia series (I've only read the first three so far).
  • Read some of the top picks from the ‘best books of 2013’ lists that have recently been doing the rounds. Below are the books at the top of my list:
    • Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
    • She Is Not Invisible, Marcus Sedgwick
    • Life after Life, Kate Atkinson
    • Inferno, Dan Brown
    • Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
    • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
    • Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe
  • Finally read some of Neil Gaiman’s books. I’m thinking The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Coraline at least.
  • Read the final books by Roald Dahl that I've not read yet – Boy, Going Solo, The Magic Finger, Dirty Beasts, Fantastic Mr Fox and Revolting Rhymes
  • Reread some of my favourite classics – Persuasion, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden and give Dickens another try.
  • Read some of the apparent gems that are coming out in the world of kids books in 2014:
    • A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson
    • Trouble by Non Pratt
    • When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
  • Read some of my sister's favourite books - Jo Nesbo and Game of Thrones specifically
  • Read A Cuckoo's Calling - I can't believe I've not read that yet!
  • Read the rest of John Green's published books: Let it Snow, An Abundance of Katharine's and Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  • Read some more children's classics - Stig of the Dump, Watership Down, Carrie's War
Any other booky challenges you can think of that I should add to my 2014 book challenge? I’m all ears as I want to make it interesting for myself and push my reading habits further. If you can’t think of a challenge simply let me know your favourite book or author and if I've not tried it/them I’ll add it to the pile!

Friday 27 December 2013

Foodie Festive Favourites

As it’s the festive time of joy RIGHT NOW and I'm eating yet another slice of Christmas Cake - it’s delicious FYI and it contains fruit so I'm being healthy! - I thought I’d share my family's festive food traditions with you all. Because you know these are two of my favourite things. Who doesn't love food and who doesn't love Christmas? Weird people that’s who. For my family food and Christmas are pretty much inseparable. Plus we’re big on tradition, so we tend to have the same festive favourites each year. 

The Sherry/Ginger Log – my job (ever since I was about 10) is to make this for our Evans family gathering on Boxing Day (or this Sunday for this year only). It’s weird that I generally hate cream and alcohol yet this dish I could eat all day. You basically soak ginger biscuits in sherry, smother in cream and form a log shape - easy!  It’s somewhat of a family tradition as it used to be my Grandpa’s favourite and now all the cousins choose this no matter what else is on the table. Recipe here.

Dad’s Sausage Rolls – these are amazing and I ate six of them in one day. Sunday to be exact. Oops.  (recipe here)

Christmas Cake – Since my Grandma died six years ago I'm the only one in our family who likes this cake. But my Mum is so awesome (and I'm such a pain) that she makes a huge one just for me. It’s also a modified recipe as I don’t like peel or cherries, so it’s a very basic fruit cake that’s been spiked. (She really is the best). 

Mum’s Mince Pies – star shaped tops because otherwise that would be weird (recipe here). This year I had a go at making the mince pies and sausage rolls (not for the Evans Christmas that wouldn't be tradition, but for my friends) and they were soooo good. I’ll definitely be making those again!

The Full Roast Turkey – the turkey needs to be ready to feed 12, even though only 5 of us eat it on the day. It’s accompanied by all the trimmings, plus two huge bowls of bread sauce and home-grown huge parsnips. Obvs.

Potato Salad – this (with leftover turkey) is the Boxing Day meal, and the meal on the 27th, 28th and 29th. We might mix it up on the 27th and add in home made chips and warm bread sauce, but then again we might not.

Biscuits! – We always have shortbread, Hungarian biscuits and gingerbread because you know they’re classics and you don’t have enough to eat without them, even with the boxes of M & S biscuits. This year we made the gingerbread biscuits into a 3D tree – because my sisters and I are just that awesome. 

Even though I'm a traditionalist I did add some new bits and bobs to this year’s festivities. First up I made fudge, yes actual scrumptious fudge, not once but twice. Go me! First up I tried this mince pie recipe (delicious indeed) and then I made this recipe for my Mum’s present. I’ll definitely be making fudge again as, apart from the aching arm, its super-easy! Any flavour suggestions? Plus we made our Reindeer cupcakes for the actual day rather than just having them at the start of December – they’re just so cute.

What are your Christmas favourites when it comes to food? What do I need to add to next year’s Christmas table? Come on people, share the Christmas love! 

Tuesday 24 December 2013

The Christmas Tag

So whilst scrolling through my Bloglovin' feed the other day I came across 'The Christmas Tag' and Chic-a-DeeDee's post and thought um yes that looks like fun. I must do that too! So here we go, here's another Christmas blog post. 'Hooray!' I here you say!  With Christmas tomorrow it's probably one of the last ones I'll do until 2014, so enjoy and make the most of it! 

What is your favourite Christmas Film?
I love so many Christmas films as they're just so warm and snuggly inducing. When I was growing up my favourite was Santa Claus starring Dudley Moore, I must have watched it a gazillion times! However it's been so long since I watched it that I don't think that counts anymore, so I think my favourite Christmas film has to be Love Actually. I've seen it sooooo many times that I can recite it word for word, plus It's such a lovely sentiment and it shows London at Christmas. 

What is your favourite festive colour?
Oh that's a tricky one! I honestly love every colour at Christmas. I love the white and red combination that is so prevalent at this time of the year, but I also love the multi-coloured rainbow that is created by fairy lights and all the ornaments on our family tree. So I think I'll have to say I love all the colours that Christmas brings.

Do you open your gifts on Christmas eve or Christmas morning?
Never Christmas eve, that's just odd. We always open our stockings first thing on Christmas morning and then our Christmas presents are unwrapped around 2pm on Christmas Day after we've had the most amazing roast turkey for lunch.

What is your favourite winter fragrance?
A word burning fire, which evokes memories of snuggling on the sofa in front of the fire eating toasted tea cakes, Delicious.

What is your favourite Christmas scent?
Gingerbread and mince pies. They just scream festivities for me.

What is your favourite festive drink?
Currently it's the Starbucks Orange Mocha or a Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Blissful.

Candy canes or gingerbread men?
Gingerbread men all the way - candy canes are just too sweet and sickly in my book. 

What is your favourite Christmas song?
Nothing Beats the original Band Aid single, it's such a classic after all. 

Have you ever made a snowman?
Not at Christmas no, but yes a few times in January and February and it's always such fun!

What is most important to you about Christmas?
Spending a ridiculous amount of time with my family with nothing else to do but play board games and eat delicious food. As let's be honest when else do you get that option? Some of my other favourite things about Christmas, can be found here

So what about you? What's the most important thing to you about Christmas?

p.s. do you like all our Christmas decorations - aren't they so pretty?

Saturday 21 December 2013

Looking at the sky

I feel like today I need to take a moment to remind myself of the below.

There have been various terrible accidents and events in the UK this week (and in particular in London) that have affected me more that I would have imagined they would. I don't know why this is the case. Perhaps it's the fact that some of these accidents happened when people were just doing ordinary everyday things, things that I do all the time - taking a bus, watching a show or like Lee Rigby, whose killers were found guilty this week, simply walking down the street. Or maybe it's that it's so close to Christmas, which is a time that's all about family and your loved ones. But something has made me need to take a moment and think about what's important in my life and remind me never to take any of it for granted. 

I think often with the daily grind you can just forget about how amazing everything is, be it your friends and family or the less obvious things like moments spent sitting outside in the park, funny text messages or just simply watching the world go by. You can get caught up in the office politics, annoyed about the cramped tube or ridiculously worked up about trying to find the perfect Christmas present and forget to live. It's only when these dreadful and devastating things happen and you are reminded of how easily life can be extinguished or changed irrevocably that you remember to take stock and appreciate it. 

So I'm going to try and follow the above sentiment more often I think, as it's most definitely something worth remembering. Always.

Friday 20 December 2013

The Christmas Card unveiling!

As I get older I seem to put more importance on the trimmings of Christmas than I ever have before. When I was little all that mattered to me was getting the perfect present. Now it has to be the perfect present wrapped in the perfect paper and with the perfect cards, and then with a few other bits and bobs thrown in. I’m not sure why as I know that people don’t necessarily mind about all that stuff, but I seem to be fixated on getting everything to be just right at the moment. Last year I was obsessed with the wrapping and managed to spend a small fortune on trimmings, most of which I still have for this year *listens to my bank as it breathes a sigh of relief*. This year I've been obsessed with making all my Christmas cards. In hindsight this wasn't the best idea I've ever had, as they've taken an awful long time to get done. But I don’t regret making them one bit them as the finished products are so pretty and each one is different to the next. Also I love the response that people have had to them and it was actually quite therapeutic to make them (not to mention the perfect excuse to watch Christmas films!).

Now that the cards are with (or on their way to) their new owners I thought I’d share the finished products with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, but please be kind to me and remember my crafting and artistic skills are very limited!

To make the cards I used a collection of Christmas washi tapes (above), which I've been gathering for a few years, some brown card, red envelopes and the super-special ingredient: my Instagram photos from Polagram. Have you seen this app? You simply download it to your phone, choose your photos (I went for the images below) and they turn them in to photos, magnets or Polaroid style prints, plus more. I went for the Polaroid style prints as I like those better than the normal prints.

Anyway back to the cards I basically threw the pictures and the washi tape on the brown card and this is the end result – cute yes?

Everyone that’s opened them has seemed to like them and there’s been a lot of cooing over them (especially the reindeer cupcake version) but who can blame them really, as those are cute cakes! As per usual I miscalculated on the number of cards I’d need though and I've had to send a batch of non-homemade cards, which I feel bad about. But never mind I can’t change that and at least the thought was there right!

What about you, do you ever go overboard on the trimmings at Christmas or is that just me?

Thursday 19 December 2013

That time I Christmas-ified our picture wall

We've got a wall in our living room which is full of frames of all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours where we show off some of our favourite shots of friends and family. Granted it's in need of a bit of TLC ever since that time we took all the pictures off to dust them and now we can't fit everything back up the way it should go. Plus a couple of frames are broken. But still it's one of my favourite parts of that room. This year when we put up our decorations for Christmas I felt sad that we didn't have anything to decorate that wall with. It seemed strange to leave that wall void of festive spirit, let's be honest too many Christmas decorations is never a bad thing is it?! It took me a while to come up with how to decorate that area as I hate tinsel (the obvious solution), a banner would only do half of the area and we'd need ten dozen fairy lights. Finally I hit upon the idea of making the items in the frames the festive thing. That way I could have fun with PicMonkey (which is always a winner in my eyes!) and it doesn't involve me buying any more decorations that I'd then have to store, which in a two bed London flat isn't the easiest thing!

So I got busy with photoshop and made some of the following designs - what do you think, cute right? I think my favourite is the green one with all the hanging decorations, closely followed by the O' Christmas Tree one.

Once they were designed and printed, I added a few other Christmas printables I found online and we set to work adding them to the frames (or sticking them over the frames). Below is the final wall, what do you think suitably festive? {Please ignore the dreadful pictures - I blame the light in that room!

The best thing is that it means I can reuse them in the years to come and easily add to the collection of pictures as and when we have new frames or I fall in love with a new Christmassy image. I'm really rather proud of this wall now, it looks so festive - I love it!

Monday 16 December 2013

Smiley Happy Things #5

Happy Monday everyone, how are you today? I have to admit today's post is going to be short and sweet and mainly picture-based as I'm not feeling tip-top at the moment and so spending a long time blogging was far above my capabilities this weekend. So hopefully you'll forgive me for this and I promise to be back on tip-top form for next Monday's instalment, which lets face it will be suitably Christmas-sy with just two sleeps until the day itself. So anywho back to today's list of things that have made me happy over the last seven days...

An early morning run through the frosty leaves - sort of makes it less painful (only sort of mind you)!

A brand new book ready for me to savour over the holidays - I can't wait to get stuck in. What a great cover, right?

Sitting in the park over lunch, reading a good book and enjoying the peaceful park even though I'm in the middle of London.

Atmospheric foggy mornings.

We finally created our Christmas tree at work and it's made me feel even more festive (who knew that was possible?!).

Making mince pie fudge using this recipe - so much easier to make than I anticipated!

So what about you, how's your week been and what has made you happy? And why not link up with us this week?

Sunday 15 December 2013

A last minute list of Christmas loveliness.

Greetings friends and how are you? Enjoying the weekend I hope? Today is my one and only Christmas list (can you believe I've not shared one with you yet, how did that not happen yet?!). Anywho down to the reason why I'm bringing you this list... The other night my Mum rang to say she needed more Christmas ideas for me. Honestly, how she can need more ideas I don't know as I must have sent a list about 50 items long, plus I sent it in early November so she's had plenty of time to ask for another one since then! I can only assume everything I want is now out of stock or else my Christmas morning is going to be a smidge like Richie Rich's (didn't you use to love that film - it's a total gem if you ask me)! Anyway never one to say no when more ideas are needed I've come up for the below list. An eclectic mix yes, but not bad for a last minute request right? Fingers crossed she finds that useful! Oh I can barely wait for Christmas day!

DVDs: 101 Dalmations, Peter Pan, Monsters University and Sleeping Beauty

Saturday 14 December 2013

Christmas Traditions

I was at a baby shower last weekend, my very first baby shower in fact and let's just say it was revealing in so many ways. I definitely learnt a lot. {Mainly what cake I deem to be absurd and disgusting at a baby shower, but I'll leave you to ponder that one, I was that grossed out that I couldn't take a picture of it, sorry!} Anyway whilst at said baby shower there was a video of the Dad-to-be answering various baby specific questions and the lovely Mum-to-be had to guess what he said. A very sweet idea, but not the point of this post - I promise that I've not gone baby gooey on you! The question that got me thinking was this: What, from your childhood, are you most looking forward to doing with the baby? That's a pretty important question if you ask me, as presumably one of the reasons for having kids, apart from having someone to look after you when you're old and infirm, is that you get to create amazing memories with and for them. For me those memories are most likely to be focused on things I loved and experienced in childhood and as it’s Christmas I thought I’d share some of the more festive themed traditions I currently do that one day (in the distant future) I want to share with my own children.

First up are the decorations, every year my Mum has given me a brand new decoration for the tree and I always look forward to receiving that present in mid-December. She always chooses beautiful decorations and I love the idea that one day, when my flat’s big enough for a proper (read non-plastic) tree, I’ll have the most amazing array of ornaments that mean a lot to me to hang up. I’d love to continue this tradition when I have kids as it’s such a lovely one. {The pictures throughout this post are of some of my favourite ornaments}

I love the Christmas countdown and part of that is the fact that I get a cool advent calendar to open. My sisters and I have a cloth advent calendar with name tags in. When your name appears (eight times in the month) you get to choose a present from your mini stocking. There’s always a fabulous array of presents, from mini decorations to nail varnish, to candles to chocolate and it makes that countdown extra special. Plus the thought and care that goes into this (from my Mum) is immense. Definitely a tradition to continue I think.

The final thing that I want to continue long in to my old age with my own family is making Christmas ALL ABOUT FAMILY. I love that my family basically spends 48 hours together without seeing anyone else, put simply we just make the most of spending time together. We bring out the board games, barely watch the TV and sit in front of the fire and we all love it. That’s something I hope to one day instil into my own kids, the desire to just spend time together and not be needing to rush off to see other people after half a day.

What about you, what do you want Christmas traditions do you want to share in the future with your kids, or what are the traditions from your childhood that you’re already continuing with your own children? I’d love to know and I may even ‘borrow’ them for myself!