Dear daughters…

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A few nights ago, I was feeling particularly sentimental. My husband and I came to the end of an extremely busy month, which had various different high pressure or stressful situations, and we opened a bottle and took some time together to relax. We are very excited about this Christmas, Holly’s first ever and our first as a family of four. Scarlett is at the age where she has started asking quite consistently for ‘more treats’ and ‘I want that’, and we’re trying to teach her that that’s a) not very polite but b) not really what this season is about. 

At two years old, we’re (hoping!) that it’s just a riskier tantrum stage, and certainly several other parents seem to recognise it as a phase all kids go through. I went to bed that night and wrote them a letter. Below is that letter. 

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that truly, the unthinkable can ALWAYS happen! Whether it be a presidential election, a referendum or any one of the sad events that have blighted the year. But without sounding like a cheesey cartoon character, good will always prevail. A lot of bad can and will happen, but kindness and magic outnumbers it. It always has and always will, and in uncertain times, it’s even more important to believe, even more important to hold onto.

Here’s to a very happy December to you all dear comrades. I wish you every happiness and an extremely hearty dose of magic! 
“Dear daughters,

Today is the first of December, and your Father and I are both very passionate about December being magical!November has been an extremely busy, hard working, high pressure and stressful one. In a (ridiculously shortened..!) summary, Daddy didn’t have a single day off in November, an already busy month became even busier as it went along and he has been amazing. Girls, I have always been in awe of my husband, admired his work ethic and how well he treats people and this month in particular, those qualities have really shone. You are both extremely lucky to have such a strong role model in your Daddy. It’s kept me going. November for me has also been extremely important. I start Criminology lecturing in January, and I am also working with some amazing people towards increasing healthy communication about mental health for young people, as well as personal safety teaching. A wide remit including how to spot signs of danger, reducing risks, safer choices to make, a whole host of ways for younger people to take preventative measures against crime that will hopefully be incorporated into, at least a few schools. It’s going to be a long, hard slog, but you two girls are the best kind of motivation! You’ve both been at my side for a lot of meetings and countless Skype calls, a local MP told you that you, Scarlett, had a beautiful smile, and you sang Baa Baa Black sheep to him! Moments like that are alongside my research notes to remind me where we started. It may go nowhere of course, I might fail. And if I do, I’ll try again, or I’ll change tact, or I’ll have done all I can and I’ll move onto something else. But failing will be ok.

Anyway, unknown outcomes aside! November 2016 was a busy month for your Father and I. It was very tiring and at times, we were on schedules that didn’t allow for much family time. And you both know how pathetically soppy your parents are when they don’t get to see much of each other and you girls! And we think the Winter season is extra magical, it’s our favourite time of year. 

Last year was a tough one because Mummy and Holly were both so poorly before we even had our little Moop with us. And we weren’t able to deal with it as privately as we wanted to because of circumstances. So THIS year, we are determined to make it extra special! With LOTS of family time, and friends time to boot! 

Scarlett you now understand what Christmas entails and you are SO excited! We were in Bath the other day and you loved seeing Father Christmas in the streets and we picked up some Christmas gloves and a homemade wooden owl that makes an owl sound when you blow into it. You loved it! Our main goal this year is to try and make sure that you learn that kindness and good will and sharing are the most important messages in December. I know that you’re a kind hearted little Ladey though so although a toddlers will is very strong, I’m positive your generous heart will win this stage! And our little Holly! It is your very first Christmas! The bright lights are obviously attracting your attention, and you are finding your big sisters excitement very infectious. 

We’ve started our annual activity calendar so you’ve both gone to bed tonight in new Christmas Star Wars pyjamas, and tomorrow we’re going to a very special Christmas show. Both of which have cost money (although we have plenty of shows we can attend free thanks to Daddy’s work!) but that isn’t the point. Annual activity calendar is about spending time with friends and family. The first year I did it, my family in Australia took part and we sent each other pictures and videos. And since then, December has been one of the ways we catch up with people who mean the world to us but that we don’t get to see as often as we’d like.

I’m currently watching ‘Once Upon A Time’, an American series for adults but about fairy tales. It’s funny, but it’s reminded me that adults should believe in magic. It’s important to. There have been days I haven’t wanted to believe in magic, or people (which is where magic comes from really girls, it’s from people) and I’ve felt frustrated, and angry, and have wondered why I’m putting the work in. But every time, I’ve taken some time out to breathe, or (more often than not!), your Dad has reminded me what’s important in a whole different manner of ways. And without fail, things are always ok. And I’m constantly reminded that giving in and taking the easy route is never worth it. What can seem like the hardest path at the time, always seems to get us where we need to be! And yes, of course a cheesey series has the same message. For someone who can be so practical at times, both your parents can be laughably sentimental! So there have been times I’ve gone to meetings with certain character pants on to remind me to think of magic when I’m faced with middle aged men who, in a meeting, have patronised me and put hurdles in my way or have suggested that ‘as a young woman’ I would find my goals more difficult. And on particularly tough days, I’ve made a dinner of turkey dinosaurs, smiley faces and spaghetti hoops for us to indulge in childhood comforts as a morale boost. A mug of hot chocolate with squishy cream and mini marshmallows also works a treat. There’s magic in the little things, magic works! 

We are planning to make December 2016 our best Christmas yet. Our family of four is complete, safe and well. And I hope our families friends and family also have an amazing holiday season. God knows with the way 2016 went, the entire planet could do with a short break! And then, ok still a Trump presidency, but hopefully a slightly less challenging 2017 for all! We were very lucky in 2016 to have our Moop join us healthy and safe, you are a shining star in an otherwise pretty terrible year worldwide (history lessons when you’re both older will certainly be interesting when they get to 2016!). 

But, my sweethearts, as I said, magic is in people, and in December, it shines that little bit brighter, and we all have a bit extra to be able to help people for whom Christmas is particularly hard. You two make our December the shiniest it’s ever been. We love you very much and I hope you always remember to be kind, to help others and to give back, not just at Christmas time but all year round. I have no doubt you both will.

We love you very much xx”

Out of Office Off…

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Well dear friends, it has been a little while, almost a whole month since my last post. My husband and I ‘closed’ the business for nearly a month to really savour and enjoy our baby’s first Christmas, and so I’ve been away from the computer/iPad and really made the most of time with my family without any work. You’d have thought with less working, we’d be doing less travelling around but we had a lot of friends and family to see, not to mention a family holiday so within the last month we’ve spent a grand total of four nights in our own home! A fantastic first Christmas for Scarlett, but a rather rubbish show of a completed memoir for her! So I thought that now we’re back at work, I would do a little summary for prosperity.

Our 6 month old will not remember a single thing of the season, but for us, it was the most magical Christmas either of us had ever had. A sunny walk along the beach on Christmas Day, our baby’s first taste of solid food around the Christmas Day dinner table, nearly losing the ability to breathe over laughing so much when playing a humming game on Boxing Day, seeing all our immediate family over the three days, eating WAY too much cheese and drinking too much wine and prosecco; there are too many memories and even more photos, as well as a half hour compilation of videos! Scarlett may not remember first hand, but we’ve certainly got enough to make sure we never forget!

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As well as the main few days, we ticked off a fair few of the more expensive and more involved items of our 30 before 30 list over the months holiday. We ticked off numbers 7, 15, 16, 21 and 30. 

Firstly, number 7; we attended a ball. It was time to organise our company’s first annual christmas event, and as such we decided to go all out and bought a table at the Nutcracker Ball, which on the night we attended was in aid of Winstons Wish. We had a fantastic night and not only won a couple of things in the raffle between the eight of us but also won a silent auction item! A rugby ball signed by Matt Dawson along with tickets to a match in London. As well as that, we had lots of wine, dancing, fun in a photobooth and a delicious slap up meal! A huge amount raised for Winstons Wish whilst having a great night with some great colleagues and friends. Definitely something we’ll be doing again!

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Number 15 and 16 go together; a trip to Scotland and to try a deep fried Mars bar. Just before Christmas we headed to Edinburgh by train for four days and did a lot of walking, sightseeing and spent plenty of hours round the amazing Christmas markets drinking gluwein, eating seafood, seeing friends and spending some much appreciated quality time with each other. It turns out Scarlett is a huge fan of trains, she had most of the carriage laughing with her by her pure delight at the changing scenery and a 6 hour train journey turned from something we were dreading to something rather brilliant. We love Scotland, both of us had been in shows at the Edinburgh festival so we did quite a bit of reminiscing and visiting old haunts. Now, the other one – the deep fried Mars bar; I was dreading it, it’s a chocolate bar dipped in batter and deep fried for goodness sake, how could that possibly be remotely tasty, let alone something that won’t immediately clog up your arteries. We went to find a fish and chip shop that sold them and then realised we were in Scotland’s tourist capital and so you can’t really turn around without bumping into another one that provides the chocolatey battered treat! We chose one on the mile and went in to buy it. There it was, pale and crispy, and with more calories than your average weekly intake (well, in all honesty, not my average weekly intake but still pretty high!) we started recording a video, I waited to feel the bile rise in my throat….and then…

…well, crispy on the inside, creamy, warm, chocolatey goodness on the inside, what’s not to like! I’m somewhat ashamed to say that although I couldn’t finish the thing, the half that i had was actually pretty freaking tasty! It doesn’t take away from the fact that the Scots are a little bit out of control and there is literally nothing they won’t deep fry. In the same chippie there was deep fried burger, deep fried haggis, deep fried several different varieties of chocolate bar, they’re unstoppable. All in all, a fantastic trip away and a country we’ll definitely be returning to.

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But Christmas wasn’t over and we still had two more to tick off! Number 21 – watch some live music. So on December 28th, a group of us headed to the Birmingham Symphony Hall to watch the London Concert Orchestra play a few hours worth of all John Williams music. It was AMAZING! Both of us had watched an orchestra live before but not in a proper symphony hall, and not one of the standard we watched that night. Jaws, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Schindlers List and ET amongst others. There’s something about hearing such iconic music played so that you can hear it all around you; the introductions alone filled the room and your whole surroundings with the feelings you got when you first watched the films in question.We spent most of the night squeezing each others hands and letting out little squeals as we recognised each intro. After the concert we grabbed some late night food and made the most of a child free evening. Again, this one is one we’ll definitely be doing again, and we have a list of Symphony Halls or Music Halls to visit!

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Lastly but by no means leastly (is leastly a word? I don’t think so, but I’m sticking with it) is number 30, so named secret number 30 on the list as I was planning it as my husband’s Christmas present. In the end my Dad actually got the tickets for him, with an extra one so he could take a friend and an under 4’s ticket, so he could choose a young child to take along. As luck would have it, he asked Scarlett and I to accompany him and once Scarlett re-arranged some things on her social calendar, the three of us were able to go along to the Harry Potter Studios tour in Watford! As you go in, there’s a sign that welcomes you to the ‘magical world of Harry Potter’, and that’s exactly what it is, absolutely magical! We got to walk around the sets, see most of the props used in the films as well as finding out plenty of exciting little facts and trivia along the way. The lights and colours absolutely fascinated and delighted our little girl and had a very similar effect on us. We also got to try butterbeer which was…wow, sugary! Some hours later and we found ourselves marvelling at the amount they can get away with charging in the shop! Don’t get me wrong, the jumpers are lovely but not £75 worth of lovely.

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There are still a fair few items on our list, but we’re well on our way to completing our challenge and have just over three weeks to do so! And with the finish line in sight, we’ve started creating a ’40 before 40’ list. For this list we had six months to complete which of course limited our options somewhat. With ten years however, we can be much more exotic and expansive with our list. As we started talking about it we realised that by the time we both turn 40, Scarlett will be turning 10. TEN! You hear me? We’ll have a ten year old. By then we may even be starting to know what we’re doing with this parenting lark. And Scarlett may have a sibling, or siblings (gulp!). This realisation prompted a discussion on what we thought an ideal age difference would be and therefore when we might think abut trying for another baby. I know, I know, quite the leap from a discussion that started with  ‘ooh it’s my birthday in three weeks’.

Anyway. As well as ticking off a few on our to do list, and enjoying a family Christmas, we visited as many friends as possible and welcomed in a New Year. We celebrated New Years Eve (and therefore Scarlett’s ‘half birthday’) staying in Burton Upon Trent in a beautiful country house complete with pool table, log fire and another dose of too much cheese and too much wine! Whilst there we visited the National Arboretum, went for a drink in a milkshakes and comic book cafe and stayed up into the early hours playing games. For the first time in years we also participated in ‘first footing’, a tradition which originates in Scotland where the men of the family come into the house after midnight with a log (for warmth), money (for prosperity) and some representation of food or drink (for good cheer and good health), in response the folks at home have a welcome drink for them on entering the house. There were six of us (plus the little one) and we had a glass of whisky waiting for the men, and raised our own glasses of champagne as they came in. I remember my Dad coming into the house with similar (I think we used a lump of coal for the occasion) when I was younger as it was a tradition that my Mum’s Northern roots taught her, so it was nice to recreate it, and considering Tom’s adopted heritage, it was nicely apt! 

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On coming home this weekend, we even managed to sneak in a family meal with those we hadn’t seen whilst away just before real life restarts!

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I usually try and end my entry on something i’ve learnt or try and come up with something profound that Scarlett can nod and get teary eyed with as she finishes each piece (I’m assuming of course she reads it and is filled with an awe inspired adoration for her hero, her Mother…HA, I am of course joking, she will be forced to read it and probably get fed up of me quoting it) but this time, it is in fact, more of a summary. Almost a creative interlude between seasons if you will, “last week on ‘insert latest programme here’”, so from that point of view it’s relatively apt that the season break came at the six month point. We’re halfway through our first year of being parents, we’re nearly at the end of our first year as a married couple (where the time went I have NO idea!) 2014 was a ridiculously filled, wonderful, crazy and important year and we have more landmarks to come in 2015. I learnt many ‘lessons’ over the past month or so, the biggest one of which has probably been just how important it is to sometimes switch off. As both my husband and I work freelance hours, it essentially means we’re always ‘open’ and so although we still see family a lot and catch up with friends; there’s always emails to respond to, we’re often late for things or miss events because we’re away with work. We’re lucky enough that we can often travel around as a three when either of us are working, and therefore we get plenty of family time, but when we officially ‘close’, it means we leave the out of office on, and really close. And in those times, nothing else matters. We’ve enjoyed it so much we’re making sure that every year, Christmas is sacred and we will also ensure that we get one completely ‘closed’ week around Summer time. That’s not to say we won’t go for weekends away when we can or go out and about; but for roughly four weeks of the year, as a family, we are completely closed to the world! We’ve got this Summer already sorted, there’s a private villa in Portugal with our names all over it, flights booked, car hired, and waterpark tickets researched! We won’t always be able to have such a luxurious week in the Summer but I hope that in the future, and perhaps when we’re nearing the end of our 40 before 40 challenge(!) Scarlett will always know how important that time is and that she is the reason we make that time sacred. Our baby was a surprise, but the best surprise either of us could have ever hoped for; she makes us better people, she makes us prioritise our lives and she meant that over the last month, we had the best time either of us has ever had over a Christmas and New Year season. 

Season break over with comrades, i’ve missed you! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year. We’re back in business and ready to see how the second half of the first year turns out! Onwards! 

Activity Advent Calendar…

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One of our new family Christmas traditions was, alongside the regular chocolate one, to run an ‘Activity Advent Calendar.’ The idea being that each day in the run up to Christmas, we do a little activity together, posting a picture or video online so we can share the tradition with friends and family. Those regular readers will have seen my last post about this in a bit more detail.

As today is ‘December Eve’, I posted the activities on the Facebook group I set up and in case any of you lovely readers want to play, please find the list below, the list of course is December/Christmas based but on the off chance you’re happening across this in Springtime, please feel free to amend accordingly and have yourselves a merry little April…!

The ‘rules’ are loose and simple, either go through them day by day in order, or write the numbers down and pick them out of a hat each day and do the corresponding activity, or simply cherry pick them as you go along. Be as enthusiastic as you want or cut as many corners as you’d like. The only idea is to have fun with it and please feel free to send pictures or share your experiences, if you search ‘Activity Advent Calendar’ on Facebook you’ll find our open group, please feel free to join us and join in! ;

1 – Create a new dance move, as creative as you like, and feel free to give your dance move a name!

2 – Choose a different country, and find a Christmas tradition from that country to celebrate in some small way.

3 – Dance around to your favourite Christmas song.

4 – Go Christmas carolling! If you don’t fancy surprising a friend or family member, sing one to, or with your family, anyone is welcome to treat us to carolling, a cup of tea will welcome any visitors!

5 – Do some cooking or baking, make christmas themed cookies or have a red or green theme dinner.

6 – Dec 6th, in honour of St Nicholas day, do a secret act of kindness.

7 – Play together! Visit a park, build a fort, play hide and seek, whether you have kids or not, pick a game and take a bit of time to play!

8 – Go for a Wintry Walk! Wrap up warm and walk, whether it be on your lunch break, or just a quick trip round the block at home.

9 – Make snow angels. No snow? No problem, do ten star jumps instead!

10 – Take a Christmas selfie! If you haven’t already, why not join in Operation Christmas Jumper (see The Action Emporium Facebook page or ask me for details!) and donate to Save the Children. Let me know if you did and I can add your selfie into The Action Emporium album and you might win a prize!

11 – It’s the holidays, relax! Pamper yourselves, have a spa treatment or do a homemade one, use a facemask, give each other a massage, paint your nails, just take some time!

12 – Write a list of five things you’ve achieved this year and five things you want to achieve next year, make them as big or small as you like but make sure you acknowledge yourself.

13 – Christmas is about time with friends and family and having fun and playing games, so go old school and play a board game! (Or card game) Whether you all sit round as a family and play a traditional game like Monopoly, a more specific interest game like Zombicide; even just a quick game of cards on your lunch break with colleagues (and if you’re unlikely to see people today or get a chance, why not have a round of solitaire!), forget the new fangled technology and get your board game on!

14 – Pick your favourite Christmas film and watch it, doesn’t matter what it is, if it says Christmas to you (Die Hard is a Christmas classic after all!) then it counts! We’ll be doing ours within our movie marathon day (part of our 30 before 30 challenge) so if you fancy joining us for any part of the day (or want to know which films we’ll be watching to only join us for the ones you fancy!) let us know and you’re welcome!

15 – Make some time to visit a relative or a friend, have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, go for a walk together, or if you’re busy at work, spend some time with a work colleague on a lunchbreak, get out of the office and connect!

16 – Draw a Christmas picture! Be as creative or as abstract as you like but remember to share them with the group. If there’s a few of you in your household, do one together or compete for the best, and if you’re at work, why not take in paper and pencils and challenge your colleagues to creating the best picture to brighten up the workplace!

17 – Christmas party! Christmas is a time for celebrating, and parties often mean party food, attend a Christmas party, or arrange one, or just have a buffet dinner at home! Failing that, create a party feel on your lunchbreak by each bringing in some Christmas buffet items.

18 – Be your own version of Father Christmas, take a bag full of clothes to a charity shop, donate some treats to the animal centre or take part in Operation Christmas Child or similar.

19 – Pick up a Christmas ornament. Either a new bauble for the tree or homemake a fairy for the top of the tree. Or if not for the tree, make a paper chain or buy something to Christmas up your home or workplace!

20 – Après Ski break! As a ski trip is a bit out of a simple activity advent challenge budget, make the most of bringing the Après ski activities home by putting your feet up after a cold day with a glass of gluwein, or maybe visit a Christmas market & get a glass there! If alcohol isn’t your thing, a big mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and squirty cream works just as well! (Optional shot of whiskey or baileys for that ski chalet feel 😉 )

21 – Christmas markets are a magical addition to any seasonal holiday, so go and visit one, either a local one, make a day of it and go further afield or have a look to see if your local school/church/leisure centre are holding a Christmas fair or market. No need to buy, it’s more about soaking up the atmosphere. If you don’t know of one or don’t fancy travelling to one, create one at home, bratwurst, home make some crafts, however you want to create it!

22 – After December comes the inevitable January detox, get a head start with some exercise, go for a jog, swim, exercise class, whatever you want!

23 – Re-enact your favourite Christmas scene, play or film, as creatively or as basic as you want. Or if you don’t have enough time, create a photo re-enacting your favourite Christmas scene, play or film!

24 – December is a time to catch up with friends and family but multiple parties and nights can be expensive, invite some people round for dinner and each provide a course. Get in some crackers and read each other naff Christmas jokes for that real Christmas dinner feel..!

25 – Happy Christmas one and all! Whatever you’re doing, enjoy your day, make the most of every moment and here’s to a happy New Year to all!

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Christmas Season False Start…

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We went to a ‘children’s fun day’ at our local town hall today, excited that baby Scarlett would meet Father Christmas for the first time. Advertised was lots of Christmas cheer and plenty of stalls selling Christmas wares. Brilliant we thought, a start to our Christmas season. We arranged to meet two other Mums and five of their friends and children.

Out of the seven of us, who all ended up sitting in Copa, a local family friendly pub shortly after entering the ‘fun’ Christmas day, only two of us ended up even bothering to go in at all and both of us said it hadn’t been worth it. As any kids over 4 should be at school on a Wednesday morning, we mistakenly believed there would be lots of things to occupy the eyes and delight of under 4’s.

We also weren’t expecting in the huge queue to see Father Christmas to be approached by representatives asking if we wanted to consider changing our gas suppliers or fill in council surveys or sign up for a business opportunity. We were there for Christmas joy, but apart from 3 small rather sad looking Christmas trees on the stage, the Christmas part of the event was slightly lacking. We left the Father Christmas line when it was clear that the £2 to see Santa was also accompanied by the very annoying extra queue activities.

The hall was jam packed with stalls, admittedly some Christmassy, but some not at all. In fact, instead of just stalls raising money for well deserved charities and mainly with Christmas based items; the hall was unnecessarily cluttered up by the stalls selling other unrelated things, ‘here’s an aloe product & now I’ve made eye contact with you, let me take your details so I can tell you about this amazing business opportun….’ I’m sorry let me stop you there, I’m here for the delight in my baby girls eyes at twinkling Christmassy things, not to be droned at about soap with hidden motives! I realise that events like that need to make money, I realise a lot of the stall owners were Mums themselves trying to shove their business down our throats so they can make a bit of extra money to give their kids an extra special Christmas. I realise that to such an extent that I often shop from those small business owners especially at this time of year. But it’s too much, it’s too pushy, it’s not a Christmas Fun Day!

Even if all those parts were in a separate room, because trust me, no Mum with a impatient toddler wanting to see Father Christmas is going to want to stand chatting about their energy supplier.

I had been excited to go, at 4 months old, hearing her giggles and seeing her smiles at a Christmas fun day at all the seasonal things are admittedly more for us parents than for her. But after a disappointing trip round, our little girl got more joy walking through the big Xmas tree in the Regent Arcade on the way back to the car than the designated holiday event. Probably because inside the tree no-one was flapping a leaflet in our faces!

I don’t want Scarlett to be disappointed by these events and I don’t want to avoid them because of the shameful consumerism. You expect a day out to Alton Towers to be very expensive. Likewise, you expect to have to spend a few pounds at a local event to make sure they can be held, but you don’t expect (and rightly so) to be lambasted.

In future, we’ll be avoiding the town hall ‘business masquerading as fun day’ events as they sadly advertise in a way that’s misleading. Watching our kids giggling away with a couple of toys and each other’s company with plenty of space in Copa was enough to prove we’d made a much better decision by leaving. Christmas is unavoidably commercial, but companies should at least pretend to give two hoots about their target market!

So sadly today’s blog post is not, as hoped, about how much fun we had starting off our Christmassy period with a fun day.

However, I’d like to end on a positive. We came away with a gift from one charity stall selling seasonal gifts from a fantastic woman who raises money for Cancer Research whilst putting smiles on children’s faces. She hand-makes everything and puts in a lot of her own money to be able to do it. Thankfully there are people like her in the world and we were at least able to have a chat with her and we are all very pleased with our little Christmas bear.

As for Scarlett’s first meeting with Santa, we’re hoping to tick off that particular experience this weekend instead, we’re just hoping it won’t be accompanied by any unwanted corporate baggage…or else Mummy will use words that will land her on the naughty list…!

Creating Christmas Cheer…

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October is a bit soon to be using the ‘C’ word but as it’s my baby girls very first, we are very excited about Christmas this year!

Both my husband & I are big fans of the Christmas period, and as everyone, we have certain Christmas traditions that we look forward to carrying on with our little family. We’d also like to create a few of our own traditions and have been talking a lot about them recently.

Hopefully in years to come, Scarlett will cherish her memories of family Christmasses as much as we will, and hopefully we’ll still be upholding the three below that we plan to start this year!

1) My Nan loved Christmas and in my childhood was the absolute core of Christmas spirit. One of the highlights of Christmas Day was always receiving our sacks of gifts from Nan. Which at first sounds really shallow! But it was never about the quantity, it was opening little bits that Nan had found throughout the year, that she thought myself and my cousins would enjoy, usually including some form of troll (the gremlin type creatures, she didn’t wrap up internet bullies!) and nightwear. Nan is no longer around but we would like to make sure her vivacious spirit stays present in our little girls holiday period. Therefore, instead of the traditional stocking, Scarlett & any future siblings will receive a Lois Christmas Bag! With a few little pieces with a few ongoing themes, it may only be October but I’ve started looking for some small bits already, as I’m pretty sure Nan did, and I can only hope she’s looking down with a smile. Both my Grandmothers were incredibly loving and giving and Scarlett will receive the same.

2) I spent one Christmas Day on my own, in the dark and although it was sad not to share it with someone, it was one of the most rewarding Christmasses. Let me explain…! I was working at the hospital at the time and volunteered to do as many Christmas shifts as possible, reason being that a lot of my colleagues had young families whereas I was in my early twenties and my family were all South East so doing one shift meant I was unable to go; so my thinking was I may as well do as many as I can. I lived in a house share at the time & the house was empty, my best friend that I lived with had headed down to Cornwall as late as possible to keep me company but for the three days I was on my own. I should also point out that it was a student house share so we had electric on a card (you’re starting to see where this is going!). On Christmas Eve I got home from work at 2am and got in, deciding that as it was officially Christmas Day I would have a glass of port and open my Christmas Eve pyjamas, (a tradition my Mum started & one we’ll be continuing!) I got in, switched on the light and walked into the wall…the light never came on. Instantly I knew what had happened, so I headed down to our creepy basement to push the button that gave us £5 of emergency credit…but predictably, being students, we’d already used that option! A quick call confirmed that I would have to wait till Boxing Day to get more money on the card (this is also in the days before internet on phones & I had no computer that didn’t need electricity to turn on!) and so my Christmas Day dinner turned into bread and cheese! The story could be a tragic tale on a par with the matchstick girl if a) it wasn’t my own fault for being a lazy student and not ensuring there was electricity and b) if I didn’t have such a fantastic time at the hospital! What I learnt in 2005 was that there is a magic at Christmas and it has nothing to do with having the latest games console or buying lots of stuff. Patients had the biggest smiles on their faces when they saw family members come in or when the awful, (and I mean awful!) Father Christmas did his rounds. Visitors were so kind to all the staff who were working such long hours to keep their loved ones safe (I’m not including myself, I was just a receptionist but the Dr’s & Nurses were amazing) and despite the pain, the sadness and the hard things people were going through, not one shift went by without seeing several acts of kindness and happiness that you just don’t see at other times of the year. So yes, for the rest of Xmas 2005, I mainly sat in a cold dark house by myself and chatted to family on the phone, but I could only tell them what a great time I was having, they felt awful when they heard the house situation but it really honestly didn’t matter. And the true meaning of Christmas has always been very important to me, I’ve always tried to do some volunteering or fundraising around Christmas. We should all of course do it all the time but at Christmas time, a time that can be the best time ever for some, but also incredibly difficult for others, why not try and help them find a bit of Christmas magic. Therefore whether it be volunteering at a Crisis centre or taking part in a Santa fun run, or even just going to visit someone who may be lonely and appreciate visitors; we want to ensure that Scarlett sees the true magic of Christmas. (I’ll also try and be sure to teach her that if you live on a meter, you have to be more on top of keeping it funded!)

3) I set up a netball club in 2006 & we used to do a lot of charity events and other activity related things, the idea behind Hotshots (which I’m proud to say is still going!) was that anyone & everyone could take part and have an active lifestyle. In 2012 I implemented what I dubbed ‘Activity Advent Calendar’! For every day of December, behind each door there was an activity to be done at each participants own pace; whether the activity be 10 star jumps, or dancing around to your favourite Christmas song, for a few minutes each day, we all got active! I posted it online and others joined in, we had 50 people join the group, the youngest participant was my cousins little girl and the oldest were my Dad, Aunt & Uncle who took part as a team with more gusto than anyone else taking part, it was brilliant! Even family in Australia would take part & we all posted videos and photos and it was a nice way to all keep in touch. It was a really rewarding experience and quite a nice bonding venture (not to mention it was a real giggle!) so we’re going to set it as an annual thing. Not necessarily with sporting activities each day but a little something to do together in the run up to Christmas. Again I’ll put it online so anyone who wants to take part is more than welcome to join us, or why not draw up your own!

So there they are! Our very own Christmas traditions that officially begin in 2014. Hopefully they will be Christmas traditions that Scarlett enjoys and although I’m sure in her teenage years she’ll probably rebel against at least part of it, maybe she’ll want to pass some of it onto her own children.

It’s only October the 18th so I promise not to mention Christmas again until December, especially because Halloween is just around the corner; being a theatrical household, Winter is quite the season for us! But whatever you do over the holiday season dear friends, I wish you a very happy and healthy time. Whatever your traditions, or even if you don’t have any, there’s no denying that there’s a certain wonder about this time of year, that’s different to different people. So whatever it means to you, enjoy your very own slice of magic!

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