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How to organise Christmas Decorating

This weekend, we’ve done all our Christmas decorating – lights, tree, card displays, candles, more fairy lights… and I thought it would be helpful to share with you how I organise Christmas decorating.

We are fairly minimal when it comes to decorating (although my husband probably wouldn’t say so). A tree, a wreath on the door, some tasteful white lights around the front windows and that’s about it. I’ve learned what I like and don’t like, and I’m constantly pinning ideas on my Pinterest boards.

We also don’t have a huge amount of space, either for living or for storage. Our Christmas decorations box is small. We have a real tree, and not much space for anything else. So you will have to think about upscaling this guide if that’s to your taste and space.

Step 1: Clear the surfaces

I like to get a box and work my way through the home, packing away anything that is normally out on the surfaces. Photographs, ornaments, clocks, books – it’s a great opportunity for a thorough tidy too!

Step 2: Clean thoroughly

Christmas gets everywhere. Pine needles, tinsel strands (even if you never let any tinsel near your home), and scraps of wrapping paper can resurface sometime in June if you don’t give things a really good clean before and after! Also, as we tend to have decorations on the surfaces for around a month, those surfaces gather dust and are tricky to dust for that whole month. So give everywhere a really thorough dust, wipe down and polish before decorating.

Step 3: Organise your layout

If you bring a whole tree into a house, you probably need to rearrange some furniture. Think about where you’re going to plug your Christmas tree lights in. You may want to move chairs and make sure you can extend the table for Christmas day – even if you have to borrow chairs from the neighbours.

Step 4: Decorate the tree

If you have a fake tree, you will need to build it. If you have a real tree, you’ll need to get it and set it up. We put ours in a garden bucket with stones in the base to weigh it down.

The order for decorating a tree is really simple:

Lights (top to bottom, and work out where they are going to be plugged in first)

Ribbon, beads or tinsel that wraps around the tree

Baubles and hanging decorations in descending size order. This way you can check to see if they are evenly spaced.

The star/angel/fairy/Harry Potter Sorting Hat.

Step 5: Put the wreath on the door and exterior decorations

You may need a wreath hanger for the door, or a quick nail hammered into the door. Check your lights work before you start putting them up, and please get help if you’re climbing ladders!

Step 6: Put out your other decorations

If you decorate your mantlepiece, do so. I personally don’t put stockings out until Christmas Eve, but that’s not to stop you doing so. Many people like to put out Christmas bedding and Christmas crockery too.

Step 7: Put up your cards

I love receiving Christmas cards – it’s one of the ways I stay in touch with long-distance friends.  But every year I get frustrated with them – they look messy, fall down and generally ruin my carefully cultivated look. So this year, I’ve devoted a wall in our dining room to them. The kids have been talking about them during dinner and I’m pleased with the overall look.

Step 8: Light the candles, pour the mulled wine and enjoy the twinkling lights

That’s it really. Decorating the house is one of my very favourite things about Christmas. What about you?

 

Christmas Countdown: 2 weeks to go

I’ve sat down to write this Christmas Countdown: 2 weeks to go post several times over the last week, and every single time, something has happened to stop me writing. Not to mention that with less than 2 weeks to go, this has been the busiest week of the year – like for many people!

With that in mind, I’ve kept the tasks short and sweet. We’re nearly there, after all!

Christmas Countdown 2 weeks to go - Join us for your most peaceful Christmas ever

Task One: Send any gifts that need to be posted

The final posting dates for within the UK are 20th December for 2nd class, 21st December for 1st class, and 22nd December for Special Delivery. So take a trip to your post office and get everything sent off.

Task Two: Buy any final gifts, including teacher presents

You might have already got your Christmas presents all sorted, but just in case you haven’t, now is the time to pick up those final gifts. Perhaps you need something to give to a work colleague, or your child’s teacher or nursery worker. Try to get that sorted now.

In case you were wondering, coffee vouchers make a great gift for teachers!

Task 3: Baking and Preparation Cooking

This is an optional task, and certainly not one I’m going to get done this week, but if you have some spare time this week, have a think about doing some baking and Christmas cooking. You can make the cranberry sauce, bread sauce, stuffing, and gravy well in advance and freeze them, and it will save you loads of time on Christmas day itself.

If you’re not hosting Christmas dinner, perhaps you could do some Christmas baking: mince pies, cookies, gingerbread…

That’s it, that’s all I’m getting done this week, as it is just so busy, and I for one am dragging myself towards the Christmas holidays. But we’re nearly there, and next week (well, Sunday), there will only be one week to go!

Pop back next week (or join my mailing list) for the next tasks!

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How to Organise Christmas Gifts

If you’ve been following The Organised Life Project, you’ll know we’re onto the final month in the project – and we’ll be starting over again in 2018!

If you want to get organised, my book is available on Kindle in the UK and the US and has a whole chapter on celebrations – including birthdays and Christmas.

This month, we’re naturally focusing on Christmas, and making sure your Christmas is organised and peaceful. This week, we’re tackling the most overwhelming part of Christmas in my opinion: the gifts.

Sort your gifts into boxes

When you have kids around – especially inquisitive kids – and you come home with something that is intended as a gift, the temptation is to stuff it away as quickly as possible. One thing I suggest you do is clear a shelf, high up, ideally in a wardrobe or cupboard. This is where you are going to store your gifts before they are wrapped.

Now, get a box for each person in your family, and sort the gifts you have already purchased into those boxes. You may need to make a distracting label (something like kitchen equipment) so that your recipients don’t get suspicious.

Choose wrapping paper for stockings and main gifts

However you do it in your house, I find it useful for ‘Santa’ to have one kind of wrapping paper for each child, and for ‘under the tree’ presents to be in a different style. This really helps me to keep it separate.

Grab a few stocking fillers – but not too many

If you’re short on ideas, gifts that are suitable for children but also not costly are:

Pants

Socks

Toothbrush

Sweets/chocolate

Pens

Little toys

Pack of cards

Selfie Kit

Drinks bottle

Fidget spinner

Remember, you don’t want clutter around after you’ve decluttered, so choose wisely!

Dedicate some wrapping time – and equipment

I prefer to have one or two big wrapping sessions – Christmas music on, tree and decorations up – and all the equipment to hand. If you’ve been following my Christmas Countdown, you’ll have your wrapping paper ready, but if not, you’ll want some ribbons, gift tags, sellotape and sharp scissors. You may also want some gift bags.

A few years ago, I treated myself to a proper Sellotape dispenser, and it has made wrapping gifts a million times easier. That’s a big statement, but I’d had enough of losing the end of the tape, lining it all up on the tables and then it sticking to everything except the paper. So if you haven’t got one, get one immediately! You can buy one really easily here: Sellotape Dispenser (that’s an affiliate link so I get a tiny bit of commission at no extra cost to you.

Think about Birthday Presents

If you regularly give to the same people (thinking of extended family), it’s worth noting down if you have any ideas for birthday presents. If someone gives you a few ideas, and you buy one of them, keep the others for ideas for birthday gifts – just in a note in your phone. It’ll save you time in the next year.

 

In Her Shoes: Sarah Week 6 – The promise fulfilled

We’re in the final week of our study on Sarah. It has been an amazing six weeks, from looking at Sarah’s identity as a barren woman, to her marriage to Abraham, to her terrible decision to take matters into her own hands. Then we saw God give her and Abraham a new name and remind her of his promises to her. 

Finally, this week, at the age of 90, Sarah becomes pregnant and has a child.

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” Genesis 21:1-2.

Happy 90th Birthday! You’re going to be a mother!

Can you even imagine becoming a mother at 90? Even if Sarah didn’t age quite as we do today, she was definitely past the age of childbearing – last week, we saw her call herself ‘worn-out.’

But God had not forgotten her. Despite her mistakes, He was gracious to her. He forgave her lack of faith and her treatment of Hagar, and He blessed her.

God keeps His promises

The word ‘promised’ appears twice in this verse. It’s reinforced by the phrases ‘as he had said’ and ‘the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.’ Not only that, but it’s ‘at the very time.’ This child was conceived and born in God’s timing, not Abraham and Sarah’s.

I appreciate this must be incredibly difficult to read if you’re going through infertility. When we’re waiting on God’s promises, it is so difficult to have faith. We may lose faith, and then wonder if God is punishing us. But Sarah’s story here gives encouragement: she did lose faith, and she even laughed when she was told of God’s promise, but He still did fulfil that promise.

Is it helpful, to read Sarah’s story when facing infertility? After all, it’s what we know Sarah for: she was the wife of Abraham, and then the mother of Isaac. The mother of nations.

But there’s so much more to Sarah than that. I feel that she was really… human. There was no superpower about her (except coping with a newborn at 90) but in her questioning God, and her desire to take matters into her own hands, she was so human.

But, as we saw in Eve, God made us human. He understands our weaknesses; He understood Sarah’s weakness. He understood her shame and pain in her infertility. I’m sure He understands our pain and shame too.

The mystery of God

But why did God make Sarah wait for so long? The passage clearly tells us that Isaac was born ‘at the time God promised.’ It seems cruel to make Sarah and Abraham wait for such a long time.

Well, we don’t know. Perhaps it was so we could clearly see that it was a miracle, a divine intervention: the long-awaited child born to a woman who was barren. It’s a story that is repeated several times in the Bible, in Hannah, in Elisabeth, and foreshadows the birth of Jesus himself.

We don’t know what else Sarah was going through. We’re only told her story in a few chapters – much too little to give a really complete picture of her life. So we can only speculate.

But we can have faith that it was in God’s timing. We can trust in Him to keep his promises. We know that he understands our humanity, our weaknesses, our faults. But He still keeps His promises.

In Whose Shoes?

If you want to find out who our next character is, you will need to tune in to Mummy Meditations Live on Sunday night over on my Facebook Page. All will be revealed then!

Win a Signed Framed Print by Freya Morgan

A few weeks ago, I worked with Ecover as part of their limited edition Laundry detergent. The illustrations on the bottles were done by Freya Morgan, an incredibly talented illustrator.

I have a limited edition, signed, framed print of the illustration to give away, which is absolutely beautiful. It’s feminine style would be gorgeous in any home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the styling of this print: it’s contemporary, natural and really beautiful. It would also make a fantastic Christmas present of course!

The winner will receive the signed, framed print as well as the lovely bag and the washing liquid.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Christmas Countdown: 3 Weeks to go

This week, it’s Christmas Countdown 3 weeks to go, and we’re focusing on the decor. Trees, wreaths and fairy lights! What’s not to love!

You might have already completed this week’s task. Each year, it seems we put our tree up earlier and earlier! Perhaps you’re a 1st of December family, or perhaps you wait until Christmas Eve. It’s up to you.

Christmas Countdown 3 weeks to go

Task One: Put up and decorate your Christmas tree

This is actually one of my very favourite days in the whole year. Over the last few years, we’ve had real trees, but before that, we had an artificial tree (until it started looking a bit sparse). I like to buy a few more ornaments each year, and have some that the children have created.

I think there’s a definite order and logic to putting the tree up: planting it in a holder; fluffing out the branches and deciding on the best angle; wrapping the lights around it (best to do it with the lights on so you can check the distribution; placing the star on top, and finally the baubles. That’s how I do it anyway!

You’ll also want to get out all your other Christmas decorations: a wreath for the front door if you have one, extra lights etc – whatever you have. They are probably all kept together anyway.

Task Two: Post your cards

Hopefully, you’ve already written your cards and have even addressed and stamped them – or delegated that job to someone else. This week, take a quick trip to the post box and get them mailed.

Task Three: Get Wrapping!

This is my big one for this week (the tree is already up). I have done all my shopping, and the presents have mostly been delivered. But they are now all squirrelled away in my spare room! I need to dedicate a child-free evening to some wrapping paper, scissors and sellotape.

Task Four: Book yourself a Christmas treat

As enjoyable as decorating the tree is, this week I want you to book yourself a Christmas treat. Whether it’s a trip to the Christmas markets with a friend, a pre-Christmas hair cut, a manicure or a spa day, or something completely different, book yourself a treat for the week before Christmas. I know it’s a really manic time of the year, so ideally it’ll be something that is just for you, which allows you to recharge.

Pop back next week (or join my mailing list) for the next tasks!

I’d like to join The Organised Life Project

Come and join us on our journey to get organised. Get weekly step-by-step tasks to organise your entire life.

Blackpool Tower Circus Pantomime Review: Mooky Doolitle

Watching a pantomime has become a bit of a family tradition at Christmas. It’s a real family event, and definitely adds to the magic at this time of year. We were invited to review Mooky Doolittle at the Blackpool Tower Circus.

Blackpool on an afternoon in November isn’t just cold. It’s bitterly cold – pretty much like I imagine Norway to be like. The wind blows through the streets with flecks of sleet whipping into your face. The cold gets into every single space, and sometimes the wind buffets you along as you go. This afternoon was no exception.

However, once you’re in the Blackpool Tower Circus, the atmosphere and setting couldn’t be warmer. The venue itself is beautiful – a proper circus ring, with lots of plush red velvet, a proper band, lighting and seating all around the circus ring.

We had a bit of difficulty actually finding some seats. The Tower circus does not allocate seating, so it’s a bit of a free-for-all. There were several large groups of visitors, and the ushers were struggling to sit them all together. We eventually managed to find 3 seats by asking people to move up, and Tim sat on his own while I sat with the boys closer to the stage. I have to say, if we’d been stuck up in the gallery, I’d have been really disappointed.

The story is loosely based on Doctor Doolittle. Mooky, the main character of Mooky Doolittle, is actually Mooky the clown, the circus director. Mooky Doolittle is a vet who can speak to animals but can’t really get along with people too well. Cue his mother (the pantomime dame) matchmaking him with the new vet practice secretary.

As with all good pantomimes, there’s a couple of nasty villains – Mr. Boo and Miss Hiss, who wants to wear the fur of endangered species. There’s a fairly tenuous plot involving some gorillas, a mammoth and a triceratops, but the real spectacle is in the circus where Mooky Doolittle tends the animals.

There aren’t any animals in the show (no animals have been used in the circus since 1990), except a few pantomime-horse style creatures. Instead, the gravity-defying acts of actobats and artists are the very best parts of the event.

From the couple who performed tricks on the high wire, to the tumbling troupe of acrobats, to the clown who wouldn’t stand up, both my boys were absolutely transfixed by the circus acts. There were a few moments when I had both my hands over my mouth, convinced that the trick wasn’t possible. But that’s the magic and thrill of the circus.

They both also loved the singing and dancing. There are several live songs in the show, and the dancers – both adults and children – are excellent. I have to say, the song and dance routines are always my favourite parts of a panto, and this did not disappoint.

Personally, I found the circus acts absolutely mesmerising. The skill and strength of the performers was incredible to watch.

With a decent 20 minute interval in the middle – when the queues for both the toilets and kiosk were crazy, but the kids could go into the ring and have their faces painted and try circus tricks – the show was an ideal pace. The 2.30pm show finished at around 5.00pm.

We battled back to the car through a freezing hailstorm, but the warm glow of the pantomime stayed with us for the rest of the day.

If you do go to see the performance, here’s a few things to bear in mind:

  • Arrive early, especially if you’re a larger group. Don’t assume you will sit together.
  • If you can, avoid sitting next to the band. The band are excellent, but most of the ‘pantomime’ act is facing the other way. We missed some of the action because of this.
  • There are no baby change facilities in the circus itself (but there are toilets). You have to leave the circus part and go into the main Blackpool Tower part.

Tickets for Mooky Doolittle start from £5.95 and are available from The Blackpool Tower.

We were not allowed to take photos during the performance. The images I have used of the characters are from a previous year’s pantomime and were the only publicity images available at the time of writing.

How to create Family Traditions

Family traditions create a sense of identity, family cohesiveness, comfort, security, reinforce family values, and, of course, create memories. But traditions don’t happen without some planning and organisation.

This is the time to start planning the traditions you want to create with your family.

 

 

Family Traditions

I think it’s lovely to take photos in a certain place, or to take a family photograph together once a month. Link these into your photograph yearbook, and you’ve got a winner!

Some other ideas for family traditions:

  • A birthday letter to each child
  • The birthday child gives a gift to his/her siblings
  • Family time capsule
  • Gratitude jar/journal
  • First day of school photos
  • A height measure on one wall
  • Weekend breakfast
  • Kitchen dance party
  • Monthly/annual service project
  • Game/movie night
  • Responsibilities and privileges letter at each birthday

These are just things to help you to create memories with your families. They are not meant to be extra work – they’re meant to be fun!

Seasonal Family Traditions

You might also like to create a list of ‘seasonal’ memories.

January: Record everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions

February: Valentines cards/gifts

March: Plant seeds and watch them grow

April: Set up an Easter Egg hunt

May: Go on a family bike ride

June: Camp in the garden

July: Swim outdoors

August: Make a campfire

September: Learn a new skill

October: Pick a pumpkin and carve it

November: Explore a castle or stately home

December: As well as your Christmas traditions, revisit your New Year’s Resolutions

Don’t forget to explore Pinterest and Instagram for lots more inspiration, and take all the photos you can. These memories are to be absolutely treasured.

I really hope you’ve enjoyed this month on creating family memories. As well as organising your digital photos, we’ve made plans to create family memories and spend one to one time with our children.

Christmas Countdown: 4 Weeks to Go

This week, it’s Christmas Countdown 4 weeks to go, and we’re focusing on the big day itself. Plans, menus and shopping lists. Plus, there’s a few fun tasks to get you right into the festive spirit.

This time in 4 weeks, Christmas will literally be a few days away. Before that sends you into a mad panic (if you haven’t already been in a Black Friday panic), take a few minutes to go through my Christmas Countdown posts over the last few weeks. They will help you get organised so you can relax right through the holiday season.

Christmas Countdown 4 weeks to go

This week, we’re starting to focus on the big day.

Task One: Work out logistics for Christmas Day

By now, you probably know who is going where for Christmas Day. If you haven’t got it sorted yet, now is the time to do so! Are you going to host? Are you visiting family or friends? Are you trying to fit in 76 different relatives in different corners of the country?

Take a few minutes to sit down with your other half and work out when you’re going to travel, or when guests are going to arrive. Sketch out an outline of the day, and what you’d like to happen. Keep it flexible and reasonable – it needs to be relaxed and easy-going, not a military procedure!

Task Two: Plan your menus

When I lived in Luxemburg many years ago, a French chef laughed at the British because we all eat turkey on Christmas Day. I was baffled: what’s laughable about Christmas turkey?

Now, you can have exactly what you want to on Christmas Day, but you need to plan what you’re going to have so that you can…

Task Three: Order your food

Right. This is the big one for this week.

Over the next week, all the major supermarkets will open up their Christmas Delivery slots. Many are available now.

If you like to buy your meat from a butcher, get it ordered this week. BBC Good Food have a Guide to Turkeys which is really useful.

Hopefully, you’ve already planned to make your Christmas pudding and cake – I’m doing ours this weekend – but if not, get them ordered too.

Task Four: Buy your Christmas jumpers!

I have been keeping my eyes out and there are some brilliant Christmas jumpers around this year. Dorothy Perkins and Warehouse have some really nice ones for women, and I’ll probably get the boys’ from George at Asda or Matalan. One day, I’ll convince Tim to get one!

Task Five: Take a present inventory

I’ve almost finished my Christmas shopping, but over the last week, I’ve worked out exactly what I’ve got for the children. I’ve stuck to my lists, but Tim and I have both been picking up the odd stocking filler here and there, and it’s adding up. It’s brilliant, because we’re almost done, but I hadn’t realised quite how close we were.

So if you’ve got time this week, do a quick check on your present list and update it. Hopefully you’re nearly there with your shopping too.

Pop back next week (or join my mailing list) for the next tasks!

I’d like to join The Organised Life Project

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Making time for one-to-one time with your children

One of the biggest changes when you have second, third or more children is that you have less time to spend one-to-one with each child. Yet that really is the time that our children crave. When we spend one-to-one time with each child, we really get to know them. We can talk to them without the distraction or the competition from other children. They can feel more valued and more respected. I honestly believe that it is so important to spend one-to-one time with each child.

I think it’s helpful to be really intentional about one-to-one time, and to plan it into our time. So often, this time really has to be carved out, protected and fought for. It’s so important, we need to make it a real priority. Here’s my guide to making the most of those opportunities for one-to-one time with each child.

Task One: Look for daily opportunities

In an ideal world, we would make sure we had opportunities to sit and talk with each child, one to one, every single day. This won’t happen unless we make sure it happens.

Have a look at your routines. Is there any way you can make sure you spend a bit of quality time with each child individually, every day? Perhaps it’s a book that you read together, a song you listen to or a prayer you say at the end of the day.

Task Two: Look for weekly opportunities

One of my favourite times of the week is a Saturday morning. I take my eldest son swimming. It’s pretty much the only thing I do with him, without his brother or my husband.

Since he started school, I’ve found I don’t get much time with my eldest. Yet we both really enjoy the time we spend together. I’ve definitely come to treasure that time.

So this week, try to find one thing that you can do, one-to-one with each child, every week. It might be an activity, but it might also be a regular half-hour building Lego or painting.

Task Three: Establish a special evening once a month

Once a month, perhaps on the “birth date” for each child (i.e., the 4th of each month if your child is born on 4th August), let them stay up a little bit later, or choose what’s for dinner, or chose a game to play.

This is a great way to make each child feel a little bit special. We have ‘Family Fun Night,’ which generally involves a DVD and ice cream.

Task Four: Remind Yourself

Put reminders in your phone, for your child’s special night. Mark your time with each child onto your daily routines planner. I know this sounds a bit like overkill, but I know what life in a busy household can be like. A month will go by and you’ll miss it, and before you know it, all your good intentions fall by the wayside. So put the reminder in your phone and you won’t miss it.