Countdown to Christmas.

Advent Yankee Candles

This week I have realised with horror that all my Christmas sparkle has totally disappeared. I have no idea what to buy my children, I have nothing I want, there is nothing we need (except more time and money and you can’t buy either of those!) and Christmas is sneaking up so fast that I can’t even begin to imagine what I’m going to do to either find the sparkle or find the time, money or energy to magic the perfect Christmas either.

This rather mournful thought has been bothering me hugely over the last few days. It’s not that Christmas is all about the giving, by any means because it most certainly isn’t. None of my children can tell me a single thing they ‘need’ or even ‘want’ this year apart from Maddy who desperately wants a new guitar of the other variety to the one she already has. (See, I’m not doing well. It’s either Spanish or Classical. I better ask). But it is about the feel of the day, the magic and the joy – it’s about getting hyped up about the idea of a day together and a sense of specialness and having no desire to do anything except enjoy the company of family at the end of a long and busy few months. And a little tingle of excitement and anticipation is all to the good. Apart from anything else, however jaded and wistful it makes me and however much my big girls no longer need a heap of presents and surprises, I still have a 10 year old and a not quite 3 year old – and they do have the right to the same memories as I made for the big girls.

It was while I was thinking about these doleful facts that a couple of products arrived that reminded me of what was always so nice about Christmas when the girls were little and what I miss most.

The anticipation.

The filling the house with Christmas.

The together time.

The little rituals.

The knowing that hunker down family time is coming.

The dim lights and the tastes treats and spice and sweeties.

The decorations.

The nostalgia.

The smell.

It’s all of these things that our current frantic, overwhelmed life is threatening. Not the present pile not even the day. It’s the creation of an event that we relish. I know the day will be fine. I know we won’t fight or squawk and there won’t be spoilt brat grumps that this year we really can’t afford many gifts. I know we’ll eat our normal understated lunch and the early morning tumble will be daft stocking presents and giggling and a quiet weep from me somewhere in the middle.

It’s the build up I miss and while I’m not religious at all, I suddenly remembered that what starts our Christmas each year is the fabric pocket advent calender and the daily sweetie for each child in it. I suddenly saw that what I need this year is to make some magic about the season so that this Christmas, which will be one of Fran’s last ones at home as a child and the first where most gifts will be things they need not fun surprises, will be memorable and treasured.

Advent Yankee Candles

The two gorgeous candle advent calendars we were sent by Yankee Candle made me think about all of this and start to make some plans. 24 doors, all opening to reveal a beautifully scented candle to burn on the day seems the perfect thing for me to get into the Christmas spirit; a lovely ritual, some sensory smells to make me feel the love and no calories either! Perfect. Each one has a range of smells from cookie, to cinnamon to sugar and cranberry and Christmas garland and the house finishes off with a votive candle on Christmas Eve. The design of both boxes is divine and the house made me think in particular of a house my mummy made me when I was little, with a gift on a string for each of us.

Times are difficult right now. We barely make it to family meals together, we rarely sit down and talk, we scurry about servicing the needs of 5 kids and a business and the joy has been rather sucked out of everything. I keep looking at my blog and wishing I was blogging more but the truth is I can’t find words for something that isn’t happening. I’m not writing creatively because most of what I do now is private or safeguarded or simply deeply dull.

And I miss it. I do.

So I’m setting myself a challenge, on the back of 2 boxes of candles that reminded me so much that I love being with my kids and making and doing and laughing with them. I’m going to finds some ways to make December special, like it used to be when the girls were little and we stopped home ed ‘work on November 30th and spent the run up to the big day doing ‘fun stuff’. Last year I watched blogger friends enviously as they made those days happen. I want smells and fun and mess and giggling and silly half arty, well meant crafts decorating the house.

This year I don’t want my Christmas run up to be all on Pinterest. I’m going to find the joy, starting with coming up with something precious and memorable to run through advent that my girls will love. If you’ve written any posts of things you’ve done, please leave me a link below.

And make me do it. I’m all lost and needing encouragement.

Follow Merrily Me’s board Christmas Crafts on Pinterest.

Review: Tassimo Tastes!

Maddy heaven. A  cappuccino & a mama made muffin. What could be better

My husband loves his coffee. In all the time I have known him he only drank Instant in the worst ‘end of term grant has run out’ student days and since we’ve been grown ups, it has been proper coffee all the way. For the last few years I’ve been able to buy him little hob top coffee makers, bags of coffee and various other happy coffee lover things.

And then austerity hit.

I knew it was bad when the coffee pot got put away at work.

When Instant made a reappearance in the house, I went into a panic.

I’m in such a flat spin about him suddenly drinking DECAFF INSTANT that I don’t know what to do.

I fear counseling may be required.

So when we were invited to try out a Tassimo Vivy machine, I thought I should probably jump at the chance; the kids were bound to love it and frankly, it felt like the only way to get my husband back to a place I recognised!

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While I’m a massive tech gadget fan, I’m not particularly ‘gadgetty’ in the kitchen – we don’t even have a blender – so I was curious as to how the family would take to this. The first thing that surprised me was how much smaller it was than previous models of similar gadgets that I had seen; we have a tiny and really dreadfully badly designed kitchen but this manages to snuggle into a discreet corner of it nicely. It’s smaller than our toaster and has a conveniently rounded shape that just seems to make it unobtrusive.

Such is my total lack of ‘up to the minute kitchen-ness’ that I had confidently expected it only to make coffee. A certain amount of excited googling followed the arrival of Oreo flavoured hot chocolate pods while we checked out some of the different flavours available. In the mean time, Maddy had set up the machine and got it all ready to go.

At this point we did come slightly unstuck. The instructions are entirely pictorial, which is great in so many ways, but both of us being a little inexperienced with such thing did find ourselves floundering a bit with the initial set up and understanding what the yellow disc in the side of the machine was for (cleaning, apparently). I did feel I’d have liked something a little more concrete to explain a few elements of the machine. Still, it is possible that we are just unnecessarily challenged by pictorial instructions as it also took us a couple of goes to work out that the boxes of pods have a pictorial ‘recipe’ on the side and some drinks need more than one pod to make a complete drink. *blush*

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We got there in the end. The website is, naturally, perfectly helpful as a place to go and get explanations if you are a bit technically challenged. It has very specific descriptions of the machine and breaks the drinks down into lots of categories from flavour to cup size, so you know what you are getting. While a quick shop on Amazon is all very well for both machine and pods, I have to say their website is everything you would want and more for useability and information.

And that’s pretty much how I would sum up the machine too. It’s very useable, once you get over the first hump of understanding it. The pods know what to do all by themselves, it heats up instantly, it is incredibly quick and convenient and the flavours are interesting. It CLEANS ITSELF – which makes it a winner in my eyes. And the younger girls really love that they can make a quick drink for themselves, try out something new and not have to worry about mess or masses of hot water. I like that even a sugary drink is measured, so a 100 calorie hot chocolate really is that, rather than a ‘generous cheat’ one ;)

One thing that threw me totally was the inclusion of Twining’s tea pods in our review kit. Husband, having been rather sad at the absence of ‘real’ coffee, got some Kenco pods purchased for him (he turned out to like both them and the Costa cappuccino) but I couldn’t really see the point of the tea.

Until.

A sickness bug hit. Bene was barely asleep in my bed between bouts of misery and I couldn’t move without him waking up a wailing. All alone at home and in a rare moment of peace, I bolted downstairs, put milk in a cup and a tea pod in the machine, legged it for the loo and in the time it took to get back, I had a perfectly brewed cup of tea in my hand, a breakfast bar in the other and I was back up in bed before he stirred.

Brilliant.

Disclosure: we were sent this item in exchange for an honest review. All words and opinions are our own.

Bostik Blogger Autumn Craft.

Autumn has tumbled upon us in a rush and far from mellow mists and fruitfulness, it has mostly brought bugs and snuffles and a general sense of “gaaaaaaah, bring back summer!”

This did mean that I had the company of various of my children for the last two weeks which has many positives and some negatives in the form of getting work done. Or blogging. And my house looks awful. This may or may not be their fault.

However, the Autumn Craft Box arrived at a perfect time for Josie, who was feeling sorry for herself with a burst eardrum and she had a lot of fun making this ‘mixed craft media’ picture.

Josie's autumn tree picture

She had a lot of fun with this and the Bostik Glue Pen and the Sticky Dots combined perfectly to make it easy for her to stick felt, tissue, foam sheets and the gorgeous autumnal leaves together with no mess at all.

Upside of a poorly Josie is time for autumn crafting.

There are lots more Autumn Crafts on this site and also on Simple Crafts and naturally I have a Pinterest board as well.

Follow Merrily Me’s board Autumn Crafts. on Pinterest.

Merry’s Perfect Prairie Muffin Moment.

I win, I win! I baked something and it isn't a disaster!

A couple of weeks ago I got totally and utterly sick of packed lunches, specifically the fact that the girls have ended up hurriedly making sandwiches and grabbing a snack bar, snack bars that are expensive and neither healthy or particularly satisfying. I decided i would try baking, something I absolutely never do, and see if that improved things. Once the children recovered from the shock and inspected me carefully for implants, they risked tasting my wares – and it was pronounced a success.

First of all I canvased for help, and got some great recipes from Snafflesmummy, but then decided I was going to have to go even simpler first. I tried out this Apple and Sultana Muffin recipe, which has been a ‘go back to’ one since – they are lovely and really don’t feel unhealthy to eat.

I win, I win! I baked something and it isn't a disaster!

Hurrah. I didn’t have so much success with the flapjack, which fell apart too much despite several attempts, so I’m still on the look out for a better version of that.

But the girls liked my baking, they’ve asked for me to do them again and it has been so much cheaper that snack bars. I do rant and rail about the whole school ‘healthy eating’ policy – Josie is stick thin, does 16 hours of gym a week and needs calories but is bound by the same break time rules as an obese child. At least this way I feel like I’m doing something good for her, which can’t be questioned, makes them feel a bit more mothered and is cheaper too. No one can complain about a home cooked, butter free muffin but I can make sure it is big and has plenty of good calories.

So a couple of weeks into the experiment and I got brave – my very own ‘see what happens’ recipe. And here it is. Worked perfectly, so I hope it does again!

Banana & Sultana Muffins.

5 small squashy bananas, mashed

1 cup of sultanas

1 cup of brown sugar

3 tbsps of sunflower oil

3 tbsps milk

1/2 of cup brown flour

2 cups of self raising flour

1 stood baking powder

1 egg

1 pinch salt

1/2 cup of porridge oats

Chuck it in a bowl and mix briskly. divide into 12-15 muffin cases and bake at 190C for about 25 minutes.

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I did a recipe. I don’t know what to tell you. It makes a cake-y but also quite banana bread-y, heavy but nice muffin. I’ve now added some baking powder and see if that lifts it (who knows, I’m not exactly a baker!) but I’d make them again to turn out the same anyway because they were yummy.

I’d really love you to leave links to healthy, fast, easy baking for using for breaks and packed lunches as I’ve got the bug for baking all of a sudden!

 

 

Easy Pretty Fabric Noticeboard

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I’ve been wanting one of these noticeboards ever since I saw Jeanette at Lazy Seamstress make one a year or two back. I’ve had the materials ready for months and not go round to it but wanting to try out the Sew Simple glue from Bostik this  month was the perfect push to get on with it.

It turned out to be stupidly simple to make something this good.

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(Getting it hung up may be a very different matter though; it’s been made a week but is still languishing in the hallways :( )

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Ingredients: one large canvas painting rectangle (£4.95 from QD) and some fabric (don’t ask, it was Michael Miller stock and I was very naughty) tape and buttons plus a staple gun and Sew Simple Bostik Glue.

First I cut the fabric to size.

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I entirely forgot to iron it, which means I have a crease on the front. Still, as my life is always full of paper I need to deal with, that won’t matter ;)

I placed the fabric right side down, the frame on top of it and staple-gunned it to the edge. Had I known how good the glue was, I wouldn’t have bothered to staple.

Then I cut ribbon lengths to cross hatch the front. I was dreadfully unscientific about this and it is mildly random, or as I like to call it, Merry-Rustic-Shabby. Ahem.15195676459_f1bd218640_zI did one direction first and then crossed them over the other way. I think if I had had longer or was making another I might weave them for a more snug fit but as it was, it works okay. I secured the ends on the back of the board with Sew Simple. I didn’t really expect this to work and had back up green drawing pins ready, but it did. It’s really sticky (but peels off your fingers in a way that reminds me of primary school) and is stuck fast in 20 seconds or so. Pulling against it to  get a snug fit across to the other side really did work fine.

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After that was done I glued big green buttons on the crossovers to secure them together and on to the board. The glue dries almost clean and would have been fine had a small boy not decided to squidge them a bit. It does leave the fabric darker but the effect is minimal and wouldn’t be a problem if you were careful.

I finished it off with the flower from my Handmade Fair day :)

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Disclosure: we are part of the Bostik Family Bloggers Scheme and receive glue products to try.