Planning a Gender Reveal Party

A few months ago some friends of ours found out that they were expecting! I remember asking them whether they were going to find out if it was a boy or a girl or wait for a surprise and I was honoured when they turned around and asked me if I would be willing to organise a gender reveal party for them!

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It is a relatively new craze which is one step up from a baby shower. I’ve seen a lot of the gender reveal party photos on Pinterest but I didn’t really understand how the whole thing worked until recently! I could never understand why the parents always looked so surprised when the gender was revealed?? How did they not know? How was the gender of the baby revealed to someone without the parents knowing?

Well, here is what happens…. The parents go along to the scan as er normal and the nurse completes all of her checks to check the health of the baby. When it comes to determining the gender the parents tell the nurse they are having a gender reveal party so she completes the paperwork which reveals the gender and then puts the paperwork into an envelope and seals it for them to hand it over to the party organiser!

Of course there is always a risk with this as the gender cannot be guaranteed. I’ve known people go their whole pregnancy having been told they were expecting a girl and then when it has arrived it has been a boy!

Anyway, I had to set about organising the party as soon as possible as it was arranged for two weeks after they had had the scan. I’m glad they were doing it after the scan as it’s really nerve wracking being the only person in the world knowing what gender the baby was!

We arranged the party at our local pub which has just been renovated and reopened so everything was looking fresh. They were great and really looked after us and even closed off the restaurant so we could have our private party. Not many places offer this nowadays and expect you to either pay a fee to hire the room or to pay for a buffet for all your guests, which is charged per head.

For the decorations I hit good old eBay! I ordered these lovely little pink and blue baby bottles which I filled with blue and pink sweets which I got from Asda (by the way, it is really hard to get hold of blue sweets and they are ALL bubblegum flavoured!).

I bought a “Boy or Girl” tablecloth and these little “Boy or Girl” honeycombe centrepieces. i wanted the centrepieces to be a bit more extravagant so I glued them to plain white plates and then added these pink and blue chewy sweets to them, so people could pick at them whilst they were sat at the tables.

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I bought some “Boy or Girl” photo props which I left on each of the tables for people to use when they were taking photos.

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I had one main long table in the room which I covered in the bottles of sweets, games and activities. I bought two batches of stickers – one set with Team Boy and one set with Team Girl on.

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I also bought this lovely fingerprint tree which comes with a blue ink pad and a pink ink pad. You simply get your guests to choose pink or blue and then to apply their fingerprints to the branches to make the “leaves” on the tree. It was really effective and is something the couple are going to frame to go in the nursery.

I also bought a “Boy or Girl” banner game where the guests choose a pink or blue baby grow and then write suggested baby names onto it and then peg the baby grow onto the banner. There were some interesting names put forward – not all serious ones I hope!

How lovely were these adorable tiny pink and blue baby dummies which I sprinkled all over the games and cake table??? Everyone loved these and I thought they were a great touch and a bit different from the normal table confetti!

I bought a guess the baby food game too! I bought five jars of baby food and then used the labels to cover up the original flavours and people had to guess what flavour each of the jars was! I thought it was a great game but I didn’t get many entrants for the competition! Thinking about it I don’t know whether I would have gone about tasting random jars of baby food either though! Still, it was a good bit of fun!

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Throw in some pink and blue plates, serviettes, banners, balloons and matching hanging decorations and you’ve got everything you need for the gender reveal party!

And finally, for the reveal, I had a cake made! The outside was plain white icing with pink and blue decorations and a lovely blue and pink baby shoe sat on top which were also made out of icing. The sponge inside was coloured so that when the parents cut into the cake, the gender would be revealed!

I also bought a confetti cannon from eBay to be released at the same time they cut the cake – this almost worked but the cannon was really stiff so it took us a couple of minutes to set it off which was a bit of a shame! Still, at least it worked in the end!

So, it all went very well and everyone had a great time and i’m pleased to say we are Team Pink on this occasion!

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CocoChlo’s Christmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a lovely day! I’m sat here in front of the TV feeling extremely full, surrounded by amazing tasty treats and am admiring all the beautiful presents I’ve received from my amazing friends and family.

I got up relatively early to do all the preparation for Christmas dinner but found I had plenty of free time this year just because of one small change – I cooked the turkey overnight last night so it was ready this morning! Friends have done this for years – I’ve never done it but I am definitely a convert now! It saved me loads of time and worry about whether the turkey was cooked and saved me loads of space in the oven so I could cook all the other bits and pieces! I will definitely do the same again next year!

We only got the chance to open a couple of presents this morning before people started arriving, I am incredibly lucky and got the Mulberry handbag and Tiffany perfume I was after! Completely unexpected and a real surprise! We decided we were going to save the rest of our presents until the evening when everyone had gone home so we weren’t rushing.

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Hubby then popped down the pub with a couple of friends whilst I cooked and prepared the rest of the dinner – this year I didn’t leave the kitchen as we only moved house a few weeks back and I’m still not used to using the oven and hob yet so was being over cautious – especially when there’s twenty different things to cook for Christmas dinner!

Anyway, I must have done something right because all my timings were pretty much spot on and everyone loved this years Christmas menu! As usual I bought way too much food and everyone ended up going home with huge doggy bags!

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Our canapés – BBQ Pork Belly Squares and Asian Chicken Lollipops
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Brie and Cranberry parcels
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Our amazing mediterranean platter
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Our yummy turkey, the first time I’ve cooked a roast in our new oven! It even had Christmas Spiced Bacon on the top (see below!)

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And our second meat was this amazing Christmas spiced gammon, ready to carve and eat (should the worst have happened with the turkey!)
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I don’t like Christmas cake myself but they always look so pretty don’t they?
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These bite-sized mini mince pies went down well with everyone!
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The Santa Stuck in the Chimney cake was AMAZING! A red velvet fudge cake inside, probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten! And I’ve eaten A LOT OF CAKE!
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See what I mean? It tasted amazing!
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These chocolate mousse glitter pinecones went down a treat too! So pretty!
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Everyone went home with a lot of cheese! This amazing “Cheese” cake was from Tescos and was made up from Cheddar, Red Leicester, Stilton, Wensleydale with cranberries and Brie! Yum!

For place cards I bought these amazing Reindeer cake pops with little name tags, aren’t they lovely?

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And for favours I bought these lovely Nutcracker and Gingerbread Man bottle bags from Paperchase and filled them with Lindt truffles –

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Every year my Sister and my Mum buy me beautiful flowers to say thank you for hosting Christmas dinner, this year my Mum bought me a beautiful Christmas pudding flower arrangement from Marks and Spencers and my sister bought me a stunning snowglobe style flower arrangement (also from Marks and Spencer’s). I say this a lot but the photos really don’t do them justice!

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plus my Sister popped into Tesco’s to get some last minute Christmas bits and came across these beautiful Nutcracker flowers so she just had to buy them for me! I’m absolutely spoilt!

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The day completely flew by which is always such a shame, I hate it when it gets to the point where people have to leave! Especially today as we had a bit of a mini storm going on outside so everyone got soaking wet and blown away in the storm on the way to their cars! That will teach them not to leave won’t it!?

After everyone had gone, laden up with doggy bags and left overs, we finally sat down and opened the mounds and mounds of presents we had from friends and family. There was definitely a Nutcracker, Harry Potter and Beauty and the beast theme going on with my presents! My friends certainly know me very well! Here’s just some of the lovely gifts I had from friends and family-

Lots of sweets and treats:

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Elf cake Pop’s from Popalicious cake pops!

SO.MANY.PYJAMAS!!!! My favourite!

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And this brilliant Pusheen T-shirt! Pusheen is my spirit animal!

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Plus lots of smelly stuff, perfumes, bath bombs and hair treatments!

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Looking forward to using these! Anyone else used Philip Kingsley stuff before?

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Plus I was also given a pair of gold Beats headphones and BOTH pairs of trainers I wanted! I’m so lucky!

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All this followed by a short doze and nibbling leftovers and cheese and biscuits on the sofa whilst watching Christmas TV makes this my perfect Christmas Day!

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I hope you’ve all had an amazing day full of love and laughter with your families and friends! I’m looking forward to Boxing Day when I usually have a good clear out of my wardrobe to give unwanted items to charity and to put away all my lovely new presents!

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

Christmas Pudding BonBons

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Hello Christmas Elves! If you are after a really easy recipe or a great activity to do with the kids then I’ve got just the thing for you! In fact it isn’t really a recipe at all – it’s just a case of cobbling a few bits together – but they do look really effective!

Here’s the ingredients you will need:

-Pre-made chocolate cake (preferably with buttercream centre and topping)

-Red ready rolled icing

-Green ready rolled icing

-100g white chocolate (I use  white chocolate chips)

You will also need one of these little leaf shape icing plungers. I think mine was from Lakeland but you should also be able to find one in places like Amazon or eBay – I saw some in Wilkinson’s the other day too.

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Ok, so to get started, put your cake into a bowl and break it up into crumbs and then re-shape them into twelve little pudding sized balls. I use a cake which has buttercream on top and in the middle because when you are re-shaping it into little pudding balls, the mixture holds its shape a lot better. When you’ve made twelve round little balls, pop them in the fridge to reset whilst you get on with the rest.

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Roll out your green ready made icing and then use your leaf plunger to make holly leaves (you need two per pudding so twenty-four in total).

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Then cut off some tiny little chunks of red ready rolled icing and roll them into tiny little berries. You will need three of these per pudding so thirty-six in total.

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Pop your icing leaves and berries in the fridge for a few minutes (so they don’t melt too much whilst you are placing them on top of the melted white chocolate).

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Add your chocolate drops to a bowl and melt in the microwave (melt them in thirty second bursts and stir before melting even more – it’s very easy to over melt and burn chocolate if you aren’t careful!)

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Stir the white chocolate so there are no lumps and then leave to cool for about ten minutes so the chocolate is just starting to re-thicken slightly.

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Once it is cooler but still runny and thick, start adding your white chocolate to one pudding. Once the white chocolate is on the pudding, add your holly leaves followed by your red berries, then move on to the next pudding. Don’t do all the white chocolate in one go as it will have set by the time you add your holly leaves and berries to the first one, and they won’t stick to the pudding properly.

Let your puddings set for around ten minutes and then they are ready to eat! If you want to store them they should be fine in an airtight container for around five days (if you can resist them for that long! I ate FOUR in one sitting – they are only small after all!).

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Happy pudding bonbon making!

My favourite Christmas Movies!

I love watching Christmas films during the festive season! There’s nothing better than sitting in front of the TV in a warm house whilst it’s cold outside, snuggled up with a hot chocolate and some nibbles, wrapping some Christmas presents with your favourite Christmas movie playing! Here are my favourite Christmas films of all time!

The Polar Express

This one is a lovely family Christmas film! On Christmas Eve, a young boy encounters a train known as the Polar Express, that is on it’s way to the North Pole. There are other children on the train and the film follows them developing their friendship with one another. A Christmas Eve must watch film, especially for those non-believers!

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Fred Claus

Santa has an older brother! His name is Fred Claus!

He is actually nothing like Santa, and has a few brushes with the law which results in him having to stay at the North Pole and help Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas in exchange for money to pay off his debts – not much fun when you hate Christmas because it centres around your brother every year!

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Bad Santa

Two miserable, professional thieves pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob high end shopping malls on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when one of the conmen befriends a troubled kid who thinks he is the real Santa (“Your name is Thurman Merman??”) and the security boss uncovers their plot…..

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There’s also Bad Santa 2 but I haven’t got round to watching it yet!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

On the outskirts of Whoville, there lives a green, revenge-seeking Grinch who plans on ruining the Christmas holiday for all of the citizens of the town……

The Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart “two sizes too small” who lives on snowy Mount Crumpit a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos.

From his cave, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed, he decides to stop Christmas from coming by stealing their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast……

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Love Actually

This is my Sisters favourite Christmas film! It follows the lives of eight very different couples dealing with their love lives and is all set in the run up to Christmas in London.

If you’ve watched the film, the scene where Karen (Emma Thompson) realises that the necklace Harry (Alan Rickman) bought isn’t actually for her still breaks my heart every single time I watch it!

I also love the scene with Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Mark (Andrew Lincoln) where he plays Christmas songs and shows her large cue cards which tell her he loves her! Sorry, spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it yet! (Where have you been??!)

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Jingle All the Way

A father vows to get his son a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas, however, every store is sold out of them, and he must travel all over town and compete with everybody else in order to find one.

Every parent has probably been through this nightmare, I know my Mum did several times when we were younger!

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Deck the Halls 

Two neighbours have a big fall out after one of them decorates his house for the holidays so brightly that it can be seen from space. This one is a particularly cheesy one but I do love it! Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito star – hilarious!

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A Christmas Carol

You surely know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dicken’s?!

It has been done and re-done many times over the years (including a Muppet’s version!), but my favourite is this animated version with the voice of Jim Carrey. Bring on the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come!

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Remember to treat everyone with kindness, generosity and compassion, or you may end up like Ebeneezer Scrooge!

Home Alone

This story is probably just as famous as A Christmas Carol!

For those of you who haven’t seen it (not many of you I would imagine!) Kevin, an eight-year-old troublemaker, is forced to protect his home from a pair of burglars (by using some innovative booby traps!) when he is accidentally left home alone by his family over the Christmas holidays.

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An absolute must-watch over the Christmas period! This one will always be a classic!

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

It isn’t often that a sequel to a fantastic movie is as good as the first!

One year after Kevin was left home alone, he accidentally finds himself in New York after he gets on the wrong flight.

Unfortunately for Kevin, the same criminals, Harry and Marv, are also in New York after escaping from prison….

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And my absolute favourite Christmas film of all time……

Elf

A man called Buddy who has been raised as an Elf at the North Pole goes off on an adventure to New York in search of his true identity.

This film stars Will Ferrell and is an absolutely brilliant Christmas film! Even if Will Ferrell films are not your usual cup of tea, I urge you to give this film a try. It is silly and funny and extremely Christmassy and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

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Happy watching! I’m off to make a Christmas hot chocolate and to wrap some more presents!

CocoChlo’s Christmas Countdown!

Ok so it’s official! Silly season has begun! You officially won’t get any sense out of me for at least the next 25 days!

In case you haven’t already guessed – Christmas is my most favourite time of year! I look forward to it months in advance and am severely down and depressed once it is over and we move into the long dark cold month of January. I know my love for Christmas annoys people but, in my view, you need to have something to look forward to, and holidays and Christmas are the two things which give me something to look forward to throughout the year!

Christmas for me mainly centres around the fantastic traditions that myself and my family have developed over the years – after all, knowing what you have to look forward to makes you look forward to it even more!

Here are some of the Christmas traditions my family and I partake in year after year and all the other little Christmassy/wintery things which I love about this time of the year!

Advent Calendars:

Hopefully you will have seen my two blogs on how to make the two different types of Advent Calendars we have in the family. If not, you can read about these here and here.

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They take a LOT of time and effort to make but come out again and again year after year and make everyone very happy – all my family members look forward to opening their daily treats out of their Christmas Advent Calendars.

The calendars are filled during November with everyone’s favourite treats and then dropped off a few days before the beginning of December. In the past few years I have had to wrap up some of the treats (not fun! Twenty five presents times six people!), due to prying eyes and pokey fingers! And yes, all Advent Calendar recipients are adults!

Most of the days are filled with the likes of Cadbury’s chocolate mousse snowmen, Malteaser reindeers and tiny Lindt bears, and then an extra special gift awaits everyone for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (past years include baubles for the tree and personalised snow globes).

The perfect start to December!

Elf on the Shelf

Love him or hate him (hubby hates him!) Buddy will always make his annual appearance on the 1st December (apart from those days he is kidnapped and held hostage by hubby! Not joking!)

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Buddy plays a big part in helping to build the anticipation of the festive season, and often has some really good jokes and treats in store. This year Buddy has a particularly amazing surprise for the Evans’ which you can read about in Buddy’s very own blog which is being published in the next couple of days! #sorrynotsorry to all you Elf haters!

Buying our Christmas tree

We always had a real tree when we were growing up – my Mum, my two Sisters, the dog and I would walk miles to go and get one from the garden centre up the road (Mum can’t drive) and we would carry it all the way home, alternating between carrying the tree and walking the dog! When hubby and I first moved out and into our new home, I was over the top obsessed with keeping it clean and tidy and so, for fear of getting pine needles everywhere, I insisted on having a plastic tree for the first couple of years.

After a couple of years with this awful cheap plastic tree I decided enough was enough and we agreed we would buy a real tree the following Christmas. I was pleased to learn at this stage that there were a lot more trees around which didn’t drop their needles, so I was a double happy bunny!

We always get our tree the first weekend of December, which is usually around my Sisters Birthday. We usually buy it the Saturday morning and then get it home and set it up, and let the branches drop and the tree take shape for the next 24 hours.

Then on the Sunday we spend the day decorating it, listening to Christmas tunes and having hot chocolate and other Christmas themed treats! The trees usually get named at some point too….

Christmas shopping

My work organise an annual coach trip to London on the first Wednesday of December which is absolutely brilliant. The coach drops off at two places – Harrods (also ideal for visiting the Museums) and the corner of Hyde Park.

I usually go with my Sister and Mum and we’ve done all sorts during these trips – we took Mum to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland one year, and visited the Ice Bar and Ice Sculpture display, the following year we spent a couple of hours in Harrods food hall and then popped over the road and spent the rest of the day in the Natural History Museum (which we concluded you would need to spend a week in in order to see everything!) followed by a couple of years of good old retail therapy down good old Oxford Street! I always pop into Primark as well to see if I can find any last minute stocking fillers or bits to go in my Christmas Eve boxes!

The beautiful London department store windows are another one of the highlights! My two favourites are Harrods and Selfridges – the designers must spend months in advance coming up with these amazingly creative ideas! Good luck getting a photo of some of them though – they obviously attract an awful lot of people so get in there quick to catch a glimpse!

Festive Days Out

Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light, Longleat Safari Park, Prinknash Abbey, and a ride on The Polar Express – you name it we have probably been there and partaken in their Christmas-themed festivities!

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Christmas Markets

I really love Christmas markets and the family and I have been to several over the years! I don’t go to them to do my main Christmas shopping but to try the amazing food and drink and check out the brilliant arts and crafts people make – some people are so creative!

At Gloucester Quays Christmas Markets last year they opened an ice skating rink and lots of little wooden huts around the outside which served mulled wine, hot apple cider, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts! Just what you need to get into the Christmas spirit, although I do get there very early so I can get around quickly before the crowds arrive! Some places become unbearable at peak times!

Festive Drinks – Coffees, Hot Chocolate and Eggnog!

Most days in December usually feature a trip to Starbucks, Costa or Café Nero to sample this year’s Festive coffee and hot chocolate flavours! Yes, a blog on these is to follow too! Sorry!

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Obviously hot chocolates can be consumed throughout the year but there’s something different about a Christmas hot chocolate! Perhaps it is the lack of guilt you feel when you spray on mounds of whipped cream and tip half a box of marshmallows on top!

A favourite of mine is to add a tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to really make it taste like Christmas in a mug! I buy all my hot chocolates from Whittards – they are the best by far in my opinion! This years flavours I invested in are Dark Hot Chocolate, Praline White Hot Chocolate, Rocky Road Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate! Delicious!

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I am also absolutely obsessed with eggnog! Is there a more Christmassy drink than eggnog!? If Starbucks ever stopped producing their eggnog lattes I don’t know what I would do!

Monin Syrups

If you want to make your own flavoured coffees or hot chocolates, I recommend you take a look at the collection of flavours Monin Syrups have to offer – there aren’t many flavours you can’t get hold of, and every year I struggle to choose which to buy next! I finally decided on Donut, Maple Spice, Amaretto and Macaron flavours!

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Christmas Adverts

Am I the only one who cries at these flipping adverts??? Lost Snowman looking for their partner….in tears, Buster the Boxer jumping on a trampoline…..in tears, Monty the penguin – so cute (in tears), the Sainsburys WW1 truce between British and German soldiers for Christmas Day….hysterical. I really do need to stop watching them to be fair! Anyway, every year they get more and more amazing and more and more heartfelt, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Choosing the Christmas menu!

By the end of October I will have picked up several copies of each supermarkets festive food catalogues! I usually pick them up from Marks and Spencers, Asda, Tescos and Morrisons so we can all look at the full range everyone has to offer!

The family all meet in late October/early November to decide what food we are going to have on the days we are all going to be together (usually Christmas Day and Boxing Day or both). Everyone in my family has different tastes so it is quite difficult to choose things which most people will like!

You can read more about what is on the Christmas menu this year in my “what’s on the menu this Christmas” blog which is published on the 23rd December, but these will give you an idea…

Christmas Jumpers

Since Christmas jumpers came back into fashion a couple of years ago (the cheesier the better it seems!) I somehow now have an array of seasonal knitwear! It would seem I am a bit addicted, as every year they bring out better and sillier designs! Hubby had a jumper last year with actual flashing lights on! Amazing!

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Visits to the Cinema

What better way to get into the seasonal spirit than by visiting the cinema to watch a Christmassy film!!! Past cinema visits have included to watch Frozen, Bad Santa, Black Christmas and Krampus (ok so a couple of them are horror films, but still Christmassy!) This year I already have my sights set on two films – Bad Mom’s Christmas and Pitch Perfect 3! Can’t wait!

If I don’t have time to get to the cinema as I am spending my free weekends wrapping up the mounds of presents, I’ll always have some classic Christmas films on in the background whilst drinking my Christmassy hot chocolate! A blog on my favourite Christmas films will follow in a few days time!

Gingerbread Making

Gingerbread Houses – I love gingerbread but only the home made stuff which is lovely and fluffy and soft – not the hard shop bought stuff that you nearly break your teeth on!

For the first few years I was buying the shop bought sets (basically it was easier because all the pieces were pre-made so I could spend more time decorating them!) but I realised after making them that they didn’t get eaten because the gingerbread was rock hard! So my mother in law bought me a cookie cutter set which meant I could make proper gingerbread and cut out the pieces I needed to make my gingerbread house!

This year I spent the afternoon making gingerbread houses with my Sister and it was absolutely brilliant! We really enjoyed ourselves and it really got us into the Christmas spirit! I hope we make it an annual event from now on!

Christmas Yankee Candles

My family and I always buy Christmas themed Yankee Candles to burn throughout the festive season and I also put one in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes for them to burn the night before the big day. Check out some of this years scents –

Nutcracker Dolls

An obsession of mine! If you are intrigued, a separate blog on these little guys is coming out in the next couple of days….

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Christmas Eve boxes

Unfortunately I am one of those annoying people who has usually bought all of the main Christmas presents and got them wrapped up before December even starts as this frees me up the time to do all of these other amazing things throughout December! I do tend to leave buying little things like stocking fillers until December though.

In December I will also start buying bits and pieces to go in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes! Hopefully you will have read my blogs I released last year on how to make them and what you can put in them – if not you can read about them here and here.

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Last year was the first time I unveiled the Christmas Eve boxes but they were so popular and loved by everyone that I promised I would make them a regular thing. The only thing is, I went a bit mental last year with it being the first year and so everyone got a lot in their boxes in addition to their normal pressies, so this year I asked everyone what their favourite bits were and I have limited it to four or five items, and a few sweets and treats.

Now December is here I will start looking for some good surprises to sneak into people’s Christmas Eve boxes to make Christmas Eve that little bit more special! This year’s box contents will be revealed in my Christmas Eve blog so watch this space!

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Post-Christmas themed parties

The family and I are all very lucky in that we all tend to get at least a week off over the Christmas period. As we are all avid Christmas fans, once Boxing Day has come and gone and we are in the few days between Christmas and New Year, the post-Christmas blues start to set in.

To cheer us up after the main event has come and gone, and to give us something else to look forward to (and OCD organiser Chloe to organise!), I usually throw a small family themed party for my Mum, my Sisters and myself. Past themes have included Harry Potter, Frozen and The Polar Express! This year’s theme is Beauty and the Beast, so I have been scouring eBay and Primark for months and months looking for ideas and treats to go in everyone’s goody bags!

Yes it’s cheesy/corny/childish but it cheers us all up and gives us the chance to spend some time together over Christmas without the added pressure of running around to check the turkey, prepare the veg and grab someone another drink. Plus my older sister Lindsey, who has autism, really looks forward to the parties (and the opportunity to get some more presents, even after Christmas is over!) I’ll do a separate blog about this year’s party so you can see what a great time we had this year!!!

Time off

What could be better than some time off work to celebrate and then rest and re-cooperate?? By the time my Christmas leave comes around I’ve usually got huge lists of bits and pieces I want to get done during my time off! The first few days off are usually Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but after clearing up after these celebrations I always feel really down that Christmas has come and gone for another year, so I like to keep myself busy!

One of the regular tasks which appears this time of year includes sorting through mine and hubby’s wardrobes – throwing out/giving to charity the old stuff, putting aside stuff which needs repairing or dry cleaning, eBay-ing any unwanted valuable stuff and making space for the new stuff we got for Christmas or during the sales! The rest of the time hubby and I spend watching DVD’s or Netflix whilst eating the left over Christmas goodies! I’m afraid the majority of this time off is spent in my pyjamas!

Anyway, this just about wraps up my plans for December! No wonder it flies by so quickly!! And no wonder they call it the most wonderful time of the year!

Enjoy everyone!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I assume you all did most of your celebrating over the weekend seeing as Halloween awkwardly falls on a Tuesday this year!

We didn’t celebrate this year as much as we normally do – we are all packed up and ready to move house! We were hoping to be moved out well in advance of Halloween but unfortunately everything (including all my Halloween decor!) is still packed away in boxes eagerly awaiting our moving date….

I found it really depressing that we couldn’t decorate or throw a big party like we normally do every year, but I still had a great time having a small Halloween celebration with my Mum and Sister’s over the weekend!

We carved pumpkins and made apple tea light candles which was really messy but good fun! I made a puking pumpkin which Mum wasn’t very happy with!! Sorry Mum!

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We then watched Hocus Pocus! What a brilliant family Halloween film!

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Whilst we were watching Hocus Locus we toasted marshmallows! Yes, indoors! I bought us this amazing toasting marshmallow kit from the Naked Marshmallow Company! I’m not going to talk too much about it or post too many photos because I think a separate blog is in order for this brilliant kit! Watch this space….

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I also did my yearly goody bags for family and friends and treated myself to some fantastic Halloween treats!

The Pumpkin and Frankenstein goody bags were from good old Marks and Spencer’s! They were also in the three for two offer! Bonus!

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Our family love Yankee Candles so it would have been wrong not to include some lovely autumnal scents in this years goody bags! The scents I used this year were Crackling Wood Fire, Autumn Night and Fireside Treats! Perfect to light on a cold, wet autumnal evening! The Autumn Night one is burning away on the hall shelf as I write this.

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I used good old Marks and Spencer’s again for the Goody Bag sweets – check out these Percy Pumpkins, Freaky Frogs, Zombie Owls and Scary Spiders!

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For the adult recipients I thought these Crystal Skull Vodkas were brilliant! You can get them in several places but the cheapest place I found them were from the Drink Shop as they were in the sale!

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The vodka is made by Dan Ackroyd and contains no additives, sugar, or citrus oils – the emphasis on this product is its purity. Was I sold by this? Not really – I literally bought them because they are in an amazing skull bottle which is perfect for Halloween!

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These little guys have been in our Halloween gift bags for as long as I can remember!

Plus I also found these great chocolate lollipops from Marks and Spencer’s (again on the three for two offer).

I got these amazing cake pops and other treats from Popadoodledo! They were so well made and so tasty I think I will do a separate blog on this brilliant company too! I can’t wait for her Christmas range to come out!

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Check out these white chocolate fingers with white chocolate “blood dip”! Brilliant!

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and these little guys, believe it or not, are mini Oreos covered in white chocolate!

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I also treated myself to these extra special treats from The Whimsical Cake Company through Not On The High Street, aren’t they stunning? Almost too good too eat…. almost.

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Some lucky people had some extra special chocolate from Hotel Chocolat because they will only eat dark chocolate (you know who you are!)

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I especially loved this Hotel Chocolat Yumpkin! Tasty dark chocolate and vegan friendly!

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How cute are these tiddly little dark chocolate vampires??

Plus some lucky recipients also got some Halloween themed Lush Cosmetics products! You can read more about these in my “A Lush Halloween” blog which was published on Sunday!

So as you can see we were all a little bit spoilt over the Halloween weekend! Sort of makes up for not being able to decorate the house properly and have a big party, but not quite!

We should be in our new house for next Halloween so I’ll have to push the boat out on next years party instead! I’m thinking something along the lines of this amazing house I found on Pinterest

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Not sure we would get many lovely Trick or Treaters though!

 

Halloween in the Evans’ house!

Wow I really love the autumnal season! Yes the days get cooler but you still have the occasional bright sunny day with that fresh autumnal breeze, ideal for going for long walks with the dogs, and the best part of autumn of course, has to be Halloween!

Now I don’t ever need an excuse to have a party and to celebrate with friends and family, so needless to say, Halloween is always a big event in the Evans’ household! The celebrations usually continue over the entire Halloween weekend, with the first event being a good old trip to the cinema on the Friday evening of Halloween weekend to watch the latest scary horror film! Past films include Insidious and Paranormal Activity – several evenings of no sleep and jumping at every sound the house makes usually follow this!

On the Saturday of Halloween weekend I spend the day decorating the house with all the spooky decs! I have a LOT because every year I come across more decorations I like and I just can’t resist adding them to my collection!

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The real focus of the decorating is the dinner table! Sometimes I host three course dinner parties and other years I just set the table up with buffet food so people can help themselves if we have a lot of party guests!

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Every year I also make up goody bags for family and party guests – these boxes I came across on eBay are brilliant! I bought a load in orange and black and just printed off some spooky pictures, add the persons name and they are ready to be filled with sweets and treats!

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Aside from sweets, I also buy other bits and pieces to go with the goody bags, such as these brilliant spooky balloons (99p each from Clinton Cards) and these great orange flowers complete with Scary witch (from Morrisons).

You can read about what appeared in this years goody bags in my Happy Halloween blog which is being published on Tuesday! I can’t give the game away before everyone has had theirs and ruin the surprise!

If we are having guests over for Halloween parties we usually insist on them wearing Halloween outfits! Some of the outfits we’ve seen over the years have been absolutely amazing! So much time, effort and money has gone into them – so most years I will award a trophy to the best dressed guest! Check out some of these scary characters!

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To keep the guests entertained we usually do a few games and activities – we tried apple bobbing one year – it didn’t end well so we scrapped that! Yearly activities usually now include pumpkin carving and the standard party drinking games!

After our normal yearly Halloween parties, most of the day after is spent clearing up and rescuing the earrings out of the toilet and trying to get the red wine out of the curtains (yes – really!!) but we usually put aside some time to finish off our Halloween weekend with something spooky such as a visit to Frightmare. Frightmare takes place a few miles away and has become so popular over the last few years that the tickets sell out within hours for some of the most popular dates! Each year is a different theme and each ticket gets you entry to five different attractions including the Haunted Hayride, Séance, the Offering, and Caged!

I highly recommend getting tickets if you can – it’s a brilliant event which is really well planned and of course is absolutely terrifying! If you are a bit nervous and think you might not be able to take part in the full experience, they also offer Slightmare, which is a toned down version of the main event!

Have a great Halloween weekend everyone!!!

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Easter time fun!

Even though Easter is probably my third favourite annual event after Christmas and Halloween, it is still one of the best times of the year – the warmer weather is (usually!) arriving by now, Springtime is underway and fluffy bunnies and Bank Holidays come to mind!

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Of course then theres also the large amount of Easter Eggs, Hot Cross Buns and other Easter goodies such as Easter Biscuits and Simnel Cake which make this holiday worth waiting for!

Each year I arrange a three course family lunch on Easter Sunday and there’s usually around 8 to 10 of us. I try and do a different menu each year (which is proving harder and harder with everyone’s different tastes!) and I try and arrange some Easter fun and games as well. A few years back I made everyone their very own Easter baskets with their names on and from that year onwards I sent them off into the back garden to fill their Easter baskets with chocolate. Although the family loved their Easter Egg hunts, everyone had so much in their Easter Baskets that they still had some left over months later! So this year I thought it was best to try something a little bit different!

This year I came across these lovely little Easter Bunnies from Lidl! They were only £3.99 each and each one has a yellow, white or orange flower in it. Everyone had their very own bunny with their name on it and an Easter trail clue which told them how to find this years Easter surprise! Each bunny is slightly different which made me like them even more!

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The Easter bunnies held a clue which took everyone to the hiding place of their Easter treat – instead of Easter Eggs this year I bought everyone their very own fantastic Sweet Tree! How amazing are these?? I’m so impressed with them I’m going to give them a blog all on their own so watch this space!

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As part of the Easter celebrations, every place setting has its very own obligatory set of bunny ears in pink, blue or yellow, and each year I buy everyone an Easter table favour to match.

This year I found these amazing Wax Amaryllis bulbs in matching blue, pink and yellow – perfect Easter pastels! They don’t need to be watered and will sprout in only a couple of weeks – I found them in the flower section of my local Marks and Spencer’s!

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A couple of weeks later they flowered beautifully!

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Anyway, onto the best bit – dessert!! I am not going to be particularly surprising here as I stuck with my old faithful friend – The English Cheesecake Company to sort out our incredible dessert! I went for the Fruit Fantasy Variety cake as it had 4 different flavours of cheesecake to choose from – Mango Passionate, Raspberry Split, Summer Fruits, and Sicilian Lemon, and I also ordered a Butterscotch Caramel Crunch for the chocolate lovers of the family so there was something for everyone. You can have the cheesecakes delivered pre-portioned so you can keep them in the freezer and then just take out however many you need to defrost for a couple of hours before serving!

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As I was feeling especially greedy at the time of ordering, I also ordered their special edition Easter Cheesecake Minis!! Ooops!

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English Cheesecake Company really are amazing, I’ve been using them for a while now – check out my blog about them here.

As usually happens at times like Christmas and Easter, after most people had gone home for the day my sister and brother in law stayed for the evening so we could eat and drink some more!

I had a few bottles of Prosecco we could work our way through this evening and bought some amazing additions from Popaball to go with it! Check out their amazing new product Shimmer for Prosecco! People’s faces light up when you serve them a glass of Prosecco with this added in – it makes the Prosecco go a Rose Gold colour with little gold hearts floating in it – it looks amazing and tastes like raspberry! The Shimmer for Prosecco is £6.99 a pot and one pot will be enough for around 14 glasses of Prosecco.

When we finally got over our sugar rush from earlier, and after sinking a few Amaretto Sours and Strawberry Daiquiri’s we then tucked into several varieties of “Cookie Doe”! This product is an absolute must for cookie dough lovers! A separate blog on this great product is to follow!

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And of course it wouldn’t be Easter without Hot Cross Buns! This year I stocked up on Salted Caramel and Chocolate Chip (a la Tesco’s) and Toffee Fudge and Belgian Chocolate from Marks and Spencer’s just as a change from the normal fruity flavours that are available!

Another amazing Easter celebration full of fun, family, food and drink!! Still working my way through the washing up though!!

Happy Easter everyone!

A visit to Harry Potter Studios

The Harry Potter studio tour has a new feature for 2017 – the Forbidden Forest! I visited the studio originally a few years ago but after the latest additions and the amazing time I had the first time round I thought it would be worth paying it another visit sometime soon!

ALWAYS pre-book your studio tour tickets online. You need to select not only the appropriate date but also a time you will be arriving for the tour, and tickets do get pre-booked months in advance! Don’t worry if you are a little bit late – we go lost on the way and ended up being half an hour later than the time we had booked our tickets for but it was fine, the timings are purely to try and control the amount of people flowing through the studios. Be warned – tickets are expensive! Adult tickets are £39.00 each, child tickets are £31.00 each, and if you are taking a child under the age of 4, although tickets are free you do still need to pre-order them a ticket. Family ticket packages are available for £126.00 for 2 adult and 2 child tickets or 1 adult and three child tickets.

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When you arrive at the studio you will be absolutely overwhelmed by the amount you will see – imagine how many props were used throughout the making of all the films and the majority of them are available for you to look at during the tour!

Just some of the highlights of the tour include:

The Great Hall

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Hagrids Hut

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The Wand Room

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Diagon Alley

Dumbledore’s Office

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Gryffindor Common Room

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The Knight Bus

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Privet Drive

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The Creature Effects Department – including Goblins and all time favourite Dobby the House Elf!

The Costumes Department – including Quidditch robes and Hogwarts Uniforms

The Forbidden Forest – new for 2017! Filled with 19 trees each with a diameter of over 12 feet, you can walk beneath the giant roots and can even control the weather whilst in the forest! Keep an eye out for Buckbeak and Aragog…

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You can also buy yourself a glass of Butterbeer! One of only three places in the world you can drink a real Butterbeer! An absolute must!

And finally, the Studio Shop! Normally I do battle my way through the gift shop of most places I visit and dart out the exit as quickly as possible, but I am such a big Harry Potter fan I couldn’t resist having a look! There are gifts galore in here – from T-shirts and Sweatshirts to wands and broomsticks to scarves and owls right up to a wide variety of sweets from Bertie Boots sweet shop!

Although a visit to the studio is expensive it really is a must for every Harry Potter fan! There is so much to see you could spend all day here! Highly recommended – I can’t wait for my next visit!

Keep a look out for special events such as Hogwarts in the Snow (from 18th November 2017 to 4th February 2018) where the Great Hall and Gryffindor Common Room are filled with Christmas trees and decorations, and the Dark Arts event (from Sunday 1st October to Sunday 12th November) where Diagon Alley becomes far spookier and the set is patrolled by the followers of he-who-shall-not-be-named!!

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A London Adventure – Day Four

I was so sad to leave after our final day in London but I think I need a holiday to get over this trip away!

Our first stop this morning was the London Eye. We only stopped to take a few photographs as all three of us are terrified of heights so it wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience actually going on it!

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After this we walked over to the London Dungeons. My sister has really been looking forward to visiting here as she loves her horrible history! We played an absolute blinder with these tickets as they cost £30 on the door but good old Tesco Clubcard saved the day again as we got an entrance ticket in exchange for £8 worth of Clubcard vouchers! Best deal of the trip I think!

When we got there and read all the warning signs about the dungeons (“not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition”etc) we all started to panic and wondered what on earth we had got ourselves into! In the dungeons you work your way through several different scenes from different eras such as Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some parts of it were quite scary and several people jumped and screamed throughout but the actors were fantastic and it was a really good experience in which you learned a lot about the history of London (and some awful torture devices!!)

After a couple of hours at the London Dungeon (which was absolutely amazing!) we had lunch at All Bar One . The menu was lovely, they had tapas available, 3 dishes for £15 or 5 dishes for £25.

After a big lunch we went over to the London Eye Pier and caught the Thames River cruise. I think there are several companies that you can book river cruises through – we pre-booked our tickets with City Cruises. The thing I liked about City Cruises was that they say although you pre-book a ticket for a cruise at a particular time, if you miss the pre-booked time you can use your ticket for another time that day, which takes the pressure off if you are over-running at another place prior.

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We caught the cruise which went from the London Eye Pier to the Tower Pier. During the journey we passed:

  • The London Eye
  • The Golden Jubilee footbridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • BFI Southbank Theatre
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millenium footbridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • London Bridge
  • HMS Belfast
  • The Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge

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After our river cruise we arrived at the Tower Pier and walked to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

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After this we walked over to The Shard to have a couple of drinks in the cocktail bar – AquaShard. I thought it would be a lovely way to finish off our London visit and the views from the Shard are SPECTACULAR.

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If you are coming in for just drinks, you can’t reserve tables as they are on a first come first served basis but we had no problem getting a space in the early afternoon. Check out their wine, champagne and cocktail sample menu here.

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After a couple of very extravagant and very expensive cocktails we caught an Uber back to the hotel to collect our cases and wandered down to the Victoria Coach station to catch our coach home.

What an amazing trip! I think we did so well to fit so much in during such a short space of time! Of course there are still many other places I would like to come back and see but so pleased I got to see all these incredible places! I really do think that the key to such amazing visits is in the planning – if you group the places you want to visit and then plan your different days around a certain area, you really can pack loads and loads into your day!!

Off to plan my next city visit now – Prague in June for four days for our 8 year wedding anniversary!!

A London Adventure – Day Three

It’s a special day in London today as it is also my Birthday! What a brilliant way to spend it!

After another hearty Hutton’s Hotel breakfast we took a walk over to Westminster Abbey. We pre-booked entry tickets for the Abbey – prices are £20 per adult and £17 concession. Looking at the on the door prices and online prices it doesn’t look as if you save anything by pre-booking them online but we had so much to do today and by pre-booking them and being able to skip the queue it gained us a bit more time!

Westminster Abbey is beautiful – well worth a visit despite its quite expensive entrance fee. Guide books are £6 each if you want to buy one to remember your visit as you are not allowed to take photos inside the Abbey.

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After our Westminster Abbey visit we wandered around and took photos of:

Big Ben

Big Ben is actually the nickname for the largest of five bells (weighing 13.7 tonnes!) within the clock, although it is used to refer to both the clock and the bell tower. The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II – before that, it was simply known as the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower stands at 315 feet (96m) tall, and the climb from the ground to the belfry is 334 steps. On 21 August 2017, a four year plan of renovation work will start on the tower.

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The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and House of Lords, the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and is less famous than it’s attached tower – Big Ben!

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Horse Guards Parade

Horse Guards Parade is a large parade off Whitehall and is the site of the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch’s official Birthday.

The parade ground is open on the west side, where it faces Horse Guards Road and St James’ Park. On the north side of it is the Old Admiralty and the Admiralty Citadel, on the east side there is William Kent’s Horse Guards – formerly the headquarters of the British Army  – and on the south side is the Admiralty Extension and the rear garden wall of 10 Downing Street.

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Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a public square, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain.

After all this walking it was time for the event we had planned a whole visit to London around – the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! The play is in two parts and is being shown at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We watched Part One at 2pm and then we went away and came back to watch Part Two at 7:30pm later in the evening.

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The first Part of the play was absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t wait to go back to watch the second part! I can’t say too much about it (as per a request by J.K Rowling herself) but I will say to any true Harry Potter fans – do all you can to get hold of these tickets, you wont be disappointed! The actors were brilliant and the special effects were out of this world – unlike anything I have ever seen on the stage!

During the gap between Part One and Part Two of the play we paid a quick visit the famous Snowflake for some ice cream. Way too many flavours to mention but amazing gelato and waffles, milkshakes, sundaes and desserts as well.

There are a few Snowflakes across London (including within the Selfridges food hall) so pop in to one if you get the chance. An alternative to Snowflake is Snog Frozen yogurt if you would prefer a lower fat alternative! I ended up having three scoops – one each of coffee, creme brûlée and stracciatella!

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We had an early dinner tonight before Part Two was due to start, we chose to go to Bella Italia (another one of my favourites) but the main reason for choosing it was because we managed to exchange £10 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £40 worth of Bella Italia vouchers to put towards our meal due to Clubcard Boost (thanks again Tescos!)

Part Two of the play started at 7:30pm and finished at around 10:15pm – Part Two was well worth the wait! The play is designed to be watched on two separate occasions but I don’t know how people who watch Part one go away and then come back days or weeks later to watch the second part! The suspense would have killed me I think! An incredible play which had me in tears by the end, highly recommended!

Overall what an amazing Birthday! Definitely one which will be remembered for years to come!

A London Adventure – Day One

I’ve been wanting to visit London properly for years but it’s one of those places that you put to the bottom of the list because in the back of your mind you think to yourself that you can visit any time because it’s only a couple of hours away, so the more exotic locations usually win the “where should we go this year?” argument!

I’m visiting London with my sister and Mum so we needed to book a triple room for the occasion (much more difficult to find than I expected!) but we eventually settled on The Hutton’s hotel in Victoria, as we were travelling by coach and the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Victoria Coach Station. When we booked we also managed to get a  cooked breakfast included in our stay so thought we did quite well! For the triple room we paid around £390 for 3 nights so it worked out to be £130 per person in the end.

Once we arrived we travelled over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We bought tickets online as they were slightly cheaper (£16 instead of £18). Pre-booking the tickets online also provide you with fast track entry to the Cathedral and as we were fitting so much into such a short space of time, any time spent not waiting in huge queues is a bonus!

The Cathedral is a really beautiful place, but I was most disappointed that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside! As you aren’t allowed to take photos,  I’d recommend getting a guide book to remember your visit, they are £4.50 each. Book your entry tickets to the Cathedral here.

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After our visit to the Cathedral we caught an Uber to Brick Lane to visit the Cereal Killer Cafe. What an amazing place! I highly recommend paying a visit! LOADS of cereals to choose from with a huge variety of milks and toppings to have with them. They also have a selection of pop tarts and hot drinks. Make sure you also try the cereal cocktails they have on offer!

While we were there we had Unicorn Poop cereal (£4.90 a bowl) and a Salted Caramel malt shake! The friendly staff will help you if you don’t know where to start and can recommend cereals, milks and toppings which compliment each other. AMAZING!

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We then walked to the famous bagel shops Beigel bake (159 Brick Lane) and Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane). I’ve heard great reviews about both of these places but my main reason for visiting was because I have been trying to track down some world famous rainbow bagels for ages and I had heard that I could find them here! The bagels did not disappoint – my Mum and sister had a lovely smoked salmon bagel and I left with a bag of 6 rainbow bagels for me and my friends (only 50p each!).

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Next was the Tower of London! You can book Tower of London tickets online here, but to be honest you don’t save much (£25.00 on the door vs £23.10 online). We found the best deal was to spend our Tesco club card vouchers and, due to Clubcard Boost, in exchange for £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers we got £10.00 back to spend on entry fees at the Tower of London! We paid for the vast majority of our entrance fee costs using Tesco Clubcard vouchers so only had to pay a couple of pounds to make up the difference! Bargain! You can read more about Clubcard Boost here.

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The Tower of London was fantastic and well worth a visit! You could easily spend a day here, there is so much to see. The Crown Jewels are incredible, we went round three times so we could keep looking at them over and over again, and the views of Tower Bridge and The Shard are spectacular on a clear day. I highly recommend waiting for one of the tours which run approximately half hourly – your Yeoman Warder guide is full of amazing facts and information and makes your visit to the tower far more enjoyable.

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After a  few hours at the Tower of London, we crossed Tower Bridge for our next stop – Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, you don’t need tickets to get in and tours of the Cathedral start from £3.00. By the time we arrived, the Cathedral was closed so we didn’t get to go in which was a shame.

We then wandered over to see Shakespeare’s Globe (my sister is a big Shakespeare fan!) and had a well deserved drink in the bar. We didn’t have tickets to tonights show and we were disappointed we couldn’t go into the theatre, but the views of the Thames and the London skyline from here are absolutely stunning, especially at night when everything is lit up!

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Finally we caught an Uber back to the hotel, ordered a takeaway and collapsed in bed! What an amazing day full of spectacular things! Looking forward to day two of our London adventure!

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Chlo Chlo Chlo! Christmas Eve Boxes – Part One

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year! I start planning as early as possible, not just because I enjoy the build-up to Christmas but also because I have so many people to buy for and so much to plan for events throughout December.

I always plan people’s Christmas presents way in advance so it gives me enough time to really think about what people would like. This means they get something they want, need or are interested in, and I don’t end up wasting my money buying presents which will ultimately end up in someones bin, at a car boot sale or on eBay for a fraction of the price that I paid for it.

Another reason I plan so far ahead is because each year for my family, Christmas has a different theme. This theme comes in the form of surprise gifts for the family which they are usually given on Christmas Day before we all sit down together for Christmas dinner. Other themes have stretched across the entire month of December! Previous themes include Silly Slippers, home made Advent Calendars, personalised Snow globes and Christmas jumpers.

As the years have gone by I have found it more and more difficult to choose suitable presents for people. I find it especially difficult to choose presents for couples, like my husbands Mum and Step-dad and his Dad and his Dad’s girlfriend. Throughout the year, if there is anything they fancy, of course they just go off and buy it! This usually leaves little to no choice of things to buy for them when it comes around to Birthday’s and Christmas.

I decided in around September 2016 that 2016’s family Christmas theme was going to be Christmas Eve boxes. A craze which originally started in America and is quickly becoming very popular in the U.K, the idea is that children would be given a personalised Christmas Eve box to open early evening on Christmas Eve. Children’s Christmas Eve boxes contain a few stocking fillers, for example a DVD for the family to watch together before the children go to bed, Christmas pyjamas, popcorn or other treats to eat whilst watching the film, a Christmas story book, games and puzzle books and so on. My first thought was why does this have to be limited to children?? I could put an adult twist on these boxes and almost put together a mini hamper for friends, family and couple’s I was struggling to think of suitable presents for. They would be hampers full of treats, games and stocking fillers for people to enjoy before the big event!

I did a lot of research into the boxes – Pinterest and eBay were my main sources for ideas. I found many on eBay which were already pre-made and would be personalised once they were sent. The prices for the boxes ranged from £30 to around £50 dependant on the design. Although I thought these prices were relatively reasonable considering the amount of work which went into the boxes, the cost was too much for me to pay out before I had even begun to fill them! The other thing was, although I wanted all the boxes to be the same size as they would likely all have similar contents, each recipient was an individual, and I therefore wanted each box to be individual.

The first thing I needed to do was to figure out a rough idea of what was to go in the boxes so I could buy appropriate sized boxes to fit everything in. This blog (Part One of my Christmas Eve box blog) will look at items you can use to fill your boxes, whilst also keeping it within your set budget. Not one of my recipients had exactly the same contents in their boxes, and some boxes were for individuals and some for couples, but contents included the following:

  • Miniature (20cl) bottles of Prosecco. There are many varieties available from a range of supermarkets, I chose the Plaza Centro Prosecco Doc Brut from Tesco which was £2.25 a bottle.
  • Bath bombs. Again, loads of places to get these from, especially if your town is lucky enough to have an annual Christmas market. I got all mine from Lush, prices vary depending on which bath bomb you go for but are around £3.75 to £4.25. I started buying these relatively early (in October) but if you do the same, make sure they are stored in a cool dry place or over time they will absorb moisture and start to dissolve and lose their scent!
  • Pyjamas. Primark is my go-to place for stocking filler pyjamas. I managed to get a couple of lovely themed nightshirts for women for as little as £5 and then flannel or fleeced 2-piece pyjamas for £8-£10. I found the men’s pyjamas more difficult to find as Primark didn’t seem to have a very impressive range this year. I ended up buying the men’s from Asda (a brilliant set of men’s Cookie Monster pyjamas for £14!), Tesco Direct (a lovely set of flannel chequered pyjamas for £10) and eBay (a bit more expensive but a much bigger choice of larger sizes XXL and above). Remember, if you are buying thick or fleecy pyjamas and particularly if you are doing a Christmas Eve box for two or more people and are giving them pyjamas, they will take up the vast majority of box space!
  • Yankee candle. I thought these were a nice idea as you can get so many lovely Christmas scents including Christmas Eve (of course!), Bundle Up, Cosy by the Fire, Candy Cane Lane, Sparkling Snow, Cinnamon Stick, All is Bright…. you get the picture. They bring out new flavours every year too. I bought the small jars for my Christmas Eve boxes but, costing around £7 to £9 each even on eBay, they were one of the most expensive things in the boxes! You may wish to buy the Yankee Candle melts which start at around 99 pence each on eBay. Imagine finally sitting down on Christmas Eve with the kids in bed, everything wrapped and the food all prepared and lighting your Christmas smelling candle in your Christmas pyjamas after having a relaxing bath with an amazing smelling bath bomb! Magical!
  • Slippers. Only a couple of my box recipients had slippers but if you are unsure of buying pyjamas then slippers are a great alternative. Again, Primark have a great selection of slippers and bed socks etc ranging from £2 to £5.
  • Chocolate, sweets and other treats! I used a really wide variety of these depending on what sort of thing people like. Most people had a Terry’s Chocolate orange in their box (my sisters and I always had one in our stocking when we were younger!) and there were a few large Toblerone’s thrown in for good measure (milk, dark and white chocolate versions). Marks and Spencer’s really do have some amazing treats – Prosecco or Buck’s fizz flavoured crisps, ginger and dark chocolate popcorn, cookie dough bites and beautiful boxes of chocolates. Asda and Tesco’s also have some brilliant stocking filler treats for £1 or less, the options really are unlimited! Always, always check the best before label on the food items you are buying – most items should be ok but some may have a short shelf life and expire before Christmas Eve (yes – despite being Christmas themed items! This has happened to me! Annoying!)
  • Book, CD or DVD. Depending on how much you want to spend on someone, you may want to include one of these – Christmas DVD’s such as Elf, Fred Claus and Home Alone which have been out for years can be picked up brand new from places like Amazon for only a couple of pounds. Places like The Works have great book stocking fillers – puzzle books and quizzes, and this year they had brilliant themed baking books called Game of Scones and the Walking Bread for only £5!
  • Silly Christmas hats or head boppers. eBay, Primark, Asda, most Poundshop’s and even Claire’s Accessories have had some great ranges over the years including Elf Ears, Reindeer Antlers, Christmas pudding bobble hats, Turkey hats… the list goes on.
  • Silly Christmas sunglasses. These also appeared a couple of years ago alongside silly Christmas hats and should be available from the same places. So far I’ve come across mistletoe sunglasses, Christmas Tree sunglasses, Reindeer sunglasses and Santa sunglasses which have a hat and beard attached! I’m sure you will find many more with just a quick Google, eBay or Amazon search.

 

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Of course you can add absolutely anything to the boxes that you choose! The list is never ending! A friend of mine makes gingerbread houses with her children every Christmas Eve and said she would make them a Christmas Eve box and start including gingerbread house kits and decorations in them every year.

One piece of advice – start with a list of what you are going to buy and cost it up first! Once you have costed it and you know your budget, do your very best to stick to it! It is so easy to get carried away if you don’t have a list to focus on, and then when you are packing up the boxes nearer Christmas, you realise you have spent £30 on sweets and chocolate per box!

You may end up changing some items on the list or adding a couple more if you find some good deals but bear in mind you will spend around £20+ buying and making your box in the first place, so if you had planned on only spending £30 per box this leaves you with limited funds to fill it! Don’t be disheartened though – in this instance you can still buy ten items from places like Poundland and B&M and still fill the box with some lovely items! Of course in subsequent years you can reuse the box and focus a lot more on the contents rather than worrying about what the box has cost to make!

Happy planning!

Now that you have made a plan on what to fill your box(es) with, find out how to buy, make and decorate your Christmas Eve box in Part Two of this blog!