Preparing to host Christmas for the first time EVER (no pressure then, eh?)

When we moved into this house, I knew it’d be a great place to celebrate Christmas.

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So preparation started early- Benn and I have become those people who clear out Paperchase three days after Christmas- we got about £30 worth of wrapping paper, cards and accoutrements for about £10 two years ago. They’ve just run out, so we’ll be back this year I reckon.

I also knew I wanted a real Christmas tree (the agreement is that we have a real one for the years we’re at home for Christmas, the artificial one we bought from Woolworths yonks ago on the years we go to my parents’ house.) I decided to save £2 coins up over the year- by the time we went to buy our tree last week, I had £50 and didn’t even spend all of it.

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Next, the meal. For the actual day itself, we will have Benn’s parents, my aunt and one of my oldest friends to lunch. At first, we were thinking about going out for lunch itself- but then I realised we could order a set menu type thing from Marks and Spencers for £100 to feed six- it has a turkey, all the trimmings, a chocolate cake Christmas tree and a cheese board. So I asked everybody for £20 (waaaaay cheaper than a pub menu) and to bring a small thing with them on the day- mince pies, crackers, etc. With the extra money I’ll have, I’m going to buy extra bits like a Christmas pudding and, on Benn’s dad’s request, a cheesecake (apparently it’s not Christmas without a cheesecake…)

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For the day itself, I’ve dug out my Elf and Muppets Christmas Carol and I’ve asked around and borrowed some board games- although the consensus is we’ll avoid Monopoly. And Twister.

So other than all that, what else is left to do? Well, I’m wrapping presents in shifts because a) I’m not very good at it and b) I can’t do it for too long without getting bored. I’m debating not wrapping D’s main present (a wooden garage we got half price by buying it in October. #Thrifty.) Instead I’m thinking of setting it up and having it ready to play with on Christmas morning.

I have no idea what Ill feed people with on Christmas Eve and I haven’t thought about what people will drink. Endless tea? Who knows.

It’ll be fine, right? I mean, I’ve never cooked a full roast dinner, but eh, why not go adventurous on the biggest meal of the social calendar? I’m hoping those M&S fairies stretch to having everything ready to shove into the oven. Michel Roux Jr I am not.

Keep your fingers crossed it all works!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

I love Christmas. I especially love it at the moment because D is find the whole thing equal parts interesting and bewildering (I’ll refrain from saying ‘magical’. He thinks the Universal logo at the start of a film is ‘beautiful’. The kid has no concept of magic.) Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for helping himself to decorations off the tree, so my beautiful Nordman Fir is frequently denuded and its carefully placed* baubles are now all over the place. Between the toddler and the cat- who likes to see if it’s possible to climb up the tree without me noticing- my poor tree looks like it was decorated by aliens with no concept of taste.

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Christmas has also coincided with the onset of the Terrible Twos, which have come about WITH FORCE. Hooray.

I used the garden to good effect the other day, by gathering some evergreen plants we have. One of the main plants is a huge holly tree that has lots of foliage and berries. I also figured that by taking some of the bottom of the tree, I was saving the birds from Bronte’s inept ‘hunting’ efforts. I also included a little ivy, some twigs from an old Christmas tree at the bottom of the garden and some rosemary (we have at least two good-sized bushes.)

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I tied the whole shebang together with some cheap cinnamon sticks (50p for two at the local spice shop- it’s there for looks, rather than smell, as it doesn’t smell much at all) and some glittery red ribbon which I picked up from Tiger for £1. My friends and family are actually asking me to make up there own bunches of evergreens, so I think a new Christmas tradition has been born. It was also really nice stepping out into the garden for the first time in weeks, although I did feel a little overwhelmed at how much I want to do out there- but that’s another post for another time…

I’ve also done a little Christmas knitting, but decided to limit myself to one present, as I left it too late to co-ordinate myself efficiently. So I’m making a pair of Fallberry mitts in Drops Alpaca for a friend- lovely pattern and lovely yarn! I’ve knitted this pattern before, so I know it’s a quick(ish) knit that looks lovely.

Image: Knitty

Image: Knitty

How are you preparing for Christmas? On Wednesday, I’m going to post about how I’m getting organised for hosting Christmas this year… Leave any tips in the comments!

The Vanishing Witch- Karen Maitland

The Vanishing Witch (Nov)

I’ve been a bit AWOL with book reviews, a fact I blame on an attempt to read ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir (I managed about 300 pages.) I was sent this a while back and hoped it was better than the last offering from Karen Maitland I’d read. I’ve been a fan since the excellent The Company of Liars and The Owl Killers, so I always want to like her books.

I’m happy to say that I much preferred this to The Gallows Curse! The story is set in 13th century Lincoln at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt and focuses on a wool merchant and his relationship with an enthralling widow and her children. Things start to go awry and the deaths keep piling up- who’s responsible?

A great read, which although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of my favourite Maitland novels is an enjoyable read nonetheless. If you’re a fan of historical novels with a twist of fantasy, this is right up your alley.

The first #PaperHaul box has arrived!

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After a long wait, the first #PaperHaul box arrived on Saturday. It’s always a risk signing up to something unknown, but as this is the brainchild of the good people at Crafty Creatives, I figured it would be a safe bet. I’m a stationery addict (I think all English teachers are) and a serial penpal, so a box stuffed full of paper-based goodies was always going to tick boxes. Each box will have a theme- and this month’s is ‘Travel’.

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First up are these cute little tags, perfect for giving gifts- especially for my more adventurous friends! I love the aesthetic of brown paper and string and these are lovely.

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I love washi tape- I have tons of it in all sorts of designs and I use it for decorating envelopes, piecing together sewing patterns, nail art and so on. It’s brilliant because it’s kind of like pretty masking tape- it’s more moveable than sellotape. I’ve never seen a cars themed one, so it’s perfect for my collection. D made a beeline for this when he saw it, so I think some rainy day crafts might involve this (he’s obsessed with stickers.. you can tell he’s mine.)

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Next is this collection of postcards and the notecard at the top left, which is possibly my favourite part of this month’s box. I’d like to think that I’ll save it and give to someone who needs cheering up. Also, the lady in the postcard on the right just looks so excited- I wonder where she’s going.

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The two lower squares in the picture are sheets of scrapbooking paper- I haven’t decided what I’ll do with these yet. The little Vespa card is cute and will make a nice thank you card or similar for someone. The landmarks are stickers and I’ll use them to decorate envelopes and packages.

The #PaperHaul box is £10 plus p+p (full disclosure: I get mine half-price in return for reviewing it.) As this is the first box, I’m not sure what I was expecting- I would have liked more writing paper, maybe some cool envelopes- but I’m happy with what arrived and I’m looking forward to the next box!

Get your box here.

Taking the #EarlybirdChallenge*

Mornings are stressful, right? On the mornings I get up for work, I have to be out the door by 7.15 at the latest. On my days off, I’m often up at an insane time due to the benevolent dictator that is my two-year-old. Usually I would rush around, stressed and harried until time to leave or run whatever errands we have to do that day. However, the team at Free Office Finder are challenging us to make the most of our mornings and I decided to take them up on that challenge.

As we’re in the season of goodwill, I decided that my approach to the challenge would be to show a little goodwill to myself- I find that if I start the morning right in a variety of ways, the rest of the day will follow.

1. Look after my skin

I’m not going to lie to you- some mornings I cannot be bothered to much to my skin save slapping a bit of moisturiser on before applying my makeup. But, this being a challenge (and the fact I recently took delivery of a Memebox stuffed with Korean skincare goodies), I have decided to do my face some justice. So cleanser, oil, serum and moisturiser are all on my skincare menu. I’m finding that the extra time is paying off- my makeup lasts longer and looks tons better.

vintage-beauty2. Eat right

Oh, please make no mistake. I need caffeine to begin the day, especially if we’ve had a rough night with D (as has been happening lately.) Usually, I’d have toast and Earl Grey tea from a teabag, which is easy and lazy. To combat this, I have been brewing up one of my many loose leaf teas- rose pouchong is very good first thing- and porridge. I feel very virtuous after this start to the day, although I might be tempted to veer from the path of virtue by my advent calendar. After all, it is Christmas, right?!

(I'm not greedy- the Hello Kitty one is mine, Mr Men is D's)

(I’m not greedy- the Hello Kitty one is mine, Mr Men is D’s)

3. Dress well

It’s cold. I need layers. I love layers. If I’m wearing comfortable, warm clothes, I instantly feel better. There’s nothing worse for killing your mood throughout the day than garment paranoia. Seriously, the other day I felt really self conscious about my tights and was CONVINCED everyone else had noticed. If in doubt, do the old extra pair of knickers over the top of tights trick. You may spend your day feeling like Wonder Woman as a result and this is a GOOD THING. I’m also currently rocking the ‘legwarmers as boot cuff’ look. I leave the house feeling like a boss.

Image: Comicvine

Image: Comicvine

4. Play music

I’ve started listening to music again in the mornings. The right song can set me up for the day and my current playlist has everyone from Beyonce and Taylor Swift to Kate Bush and David Bowie (how can you not feel fabulous after singing along to Heroes?)

After these essentials- and a bit of makeup- I’m ready to face the day. I have to get up ten minutes earlier, but it is so worth it if I have a positive day! Also, by getting up a few minutes earlier, I have some peace before D wakes up- which is always lovely…!

*Written in conjunction with Free Office Finder*

Favourite foreign language films

I like watching films and I’m fortunate to be able to watch quite a few for my job. At the moment, I’m teaching a unit of work about cultural identity in Mexican cinema, which I’m finding fascinating. It made me think of some of my favourite foreign language films of the last few years. If you get chance over the Christmas period, check some of these out- it’s always nice to see something a bit different from the usual Hollywood blockbusters! Alas, I have a limited list here- if you know of any I should definitely watch, let me know!

Kamikaze Girls (2004)- Japan

 

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

In recent years, Japan has arguably been more famous for its horror films (and you should check out Battle Royale and The Ring if you haven’t and see what all the fuss was about), but I have had a love affair with Kamikaze Girls since I first saw it a few years ago. It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between a girl who is the very epitome of kawaii and a member of a girl gang, who are thrown together through boredom. The film is funny, heartbreaking and, at times, utterly mad. It’s brilliant and easily one of my favourite films of all time.

A Royal Affair (2012)- Denmark

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

Benn and I saw this last year and we were pleasantly surprised. The film tells the true story of Caroline, the daughter of George III who has the misfortune to be married to the mad king of Denmark. Unhappy and shunned by court, she begins an affair with his brilliant doctor and the two of them begin radical reform to increase the welfare of the poor. It sounds dull- I promise you it’s not. If you like historical dramas, this one should definitely be on your list.

Amores Perros (2000)- Mexico

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

This is one of the films I teach this year and it’s a powerful look at the different strands of Mexican society. It’s also the film that kicked off the recent Mexican New Wave (largely, in part, due to the rise of Gael Garcia Bernal.) The film tells the story of three people interconnected by a devastating car crash and deals with forbidden love, frustration, betrayal and dog fighting. It’s fast, sad, exciting and troubling all at once and sheds light on Mexican life in an incredibly real way.

The Lives of Others (2006)- Germany

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

I’m not sure I can even comprehend what life was like in East Germany, where this film is set, but The Lives of Others shows a state that even George Orwell would have been shocked at. A Secret Service argent is tasked with listening in to the lives of a playwright and his partner- they’re suspected of not adhering to strict party laws. However, rather than informing on them, the agent becomes more and more drawn into listening into their life. It’s a film to watch when you’re feeling a bit deep, when you want to think about human beings and how we affect each other.

Amelie (2001)- France

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

This is an obvious choice for me- not only is it the film on this list you’re most likely to have seen, but it also sparked my love of Paris and all things French (apart from really noxious-smelling cheese.) I love this film: I love the character of Amelie, I love the way the film is shot and I love the whimsy of the whole thing. It’s kind of twee in places, but it was twee before tweeness became fashionable. One of the reasons I persuaded Benn that we should go to Paris on honeymoon was because of this film (you can rent the apartment used as Amelie’s in the film, but we couldn’t afford it.) Next time I go, I will definitely take myself on a tour of the locations in the film. You should just watch this. It’ll be good for you.

What are your favourite foreign language films?