Simple luxuries of summer

Indulge in Simple Luxuries In The Summer

What are your simple summer luxuries? You know, those little pick-me-ups that perk up your day in the summertime. I know I have written about simple pleasures to be enjoyed during the winter before, so decided a summer equivalent was called for.

Summer Fruits

Even though all types of fruits, even exotic fruits, are available in shops year-round these days, nothing beats eating locally grown, fresh fruit that tends to be abundant during the summer months. I am hoping to take my kids strawberry or raspberry picking this year so they get to experience the joys of carefully selecting the ripest, juiciest fruits in the field and cheekily popping one or to in their mouths to enjoy the burst of flavour. We take to the hedgerows in late August to track down blackberries growing wild which is usually a rewarding pursuit.

Enjoying an Evening Drink in the Garden

There is something verging on the magical about sitting in the garden soon before dusk falls. A sense of peace fills the air and the only sound to be heard is melodic birdsong. We are fortunate in that although we live on the outskirts of a town, there are no main roads or railway lines close by so you could easily believe you were in the countryside. I usually pour a glass of sparking elderflower and read a book while soaking up the serene atmosphere.

Flowers From The Garden

As you know, I adore fresh flowers all year round but at this time of year I can acquire a plentiful supply from my own back garden. Amongst my favourites are lilac and hydrangeas. Some years we grow sweet peas which I adore for their heavenly scent and vivid shades.

feet summer dress sandals
Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Strappy Sandals

Warmer weather calls for lighter footwear and I am always happy to don my sandals. Personally, I find a mid-height heel or an inch or so to be more comfortable than flat shoes a lot of the time and I often opt for sandals that have a bit of pretty detailing with beads. Then I get to enjoy glancing down at them as I walk, naturally with painted toenails to finish the look.

Eating Al Fresco

Somehow, just carrying our dinner plates outside to enjoy eating al fresco elevates the experience. It feels akin to eating a meal on holiday in a warmer country and anything that induces that holiday feeling is to be encouraged in my book!

Ice Cream Treats

Admit it, when you hear the word ‘summer’ ice cream is one of the things that first comes to mind. Or perhaps it’s just me! There aren’t many better ways to cool down that enjoying a cool ice cream or lolly. Alas, authentic handmade Italian gelato may not be an option for me right now, but I have recently discovered the joys of Magnum’s Praline Minis, with chopped hazelnut pieces on the shell and Belgian chocolate ice cream in the centre. At a mere 152 calories each they are not overly sinful, either.

Please do share: what are your favourite simple summer pleasures? Whether they are the same as mine or different ones I would love to hear.

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Decorate the home for Easter

Decorating The Home For Easter

Isn’t the springtime just wonderful?! I adore so many things about this season such as the vibrant colours of spring flowers popping up all around, newborn lambs frolicking in the fields and going for walks in woods carpeted with vivid bluebells, amongst many more. Plus, for a self-confessed chocoholic, Easter itself is a pretty fantastic time in itself! The two bank holidays create a lovely four day break for my husband and plenty of precious family time.

A couple of weeks before Easter, we like to decorate our home with Easter-themed decorations. The focal point is always our Easter tree, a white, wooden tree a couple of feet tall (which happens to be resurrected several times a year and renamed the Halloween tree, the Valentine’s tree…you get the idea). This tree was purchased from John Lewis five or six years ago now, but I am sure they are easily available from online sellers too. It comes in useful as a centrepiece for special meals held over the Easter weekend, too.

Decorate the home for Easter with an Easter tree

The kids show great enthusiasm each time I bring the tree out from storage ready to decorate and insist on “helping” to arrange the ornaments on it. I happily let them, though can’t deny that a fair bit of rearranging takes place after they have all gone to bed.

We have built up an assortment of different types of ornaments over the last few years. We began with the just hollow pastel-coloured eggs, and they are now joined by various types of bunnies (some with little bells that chime in the breeze of a nearby open window), chickens and nests with eggs.  There are two large-sized ornaments that get hung near the bottom of the tree: a fluffy yellow hen made from wood and wool and a brightly painted blue ceramic hen, both bought from (different) local gift shops.

Easter tree ornament chicken

Easter tree ornament decoration chicken

This year, we were given a length of bunting with these cute orange and white bunnies on. Apparently they were a bargain from Poundland. Even though they are only made from card, they should last for at least a few years if I pack them away carefully. It was difficult to get a decent photo due to lack of light but the ribbon hangs almost all the way across the top of our bifold doors.

Easter spring decoration bunny bunting

As a nod to my own childhood, I’ve carried on the tradition of making chocolate Easter nest cakes with my children. Rather than using shredded wheat as I used to, though, we tend to just use cornflakes, then mix with melted chocolate before placing in paper cases and adding two to three chocolate Mini Eggs to set in the fridge. No-cook baking at its finest!

How about you? I know some of my southern hemisphere readers are now on the cusp of autumn, which brings its own joys. you decorate your home for Easter (or just the springtime)? Do you have any Easter or spring traditions that you follow, with or without kids? I would really love to hear about them and reading comments from any of my readers makes me smile.

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celebrate Valentines day

Valentine’s Day (my take on it)

Do you celebrate Valentine’s day with your loved one?

Perhaps this post should come with a warning that it definitely won’t be all gushing about how wonderful the fourteenth of February is. That way, you have the choice to skip reading it!

I’m in two minds about it, really. On the one hand, I dislike how hugely commercial it has become- even our local florist shop replaced their Christmas window display with a Valentine’s display in the first week of January. Although, to be fair, flowers and plants as gifts don’t bother me, unlike the piles of tacky soft toys and plastic tat that grace the pound shops and supermarkets at this time of year. Contemplating the environmental impact that many of these quickly discarded, mass-produced items will have is a concern in itself. It goes without saying that prices of flowers and restaurants are inflated sky-high around this date, too.

My other issue with it is the ‘enforced romance’ aspect. Should people really need a specified day to prompt them to treat their loved one? Do they buy gifts and make an effort because they feel they should, because society dictates so? It seems far preferable to me that partners choose to surprise each other with little gifts on random days because they spontaneously feel like it, perhaps they spot something that reminds them of their loved one.

The reason why I’ve never been a fan of being presented with a dozen red roses is precisely because they are a cliched symbol of love. Zero imagination or thought need go into them, especially on Valentine’s day as identical bouquets of them are available everywhere to pick up mindlessly. My dear husband knows very well by now that I prefer to be given almost any other type of flowers than red roses- I happen to love yellow or pink roses, though. He is fortunately very thoughtful when choosing flowers for me and always selects ones that he thinks I will particularly appreciate.

However, the end of the day, it is supposed to celebrate something positive: love. In a world that often seems to be filled with depressing news (endless violence and crime), love can surely only be a good thing to encourage. Plus I admit that I do enjoy marking special days and events, including Valentine’s day. I just prefer to do so in a low-key way. I tend to have fresh flowers in the house most of the time anyway, selected by myself, so my husband usually gives me a card and a small box of my favourite type of chocolates (which is invariably well received).

I give my husband a card, too and in recent years I have made him heart shaped chocolates in a silicone mould. Our two eldest children love helping to make them. Usually we melt large bars of milk and white chocolate then gently swirl the two colours together a little in a bowl, before pouring into the mould. This results in a pretty marbled effect in each chocolate.

Some years we put our our indoor decorative tree and decorate it with hearts and other Valentine’s themed items. We re-use the same ones each year and never replace them with new ones.

We have always made more of a fuss about each other’s birthdays as they seem more personal, special days.

How about you? What’s your take on Valentine’s Day? I appreciate lots of people love it and it certainly adds a little fun to what can otherwise be a cold and dismal month.

 

Christmas Gifts on a Budget

Most of us have a lot of gifts to buy for many family members, friends and other people that we would like to acknowledge at this time of year. I actually quite enjoy buying and selecting gifts for people, but there’s no denying that it can get pretty costly.

So it’s worth considering how to reduce the costs a little. I tend to keep an eye out for suitable gifts year-round (one of my strategies to reduce stress in the festive season). Sometimes if I’m extra lucky, they might be in the sales, too. Even if not, it at least helps to spread the cost out.

Another way to save money on gifts is to make things yourself. Home-made gifts can also be more personal and appreciated than shop-bought items. As a teacher, I was frequently touched by how much effort the kids would put into making me personalised presents. Over the years, I have received all sorts from home-made lavender bags, notebooks with my name stencilled on, knitted and embroidered items, all sorts of baked goods and more.

Everyone has different skill sets and will be limited by those. For instance, Im utterly unteachable at knitting. Yes, I really am. I even tagged along to a knitting club for seven and eight year-olds with the hope of learning alongside them. They all picked it up while I was left clueless. So knitted gifts will always be off the cards.

However, I have made biscuits and confectionery as gifts. Shortbread is incredibly easy and is a typically seasonal food for Christmas. In terms of sweets: coconut ice, peppermint creams and chocolate truffles are all straightforward to make and taste delicious. It’s easy to bulk-buy suitable sized gift or presentation boxes on Ebay to make them look as good as they taste.

Today in a supermarket there were many potted plants that had been reduced in price. In particular there were a number of cyclamen flowers in shades of pinks and purples in cute galvanised mini buckets. It was easy to see why they were discounted, as several of the flowers in each one had died and they didn’t seem to have been kept well watered. We keep cyclamens in our garden in pots during the winter so I feel fairly confident about looking after them. In particular, they need to be deadheaded regularly, given sunlight and watered sufficiently. So I picked up and bought four of these plants, priced at only £2.50 each.

The first one I set aside as a birthday gift for a relative next week. After removing the browned, dead flowers and a few crunchy leaves, its appearance was much improved. Then, I pulled out a pale pink ribbon from our gift cupboard (I always save nice ribbons that have been used in packaging I have received as they often come in useful when I gift-wrap things myself) and tied it in a simple bow around the top of the silver coloured bucket. It looks pretty nice, don’t you think?

DSCN0042

The remaining few plants were also given the deadheading and watering treatment and have been placed in a sunny window. They looked ten times better just for having had that. When I gift then next week I am hopeful that they will look perfect.

DSCN0040

My daughter is very arty and creative so she was keen to make something for her grandmothers for Christmas. I purchased some small terracotta pots and we pained them plain white in acrylic paint. Once dry, my five-year-old used a combination of finger painting (for the petals and flower centres) and brush painting to create a sweet flower print pattern on the pots. We will just add a little plant and voila, all finished. I’m sure they will be well-received.

DSCN0043

Do you make any of your own gifts? I would love to hear about what you create yourself. Or perhaps you have other tips or suggestions on how to keep costs down when buying Christmas gifts?

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Minimising stress in the run up to Christmas

You’ll know from my recent posts that I really do love Christmas, from decorating the house to luxuriating in the simple pleasures and find the month of December to truly be the most wonderful time of the year.

However, it can’t be denied that it is also the busiest time of year for most people and can prove stressful to juggle the demands on your time, feel that you’re keeping on top of things and have everything ready for the big day.

Below are some of the strategies that I adopt and find that they help to reduce the potential stress at this time of year. They won’t necessarily all be ideas that you want to follow, but hopefully a few will appeal.

Declutter

One of the most stressful aspects of Christmas for me personally is the influx of stuff into the house, especially kids’ toys. They already have so many toys but it’s understandable that relatives want to treat them to new toys for Christmas presents. I aim to have a decluttering session specifically for kids toys in early December, as this is a good opportunity to dispose of broken toys or donate toys they no longer play with to charity shops. It is also a chance to spot toys that need replacing and could prove good things to buy them as gifts. When relatives specifically ask for ideas of what the children would particularly need I can then mention ideas based on what I’ve noticed needs replacing for them or else I try to suggest days out or experiences as an alternative to toys. For example, my eldest daughter has been desperate to visit a climbing centre about 45 minutes drive from our house. So her grandmother is purchasing her a gift voucher to go to the climbing centre as her main gift. I know that she will be over the moon with that experience gift and on a selfish note I am relieved that it will be one less object to find a home for. See my post on decluttering here.

Start shopping early

It sounds dull and geeky, but I always keep a spreadsheet of what I’ve already bought for people gift-wise and note ideas of what to buy individuals on it. I tend to keep an eye out year-round for gifts that would perfectly suit a recipient and snap them up as I see them, as I’ve learnt the hard way that leaving it all until December can mean that I don’t succeed in finding the kind of personal gifts that I aim to give people. This has the added bonus of spreading out the cost of Christmas gifts and takes the pressure off finding so many gifts for people in December. Now, I appreciate that this is a little too late to be of any help this year, but you can always be on the lookout from early next year for suitable gifts for next Christmas.

Get organised with Christmas Day hosting purchases

I have hosted on Christmas day ever since we had our first child, because it means that both sets of grandparents get to spend time with their grandkids and also our house is the largest so accommodates everyone without it being too much of a squeeze. It pays dividends to plan ahead if you’re hosting on Christmas day- and yes, you may have guessed that I recommend another spreadsheet to list all the foods to buy, as well as other related items eg crackers, napkins, turkey foil etc.

Ask guests to bring an specific item each to take the pressure off- I find that often they offer to do this anyway. Also, I aim to buy a Christmas food item a week in my grocery shop from early November onwards to spread the cost and hassle, especially as there are often special offers on and it spreads the expense a little. Obviously this only applies to foods which can be kept in a store cupboard rather than fresh foods but still applies to many items such as soft and alcoholic drinks, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding and cake etc.

Don’t be afraid to cut corners on Christmas dinner

I firmly believe that Christmas should primarily be about togetherness.  I am more than happy to adopt as many time savers as possible to get to spend more of Christmas day with my young kids rather than slaving away in a hot, stuffy kitchen and make no apology for this. If people want gourmet cuisine, I suggest that they book themselves into a hotel on Christmas day rather than spend it in my home!

Here are some of the corners that I cut when cooking Christmas dinner for my family:

We have never bothered with starters. Even as a child growing up, my mother (who is an excellent cook) never made starters and because there are so many types of food for the main course no one ever goes hungry. In fact, we often struggle to find room for dessert even after just a main course. So don’t feel pressured to include extra courses that aren’t necessary.

Despite turkey being the traditional meat here in the UK, I have bought 2 large free-range chickens for Christmas dinner in recent years. We prefer chicken anyway as it tends to be a little less dry than turkey, and it is very affordable to buy free-range meat (which I prefer to do where possible) which would be hugely expensive if it were free-range turkey at this time of year. Our oven is only a small, standard oven so to maximise the space in it I have sometimes cooked the chickens in slow cookers on Christmas day itself, or cooked them in the oven on Christmas day morning, then sliced up the meat after cooling it quickly then found that adding hot gravy to it during the meal means it tastes fine (and not cold at all). It’s a pressure removed to know that the meat is cooked already leaving you to focus on the side dishes.

I’ve become a convert to frozen vegetables year-round and am happy to use them on Christmas day, too. Honestly, vegetables are frozen so quickly than minimal nutrients are lost (probably fewer than fresh ones that have been lingering around for several days before use both in supermarkets and in the home). There is no waste with frozen vegetables because you simply remove the exact quantity required from the bag and they have the added bonus of being ready prepared for you (eg sliced carrots, small broccoli florets) which is a massive time saver.

I shamelessly use gravy granules and Paxo stuffing mix, packet mix bread sauce (bread sauce is the best component of the Christmas dinner for everyone, surely?), as well as ready-bought desserts. Personally I believe the difference in taste is so small that it is not worth the significant extra time it would take for me to make my own from scratch. I have nothing against ready-prepared or frozen Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, either, although I don’t use them every year.

Organised gift wrapping 

I loathe wrapping gifts and must admit that it’s my least favourite aspect of preparing for Christmas. I find it easiest to start at least a week or so before Christmas day, spread the task it over a few evenings, with a Christmas film on and a glass of something nice. Use a tape dispenser and sticky Christmas labels for name tags for speed. A friend once told me that for family she just wraps and scrunches coloured  tissue paper sheets around each gift then pops them in a gift bag, so doesn’t need to worry about folding and taping which sounded a good idea, although I have yet to try it.

Do you have any of your own tips to share to reduce the stress in this busy month? Please do share them in the comments below.

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Simple festive pleasures in December- read for simple, fun ways to get yourself into the festive spirit.

How To Luxuriate in simple festive pleasures in December

December really is the most wonderful time of the year for me. The weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with excitement and anticipation. We do plan several Christmassy days out as a family to make the most of it while our kids are young enough to really enjoy them, including a steam train ride to see Santa, a pantomime and breakfast with Santa on Christmas Eve. However, a lot of the things I enjoy about the weeks before Christmas are actually simple, home-based joys that cost very little.

Decorating the home

It starts in late November for us when we decorate our tree and put up all the smaller Christmas decorations around the house. Unpacking all the familiar decorations, recalling where and when we purchased them or remembering when the kids made them in previous years brings on a sweet sense of nostalgia. It’s a heavenly feeling to relax in the living room in the evenings, the room illuminated by twinkling white lights on the tree and snuggled up with fleece blankets on the sofa.

Festive films

Here in the UK, the TV Channel 5 dedicates itself almost completely to festive films (movies). They are mostly low budget TV movies and rather cheesy and predictable, but still enjoyable. I often set them up to record if they are on during the daytime then watch them in the evenings. Plus, I look out for some of my all-time favourite Christmas films being screened on TV to record, such as The Holiday, A Christmas Carol (any and all versions of it!), Love Actually etc.

Creating Traditions

Although Christmas Eve boxes have become popular here in recent years, I decided against starting this tradition for my own kids. This is mainly because Christmas Eve is a pretty busy day for us, with visiting our local garden centre in the morning for breakfast with Santa an established annual tradition, then we make preparations for hosting both sides of the family the following day. It’s a already enough of a challenge to fit it all in without introducing a special box for the kids to unpack. I do like the principle of the Christmas Eve box though and think that the kids will enjoy the tradition of it, so I decided to schedule it as an ‘advent box’ to be opened on December 1st each year. I didn’t want to go overboard, so just packed it with a few little items including mini polar bear mugs, hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, a net of chocolate penguin and their Santa hats.

Outdoor Lights

With the shorter, darker days that we experience in the northern hemisphere at this time of year, the abundance of festive lights everywhere is a real blessing to counteract what would otherwise be a dark and dismal time. As well as the indoor lights, it is cheering to see the range of exterior illuminations locally, from simple strings of lights around windows and wrapped around tree branches to less subtle giant inflatable snowmen and Santas. The latter might not be to my taste and I wouldn’t choose to display them outside my house, but they are still comical and the kids love them. Sometimes we glimpse them from the car whilst driving somewhere, other times we go for family walks and can pause to appreciate them better.

Baked Goods

My eldest daughter adores baking biscuits and cakes at Christmas time, especially as we have built up a collection of festive cookie cutters and I usually buy cake toppers such as silver balls and sugar Christmas characters. The end results are enjoyed by us all!

So, there are plenty of simple festive joys to enjoy during the month of December. What are your favourites?

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