Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Reasons to start budgeting for Christmas 2015 now | Guest Post

It’s never too early to start budgeting for Christmas so why not start planning and preparing for 2015 now? You can still take advantage of any savings that you see and put these goods away for next year - if there's one thing in life that is guaranteed, prices and the cost of living always rise on an annual basis.

How to organise your Christmas spending

If you draw up a realistic budget for 2014, add a small contingency fund so that you can also buy goods that are on offer and will also be useful for Christmas 2015. According to the website City AM, the annual festive spending bonanza known as Black Friday will ‘push the Christmas spend to £91 billion.’ But that's not the only day of the year that we can benefit from significant savings: keep an eye out for discounted products right the way through the holiday period. It is a great idea to look for bargains at this time, and if you’re short of cash, you can always visit and see if you can raise extra funds through a logbook loan.

Buy wisely

If you are able to spend money in the sales, then do so. In an uncertain life, you never know if your employment will be affected by ill health or redundancy, but if you are organised and can afford to budget, then you can rest assured that you’ll be able to enjoy Christmas 2015. Most stores still hold annual January sales’ events and this is a perfect time to invest in fairy lights, baubles, and even Christmas cards. Electrical goods, linen and china are also exceptionally competitively priced at this time. According to The Daily Mail most Britons intend to spend more on food rather than presents in 2014. Budgeting and planning will allow you to do both for Christmas 2015.

Treats are important

Many families use Christmas as an excuse to enjoy a West End show and an overnight stay in London. This can cost a lot of money though if you budget throughout the year, you’ll be able to enjoy a family night out on the town without breaking the bank. Look out for early bird deals and special hotel offers. It always pays to book your train tickets in advance. Obviously most theatres won’t know what shows will be on during Christmas 2015, but if you ask to go on their mailing lists, you’ll have an opportunity to buy some cut price tickets for any forthcoming production.

If you want to travel for Christmas 2015, start looking now

This is the perfect time to look out for any bargains on offer from the travel industry for the following Christmas. Even if you’re an adult the Daily Mirror recommends that you check out the pleasures of Disneyland Paris for Christmas 2015. If you are looking for a cruise for your next festive holiday, then just type 'Christmas 2015' in to your browser and you’ll soon be able to see the range of cruises and prices on offer. If you’ve budgeted throughout the year then you’ll have the funds to enjoy some of these sumptuous delights in 2015 without worrying finances quite so much!

 Collaborative Guest Post

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Blogging in 2015 | All or Nothing

The end of the year always means one thing when it comes to blogging, for me anyway. It's time to look back on the year, reading old posts, seeing what I have achieved and what I would like to improve on.
It's the time I make a plan on how I am going to go into the new year, and a rough idea of what on earth I want to do.

And at the moment. I feel like a brat in all honesty.
I look back on old posts, ones from 2011 that make me cringe, the ones I want to delete completely. I feel this year I am in a place I quite like. I know what I like, I know what I don't like, but I see massive improvements needed....except I'm not sure how to do them.

So, I do blog for myself, that's one thing I have learnt in the past year after almost being censored for a while and controlled by what others wanted. And, this is my space. I am "my own boss" or my own editor I suppose. This I realised last year and I decided that I needed to write what I wanted to write. This blog is supposed to reflect me, my life, my head, my ideas, my views and so on. I would never say, if you don't like what you read then don't read it because life is about having different opinions and I would rather someone say "Hey. Not sure I agree with what you're saying...." and to have a discussion than to walk away and never return.
I don't agree that I blog just for me. And I think it would be silly to even say that. When I write reviews who am I writing those for? Not for me.
I don't really write about our days out so it's a diary and to look back on when the boys are older, although I suppose that is one way of looking at it. Instead I write about days out and experiences to share with others, just as I would with a friend.
So, I'm not just writing for me, I'm writing for others. Others who I want to read my blog and I want to enjoy it.

But, how do you know what people enjoy? How do you know that you are fulfilling your readers needs?
Surely when you head to a blog you have expectations of what to read. I know that those blogs I read on a regular basis have something special that keeps me going back. There is a reason I open the post when it pops up on Bloglovin, or in my email subscription box, or that I will type in their web address to see if I have missed a new post.
Those are the blogs that I miss if they haven't been updated in a couple of days.

And, I don't know where I am when it comes to that.
I feel my blog is maybe one big identity crisis.
Is that ok? Or is it too jumbled and random with no standard schedule or theme that it's hard to read, understand, or to come back to?

I know where I want to be, and I feel I am getting there. I decided to step back from writing about the boys so much, and although I do still write about them, and share photos of them and so on, I wanted this to be more about me than about them. They are a massive part of my life, heck they are the biggest part of my life so I couldn't not mention them, however, I wanted to be able to say "Hey, my blog doesn't need them to survive" and I do feel I'm comfortably at that stage.

There are people who I really look up to when it comes to blogging, and photography and they really inspire me, not to the point that I want to copy everything they do, but to the point that I examine everything about their blog and wonder how I can bring that to mine. That's not a bad thing though right? Being inspired?

I no longer want to doubt myself. I want to be confident, and to go into 2015 with an almost ballsy, but not cocky-over-confident attitude. But it's hard when you really are judged by what your blog looks like, what you write about, how you present things, the kind of person you are and so on.

So, I decided that when it comes to 2015 my attitude is All or Nothing. In February I would have been blogging for 4 years, and I am ready, so ready, for challenges, and opportunities to really work at this. 

It's not about stats, it's about being recognised as a person. As someone who in some way or another might have talent somewhere.
Being recognised as someone who has a voice and wants their voice to be heard. Someone who wants to represent something big.
As someone who people trust, not only to represent them, or to work with them, or to be their voice, but as someone others would trust "Lauren said X is good so it must be".

But what happens if "all" doesn't work out? What if the result is "nothing"? What do I do with that?
I don't want to walk away from it. But is it just acceptance that maybe that talent isn't there? Or maybe the likability factor is lacking?
Is it about dealing with that and with a shrug of the shoulders just simply saying "for now, I blog for me. For no one else, and just for me?"
Or do you carry on fighting? And hope that eventually, you will get there?

Our First Mums Night Out

One of the best things about Charles going to school, other than his learning of course, is that I have made friends. Two of those have become quite close friends. The three of us walk together from our cars to the school, and back again, always looking out for each other.
We mentioned a couple of times about going for a meal one evening, and with Christmas coming up we went for it. We looked at local places, close to us so we wouldn't have to pay a fortune for taxis (thankfully one friends mum took us down there, and the other ones husband and son picked us up), and decided we wanted somewhere with a Christmas menu.

We finally chose a night suitable for us all. Pretty much all week we said to each other "I am SO excited" "I cannot wait for Friday". I think it was quite clear that all three of us needed that night away from our homes, to share some wine together, and have a laugh.

The place we chose had warned us that there was a party of 24 arriving the same evening as us. We decided to go anyway as we thought they would surely create a great atmosphere. It's safe to say we didn't need them.
We laughed so much that our cheeks and tummies were hurting. I exchanged Christmas Cracker tat with someone from the party of 24, and one of my friends announced to that table that she was going for a wee....which had me laughing so much that I couldn't breathe.

The best thing was learning about each other, talking about a range of things...we joked how we had covered politics, religion and actually hadn't talked about the children much which is quite rare when mums get together!
I think we all realised how much each of us needed an evening out, some time with people like us, who wouldn't judge us for what we said. It made our friendship that bit tighter, and has hopefully started something which will become quite regular.

It was such a wonderful night. One of those nights where, as soon as you get home, you message each other to say what a great time you had....and the next morning you message each other complaining of no sleep and a fragile head.
I can't wait for the next one.

 Proof of a good night when this is the last photo you take??

Monday, 8 December 2014

Our Tree | Decorated

We all like a nosey at other people's Christmas trees, right?
I've always felt quite self-conscious about mine. I don't know why. Probably because we see so many beautiful, perfectly decorated trees and I fear mine may look a bit like I didn't really know what I was doing and just threw everything at the tree to see where it landed.
I'm proud of my tree this year though, especially as I picked it straight from the field. I had this big plan to expand on the silver and blue decorations and to include bright, homemade decorations. But we ran out of time, and once getting the decorations out from the loft I realised how much I love what we already have.

This year we got a smaller tree than usual and I think that has definitely helped.
I've now decided that homemade decorations are nice, but certainly not essential. Christmas isn't ruined just because I didn't get round to making a decoration of my own.
When I look at our tree I feel happy. Every decoration has history, and a special meaning behind it.
Each one means something to us, and you can't get much more perfect than that.

We bought these two wooden cut out decorations from Sorrento in September 2008. We went on a Cruise around the Meditteranean and durng one of the excursions to Sorrento we went into a shop and couldn't resist these. In fact we are super impressed that they survived the day out, the journey home, and 6 Christmasses so far.
It wasn't long after returning from the cruise that we found out I was pregnant with Charles. Which makes these decorations, and that cruise, even more special.

If we visit somewhere for a day out I tend to like to pick something up from the gift shop. When we went to Sandringham Estate last year I wanted to get something little to take away. As it was coming to the end of the season they had a few Christmas decorations in their gift shop. I fell in love with these little glass ones, there were a few different designs but I loved the simpleness of the presents. I bought two, one for each boy.

These wooden stars are super super special. Some of my family live in Somerset and my Aunty ad Uncle send presents to the boys every year. Last year we were sent these beautiful stars. My aunty bought the blank stars, added glitter to them and then using her wood etching pen wrote each of our names on them. These make me smile so much and it's a lovely reminder that although we are far away we are all thinking of each other.

This gingerbread man is a new addition to our tree. On Friday Charles and I went to his school's Christmas Fayre. As we'd had a lovely time, and to have a reminder of how well he is doing at school, we bought this little fella on one of the craft stalls.

Father Christmas left these for the boys two years ago in small jewellery ring boxes.

I love getting this decoration out every year. It isn't actually a Christmas decoration, but is instead a hair accessory. My sister in law bought it for me when I was Maid of Honor for her back in 2010 and as it's something I may not get the chance to wear much I felt it was better to be used on the tree, to remind us of the lovely day we had.

I'm a sucker for initial decorations or named decorations. Harry had a hanging snow globe but it smashed so I immediately went out to get him another one. They had completely sold out so I bought the donkey for him instead and using a lead tube wrote his name on there instead. We also have a matching penguin decoration for Charles and a bear holding the word 'brother' too.

Despite having a tough day instead of our fun family day I had in mind we bought these three decorations, along with a wooden Christmas tree that will get a post of it's own because it is SO beautiful.

Last year I went out to buy some new decorations as I felt the ones we had were too basic and boring. I wanted some special "grown up" decorations.

These are two decorations I picked up recently when I went shopping with my mum. I couldn't resist the bell as I think it's so pretty and the wooden decoration was down to £2 just because a piece of the wood was split at the side. This bit has now snapped off but it doesn't notice at all.

Two of our 4 decorations from Disneyland Paris last Christmas. These bring us so many happy memories.

This is another of our new decorations. It's safe to say that our boat is a big part of our lives, almost like an extra family member, so when Snapfish gave me the chance to review some of their personalised Christmas items I quickly decided that I wanted something with a photo of her on it.
I ordered the snowflake photo ornament. It was really easy to create, simply by uploading a suitable photo and adjusting it if needed.
I'm really pleased with the quality and my husband loved the surprise of seeing it on our tree.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas Pressures and Being Realistic

With my husband not being well for the past 2 weeks and unable to come with us to collect the Christmas tree I wanted to do something really special this weekend to make up for it.
I haven't felt as Christmassy as I expected, and at times I can't understand why we have the tree up as it feels like it is months away from Christmastime.
So we planned to go to a local-ish garden centre which we knew would have potential to get us in the Christmas spirit.
When we turned up we went straight for a coffee and to get something to eat. A hot room, a long queue and over-excited boys soon made us wonder if we should have stayed at home.

Promises were made that behaviour would improve and we then went off to look at decorations, pick up a couple of Christmas presents and to find the Reindeer.
Behaviour didn't improve, and despite us saying "don't touch", they touched. Which I kind of don't blame them for, glittery things do scream "TOUCH MEEEEEE". We searched for a Christmassy Yankee Candle for me, the only one I liked had been scraped by curious fingers it seemed, and although this may make me sound like a total brat I couldn't help but feel a little upset as I had been looking forward to getting one for so long.

We picked a decoration each, went to see the Reindeer, picked up the little bits we need for a Christmas present and left, with Harry crying because he wanted to carry the bag and we wouldn't let him.

I felt disappointed, and really quite gutted that this day hadn't gone as I hoped.
On the drive back home I went over and over in my head about whether or not the boys behaviour was due to me being a bad mum. I had to go through certain exercises I'd done when I went to therapy and although I came to the conclusion that I'm not a bad mum, I can't help but to question my parenting.
I'm going wrong somewhere, but where?

Are my expectations too high? To I give in too easily? Am I too strict?

With being so into social media and into blogging it's easy to see peoples posts and photos and to want what they are having. To do what they are doing. To have things all lovely and perfect.
And that's when you need to give yourself a little slap, a wake up call. These photos and posts will just show those lovely moments, because that's what we want to remember. 
I think Christmas brings so much pressure. Everything has to be perfect. We want it to be that one time of year when we are all happy.
We want it to be magical, but the reality is that children ARE over-excited. Parents ARE stressed. And those two things together clash. Big time.

I realise that today doesn't mean that Christmas is completely ruined. It doesn't mean that Christmas has to be cancelled.
It doesn't necessarily require a phonecall to Santa to tell him that our children have been disobedient.
It was just one bad day. And we will have better days.
We will have days like yesterday, when they sat up the table doing Christmas crafts. Enjoying each others company. Telling each other that they had done well.
Doing as they were told. Smiling.
And yes there was a mess but I didn't let it get to me. Sometimes you have to realise that there are downsides to certain activites and mess can be cleaned up. It's not important and doesn't ruin a day.

So, we draw a line under this. Remind ourselves that not all children are perfect, and that Christmas outings don't have to be full of magic and tales for people to idolise.
We need to take these days, tear them apart a little bit, and pick out the good parts. Discard those horrid moments, and remember which bits made us smile, and take those with us.

We are not a perfect family, our children do play up sometimes. And that's real life. And that's fine with me.