Tag Archives: Christmas

It’s a wrap: how to do **all** your Christmas shopping in twelve hours (or less)

Ditch the seasonal stress and become an oasis of calm and festive cheer this Christmas!

I’m every woman. No, really, I am. I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m in charge of cooking, cleaning, ironing, ensuring homework gets done, lunches are made, bags are packed, I’m responsible for running the varied family timetable to precision with all its different—and frequently overlapping—activities day in and out. Oh, and did I mention I work? Plus we have pets. So, you see, I am every woman.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas; but it does stress me out. It’s a logistical nightmare. Presents, activities, present wrapping, food shopping, keeping the kids (and the relatives) entertained in the run-up to the Big Day, let alone when they’re all together… It’s hard work. Time is of the essence if, like me, you haven’t got enough hours in the day even before the Christmas madness truly hits.

But over the past few years, I have perfected the system for taking the stress out of Christmas, at least where the logistics of present organising and wrapping are concerned. This year, I set a personal record of getting it all done in a total of twelve hours over two days. And if I can do it, so can you.

Here’s how.

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Your goal: a tower of presents ready and wrapped for festive jollification

Day 1: Preparation and Online Bonanza

1. Make a list of lucky gift recipients (15 minutes)

I know it’s obvious, but a list has to be your starting point. Without a plan, this whole operation won’t work. Make an honest and exhaustive list; put everyone on it who you will want to shower with gifts. Kids, husband or wife, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, aunties, uncles, friends, long lost relatives in outer Mongolia, the old lady up the road who always takes in your parcels. Leave no one out.

2. Brainstorm (45 minutes)

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Wearing your best St Nick’s hat…

Once you’ve got your list, populate it with ideas. The children will have given you a wish list—transfer all the items on your list mercilessly. (This doesn’t mean you have to get all of it, but at least you won’t forget any of it!) Think of things your husband would like, your parents-in-law, your own parents… No holds barred. Allow yourself to be creative.

At the end of this stage, your list must show ideas for everyone, however small or general the idea may be. For example, for the lady down the road who always takes in your parcel, “a nice Poinsettia” will be a good placeholder until you get shopping. For your five-year-old glitter-obsessed niece, “glitter art” will be a perfect reminder of what to look out for. You get the idea.

3. Go online (2 hours maximum)

Now you’ve got ideas brimming over, go online and go crazy, especially for the Big Things. A well-known search engine will pull up for your convenient comparison all manner of online retailers with their respective prices if you simply type in what you are looking for. When you see something that suits your budget, pounce. Buy it, and have it delivered to your house wherever possible. Don’t spend hours dithering and ensuring you get the absolutely best possible deal to the last penny; there simply isn’t time.

Right. Well done. You’ve got the big pieces in place. Cross them off your list and breathe. You are done for today.

Day 2—Real life shopping

This is crucial final stage of your new grand master plan. You need to set aside a day to bite the bullet and Get It Done. Also, you want to think of the one store that will satisfy at least ninety percent of your outstanding shopping needs. In my case, that store is a local independent art and toy shop that also sells magazines, calendars, knick-knacks, stationery, and haberdashery. It’s a veritable treasure trove, and the prices aren’t too different from online retailers. (I know. I checked).

4. Go shopping crazy (2 hours)

So, pick one shop, and go for it. Grab a basket or a trolley and pile in items from your list, but also other items that inspire you. The beauty of going into a small(-ish) store with a varied but manageable stock is that you get loads of new ideas. The important thing is to put things in your basket when you see them, even if you’re not quite sure how you might use them. What’s in your basket, you don’t have to hold in your head. Simple.

After an hour or so, take stock of what you have and allocate items to the people on your list. (You remembered to bring your list, right?) Write down who might like what; this is important because in four hours, you might not remember who’s supposed to have the Tattoo Art. You’ll find that some of the New Things You Found Along The Way will fill some amazing gaps on your list. And if there are any items in your basket that on reflection you don’t want after, you can put them back on your way out.

Continue browsing until you’ve got everything and everyone covered. If you’re finding that to be impossible, keep going until no more than three or four items/people remain unaccounted for. Your goal at this stage is to Get The Bulk Of The Presents That You Didn’t Order Online, but remember, two hours is the max. Then: Brace yourself and pay.

5. Have a break. Lunch, or a nice slice of cake (30 minutes)

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Ginger bread latte… yum!

Retire to an eatery and take stock. Work out where you can get the remainder of the presents that you need. For example, this year, I frequented a local bookstore. If you have to resort to multiple mini-buys, think strategically about where the shops are and write out the order in which you want to visit them. Ideally, this will be working your way back towards the car park or, in my case, the bus stop. Then: ready, steady, go!

6.Get the rest of your presents (1 to 2 hours max!!)

7. Go home

Wahoo! Home-time. You’ll be filled with the “oh wow, I did it” glow, and the sense of relief will be overwhelming. But calm yourself, the day’s not done yet.

8. Make a strong cup of tea or coffee and put the Christmas music on

If you don’t have to drive again today, you might also treat yourself to a mug of mulled wine. This is important because next you will…

9. Wrap the presents (1 to 2 hours)

Yes. You must wrap the presents. I know, I know. You’ve worked hard, you’re tired, your feet hurt, you just want to chill. The wrapping can wait.

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Critical tools…

Not! No no no no no. Give yourself a pep talk and get on with it. Of course you’ve bought wrapping paper, labels, and ribbons. (Add them to your list now). So: just do it. This is the final frontier. Belt out the Christmas tunes as you go and munch on some mince pies for sustenance.

Watch the pile of festive goodies grow as you work, and feel the magic seep through your bones as you realise you are on the homestretch. You’ve done it. You’ve conquered Christmas. Hooray! Now all you need to do is hide the presents, and then you can put your feet up. Tomorrow, you’ll be the smug one ambling to the school gates and going to work in a state of unprecedented, zen-like calm. You are the Festive Goddess. You are in control. Everything else is a doddle.

And why does this work? The secret is all in the prep work. The list, and the ideas, and the grand plan for shopping.

Well done you, and Merry Christmas!

Psssst…. Don’t forget to come back and tell me how you got on!

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Fourth Sunday of Advent… Nearly Christmas!

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The Family Gingerbread House #Christmas #Fun

You all know how much I love the Christmas season. And so do my kids. I’m turning them into regular anti-Grinches! Last weekend, we made a Gingerbread house together. And before you think I’m some kind of domestic goddess (which, of course, I am–just not all of the time!), I confess: we bought a build-your-own-kit. I suppose we could have made the lot from scratch, but I deemed it safer to have some sturdy ingredients. Nonetheless, huge amounts of fun were had by all. We’re planning to demolish the house on Christmas Eve… if we can convince ourselves to tear it down!

All the right pieces... all present and correct. Ready for the build!

All the right pieces… all present and correct. Ready for the build!

Assembling the base. Tooth picks are a critical accessory here, or so we discovered.

Assembling the base. Tooth picks are a critical accessory here, or so we discovered.

Putting the roof on. See all that white squishy stuff? That's royal icing. Never made that before; it was a real education. It's ready to use when it's got the consistency of cement, and it dries just as hard. Tastes better though!

Putting the roof on. See all that white squishy stuff? That’s royal icing. Never made that before; it was a real education. It’s ready to use when it’s got the consistency of wet cement, and it dries just as hard. Tastes better though!

Ooops! Nearly forgot the chimney!

Ooops! Nearly forgot the chimney!

One Gingerbread House, all done and dusted. Literally and liberally dusted with icing sugar. That wasn't in the instructions, but we like to improvise. We're very proud of our little gingerbread house!

Ta-da! One gingerbread house, all done and dusted. Literally and liberally dusted… with lots and lots of icing sugar. That part wasn’t in the instructions, but we like to improvise. We’re very proud of our little gingerbread house!

Ho Ho ho! Have you built yours yet? What’s your favourite Christmas ‘craft’ activity?

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Wishing you a peaceful and happy second Sunday of Advent! xx

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Wishing you a happy first Sunday of Advent!

It’s officially the festive season! HOORAY! And our rejuvenated advent wreath is looking fabulous. Hope you’re all doing great and singing lots of carols. I know I am, LOL! 🙂  XX

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Restoration Woman: Project Advent Wreath

Next week marks the beginning of the Advent season, the countdown of the last four Sundays before Christmas. I grew up with the German tradition of lighting a candle on an ‘Advent wreath’ on each of these Sundays until all four candles would be lit. The lighting ceremony usually involved a darkened room, Christmas carols, hot chocolate, and biscuits, and this really ‘made’ the season for me as a child.

I’ve continued this custom here in the UK with the help of a genuine, bona-fide Advent wreath made by the good people in the Harzgebirge (a region famous for making Christmas decorations) and exported to London. I purchased that wreath some sixteen years ago in a bucket shop selling cheapie TVs (probably off the back of a lorry! Goodness knows what possessed the owner to stock Advent wreaths as well unless… they fell off the back… ah, never mind, better not ask) on the Tottenham Court Road.

I’ll never forget the day, simply because I was so delighted with my find. It was a Friday, and it was pouring with rain. I was on my way home from work, en route from Piccadilly (whence the office was based) to my shared flat in Covent Garden via Tottenham Court Road and the local supermarket. It was pouring with rain and for some reason, a display in the back of that particular store caught my eye. I couldn’t quite believe it: Advent wreaths, in a TV shop. The real thing! Complete with candles! Only in London, right?

I stormed in, expecting the treasure to be ludicrously expensive and thus out of my financial reach but oh, oh! It was only £3.00. Yes. Three pounds. THREE! Needless to say, I bought one, even though perhaps it wasn’t completely to my taste. But that didn’t matter, it was the real thing, and it would light my days.

I knew that I would be spending Christmas in London in my dismal shared flat, although not entirely alone because two friends (yes, that would be you, Karen McL and Patricia O!) were also ‘stuck’ in Blighty, and we had decided to have a jolly Christmas together, us three expats. And the wreath… well, it doubled as a Christmas tree.

Last year's wreath in its full (and final) glory....

Last year’s wreath in its full (and final) glory….

Since then, the wreath has come out every year to brighten the season. It moved house with me, and later my husband and kids, no less than a dozen times!

However…. Sixteen years later, I have to confess, I grew a little tired of the battered old pine cones and tacky bows. This past weekend, my hubs, the kids and I embarked on a restoration project to breathe a new lease of life into this wreath. Okay, I admit it: we tried on numerous occasions to replace it; we even placed an order with a local florist three times to get a ‘real’ wreath, but all efforts failed. So this year… we’ve made it happen on our terms. What do you think?

In the harsh day of light... the old wreath looks a bit tired and dated, don't you think?

In the harsh day of light… the old wreath looked a bit tired and dated.

 

The most painful part of the operation done: gone are the bows and some of the worst cones. Stripped, bare, ready for makeover!

The most painful part of the operation done: gone are the bows and some of the worst cones. Stripped, bare, ready for makeover!

Ingredient 1: Flowers

Ingredient 1: Flowers

Ingredient 2: New cones, apples, and snowy pine needles...

Ingredient 2: New cones, apples, and snowy pine needles…

Ingredient 3: Holly. Let there be holly!

Ingredient 3: Holly. Let there be holly!

Ingredient 4: Four fat candles!

Ingredient 4: Four fat candles!

And finally: restored to new glory... the new Wells Advent Wreath!

And finally: restored to new glory… the new Wells Advent Wreath!

Do you have any Christmassy traditions from your childhood that you cling to, come what may?

Uncovering the magic: Fairy Tale in New York #Christmas #Romance #Rock

New York. A restaurant near Park Avenue. It’s early evening, and dusk is falling. So is the snow. Jude and Carrie are merely killing time while they wait for their return flight to London. They don’t know yet that their life will never be the same…

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‘Um.’ Carrie leaned forward and dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘You know that scene in Pretty Woman? In the bar? I’ve always wanted to try that out.’

Jude burst out laughing, startling Maya. ‘Sorry, babycakes, I didn’t mean to frighten you,’ he cooed and scooped her onto his lap. ‘Your mummy is propositioning me in the most outrageous manner, you know. Quite scandalous.’

‘Shush,’ Carrie hissed. ‘What if she understands you?’
‘She won’t,’ Jude replied calmly. ‘How could she?’
‘You know what they say about not talking to your baby in a baby voice…’
‘Well, I’m right on track, aren’t I?’ Jude replied mischievously. ‘As for your proposition…well, I must say… you’re on. I suppose we’d better get this young lady tucked up first, don’t you?’
Carrie chuckled. ‘Are we naughty, or what?’
‘Not naughty,’ Jude corrected gently. ‘Just in love. Let’s go.’

He stepped up to the counter to pay at the till while Carrie put Maya back into her coat and hat. The little girl was droopy and tired and glared at Carrie around a thumb plugged firmly into her mouth. Carrie kissed her nose and tugged her hat down a little further. ‘Nearly time for your bath and bed,’ she told her daughter. ‘It’s not far to the hotel.’

Jude lifted Maya into her sling and fastened it securely. He gave a quick nod towards the window. ‘Have you noticed? It’s snowing.’
‘Really?’ Carrie squealed and pressed her nose to the window like a small child. ‘Omigod, so it is! Could this day end any more perfect?’
‘I don’t know about perfect,’ Jude grumbled. ‘Let’s hope it’s a temporary flurry.’
‘Oh, I’m sure it will be,’ Carrie mused. ‘You know me and snow. It never snows where I am. And if it does, it doesn’t stick. But it’s so romantic. Just think, we could light some candles and sit at the piano together and watch the snow fall onto Park Avenue…maybe have a glass of vino…’
‘Is that before or after we try that scene from Pretty Woman?’
‘You and your one-track mind.’ Carrie pretended to pout and threw a glove at Jude.
‘Hey, that’s not fair!’ Jude caught the glove and laughed. ‘You suggested it.’
‘That was before!’
‘Before what?’
‘Before it snowed!’
Jude shook with laughter all over. ‘How does that change anything?’
‘Well, you know.’ Carrie wrapped her scarf around her neck and donned her own woolly hat. ‘I never get to sit in a suite in a glamorous hotel and watch the snow fall, so that’s pretty special, don’t you see? I’ve got to enjoy this moment.’
‘And so you shall. Just as soon as we’ve both enjoyed something else.’
‘Tsk. Honestly. Anyone would think you’re a rock star, the way you carry on.’

Can’t you just picture the scene? Don’t you just wish you could be there?

Well, I can’t quite magic you there, but I can invite you to ride along with Carrie and Jude’s incredible rollercoaster of magical events in my latest masterpiece, Fairy Tale in New York.

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You can order your Fairy Tale already!

And guess what… You can pre-order it right now, right here, today! Find it in the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00O98EMRG/  and the US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O98EMRG/ and, of course, in all other Kindle stores. One-Click today, and the novella will magically appear on your Kindle on its official launch day of 10 November 2014.

Rock on through a wonderful festive season, my friends. Loveya!