Christmas and making the most of your home.

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Ahh Christmas, the time when many of us have family and friends over to visit. I’m the first to admit I love entertaining, but as a bigger family, we have a lot of “stuff”. Christmas always adds to our “stuff”. The Christmas tree, decorations, gifts… it is all stuff. So how do you balance having a wonderful Christmas with having a wonderful home? 

Rid yourself of clutter Pre-Christmas

So, for me the de-clutter pre-Christmas is an on-going process! I am going through outgrown clothes, toys and unwatched DVDs. Then dropping them off at the local charity shop. I get a tidy home, they get new stock – everyone is a winner! It’s a great time to clear out, and you may even be able to sell some of your unwanted items via local selling sites too.

Storage is an investment!

The children have toys which I can’t get rid of, so I have discovered finding nice storage really helps to keep us looking tidy! It doesn’t need to be expensive or flat packed, we have a great vintage mini trunk which looks great and is a godsend at storing LEGO! Choose storage with care to suit the style of your decor and it will work well for you!

Consider how to best use your living space.

Our kitchen is quite roomy, and I have worked out that using the kitchen as a living space is vital to having a happy home! It has meant thinking carefully about making sure it feels homely, but it really works for us!

Moving furniture around to maximise floor space can help, I’ve moved a sofa to the opposite side of the room to create a less cosy but more roomy sitting area for the Christmas holidays!

One option for next Christmas if you have space, could be a garden room, which would be ideal as either an extra playroom or a grown up space! Perfect to keep for entertaining friends or just when you need somewhere quiet to hang out!

Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs Panto – Basingstoke Hampshire – Review

Disclaimer: Tickets received for review

Theatre is very much part of our family Christmas. So we were excited to get the opportunity to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at The Anvil, Basingstoke.

Leading lady Dani Harmer played a charming Snow White, and the Dwarfs were brilliant!

The Anvil, Basingstoke. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Christmas Pantomime 2018. Photograph By: Sean Dillow. www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

Supported by jester Muddles (Chris Pizzey) whose comedy double act with pantomime dame Dolly (Jamie Steen) had us in fits of giggles. There were jokes for children and more subtle ones for adults too. Some were hilarious and others verging on naughty! The slapstick nature of the comedy is all part of a traditional pantomime though, and it was fabulous!

I could write a whole review of the fabulous costumes, Dolly’s wardrobe alone was spectacular! Causing much laughter and chatter from the audience.

The Anvil, Basingstoke. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Christmas Pantomime 2018. Photograph By: Sean Dillow. www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

The Wicked Witch played by Kirsty Sparks, was for me the star of the show. Her voice was superb as she effortlessly tackled versions of Queen’s “Killer Queen” and Brittany Spears “Toxic”. She was scary as the Wicked Queen without being too terrifying – ideal if you have a younger child with you!

The Anvil, Basingstoke. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Christmas Pantomime 2018. Photograph By: Sean Dillow. www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

The pantomime is great family fun, my 4 year old did struggle a little sitting through the show. But she has asked if we can go back to see Snow White again, so I think it was a success!  

Book your tickets here.

Last Minute Gift Ideas For Children

If you’re looking for some last minute ideas for what to buy under 11’s look no further. We have listed our favourite gifts to buy last minute for tough to buy for children!

Messy Play

Slime is a huge hit with children of all ages! Slime Baff means children can have fun with slime, but the mess is contained to the bath tub! You can also use it as a messy play or small world play activity. Gelli Baff is a similar product which turns bath water into goo! Great fun for the reluctant bather! Our favourite though, was SnoBall Play!

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Sno Play turns water into a snow like product! My children thought it was great fun, it could be moulded, and importantly thrown! It easy to clean up and I think it is a great little gift!

Pokemon

Last year our house was Pokémon crazy, and little has altered this year! With a great variety of branded gifts including Pokemon headphones, there are plenty of gift ideas for Pokemon fans!

We like the Pokémon beaker with straw as it’s a fun, functional gift. Certainly one which will get a lot of use! Especially over the festive season – catching Pokemon is thirsty work after all! This could also be a lovely gift for adult Pokémon fans too!

Puzzles and Games

Puzzles and game are firm favourites in our house. Puzzles allow a little bit of quiet time, and games encourage everyone to sit together! We love Tumble Tower from Jaques of London, it has already provided hours of fun for all the family. It’s unusual to find a game we all play happily together. This is a great after dinner game, perfect to play on the dining table!

Gruffalo!

If you have a pre-schooler you must know exactly who the Gruffalo is! Popular with children everywhere there are a great selection of Gruffalo products on sale. We love the Gruffalo Dinner Set which includes a bamboo plate, bowl  and cup set! A great alternative to plastic kids plates, and it is a gift which will be enjoyed time and time again!

Of course if you’re not sure what to buy, consider buying an experience gift instead. Something like Panto tickets, or a contribution towards an annual pass to a local attraction.

Disclaimer; Some items received for inclusion.

Truly unique dining experiences

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Whether you’re after Michelin-starred restaurants or exquisitely exotic cuisine, the UK has it all. And if you’re seeking a dining experience with a difference, where should you head for and what should you expect?

With this in mind, here are four unique dining experiences that promise something out of the ordinary but still offer top-quality cuisine.

1. Events in the Sky (various locations)

Fancy a dining experience that gives you a whole new perspective – and some serious vertigo while you’re at it? Suspended 30 metres in the air, Events in the Sky offers foodies a magical meal to remember with stunning views of the skyline while they’re at it. The menu itself presents a host of delights, all prepared by executive chefs whose culinary creations look as good as they taste. Yes, you’ll be wearing a seatbelt. And yes, you’ll be attached to a crane, but as you sip your Champagne above the pulse of the city below, all fears will be firmly forgotten.

2. Dans Le Noir, London

Sounding like a posh French perfume, the food at Dans Le Noir in London smells good…and tastes just as wonderful as well. The concept involves diners eating in total darkness, with only the merest of guidance from their hosts to ensure they navigate the space without bumping into the furniture! The lack of light results in a sharpened sensory experience, where cuisine and curiosity combine. All meals are prepared using a variety of locally sourced ingredients that merge flavours, textures and tastes.

3. The Treehouse, Alnwick

Situated in the glorious Alnwick Garden, the Treehouse Restaurant takes ambience to a new level. From wooden walkways and bridges to twinkling lights and roaring log fires, it boasts a beautiful backdrop. As a region, Northumberland boasts a plethora of tasty produce, including locally sourced seafood and meat. The menu aims to reflect seasonal changes through its dishes, too – the Lindisfarne mussels and Alnwick sausages are particularly worthy of note. In addition to the hearty cuisine, there are regular live music events, where expert flautists accompany the memorable meals.

4. Dinner in the Great Hall, Leavesden

Another magical dining occasion is Dinner in the Great Hall at the Harry Potter experience in Leavesden. On arrival, guests are greeted with wine and canapes before entering a winter wonderland featuring original props from the film. The dining tables are a spectacle in themselves; guests can expect all manner of delights, such as flaming puddings and striking red carpets. Regal trees are bedecked in beautiful golden baubles shaped like partridges and moons, providing a charmingly quirky take on Christmas traditions. Your seats for the occasion will be on the same set that was used during filming, with dinner and all the trimmings to follow.

While the food is important, it’s the atmosphere that makes the occasion. Whether you’re seeking an innovative sensory experience or an alternative take on Yuletide traditions, all four venues provide a truly unique dining experience!

Cheshire.

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With a new year looming, it’s often a time to reflect and start thinking about lifestyle changes. It is also a time when I have in the past started to think about the options when moving home. While I don’t anticipate moving away from the area we currently live in, I am also aware that work or personal circumstances may alter. So when I was approached to learn a little more about Cheshire I was intrigued.

Have you ever considered moving to Cheshire?

When I think about Cheshire, I tend to think about million pound properties. Mostly due to the footballers who I see in magazines living there! Of course, there are lots of those! But according to property developer https://www.laurushomes.co.uk/cheshire average house prices in Cheshire are just over £245,000. Which sounds more reasonable!

Cheshire

So, what does Cheshire have to offer? There’s the market town of Nantwich, which is famous for the black and white buildings dotted around the town. Nantwich hosts many events and festivals throughout the year including the International Cheese Awards.

The beautiful city of Chester has a wonderful array of shops and culture. It is a walled city, and has easy access to Wales! With museums, a castle and even a castle – there is plenty to see in Chester! There’s also nearby Delamere Forest, which covers 972 hectares. So plenty of outdoor space to explore! There are 3 walking trails, 2 walking trails and even a Go Ape! There’s a picnic area and café too, making it a lovely destination for a family day out. Perfect for weekends and the school holidays!

Property

I think choosing a property is such a personal decision. There are so many things to consider. Whether you want a property which has character or a new build which you can add your own personal touches. Cheshire appears to offer a good variety of older and new properties. Would you consider a move to Cheshire? Or what do you like about the county if you already live there?

Christmas Shopping For Toys

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It’s now officially the countdown to Christmas! How prepared are you? I have written a long list of things to do to make sure Christmas runs smoothly! Or as smoothly as it can with 4 children in the house!

While Father Christmas brings gifts, we also treat our children and family to gifts too. So toy shopping is a big annual event. Shopping is always fun, I say that with a hint of sarcasm! I will be honest, I try to avoid shopping with the children as it is often just too busy! It’s no fun trying to push a buggy around a busy store, and the children get bored in queues anyway! So, I either shop while the older children are at school, or shop online. 

Online or In-store?

Online shopping is great as it means I can often find a deal to save money on gifts. Though I have also discovered you can find deals online which are valid in store too! Sometimes you just want to shop in a store rather than on line – so you can see the item you’re buying! 

If you’re shopping online, remember to check how the item will be delivered. You don’t want a toy delivered with the packaging on display as it could ruin the surprise! Some retailers allow you to select discreet packaging to ensure the parcels get delivered wrapped. 

Which toys?

There are some classic toys which children seem to want every year, these are relatively easy to shop for as they never seem to run out! But then there are the newly popular toys, or TV character toys. At the moment PJ Masks toys are really popular at the moment, and I’m sure they will be appearing on many Christmas lists! These are sometimes harder to get hold of, and even hard to get a deal on. But it is always worth checking for toy deals!

Things to remember…

When you’re buying toys, do check you don’t need any extras to make them work. Whether it is extra batteries or an accessory, you don’t want to discover you can’t get the toy to work on Christmas day! 

It’s also worth considering whether the packaging is frustration free, or whether to take toys out of the packaging before they get handed over. We tend to make sure there is always a pair of scissors on standby for Christmas morning!

Panto in Basingstoke – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Post in collaboration with The Anvil.

It’s officially the start of Panto season! The Anvil in Basingstoke plays host to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 13th December until 6th January! Starring Dani Harmer – perhaps best known for her role in the CBBC show Tracy Beaker!

Anvil Theatre, Basingstoke. Snow White Christmas Panto 2018. Photograph By: Sean Dillow. www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

“When the Wicked Queen’s magic mirror declares that Snow White is the fairest in all the land, the evil Queen wants her out of the way.  Snow White escapes to the forest where she meets seven little friends. But the Wicked Queen doesn’t give up, and with a poisoned apple in her possession she tracks down Snow White …”

Anvil Theatre, Basingstoke. Snow White Christmas Panto 2018. Photograph By: Sean Dillow. www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

There is a BSL signed performance on Tuesday 18th December 6pm. There is also a relaxed performance on Wednesday 2nd January at 2pm. 

For more information or for tickets, call the Anvil Arts box office on 01256 844244, or visit the Anvil Arts website anvilarts.org.uk.

How Mr Bump was offended by me again…

So, you may recall a few months back I wrote about how I appeared to have accidentally offended someone. Apparently calling a stranger Mr Bump is not the done thing. In my defence, it was after his many references to injuries he had sustained.

Looking at the whole debacle several months on, I think he was keen to look manly. Unfortunately I perceived him as clumsy. Still, I feel Mr Bump was an amusing reference, I could have easily made a comparison to Mr Bean…

I digress.

So a few weeks after the last post, Greg got in touch.  It went a little like this; 

V, I am so terribly sorry, I’ve been off saving the world, could I possibly pop over this afternoon?”

Ok, so he didn’t actually say he had been saving the world, but again I’m trying to retain a little bit of Greg’s dignity. So I won’t reveal the nature of his occupation any further. Though, he probably does wear his pants over the top of his trousers. 

I smiled when the message arrived, thankful that that guy had a sense of humour. However, I was in the throes of a princess party (true fact, I was wearing a tiara and everything). So I responded hastily explaining that it would have to be any other day over the weekend, and I was glad he was OK. The following day I read his response. 

‘Ahh ok I’m away until next month, oh and… if you’re not breaking yourself you’re not doing it right…’

I read the response and read it again. Erm, ok, I was not entirely sure what to reply. Unusual for me! It’s hard with the written word, it can be easily misinterpreted. After a puzzled face or two I decided, ah banter! So, I responded with a little more banter. 

“I guess it depends what you are doing?!” then I inserted a quick joke about his occupation and thought nothing more of it.

I had anticipated by now that Greg may have been in touch. But, it seems that he may have misinterpreted my banter. Or perhaps he is nursing a broken limb somewhere in darkest Peru.  Either way, I still have the boat bits, annoyingly. 

It really made me realise how easily the written word can be misinterpreted. Greg was happy to joke and be vivacious face to face. But clearly the written word was just a little too complex? While I found the  saga amusing I can’t help but wonder what he read into the written word. 

Weirdly the entire saga took me back to my early twenties. Text messages were first becoming popular. I texted someones brother, quite an innocent text thanking him for rescuing me and dropping me home. His then girlfriend responded in a rage. As she had only got part of the story… 

V

My Grief is like the Ocean.

Someone asked me how I felt. They were being kind. Actually, they were kinder than they realise as it made me think, how do I feel? It’s the first time I have sat and thought about it. I shan’t lie, it took several attempts to write this, and many tears.

Grief

I have tried many times to explain the emotion, and faltered. It’s such a personal emotion. I am not an expert, not a counsellor, just a thirty-something who is grieving. This is the only way I can describe my own feelings.

calm seas view of the Isle of Wight

Calm Solent Sea

My grief is like the ocean.

My grief is like the ocean, it is always here.

It is great and changeable.

Some days, it rolls in and out and merely laps at my toes. Those days I smile, as I remember happy times and though you are gone, I almost still feel you are here.

Then there are the days when the waves of grief roll in violently, knocking me off my feet.

I am hauled into the ocean, out of my depth, out of breath, struggling against a barrage of waves. I try to swim back to the shore, away from the turbulence of this grieving sea, I am weak. I struggle, scrambling in the shallows, my fingers clawing at the shingle. I feel so lost, so sad that you are gone. Angry that you left. We should have been old together, drinking tea with blue tints in our hair.

Then suddenly the calm comes again.

I am standing on the beach. Watching those waves of grief as they recede. The sun is shinning, I feel the warmth on my face. A gentle reminder, that you are gone, but I am here.

V.

Tea and Biscuits

My experience of grief is that there are good days and bad days. I often remind myself that life is short. She would want me to live as exciting a life as I can, and toast her with tea and biscuits with a blue rinse in my hair if I am lucky enough to grow old where she did not.

Bereavement Help

If you have been bereaved, charities like CRUSE can offer help and advice.

The Baby Hamper Company – Review

Buying a gift for a new baby can be a challenge. Especially if you are looking for something a little different! When I gave birth earlier this year, I couldn’t have many visitors due to ill health. So, I really appreciated gifts which people had chosen with care and posted to us. When The Baby Hamper Company got in touch to ask if we would review one of their hampers I was delighted. They create beautiful gifts to be delivered to new parents, wrapped with care. Perfect if you want to show someone you’re thinking of them.

I love the concept of being able to treat a new baby with a lovely gift delivered to their door. There are multiple options of hampers available including a build your own. 

Baby Hamper Contents

The hamper arrived looking beautiful, carefully wrapped in  brown box tied with a neat red ribbon. Wrapped in a box, it was low waste, which I love! Plus I think the box and ribbon will be re-used anyway!

I chose a Really Useful hamper as I am always pleased with a beautiful but useful gift! This contains a beautiful Winnie The Pooh Aden & Anais Muslin Cloth, A Lamaze Tiger, Sock ons (no more losing 1 sock!) a short sleeve baby body, and a long sleeve/leg body suit. The clothes are both size 0-3months, so perfect for a new baby.

Baby gifts

I have to say I was impressed with the quality of the baby clothes, they are really soft cotton. The footless style on the long sleep suit is great, as I always found my babies had long legs so the feet never fit on normal sleep suits! 

0-3months Sleep Suits

I think these hampers would also work well as a baby shower gift, or as a present for someone leaving work to go on maternity leave. All the gifts included are high quality, and I feel that they are packed and sent with care. The Baby Hamper Company offer good value high quality gifts, which are sure to be a hit with new parents.