Christmas 2018

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As I was looking back on this blog, I noticed how little I have posted this year about Christmas.  So here is my Christmas post for 2018 to be a little record of our Christmas celebrations.  Reflecting now, I realise the big emotional impact on what happened to my Father in law late last Christmas eve when he was taken very poorly at our house and was rushed to hospital, it was an incredibly scary 24 hours.  I now understand that I needed this Christmas to be a happy, peaceful time to stop the feeling of dread, worry and panic from last year.  Fortunately, we achieved this and I also got a new happy memory for late Christmas eve, the news of my friend’s new baby boy.  We are off to visit Grandad tomorrow for a few days as although recovered he is frailer and its easier for us to go to him than vice versa.

This Christmas has been my daughter’s last at primary school.  I’ve been warned that the secondary school does not have as many parent events so I’ve been enjoying every opportunity to share Christmas with her.  She sings (beautifully) in the school choir so I managed through a few favours at work to see every public performance.  There was a private performance at the old people’s home and I got a special message on how kind she had been to the residents, I was very proud.  There is one song which really stands out this year, a new carol, Love Shone Down, its got an encore every time and within the song, Little Miss and a friend sang a verse together that made everyone tingle.

As well as lots of carol services, I’ve also done a couple of Christingle services, one was where the school choir performed, the second for the cubs.   One of my special memories is everyone making a circle around one of the churches and in darkness, holding our lit candles, it was a moment of reflection and peace.   The cubs service was also a candlelit service, there were around 200 real candles burning and it looked so beautiful in the church. I do believe that the religious and spiritual message should always be part of our celebrations.  The childrens school carol service was another joyful celebration, it started with the story of the nativity and then developed into some of our Christmas customs. Little Miss’ class sang ‘Starry Night’ and Little Man’s ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’

We did two new events this year.  The first, we went to a big town for their winter wonderland where in the central park they had one hundred trees all lit and decorated.  It was stunning and awe inspiring, I have so many amazing photos and really they still don’t reflect the beauty and atmosphere from the evening.  I really hope that the town does it again next year as it was definitely the most Christmassy and fun thing we did this year (and free!!)  I also got tickets to see the Snowman with a live orchestra.  The first half wasn’t so suitable for my two as it was a musical version of Little Red Riding Hood and a bit young for them.  However the Snowman was brilliant, we were all transfixed by it, the live orchestra make it something special and the soloist was perfect for Walking on the Air, I had all the festive feels when we left.  I would definitely try to see it again with the live orchestra (although I might skip act 1)
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We have also done our old favourite activities this December.  The Christmas tree festival is the perfect way to start Christmas and as usual the church was full with other 40 trees.  Whilst I am proud of our school’s tree, my favourite was so simple and beautiful, a tree dressed in red with handmade poppies and the name of the 99 local soldiers who died in World War 1.  After the solemnness of the commemoration of November, it just felt really right that they were at the centre of this joyful celebration.  The children enjoyed spending their pocket money at the town’s Christmas market which is so festive and a real community event, although incredibly windy this year.  The school where I work had a stall this year and we sold some delightfully crafted wooden plaques the students had made.  As from previous posts, Tommy the elf returned and showed once again that he is one of our favourite new traditions.  We made our gingerbread decorations and again, this is something which started off as just a fun activity to do on our first Christmas but on the children’s insistence has become an integral part of our Christmas. Its also one of those Christmas photos I have from every year to chart the passing years.  On Christmas eve we tracked Santa on Norad, this is so emotional and magical for me, the children in new pyjamas, showered and cuddly, talking about their hopes and wishes, its one of those emotions you want to bottle for those tough days.  Whilst Little Miss is beginning to question Santa she still believes and I think that this was our final Christmas of such magic as she’ll be at secondary school next Christmas.  I am grateful that it lasted this long and we got 9 Santa Christmases.  Personally, I still believe.

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At home, I decorated the house throughout.  I concluded that I prefer making the little tableaux around the house than the main tree.  I’m not sure what it was about our tree this year, new position, fake rather than real, the childrens’ paper chains but I didn’t get the wow factor from it as I like.  I think its time to sort out the decorations for next year and perhaps a new fresh tree.  I loved the wreath, again another make from my students at school.

This has been a Christmas to create new memories to counter the scary ones from last year.  Christmas day was just the four of us, with our neighbours popping over to see the children and exchanging gifts, a delicious meal, family games and then when everyone had gone to bed Call the Midwife which I sobbed through!  On Boxing day, we walked down to the prom to watch the Boxing day swim and then welcomed my cousin in the afternoon whilst Mr S followed the boxing day football.  It was just perfect for us.

 

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Tommy, the final few days of 2018

Here are the final three photos of Tommy’s visit this year. I think he’ll be visiting for many more years to come. The elf on the shelf is one of my favourite new Christmas traditions, simple but fun.

Tommy Weeks 2 and 3

A quick update on the adventures of Tommy who has been busy this year. My favourite set this year so far is the skittles rainbow 🌈. It worked brilliantly. Some of the scenarios also relate to special events of the day, thus Tommy bringing Christmas jumpers for a trip out to The Winter Wonderland, hidden in the school bags with hats for the school Christmas lunch etc.. I still write a letter from Tommy everyday so have a lovely little memory bank of each Christmas.

Happy times in my kitchen …

 

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Despite the quality of the photo, the icing was duck blue and the stars silver and purple.

One of my favourite things to do in anticipation of birthdays and special events is to plan the cake. I love baking, the flavour and filling are just as important as the decoration and I am always looking on Pinterest for inspiration and tips. Baking in the kitchen listening to my music is one of my happy times and my cakes are baked with lots of love. Mr S thinks it would be easier and cheaper to buy a shop bought version but that’s just not me, baking a cake for my family brings me real joy and satisfaction.

It’s been birthday season in the Sparkles household so here are our birthday cakes for this year. Little Miss had a glitter ball cake. It was an orange and almond sponge with a white chocolate and orange filling, covered in a turquoise icing decorated with purple and silver stars. A simple but very effective design and delicious flavour.

For Little Man, I made a football cake with a football figure, no 9 Harry Kane who was his world cup hero.  His cake was a lemon and lime marble sponge topped with a green icing and white icing for football pitch markings.  He loved it although I would have preferred something less plain as to me it did look like it was missing a little something.

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Whoops I forgot to get a good picture of the cake and most have my Little Man in blowing out his candles.  This is part of the cake, imagine a football pitch with cut out icing letters spelling out his name and age. 

Whilst birthday season is now over, I’m already planning a Halloween cake with a spicy orange flavour and then a special design for Christmas.  I think this has to be the year when I finally make a Christmas cake!

Easter Sparkles 2018

With Easter falling so early, I felt that I had not quite had the build up and excitement to the season this year.  Easter is one of my favourite times of the year, I find it a very spiritual time and to me the religious celebration is at the heart of our Easter.  Easter is a time of homemaking, a spring clean, followed by decorating the house and a time to enjoy new recipes and menus.  It has less of the pressure of Christmas and the lighter days and glimpses of spring make it a more inspiring holiday.

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Easter decorations for 2018

 

 I have only bought a few new Easter decorations this year as I’ve not really had the time to shop for Easter as I normally do.  I did discover HomeSense and am so pleased with the wreath, bunny plate and basket I purchased there, I also got a new Happy Easter garland in Waitrose.  The wreath and garland are hung in my kitchen feature window and of all my Easter decorations this window is my favourite.

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New for 2018, basket, plate and wreath Homesense, Easter garland Waitrose. 

 

This year we have followed our family traditions, the Easter bonnet parade at school (recycled bonnets from last year, Easter simply arrived too early for inspiring craft times!) hot cross buns bought on Good Friday from our local baker and our Easter egg hunt with a hand drawn clue sheet by me.  I’m a rubbish artist but I love doing this, I look back on every year’s sheet and am proud of the care and effort I made with each one.   We’ve also tried new things this year.  This morning, we rolled eggs at the Downs.  I had experimented with the nail varnish marbled eggs flooding Pinterest boards, but they were a disaster and Little Miss and I still have the stains on our hands.  We ended up decorating our eggs with Sharpies and they looked just fine.  The fun of the activity was in the egg rolling, it was simple good fun and the children loved it, definitely one to do again nest year.  I sent my mum a short video and she was reminded of her childhood Easters too.  The other new activity was an Easter piñata.  We do have the most amazing neighbours so this morning we discovered a bunny piñata hanging in our garden, a present from them.  When we told Little Man there was a rabbit in the garden he wouldn’t believe us, thinking it was an April fools.  Our neighbours came over this afternoon to see the piñata being bashed, it was so funny and again one to enjoy again.

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Easter egg hunt and piñata ( and yes in this dreary winter/spring we’ve had that is sunshine in the garden) 

I wanted to create a fresh, spring menu our Easter lunch.  I will often make a nut roast, or pastry main course for special menus however Mr S asked for a simple Quorn roast.  Initially I was a bit hesitant as it seemed a bit like cheating but it meant that I spent more time focusing on the flavours of the vegetables and a special pudding.  The honey and nutmeg glazed baby carrots were stunning whilst fresh, perfectly cooked asparagus is always tasty and a star of any meal.

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Easter Sunday lunch menu

 

Little Miss and I set ourselves the little challenge of making a meringue dessert from scratch.  Little Miss really enjoys cooking with me and we do like to try more demanding recipes; we got the meringue recipe from the Good Food website and it was a 5 star recipe rating from us.  I am really proud how much of the recipe Little Miss was able to do independently, she is a great little sous chef and its lovely to be in the kitchen working together.

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Meringues filled with a berry cream

With Easter starting our holidays, we now have a fortnight to enjoy some spring sunshine and inspired activities.  We’re off to see Peter Rabbit at the cinema this week and some local attractions have Easter themed trails for us to enjoy too.  I’ve checked the calendar for next year and its a much later Easter in 2019, so we will have the time to prepare and be inspired by Easter.

Happy Easter x

Tommy Part 3

Phew another year in which I have remembered to find a new hiding spot for Tommy each evening.

This week started with us away at my parents before returning for some final Christmas preparation.

December 18th : Tommy was looking through the window lights at the little lit deer in my parents’ garden.

December 19th : Still at my parents’ Tommy was found on the staircase.

December 20th: Back home and munching away at the fruit in the bowl.

December 21st : Nibbling again, this time home made biscotti from a friend.

December 22nd : Hidden in our Christmas tree, Tommy brought letters from Santa.

December 23rd: Tommy had found us all we needed to make our gingerbread decorations.

December 24th : As is traditional, Tommy arrived with all the ingredients and extras for a very special Christmas Eve hot chocolate.

Tommy has again give us so much fun this year and we look forward to welcoming him again to our home next year. Tommy is such an important part of our family Christmas and we love having him.

The Christmas Tag

I’ve been writing my blog for over 4 years now and I’m finding it difficult this year to create a new Christmas post, my decorations are similar to previous years, as are the events we’ve been too and I’ve written in detail about these in the past.  I have been doing a weekly update on Tommy’s hiding places and the #littleloves posts have been highlighting some of our favourite things we’ve done this Christmas.  A few days ago, I read Kimberley’s Christmas Tag at 

https://ohjustmylittleblog.com/blogmas/the-christmas-tag-2/

so have chosen to use this as a model for a Christmas post this year whilst I try to work out a few new ideas for Christmas 2018.  Thanks to Kimberley for sharing ..

What’s your favourite Christmas Movie? 

Whilst there are so many great Christmas films, my favourite is the Muppet Christmas Carol.  Its brilliant, true to the original book, funny and has some great songs in it too. 

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Have you ever had a white Christmas?  

I don’t think I’ve ever had a white Christmas.  On the children’s first Christmas in 2010 we had heavy snow the week before Christmas but it melted after a few days to leave a bright, dry Christmas day.  I can’t remember any childhood white Christmases.  

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This is as close as we’ve come to a white Christmas the week before Christmas in 2010

 

Where do you usually spend your holiday? 

I think its a little contentious with extended family, but we have often gone away for Christmas.  As a teacher I always have a two week break and as Mr S is self employed, Christmas is also a good time for him to have time off too.  We’re not skiers so the breaks have tended to be to hot, sunny places and we’ve had Christmases in Australia, the Caribbean and we’ve had UK breaks too.  Even with the children we’ve had Christmas holidays, one year we did Christmas at Butlins which was lots of fun and last year we were in Lanzarote.  Santa arriving on a camel was memorable! If we’re not on holiday then we always have Christmas at our house.  

 

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Yes seriously on Christmas day 2002, I visited Ramsey St in Melbourne! 

 

What’s your favourite Christmas song? 

I love Christmas songs and its difficult to pick just one favourite, I have done a post here on my favourite Christmas songs 

https://seasidesparkles.net/2015/12/22/christmas-songs/

but to be honest all Christmas songs make me happy as long as they are played from December 1st, I’m a bit bah humbug until that date!  This year, I have really liked Stevie Wonder’s That’s What Christmas Means to Me, its been played a few times in the Sparkles household.  I also really like Christmas carols and some classical pieces at this time of year.  

Do you open any presents on Christmas eve? 

No and I wouldn’t even be tempted.  I love the excitement of Christmas morning. 

Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? 

Yes because when I was in junior school we had to learn by heart Twas the Night Before Christmas in which they are all named and I can still recite it from memory, a useful party piece at this time of you, so thank you Mrs Williams! 

What holiday traditions are you looking forward to this Christmas? 

As our family, we have developed our own little traditions over the past seven Christmases.  Tommy our elf on the shelf, is probably my favourite tradition as the children love him so much.  He hides every evening but he isn’t a mischievous elf and writes a letter every day to tell the children of all the positive things he saw them doing the day before.  I love hiding him and am so grateful for all the magic he has created.  Other family traditions are going to the town’s Christmas market and then having a fish and chip lunch, doing a tour of Christmas lights, making gingerbread decorations, visiting the Christmas tree festival and the children wearing new pyjamas on Christmas eve.   

Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

This year its fake, we bought it last year for when we were going to be away as we still wanted to decorate the house.  Its a really nice tree and I was happy to use it again this year.  In the past, we have had real trees so I’m sure we’ll have a discussion next year on whether to have a real or fake tree.  

 What’s your favourite holiday food/sweet/treat?

Chestnuts, Christmas cake, cheese with fruits.  Normally I have a really sweet tooth but I like the savoury dishes at Christmas.  

Be honest, do you prefer the giving or receiving of gifts?

Definitely giving.  I try to give very thoughtful gifts and am always on the look out for original and personal gifts.  This year I bought my first in May as I saw something I just knew would be perfect for my cousin.  I have a little Christmas notebook where I jot down ideas, purchases etc.. throughout the year.  

What’s the best Christmas present you ever received?

Tickets to go to my first ever concert Aha at the Albert Hall, a lilac bike Candy, a clarinet, a music stereo, an engagement ring.  

What’s your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

I would LOVE to go to New York in the run up to Christmas for the shopping, sights and shows.  

Are you a pro present wrapper or do you fail miserably?

I am very coordinated with paper, bows and labels and try to present my gifts as neatly as I can.  I do find some shapes very tricky to wrap and may use tissue and gift bags.  

Most memorable Christmas memory?

The children’s first Christmas with us in 2010.  It took us 7 years to have the family we had dreamed of and in those 7 years, Christmas was very, very difficult and a period simply to get through.  From 2010, it has become the most magical time of the year and we cherish every single moment.  

What made you realise the truth about Santa?

I think it was probably from children at school.  However my mum had this rule that if we didn’t believe we wouldn’t get presents so in our family we all still believe!

What makes the holidays special for you?

I genuinely enjoy the preparation and anticipation of Christmas, the concerts, special events etc…  Christmas is about being in the moment, taking time to be with those you love and thinking of those who can’t be with you.  Its relaxed times, good food, lovely music and sparkly lights.  

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Me and my mum circa 1976/7