Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books I Got For Christmas, Reading Resolutions, + 2015 Releases


I do have some beauty posts lined up - it feels like so long since I've done one properly (waning light is the main reason) but for now here's my final book post of the year.

Books I Got For Christmas

I treated myself to Stephen King's new one, Revival. My Mum got me Brian O'Driscoll's book The Test, and Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes.

I also got an Amazon voucher, and despite swearing that I wouldn't use it until the new year, I got bored yesterday and just said I'd "have a look" - never ends well.

I picked up all these for Kindle (mainly after finding Richard & Judys book club archives):

Daughter by Jane Shemilt is about how a woman copes when her daughter goes missing, and whether the truth is best found out or left hidden.

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen is about a 10 year old girl growing up in a religious sect. She makes a model of the Promised Land, and starts to believe she has the ability to perform miracles.

Room by Emma Donoghue I'm possibly one of the only people in the world who has yet to read this tale of a 5 year old boy who was born and raised in a 12 foot room by his captive mother.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton This is one of Richard and Judy's book club picks for Spring 2015. Based on the 17th Century obsession with having a miniature version of the family home, this is a story about secrets, love, obsession, betrayal and retribution. And sugar, apparently.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming  This is an autobiography in which Alan talks about his difficult relationship with his father, and how it has shaped events in his life.

Paper Towns by John Green I wanted to read this before the upcoming movie release (starring Cara Delevingne). It's about Quentin, who has loved the elusive Margo from afar for as long as he can remember. When he thinks Margo has gone missing, he follows a series of clues to try and find her.

The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton The story of Graham's life so far told by talking about the things he loves.

Reading Resolutions

One of my resolutions was to read what I have before buying any more, but that's already gone to pot. This year I did complete the Goodreads Reading Challenge - I read 116 books since January, but there were a few very short stories included in that and a couple of DNFs (did not finish) so it's probably nearer 100 proper books. This year I'm tempted to not do that challenge - I felt like I was reading for the sake of it.

If you like challenges, this one looks good. I don't know the original source, but it has been doing the rounds on twitter and facebook.

I know that one thing I want to do in 2015 is read all the Harry Potter books again - I haven't actually even read the last one yet. I know that Chloe did that this year and I've seen a few other book bloggers do it too - I've forgotten a lot of the books since I first read them and I'm looking forward to that.

My other reading resolution is to stop requesting things on Netgalley when I'm still in the middle of reading other books. I keep doing it and it's ridiculous, I still have 5 on my dashboard to read that I should have read months ago, but now it feels like homework and I don't want to read them at all. From now on I'll only request something I really, really want to read before the release date.

My final resolution is to find more Irish authors. I discovered Donal Ryan through the Rick O'Shea book club this month after reading the brilliant The Thing About December. His voice is so unique and so Irish, I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed the book.

Coming in 2015

I'm really excited about some of the books that are going to be published in 2015 - here are the ones I'm most looking forward to.

The Storm (The Rain 2) by Virginia Bergin The follow-up to the 2014 YA book The Rain, this follows up on our heroine Ruby as she continues to try and stay alive after a toxic rainfall has wiped out most of humanity. The Rain got some woeful reviews but I adored it, I thought it was tongue-in-cheek and didn't take itself too seriously. The sequel is due for publication on February 26th.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen Finally, another Waverley Sisters novel! Fans of Garden Spells will be waiting with bated breath for First Frost, a catch-up with the magical sisters and their enchanted apple tree. I promise, it's not as twee as it sounds. Think Practical Magic rather than The Magic Faraway Tree. Due for publication on January 29th.

Liars, Inc by Paula Stokes A YA novel about a high-school boy whose life spirals out of control after one seemingly simple lie. It sounds a bit Easy A-ish but we'll see! Due on March 24th.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman I read If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle this year, and enjoyed both. I Was Here is a story about a girl trying to deal with the death of her friend. As she travels to pick up her friend's belongings, she comes across an encrypted computer file that reveals more than she ever thought about her friend. Due on January 29th.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King The second in the Bill Hodges trilogy and the follow-up to Mr. Mercedes, this is the first book since Misery that will address the problem of a vengeful reader. This is due on June 2nd.

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver I have yet to read anything by Lauren Oliver, but this caught my eye - a psychological thriller about two sisters who are torn apart by a terrible accident. Due on March 12th - I can see this one being a big hit with Booktubeathon in 2015.

Winter by Marissa Meyer The fourth installment in The Lunar Chronicles, Winter will feature Cinder and Snow White, and be set on the moon. If you haven't read the previous books in the series (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress) I recommend them for fans of dystopian fairytales. Due in November.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley When 27 year old Daisy is diagnosed with breast cancer for the third and final time, she decides that she is going to spend her last months on a mission to find someone who will make her husband happy and look after him when she is gone. Due on March 25th.

So - that's it! Bring on 2015, an extra pair of eyes, a few more hours in the day, and the willpower to stay away from Amazon.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

IrishBbloggersSS14 - THE REVEAL!!


I had so much fun taking part in the IrishBbloggersSS (Irish Beauty Bloggers Secret Santa) last year that when Aisling from Total Makeup Addict announced that she would once again be at the helm for 2014, I jumped to get my name down.

This year, I got to buy for Cindy from Girl With the Skew Earring, which I was delighted about. You can check out Cindy's blog here to see what I sent her!

My Secret Santa was lovely Danielle from Lilliwhite Rose - and she did an amazing job, I was so happy with the presents she chose for me.

When I opened the box, I found this fab basket - I thought that was such a great idea! I'm going to use the basket for my "good" makeup, so I was delighted to receive that. When I opened the big package I found all I needed for a treat night - chocolate, marshmallows, and my favourite Wispa hot chocolate. The Aero didn't last very long but I had a great time with my eldest toasting some of the marshmallows for one of our Advent activities!

There were lots of little wrapped presents in the basket too - I forgot to take a picture of them all wrapped because I was too excited, but here's what was inside!

I was over the moon with everything Danielle chose for me. Just look at that Barry M polish - it's Christmas in a bottle!

The Ciaté tree trinket is gorgeous too, it has a sparkly purple polish that will look amazing over the festive period.

There were some lovely bath products included as well, and some face masks that I'm really looking forward to trying.

I mentioned a while back that I was looking for some products to try with the Babyliss Big Hair - so this next product was a very welcome addition to the basket!

I've never tried any powdered hair products before so I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Danielle did a fantastic job and was so thoughtful and kind, I really love everything and I'm so thankful.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the other Secret Santa posts, if you'd like to have a read too,  check out the #IrishBbloggersSS14 tag on twitter throughout today.

Thanks so much again to Aisling for organising another great Secret Santa!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Getting Over the X by Steve Brookstein


I saw a couple of people talking about this on twitter one night during the Xfactor (namely Kellie) and it sounded like a good read, so I took advantage of a special Kindle offer and downloaded it there and then.

"'One of you will leave with a million-pound recording contract, and the other will leave with nothing,' Kate Thornton had said on the night. Eight months later, I had never envisaged that it was possible to leave with both."

I've watched every season of the Xfactor from the beginning. In later years, I've become a bit disillusioned with it due to the trend of publicly humiliating people who aren't very good, or by putting novelty acts through (Wagner, anyone?!). The first year, I watched mainly because I had seen Tabby Callaghan's band Petronella live a few times the previous year while in college. I don't really remember being too concerned about the other contestants. The only thing I remembered about Steve was that he had released a cover of Against All Odds.

When people enter TV shows like the Xfactor, they are labelled pretty much straight away. For Matt Cardle, it was "House Painter". For Leon Jackson, it was "Works in a shoe shop". For Rebecca Ferguson and Stacy Solomon, it was "Single Mum". For Steve Brookstein, it was "Pub Singer". Steve was in actual fact far from a pub singer - he had already supported Dionne Warwick the year he applied for the competition, and turned down a job supporting Lionel Richie to take part in the show. Hardly a bog standard pub singer. In Steve's own words, he had "better irons in the fire." Steve was labelled overconfident from the very beginning, yet at one point Simon Cowell said of him "He found self belief when we gave him a stage." At the final, Sharon Osbourne tore into him in a most unprofessional manner, saying she had enough of his "Mister Humble" act. So which is it?! Overconfident, lacking in self belief, or humble? As you learn to watch out for certain phrases that the judges dole out, you realise they just recycle the same labels over and over again - if they take a dislike to you for whatever reason, they have the power to turn the public against you (ask Christopher Maloney). If they love you, they will champion you to the end, regardless of how the public vote goes ("the real winner").

As I read about the way Steve was treated when he won the show, I was disgusted. I'm not a fan of Simon Cowell anyway - that level of ego is not endearing to me. He comes across as incredibly self-involved, surrounded by people who are willing to fall at his feet and lick his boots. Steve's story is a cautionary tale of what can happen when you dare to put forward your own ideas, or step outside the Cowell 'bubble'. The sheer power of the "Simon Cowell Collective" is shocking. The press manipulation, misdirected quotes, false accusations - they can, as Max Clifford (don't even get me started on him) stated, "bury you".

"What have I become? I'm 35. I'm sitting in a mansion trying to impress a guy who turned up late to his own microwave dinner party. Why wasn't I saying 'What the f*ck's this sh*t?!'"

This stuff about the Xfactor having "a real winner" was obviously there from the beginning, as G4 were given the moniker in 2004. G4 themselves would later tell the press that the Xfactor was a pantomime, with staged bickering between the judges. You can see that in every year since - especially this year. One incident in particular this year was just ridiculous - "real winner" Fleur East (who came second to Ben Haenow) - was given a track called Uptown Funk to sing. Fleur rocked the song, and shot straight to number one on iTunes. If a contestant can score a number one before the show has even ended, what's the point anymore? The winners' careers seem to be lukewarm, and the management appears to lose interest before the next series begins. So what's the point of the prize? Of the competition?

Back to Uptown Funk - singer Lily Allen accused Simon of "industry corruption" because the song hadn't actually been released when Fleur performed it. As a result of her reaching number one, Mark Ronson had to push the single release date forward before people lost interest in the original (yet unreleased) version. In a media press conference, Simon claimed "This corruption thing is ridiculous. To be honest, I didn't even know what label it was on." Simon's record label SYCO is 50% owned by Sony, who also own Mark Ronson's record label. Presumably they wouldn't even have needed clearance from Ronson to perform the song on the show - are we supposed to be so stupid that we would think that Simon knew none of this?! Oh, and Mark Ronson's version is now head-to-head with Ben Haenow's debut single for Christmas Number one - but that doesn't matter anyway, because the song already seems old after hearing a contestant cover it. Well played, Simon et al.

Poor Ben seems to be the latest addition to a long line of male winners, set to be overlooked in favour of the "real winner" - he's already being referred to as "Ben Whonow?" on twitter and he only won it four days ago - I would be shocked if he were to be invited back to perform on next year's show.

I think Steve's book is a great read, it really exposes the staging and pettiness of the whole show. It was never a singing competition - it's about the judges, their egos, and how much money they can squeeze from the general public. If you do what you're told, you're wrong. If you step outside your comfort zone, you're wrong. The corruption, manipulation, and sheer deceptiveness regarding the media is shocking - but sadly, after recent revelations including the whole Max Clifford debacle and the demise of the News of the World - unsurprising.

Referring to 2014 contestant Jake Quickenden's stint in the Jungle (that's a whole other ballgame - a contestant on a TV show going straight into the Jungle as a "celebrity" before the show had even ended?!) Simon had this to say at a press conference: "I think with any competition, if you don't want to win, that tells me you haven't got that killer instinct to do well in the real world. If you're happy to come fourth or tenth and end up in the jungle.... what we want on this show are people who want to be recording artists in the real world. I mean, that's just the way it is."

But...........that's NOT the way it is. Every single year, Louis Walsh sits like a Pantomime Dame defending whatever novelty act he has chosen to put through to the live shows, while genuinely talented people go home. Simon Cowell plays with people as if they were puppets - putting people through to spite other judges (Raign & Cheryl Cole?!). Take a show like The Voice - I haven't seen a single novelty act on that show. I'm sure it's not perfect, it's still TV, but it seems so much fairer than leading lambs to the slaughter after telling them they're perfect for the TV rounds before tearing them to pieces and laughing at them. We have had whole hour-long shows dedicated to "The Worst Auditionees", yet people who actually won the whole blimmin' show have been snubbed.

Steve has proven that he definitely has that killer instinct - and here's hoping he continues to do well in the real world. The Xfactor bubble may be the dream of many a young starlet, but it's definitely not something I'd want any of my loved ones involved in. I'm really glad Steve wrote this book (with the help of Tony Horne), because it just confirms opinions I've had about Simon Cowell for a long, long time - does he have any actual interest in the music at all?!

A must-read.

You can get the book here on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of myperfumesamples.com!

**No PR Samples Featured**


Firstly, this is NOT a sponsored post, I just thought it was such a fantastic service and I would be happy to recommend it. I chose and paid for the samples myself.

I've talked about perfume on here before. I wish I could say it were my only vice - it's joined by books and makeup (and Penneys and candles and stationery) - but there are worse things to be into, right? The problem is, it's a costly little habit. I have come to appreciate those little 1.5ml vials that are included with makeup orders or in beauty boxes - they're a great way to try something out on your skin to see how it works on you.

I know that there are companies that sell boxes of samples along with a voucher for a full sized bottle, but I didn't want those, I wanted to choose my own. Plus, most didn't ship to Ireland. I had a bit of a google, and found myperfumesamples.com - I wasn't sure if it was legit or not, so I went to youtube - and found a lot of reviews from Wonky Compass. She lives in New Zealand so I figured - if they can get to NZ safely, they can get to Ireland!

The concept of the site is this: They sell decanted vials of original perfumes for a couple of dollars each. The vials start off at 1ml, then go up to a 3ml spray and a 5ml spray. The 1ml aren't a spray, and they aren't in fancy packaging - they come in plain vials, attached to a card labelled with the perfume name. I ordered all 1ml sizes, I picked ones I couldn't get here (plus an old favourite or two).

I placed my order on a Tuesday, it was shipped the next day and it arrived the following Monday! Shipping is expensive - $9.99 - but that's International First Class with tracking and the samples start from 49c in the sale section. They have everything you could think of on the site -  from Tom Ford to Jo Malone to Taylor Swift.

I chose seven samples.

Britney Spears - Believe.
Aquolina - Pink Sugar.
Givenchy - Play.
Agent Provocateur - Agent Provocateur L'Agent.
Kate Spade - Walk on Air.
Jennifer Aniston - Lolavie (also called Jennifer Aniston).
Jessica Simpson - Fancy Girl.

This is what they look like:

(The basket is mine)

I wore each one over the course of a different day, so I could give a good review of each. Actually, before I get into the reviews - can I just say, 1ml is more than enough as a sample. The perfume might look piddly in the vial but when you think about it, you get more than 30 sprays from a 30ml bottle, don't you? Well you get much, much more than one wear from 1ml.

Jennifer Aniston - Lolavie/Jennifer Aniston
Lolavie, also known as Jennifer Aniston (the perfume, not the woman) has top notes of Jasmine and Rose, with base notes of Sandalwood and Amber. I didn't get rose in here at all - this was very powdery and light, like a baby in a fluffy towel on a beach. Sillage was fantastic, and it lasted a good 4 hours on me before it started to fade. It came into its own when I went outside - fresh, breezy, soapy (in a good way) - it smells exactly how I would imagine Jennifer Aniston to smell. Here's what I felt about this in picture form - it was stunning. This was a big hit with my husband too. Released in 2010.

Jessica Simpson - Fancy Girl
Ugh. This is the kind of scent that turns people off Celebrity perfumes. With top notes of Raspberry and Pear, and base notes of Sandalwood and Musk, this smells like sweets and rotten fruit. There's a very fruity hit when you smell it - a candy, synthetic, sugary, headache-inducing berry smell. But there's an undertone of something really horrible - on me, it genuinely smells like mould. Like strawberry mould. It's awful, and I had to wash it off. Released in 2014.

Agent Provacateur - L'Agent
Oh NOW we're talking. This is unbelievable, and the blending is amazing - it's full of all my favourite things in a perfume. Patchouli, Incense, Pink Pepper, Tuberose, Tonka Bean, Rosewood, Amber, Sandalwood, Myrrh, Musk - on first spray it did smell a little bit like the incense in the yoke the priest used to swing around at mass, but when it settled - I sat smelling my wrists. It's smokey, dark, woody, seductive, sexy - the lasting power was fantastic. It may be too heavy for this time of year but I will be buying this at some stage. Gorgeous! This was released in 2011.

Kate Spade - Walk on Air
Another winner - based on "femininity and the city of New York", this combines top notes of lime, bergamot and lily with a base of white iris and violet leaf. When I sprayed it first I thought it was very light, but it settled down into a lovely warm lime fragrance - fresh, not overpowering, with the violet coming through. It lasted ages, it's beautiful, and it's a gorgeous, inoffensive, grown up fruity summer fragrance. This is Charlotte from Sex and The City in perfume form, really. Released March 2015.

Britney Spears - Believe
Oh, Britney. I like Britney's perfumes, usually. They're made by Elizabeth Arden, and although they're a bit sweet for some tastes, I like the candyness of them. This, though - no. It's patchouli, normally one of my favourites, but on me, this smells musty rather than musky. It smells like an old book that was left outside in the rain. It's horrible - synthetic, plasticky, old fashioned. Absolutely awful, and does not deserve comparisons to Thierry Mugler's Angel based on sharing a few top notes. Unfortunately, it lasted ages on me. Believe was released in 2007.

Givenchy - Play for Her
When I was 17, I bought a bottle of Givenchy Oblique Play. I chose this sample assuming it was the same scent - so I was a bit annoyed when I smelled this perfume and realised that it wasn't the candybomb that Oblique Play was. Instead - this has shot straight to the top of my "I want this NOW" list, joining the Hourglass bronzer. I want it. Now. It's full of my favourites - Musk, Sandalwood, Tonka bean, with a top layer of Pink Pepper and Orange Blossom. It's got Bergamot, Orchid in there too. It's warm, it's sexy, it's floral and woodsy, it's feminine, it's absolutely DELICIOUS and I was sitting smelling my wrists for hours afterwards. It's beautifully blended and it's just lush, it's like a big hug. I want it. Released in 2010.

Aquolina - Pink Sugar
This has been on my "to-smell" list since about 2012 when Róisín mentioned it. It's a sugar bomb if ever there was one - aimed at "young girls who like sweets". This has Bergamot and Raspberry on top, then a middle layer of Licorice and Candyfloss, with Caramel and Vanilla lurking around the bottom layer. It's mixed well, the sillage is good, but it didn't last long on me. I didn't get Raspberry on me at all, I got an immediate bang of Iced Caramels that lingered for a couple of hours at most. It's a shame, because it's lovely - definitely one I'll spray on a scarf for a bit more longevity. Released in 2004.

If you're still reading - your medal is in the post!

Overall I was delighted with the whole experience and I am already preparing a wish list for my next visit. It's a fantastic way to try several new fragrances without poisoning yourself in Boots or doing what I always do - overspraying a disgusting one.

Do you own any of the ones I tried? Or do you have any recommendations for me?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review by a 10 Year Old: Zachary Mackerel: Meanie in a Bottle by Kate Poels


I had always hoped that my eldest son would be a reader - I didn't want to push him but I got so much pleasure from books as a child that I really wanted him to experience that too. Thankfully, he adores books as much as I do, and has been known to buy 10 at a time from a market or second hand stall.

His favourite authors are Jeff Kinney, David Walliams, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine. I find it difficult sometimes to find new books for him, he isn't really into fantasy or sci-fi. When I heard about Zachary Mackerel: Meanie in a Bottle, I was delighted because it sounded like something he'd love. The author Kate Poels was kind enough to send us a hard copy for Shane, and he read it over a couple of nights.

Here is Shane's Review:

"It was the best book I've read, ever. It was exciting, funny, and heart warming, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fiction. It is about a girl who finds a small bottle & there is a really mean genie inside, but when she uses the wishes bad things begin to happen. She must do something fast."

When I asked him if he wanted to elaborate any more he said:

"No, I can't give any more of the story away because the ending of any book is the best part and if I gave that away nobody would bother reading it because there wouldn't be any suspense".

So there you go.

Here's the official blurb from the book:

Maisie Gable is a fairly ordinary ten-year-old girl. 

Mr. Bumcheeks is the mosquito-like bully of a teacher who always picks on her.

Joe Hopkins is the teacher's pet who torments her at every opportunity.

And Zachary Mackerel is the foul-mouthed, cantankerous purple genie about to change their lives.

With filthy habits, gruesome personal hygiene issues and a fearsome potty mouth, Zachary Mackerel may not be the vision of a picture book genie. However, he does have his uses. through him Maisie finds that wishes are not always a blessing but, when they are used wisely, great things can happen.

I read the book too, I didn't think it would be fair to review unless both of us read it. I thought it was funny  - it's aimed at children so my 10 year old thought it was HILARIOUS, especially the fact that the teacher was called Mr. Bumcheeks. One scene in particular involving Mr. Bumcheeks and Kazoos had him howling so much that he cried laughing. It's 154 pages long so it's not intimidating for a child. There's no bad language in it really, the odd "poo" but nothing rude, nothing I'd be worried about a 10 year old reading. 

It's a great addition to our bookshelves and I'd recommend it as a book choice for 8-12 year olds this Christmas. 

You can buy it at Amazon.co.uk here 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Baby-Friendly No Added Sugar Flapjacks


I find it really hard sometimes to know what to give the babies as a snack. I saw this recipe on My Lovely Little Lunch Box and thought it would be a welcome change from yogurt and ham sandwiches as a daytime snack for the boys (14 months).


* 150g stoneless dates, chopped.
* 5 tblsp apple juice.
* 150g unsalted butter.
* 100g sultanas.
* 225g porridge oats.
* 1 tsp cinnamon.


1. Preheat your oven to Gas 4/ 180c/350f. Spray a large rectangle baking dish or tin with frylight, and set aside.

2. Pour the apple juice over the dates and mash well. The original recipe called for a stick blender, but my babies are afraid of the noise of it and they were napping when I made these - rather than wake them, I used the Annabel Karmel food masher and it worked really, really well. You could use a normal potato masher either.

3. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.

4. Add the date/apple juice mix and the sultanas to the butter. Heat until combined.

5. Add the oats and cinnamon. Stir well to combine, and take off heat.

6. Spoon the mix into the greased baking dish. Smooth it down so that it's all even (first pic). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown (middle pic). When you remove it from the oven, cut into equal squares (mine made 15) and leave to cool in the dish.

They turned out really nice, and I'm not a huge fan of sultanas or dates. The natural sweetness was complimented beautifully by the cinnamon, and they were so chewy.

They keep really well when stored in an empty biscuit tin or in an airtight container. You don't have to put them in the fridge but I did, and they hardened up a good bit - if anything, it made them even more tasty.

My eldest loved them, and the babas were delighted with them!

I'll definitely be making them again.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Crafts: Activity Advent Calendar + Links


Over the past few years, I've bought our eldest a Lego Advent Calendar every December. This year his main present was quite expensive so I didn't want to shell out over €20 for something that's becoming repetitive and just going to be thrown in the box with all the other Lego when €20 could (and did) get him a couple of new books. I also didn't want to get him an Advent Calendar full of sweets or chocolate - he's not allowed sweets before school any other time of the year, so he's definitely not going to get a chocolate first thing in the morning every day for a month. I'm not a sugar Nazi (at this time of year my blood type usually changes to Celebrations) I just don't see the point.

So - I took to Pinterest to see what alternatives were out there. I found loads of really cool ideas for Advent Calendars, and most of them cost little or nothing to complete. They're also lots of fun, way more fun than shoving a sweet in your gob or getting a thrill from a new minifigure for all of two seconds. There are great ones for adults too!

The one I decided on this year was something I saw on a Christmas page on facebook - it's an idea from Cheeky Woman.

[Source: cheeky-woman.com]

The idea is that you print out some templates on card, and write a different Christmas-related activity on each one. It's so much more fun to do things with children, they'll enjoy it far more than a traditional calendar. They don't have to be big time-consuming things either, something as simple as "Put your Christmas Jumper on" can be fun. To download, just go to Cheeky Woman here and follow instructions. The template is in .jpeg form, so you can print out 3 of them and write your activities by hand. Or, if you don't have faith in your handwriting, you can do what I did and use Picmonkey or Ribbet to add text to the templates before printing. Here's how mine turned out:

I had the wrong printer settings on so I did chop the ends off a few, but I evened them out. Now - I know a lot of people have those felt Advent Calendars (like this one from Heatons) but I don't have anything like that to pop the cards in. Instead, I punched a hole in the top of the cards, and attached a piece of red ribbon to each one. Please excuse the light in these photos, I'm finding it a race lately to get photographs of anything before it gets dark.

I'll write a list below of all the activities I put on mine - I didn't put any "going out" ones because I wasn't sure if we would be able to do them on the designated day and didn't want to disappoint. You can write your own to suit the age groups in your house. My eldest is 10 and doesn't believe in Santa any more - but still wants to write a letter and leave cookies out! Here's what I put on mine, in no particular order:

  1. Decorate the Bathroom (yes, I've bought bathroom decorations...)
  2. Have a Snowman Breakfast (see how it's done here)
  3. Read about Baby Jesus (totally 100% individual if you include anything Jesus related or not)
  4. Make Christmas Cards
  5. Do a Christmas Jigsaw (loads of free printable jigsaws here)
  6. Make a Card for Teacher
  7. Make Paper Snowflakes (Step-by-Step instructions here)
  8. Make Hot Chocolate (with marshmallows and candy canes)
  9. Learn About Christmas in Other Countries (there's a fab website here)
  10. Colour some Christmas Pictures (free printables here or Dealz/Tesco have colouring books)
  11. Make Candy Cane Reindeer (instructions here)
  12. Read a Christmas Story
  13. Put your Christmas Jumper on
  14. Write about your favourite Christmas memory
  15. Toast marshmallows
  16. Listen to Christmas music
  17. Make Christmas cookies
  18. Blow up Christmas balloons (I got some in Euro Giant)
  19. Write to Santa (if Santa wanted to write back, get some beautiful free printable letters here)
  20. Watch a Christmas movie (my personal favourite for children is The Polar Express)
  21. Make gift tags
  22. Read The Night Before Christmas (I ordered the beautiful laser cut edition that was shown on this years' Late Late Toy Show, you can get it here from Dubray Books). 
  23. Make salt dough decorations (recipe here)
  24. Open your Christmas Eve box
I wrote the numbers 1-24 on the back of each one - use your head when doing this. Don't put a big activity on a school day, or on a day when you know you'll be busy. Things like making cards or salt dough decorations are great weekend activities, while schooldays are better suited to the simpler ones like learning about other cultures, or reading a Christmas story. Don't make things hard for yourself!

To display them, I cut a Christmas Tree shape out of a piece of green card. I punched a couple of holes down the sides, and attached some ribbon. Then I tied the activities on, numbered side out. If I had more time the pedantic side of me would probably have used number print-outs or stickers, but handwritten numbers do the job. 

Each morning, just turn your card around and arrange to do the activity after school. It's a great way to keep the Christmas spirit going and gives the kids something to look forward to when they get home!

Day One - done!

Boys Christmas Jumper - Littlewoods 

Books I Read in November


November was a very light month for me on the book front. To be honest, the majority of my spare time was spent doing this:

When I had that finished, I started this: 

I want to get both stockings finished and made up as soon as possible, so the reading has been pushed to the sidelines a bit! Still, I did manage to read 5 books throughout November, and I'm making progress with 2 more.

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner - Freakonomics
This was a Rick O'Shea Book Club pick for November. It reminded me a little of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science but with a lot less wit and a lot more filler. I didn't find it an enjoyable read at all, and found myself skimming it a fair bit. Much as Clarissa didn't actually explain it all, these guys do not "explore the hidden side of everything". I found this really boring.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Rose is almost 9. Without warning, she gets a hollow, overwhelming feeling of sadness after eating lemon cake made by her mother. The book follows Rose as she deals with her "gift" but the gift is not the subject of the book. Simply Irresistible this is not (that's probably a good thing) - it's a very strange quirky little tale that focuses more on family relationships than on Rose being able to taste emotions.There's a story arc involving Rose's brother that is just bizarre, but altogether it was a good book and wasn't a taxing read.

Amy Poehler - Yes Please
I enjoyed this. I thought that the idea to bring other people in to tell their opinions on some stories were genius - like her parents' anecdotes about Amy's birth. I didn't start this book as a fan of Amy Poehler, and I'm not sure I ended it as one, I just thought it was a funny, witty book that had a lot of heart without being too try-hard. I will take the quote "Good for her, not for me" to the grave with me, I have thought of it several times since reading the book. This isn't a behind-the-scenes of Saturday Night Live, nor is it Bossypants II. It's just Amy.

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I got a gorgeous hardback copy of this book last Christmas and to my shame never picked it up until I saw it one morning and it called out to me. I adored it - it's the story of a man returning to his homeplace for a funeral. He visits a spot he used to frequent in childhood, and reminisces about the summer that changed his life, when the family lodger took his own life and set in motion a series of horrible events. It's a beautiful book, I think fans of Coraline would enjoy it.

Andrew Kaufman - The Tiny Wife
Shortly after 3pm on Wednesday 21st February, a thief (dressed like Prince, it has to be said) walks into branch #117 of the British Bank of North America. He doesn't demand money from those inside - instead, he demands to have the item currently in their possession that holds the most sentimental value. As the customers and staff hand over their items, they are unaware of what will happen. What happens is a series of bizarre and unexplained events - the titular character begins to shrink, until she is the size of a car key. Another woman witnesses her lion tattoo jump off her ankle, grow to full size, and chase her. The husband of a third woman turns into a snowman. A fourth woman discovers she is now made of candy. A man's family history literally collapses on top of him. This was an odd book, and a quick read - but nothing was explained. It's filled with metaphors about facing fears, but we weren't told why the thief wanted the items or who he was. It was all a little disjointed and rushed for me, I would have liked a longer book with more explanation and more detail into the individual stories.

The two books I began in November that I'm currently reading are:

David Nicholls - Us
Written from the point of view of Douglas, who has just been told by his wife Connie that she wants to leave him. I'm finding this a hard slog, I don't like Douglas' voice as a narrator. He actually reminds me a lot of Don Tillman from The Rosie Project. I have heard that it picks up though, so I'll stick with it.

Lena Dunham - Not That Kind of Girl 
I'll be honest, I know nothing about Lena Dunham. I've never seen Girls and I don't think I've ever seen or heard an interview with the woman. I picked this book up after the recent controversy over supposed "confessions" made in the book, because I had some opinions on it but felt like it was unfair to speculate without reading the book. So far it's okay - pretty standard fare.

One pretty cool book-related thing happened in November - a while back, I reviewed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng for Little Brown via Netgalley. They recently contacted me to get permission to incorporate some of my review into a graphic as part of a huge twitter drive on the day it was published - it was such a cool thing to be involved in!

If you haven't read the book, I really recommend it. You can see my full review on Goodreads here.

Bring on the Christmas reads! If I ever get the stockings finished........