Last year we were invited to visit Harrod’s Santa for review purposes, and whilst we enjoyed our experience, we had a few criticisms.
This year, assured that these had all been addressed, we once again travelled into London to experience the wonder of a “Big Name” Santa, visiting Santa in his Harrods workshop.
And I have to say that Harrod’s Santa 2014 was a vast improvement on 2013. It was an actual Winter Wonderland- a forest of white birch trees through which you meandered to meet the man himself. We were issued with Mouse hats this year, which any fully-qualified parent will sport even when their children do not. There were plenty of elves to engage with the children and add to their experience.
The biggest change was the queue- last year you could have been in line at the bank, because you could see everything that was going on ahead of you. The trees this year, and careful staging, meant that yes, you could see some of what was going on ahead of you but not all of it, so you could focus on the moment.
There were fewer screens and more hands-on activities, like a tree-trunk tunnel, or throwing snowballs at snowmen. We got to have our picture taken in “Santa’s Actual Sleigh”, and we had great fun looking out for the animated mice that punctuated out journey to Santa’s door.
There was no accidental eavesdropping on Elves, no inappropriate information to be overheard which, as my girls are a year older, was a blessing.
We went through a special door to the corridor of Santa’s, with it’s enormous countdown clock on the wall. We knocked ceremoniously on the door, and we sat and chatted with Santa. The girls had a goodie rucksack with book and large chocolate coin inside. We had our photograph taken. And we never felt at all rushed.
Back into the hubbub and we claimed our photograph from the very efficient front desk staff, choosing form our Santa shots in addition to the sleigh ones, and before we knew it we were heading home to tell DH all about it.
It was a much more pleasurable experience. And if next year’s experience is even better than this year’s, then I suggest you get your tickets now. Tickets for the Harrod’s Christmas Grotto cost £10 per booking and are available for Harrods Reward Card holders only.
Disclosure: we were invited by Harrods to experience the Christmas Grotto for the purposes of writing this review. Our opinions are honest and we received no additional payment.
It’s always fun to mark then end of term and spend time with your friends in the school holidays, so when The Girls asked for a festive event, who was I to say no?
The result was a Festive Christmas Tree Activity Party, where everything was tree-shaped.
This printable on my Advent Activity Calendar board on Pinterest, via Vegie Smugglers. It’s a great colour-and-cut printable that is a quick and easy activity for any age group.
You always need party food and it couldn’t be easier to make a Christmas Tree Fruit Platter- just slice fruit and arrange on a plate. If you are feeling decadent, you could decorate with sprinkles and chocolate icing! We also had Christmas Tree sandwiches and mini-pizzas- the tree-shaped cookie cutter did overtime- as well as cookies.
This is a popular craft on Pinterest at this time of year. I stuck an ice-cream cone to a rich tea biscuit with icing, then The Girls covered their cones in green icing and spent a good half an hour adding icing and sprinkles.
We love our Roll a Reindeer Game, so I took the idea, and re-worked it for a Christmas Tree. I cut up some of the pieces in advance, but most of the embellishments were from my craft boxes. A dice, and a few glue sticks and it’s game on!
Turkey and Stuffing Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce and Shredded Brussel Sprouts.
DH loves turkey. Could eat it all year round. So I knew that when I saw a recipe in Jack Monroe‘s book for Turkey Meatballs I would have to make them for him.
They were a disaster. A didn’t-hold-together-whilst-cooking-and-ended-up-a-bowl-of-mince-type-disaster, albeit tasty. I stared at this pan of mince all afternoon resentfully until I re-imagined it as Turkey Hash. Which was utterly delicious.
But that got me thinking about meals that we like and I had a sort of gastronomic epiphany. Which may be too grandiose a term for meatballs. Gastronomic epiphanies are what happens in the Development Kitchen at The Fat Duck at Bray or The Star in Harome.
But these meatballs- for a turkey-loving-husband, and a family that like simple food fast- are cracking (deliberate Christmassy pun.)
They only require four ingredients, too:
One onion, chopped quite finely, and fried until soft and caramelly.
One packet of stuffing mix, made up as dictated on packet. I used Sainsbury’s Cranberry, Orange & Roasted Chestnut Stuffing, because I love the Christmassy flavours (and I am really not keen on Sage-based stuffing mixes.) Make up with a large dollop of butter.
One 450g pack of turkey mince- I used thigh for extra flavour. It’s cheaper than breast too!
Mix it all together in a large bowl until blended. Shape handfuls of mix into golfball-sized meatballs and fry until crispy brown and cooked all the way through. Obviously the larger you make the meatballs, the longer this will take so you may want to put them in the oven to finish cooking.
As I was cooking on the Aga I browned the outsides in my swanky Aga frying pan, the transferred to the floor of the Roasting Oven for 15 minutes until cooked through.
I served these with freshly-made Cranberry Sauce, and some shredded Brussel Sprouts- which may just be my new favourite way of cooking sprouts- and rice. But it’s really up to you!
It’s precisely at this time of year- December- that my thoughts turn to Christmas. My birthday falls at the end of November so it is not until I am out of the month that I can really focus on All Things Festive.
I don’t know whether it’s my love of Christmas Movies- however awful- or my fondness for Pinterest but I have been really captivated by the Holiday Card in the last few years. My captivation has been such that I have whizzed through Christmas salivating at the idea of Holiday Cards and found myself sending New Year Cards instead. Three Years in a row. So now it’s become kind of a thing for me to enjoy whilst we are away enjoying a Christmas Break.
I’m fortunate that earlier this year my good friend Kate Darkins took some beautiful images of us all. I love the casual and relaxed style she has- all the pictures look real and capture our family perfectly as it is in the year DH turns 40- and there are so many of them I would be hard pressed to chose one for the card.
I’ve recently been introduced to the US Stationery company Minted, purveyors of stunning stellar cards for every occasion that you can tinker with to your heart’s delight until you have the card that is perfectly you: and as unique and special too. They are the kind of cards that you would end up leaving on the mantel, or pinned to a board, or welded to the fridge by a school-made magnet for the entire year. They are chic and aspirational and yet do not carry the associated price tag.
See what I mean?
Now, where to start?
We awoke this morning to grass covered in a thick layer of frost, so have been busy in the kitchen planning for Dimples’ 5th birthday *sob* which will happen after Christmas. It will have a Frozen theme, so we’ve been looking for activities to do at the party and I have to say our Frozen Fractals Suncatcher made with Hama Beads have turned out really well.
They are so simple. We used white Hama beads, as well as a mixture of blues. We have a large jar of mixed colours and we just dug around in that, but if you are buying them separately, I heartily recommend getting some of the transparent blues as they look really pretty in the light. You can buy midi Hama Beads from the Craft Merrily website- a great British small business.
The Girls used a hexagonal board, starting in the middle and making a spiral outwards in white first, then filling the remaining spiral channel with a mixture of blues. The hexagon has scientific merit because we studied the hard frost outside first and they noticed how angular it was, so the straight lines of the hexagon reflected that.
Once you are happy with the design, cover with Hama paper- or greaseproof if you have none left- and iron well. I then removed the design from the board and ironed the other side to give strength. Then we used a needle and thread to make a hanging loop and hung them on our “Frozen Fractal tree”- sent by Hobbycraft some time ago now but still a regular display feature- with plastic and glass crystal baubles form the Christmas decorations box.
Whether you are Class Rep looking for ideas for Teachers’ Christmas gifts, or want a last minute token present for someone, there is a place in your life for one of these Mini-Pinboard Teachers’ Gifts.
And the best thing about it is that even the least crafty person can handle the crafting. Mainly because you need only two things.
1. A frame. In my case these are from Poundland so they really are as cheap as you are ever going to get but you could seek out vintage frames in your local Charity Shops.
2. A cork tile with adhesive back. I had mine left over from a craft project, but they are easy enough to find online or in DIY stores. If offered a choice of thickness, you will need the thinner one.
The instructions are simple. Remove all packaging from your frame, along with the glass/plastic front and any inserts.
Use one of the inserts as a template: draw around it on the reverse of your pinboard, then cut out either with sharp craft knife or scissors at a push.
Place the cork panel in the frame aperture, facing forwards. Remove the adhesive backing, then firmly press the back of the frame in place. This will secure the cork to the back, giving it strength and resistance when pins are pushed into it.
Seal up the fastenings of the frame.
Add a quirky notelet or inspirational quotation- this one from Bread and Jam- or package your mini-pinboard up with some cute stationery like these lovely mini sticky notelets from Bureau Direct, and you’ll have made someone’s day!
I admit it: I have been seduced.
Last month, welcomed to the busom of Bureau Direct’s #StationeryWednesday family, I had a plan. I knew what I wanted, I welcomed the change of schedule (see what I did there?) to my life and I have not looked back. Not so this month. I had plans for fountain pens and coloured ink, having coveted the Herbin pens that were spoken so highly of by Being Mrs C and Typecast.
Then came the weekly #StationeryWednesday email* from Bureau Direct. It pops up every week with new offers, and at the beginning of the month there is a discount code. It’s all terribly exciting, and makes me feel like I am a member of an elite club. And oh my some of the things that are showcased.
*follow the link to sign up for your very own slice of Stationery Bliss every Wednesday.
Which is how I came to be seduced by coloured paper and washi tape. Which is how my monthly review bundle bore no resemblance to the one I had meticulously planned.
Instead of beautiful fountain pens and rainbow inks, there were Vellum notelets from Crown Mill, vibrant and luxurious with contrast edging. I eschewed the red, fearing it too agressive, and went for bright blue with a navy contrast edging. They are dreamy. The kind of notelets you buy just to hold and stroke. They disappeared into DH’s office and have not been seen since. I assume I will get a Thank-you-for-my-super-40th-birthday-you-are-an-amazing-wife-and-I-love-you-so message very soon.
The rainbow Mini Cube Pad from the same company, as vibrant and luxurious as the notelets, was more of disappointment. At least in the size category. The clue was in the word Mini. It’s too small for me to find useful as a noteblock. Not that I write essays on note-paper, but an effective note has space for several items. And this only does that if you have Borrower-sized writing. It has been “borrowed” by the children, who love the glorious colours, and I am unlikely to see it again.
The other note paper I got came in the form of this amazing roll of Mark’s Sticky Roll Memo, like a very long Post-it note on a handy roll so that you could rip off a length as needed. No size issues here. And I simply adore it. But as SianTo said on the Domestic Goddesque Instagram feed, it’s almost a shame to use it. It is so cute and so awesome and I am so in love with it that I just want to keep it forever. I will be buying another roll next month for sure!
And then, there is the washi tape. The biggest seduction of all. If there’s one thing I am not in need of, it is tape. I counted and I have close to 35 rolls of washi tape, 12 of coloured duct/Duck Tape and innumerable rolls of packing tape, masking tape, sellotape and electrical tape. But have you seen the MT designs by Mina Perhonen? Frankly I am gutted that I didn’t see all the fabulous Christmas range before I got my hand on these babies. It is such good quality: easy to cut, adheres well, and did I mention the designs? The joy of using it in our secret project for DH’s birthday was tempered by the knowledge that I was actually using it, which meant that it would one day run out. Torture.
A word of extreme caution. The Washi Tape starts at £2.95. When choosing your roll, do not assume that all designs are the same price: select the design you wish to buy from the drop down menu to check the price. You may find that your roll costs £7.95. Which may have happened to me.
Costs of items mentioned:
Vellum Contrast Notes: 12.95 for a pack of ten notelets and envelopes
Rainbow Mini Cube Pad: £3.95 for 312 sheets
Mark’s Sticky Roll memo: £4.95
MT washi tape: from 2.95
*Disclosure: I am part of the Bureau Direct #StationeryWednesday group. The aforementioned items were sent to me to review, though the choices and opinions are all my own.*