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- Book Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock -

by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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Book Peak: The imagery of the book is faultless, written with extreme care, research and dedication. It was clear that the author had thoroughly explored the era down to minute detail, before I even knew anything about her. It is impressive.

Book Pit:  The pace of the novel is slow, which is overpowered by the incredible writing style, however for me, perseverance does not necessarily pay off culminating in feeling immense dissatisfaction at the ending. 

Favourite Quote: "A loss is not a void. A loss is a presence all its own; a loss takes up space; a loss is born just as any other thing that lives."

Similar Reads: The Essex Serpent, The Night Circus

 | FULL REVIEW BELOW | 

 
 

This kind of book is right up my street. I love historical fiction, and I am quickly realising, the older I get, that it might just be my favourite genre. So having seen countless bloggers and avid readers raving about this one it went straight on my 'to read' list. 

Upon starting the book I realised that it was not quite what I had expected, however, I know from experience that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many books I've read have turned out to be so much better than I had imagined they would be, even if first impressions had indicated otherwise. So I stuck it out.  

For mermaids are the most unnatural of creatures and their hearts are empty of love.

I had thought the book would be about a Mermaid, some mystical creature that was integral to the story, and I would be excused, given the title. However it becomes a tiny stitch in a tapestry woven from many other tales that don't always come to anything. 

Mr Hancock, a merchant, comes to acquire a mermaid. It is not the ethereal beauty of legends, but rather a gnarled and twisted foetal version of the myth. He sets out to make money from the creature, and that he does, however what he also gets is a lot more than he bargained for. 

Mrs Chappell, a madam, strikes a deal with Mr Hancock to display his mermaid within her establishment. This is where we encounter Angelica Neal, a courtesan who has recently lost her 'keeper' and is on the lookout for a new one. 

Its appearance is unbeautiful. It is not what people expect of a mermaid.

The story carries itself on mirroring themes between mythical mermaids and females of the time, lightly touching on the idea of being a trapped woman trying to obtain power and purpose in a world ruled by men. 

One sub story, which promises to tackle something beyond the restraints of gender, follows a mixed race prostitute called Polly who manages to escape from a 'job'. Much like her miraculous disappearance from this particular party, she vanishes from the plot never to be seen until the very end when we wonder if the author suddenly stumbled across her in her memory again. 

There are many metaphors throughout the book, some more obvious than others. The moral of the story is buried so deeply it is not easily accessible.

The book lures you into a place where you accept it as a real, viable story despite the appearance of mermaids, and so magical realism is not really apparent. That is until the end of the book when we are suddenly expected to accept some strange mystical happenings and it doesn't quite sit right. 

I cry out and there is a dull nothing.

Overall I found the book went at a glacial pace, I kept reading hoping that the story would turn a corner and reveal a major twist or unveiling that would make the journey worthwhile. Sadly I met my destination at the same tentative pace that I had sought it, rather than the climatic exit I had endeavoured to find awaiting me. The writing, setting and astounding attention to detail that went into this piece of work seem wasted somewhat as this could have been so much more.

 

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Rating 3/5

 

The words spoke from behind a mask may be bolder than those uttered barefaced, but this need not mean they are more honest.

If you would like to be part of our online Book Club then please subscribe to our email list below. You will be updated on the book pick for the month and reviews of previous reads. We will also send resources to aid you in further discussion on your current read. 

Head over to the Sharing a Chair Facebook page to join our Book Club Discussion group and chat to fellow members. We will also be having votes there in future to involve members in choosing the books we read. 

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- BOOK REVIEW | THE GREAT GATSBY -

by F.Scott fitzgerald

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Book Peak: The writing by Fitzgerald, which reads like prose. The descriptive nature of the storytelling helps to paint a vivid picture of the times and more importantly the characters.

Book Pit: It is difficult to relate to or sympathise with any of the characters, but this does seem intentional by the author to highlight their hollow lifestyles.

Favourite Quote: "I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Read if you liked: Any classic literature exploring the lives of those in high society. 

FULL REVIEW BELOW | NO SPOILERS 

 
 

To look at The Great Gatsby on surface level, one would conclude it was a love story. But this novel has so much more to say than just that of love lost and found. 

Set in the 1920's, a period in American history where the importation, production and transportation of alcoholic beverages was prohibited nationwide. The story is told by Nick Carraway, who introduces us to the lavish parties that take place at his neighbour, Gatsby's house every weekend.

Gatsby is elusive during his parties, inducing an atmosphere of mystery around who he is. None of his guests ever seem to completely know about who he is and how he came to be so wealthy. Gatsby holds a dark secret about his past and what lead to his wealth and popularity, a connection that will ultimately lead to the climax of the story. 

And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.

The Great Gatsby, in many ways, demonstrates the emptiness a life of luxury can bring. There is a running theme of 'time', with Gatsby seemingly fixated on finding a future, but only by means of changing the past. It's as though he is happily living in his past and wants to recreate it by denying the relationships and emotions of those around him that get in the way. 

The reader will become increasingly frustrated with the characters and their many flaws. Tom with his brutish nature, not loyal in his marriage but expecting more than he puts in himself and Daisy with her lust for the finer things in life over the invaluable qualities of character. Our attitude towards Gatsby will ebb and flow, at some points feeling sorry for him and his quest for the love of his life, then at others we find ourselves annoyed when he acts like a spoilt child - requesting that Daisy deny ever having any feelings towards her husband. 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

By the end of the novel you are left feeling that there is a great injustice in the world. There are no heroes and the careless get to carry on being careless and selfish in their ways. 

The book tells the story of the dreamer, of those who wish for the perfect ending and will do anything to reach for the unreachable. One could deduce that this is a little depressing, as the ending does not culminate in the long told tale that if you chase your dreams you will reach them, instead it shows that if you channel all your efforts into those that are unworthy, it will only have disastrous effects. 

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

This is a beautifully written tale of love and loneliness. The undulating prose of Fitzgerald makes the story come alive. I enjoyed every sentence and the fact that it is fairly short means that the quality leaves you satisfied and not overindulged. 

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5/5 Rating

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-Book Review | The Lie Tree- 

 

by Frances Hardinge

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Book Peak: The climax in the final part of the book is exciting and intense and the characters have become beautifully rounded and fully understood by this point.

Book Pit: The writing is beautiful but could equally feel over bearing, quite heavy for Young Adults as I found I had to concentrate at times.

Favourite Quote: "A rain shower was rehearsing. A few experimental droplets filled the silence."

Read if you liked: His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman.

FULL REVIEW BELOW | NO SPOILERS 

 
£7.99
 

I'd never had the pleasure of reading a book by Frances Hardinge before, in fact, I had never heard of her, which I now realise is shocking. This was one of those moments when you see something and then you keep seeing it everywhere you go, so I took the hint and set about making sure I gave it a read. 

It quickly became apparent that this was an author who delighted in language and knew exactly how to make it dance across the page in beautiful prose. It took me such a long time to finish this book because I have two young children but I also wanted to devour every single word, savouring each carefully constructed sentence to acknowledge the thought that had gone into it. 


“Listen, Faith. A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing. Do you understand?”

The Lie Tree follows young girl Faith Sunderley, the daughter of a socialite Mother and a natural scientist Father. Faith is a girl with a thirst for knowledge, but she finds herself up against the time in which she has been born and learns a lot about what is expected for a girl of her age and social standing. 

 

The book begins with the family upending their life in Kent in favour of a new start on the remote island of Vale. It becomes apparent that Faith and her family are running from scandal surrounding her father’s latest scientific findings. When tragedy strikes the family, Faith takes matters into her own hands. In order to uncover the mysteries surrounding her Father and save the reputation of her family, she must be covert in her attempts to manipulate those around her and find the truth. 

“Women find themselves on battlefields just as men do. We are given no weapons, and cannot be seen to fight. But fight we must, or perish.”

We are convinced of the battles that Faith has to face by Hardinge’s flawless ability to paint a perfect picture of the time. Issues such as the treatment of left-handed children and after-death photography are intricately weaved throughout the narrative to reinforce the authenticity of the storytelling. The effect of Darwin’s theories on Victorian society play a major part in setting the scene for Faith’s Reverend Father, also a fossil enthusiast who battles with the juxtaposition of his faith and the rival theories of his peers. 

 

“Faith had grown used to her father’s guests smiling, bantering and my-dear-fellow-ing over their tea, while racing their rival theories like prize ponies”

 

The fantasy element of the book is the inclusion of a mysterious tree, which is hard to review without revealing too much of the mystery within the story itself. It is quite fantastical but gives a great depth to the tale and makes the reader think about the role of a lie and where it can take us. 

 

 

 

Though this was written for Young Adults, I felt it was perfectly enjoyable for adults too. As a fan of His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman,  this felt like another example of YA fiction that can equally be enjoyed by adults. I especially felt that this would be an encouraging story of feminism for young women, showing that in adversity you can still achieve all that you put your mind to. Ultimately this is a beautifully written and brilliantly intelligent book about a strong-willed, intelligent young woman, offering an intricate story that leaves you with a satisfying conclusion.

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4/5 Rating

 

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Blogmas Day 23 | CHILDREN'S BOOKS Sharing a Chair // BOOK CLUB

Christmas Book Picks: Children

We love story time in our house and Christmas Eve is the perfect opportunity to get out the favourite Christmasy books. We keep ours safe, stored with all the decorations throughout the year so we get to discover them all over again in December. Here are a few of our favourites.

 
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The Jolly Christmas Postman

By Janet & Allan Ahlberg

 

 - This book is lovely, with interactive bits for the children to pull out and look at such as letters and cards. It integrates classic fairytales such as Goldilocks and Jack & the Beanstalk which many children will recognise. 

 
 
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The Night Before Christmas

 

By Clement C. Moore & Niroot Puttapipat. This is a classic Christmas story, but we love this pop up version with silhouette illustrations that are just beautifully intricate.

 

 
 
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God Gave us Christmas

By Lisa Tawn Bergen. This is a lovely story that combines the true meaning of Christmas with the image of presents and Santa Claus. It shows that the two can live side by side but shows us the joy and importance of remembering God at Christmas time. 

 
 
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Stick Man

By Julia Donaldson. No one writes children's books like Julia. Now a short film, this tale is all about a Daddy Stick Man trying to get home to his family at Christmas. Perfect rhyming prose for little ones this Christmas. 

 

Other books we love:

  • The Snowman | By Raymond Briggs - What a classic, it's a bit of an obvious one so we haven't included it in the above list but it would just be totally wrong not to mention it at all. 
  • The First Christmas | The Bible - We read this lots throughout December in lots of different formats - but each and every one is just as special as the other. 
  • The Gruffalo's Child | Julia Donaldson - This snowy follow up to the popular story of The Gruffalo has also been made into a Christmasy TV short and is a favourite all year round in our house. 

What are your children's favourite stories to read this time of year? Or what do you remember reading as a child at Christmas time? Let me know! 

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Blogmas Day 22 | CHRISTMAS CAKESharing a Chair

Alternative Christmas Cake

I'm not a fan of the classic Christmas treats, the fruity Mince Pies, Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding are not my thing. So every year I make a Guinness Cake for my Dad which has become a festive favourite.

 
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The cake is dark and very moist with a white fluffy cream cheese topping, so looks precisely like a frothy pint of blakc gold. The recipe does involve a small amount of Guinness but mixed with Cocoa and butter it makes for a dark chocolatey sponge. I use Nigella Lawson's recipe however I do add my own little twist just to make it a little more festive and that bit more indulgent. 

For the topping, Nigella suggests using double cream but I substitute this with Bailey's Extra Thick Cream which is available at Christmas from Tesco as well as some other supermarkets, I'm sure. I love using this because it adds a little alcoholic kick and stays in keeping with the Gaelic theme. 

I wholly recommend this cake if you love a chocolate cake and especially if your partial to a bit of Bailey's at Christmas. I'm off to have a slice. 

 

 

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Blogmas Day 20 | 1 MILLION MINUTES 

Ways to help at Christmas - One Million Minutes

I am a big fan of the ITV One Million Minutes campaign. It is an award winning campaign encouraging us to pledge as little as 30 minutes of our time this Christmas to someone who is lonely. I think this is such an important cause, many of us are extremely lucky to have lots of family and friends to celebrate with at Christmas, but unfortunately this means that for those with no-one it can be the loneliest time of year. Why not head over to ITV and pledge as much time as you can. Here are some suggestions on how you can use your minutes:

  • Is there a neighbour that you've noticed may live on their own? Why not invite them in for a cup of tea and a chat.
  • Why not invite someone to a Christmas market or Festive outing. Remember not everyone who is lonely is elderly, there could be someone at your local playgroup who is finding parenting an isolating time, why not invite them out so they know they're not alone. 
  • Call older relatives that you don't see or speak to that much and let them know you are thinking of them. 
  • There are a number of organisations that you use your minutes to help and support. Some listed by One Million Minutes are: Neighbourly, Action for Children, Age UK, Contact the Elderly, Independent Age, The Royal Voluntary Service, Campaign to end loneliness, and The Silver Line. Click on any of these links to find ways in which you can help just by giving your time this Christmas.

🎁Give the Gift of Time🎁

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Blogmas Day 18 | CHRISTMAS SONGS

My Favourite Christmas Songs

There is nothing that gets me in the festive spirit like a good Christmasy song or carol.. I pretty much love all Christmas songs and all of them hold special memories for me, but these listed here are extra special. Going to a carol concert or evening at church is a highlight of the season for me.

 

This classic reminds me of being a little girl and having the best Christmas and New Years Eve celebrating with  people from my close and extended family. Being that my dad is from a large Irish family  it makes sense that this one is so special to me. 

 
 
 

This has to be the most popular Christmas song doesn't it? I absolutely love it and when I hear it, it really makes the start of the season for me. I have to admit though that by Christmas Day I've heard it enough and I'm ready to pack it away for next year. 

 
 
 

This is another nostalgic one for me. It strangely reminds me of putting decorations on the tree, and my teenage years. It's definitely a party song and I can't help but do some immense shoulder dancing if it comes on in the car. 

 
 
 

I actually did Spanish at University so perhaps this is a little nod to that, but I also have quite a few Spanish friends so I love hearing this one at Christmas. I like that it's a little break from the norm. 

 
 
 

This is without a doubt my favourite Christmas Carol. It embodies the true message of Christmas and no matter how many times I hear it, it always gives me goosebumps. This version by Kings College is stunning. 

🎶 Which is Your Favourite?🎶

 

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Blogmas Day 14 | STOCKINGS

Stocking Fillers 

Stockings for children are easy, besides Father Christmas has that covered...but, if like our family you are still making stockings for your loved ones when they are in their 20's, 30's and beyond, then often it's hard not to panic buy lots of rubbish to fill the stocking with. I am not one for buying things for the sake of it, I like to try and counteract the crazy world of consumption we live in by buying purposeful gifts. I buy things with people in mind which means every gift I buy has thought behind it. So today I've compiled a few ideas to help fill your stocking with useful gifts that will actually be used or enjoyed. 

 
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Toiletries

Everyone needs toiletries! You may laugh but I actually love getting the basics, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash and shower gel it saves me buying them for a while. If they are slightly more luxurious than normal then all the better because that's not something we tend to spend money on regularly, it's usually just dumped in our trolley in the supermarket, right? 

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Food

Always a win! For my husband's birthday the children filled a jar of sweets and then we labelled it 'To Daddy, there's no-one sweeter than you' such a simple gift to include and cute. It's easily personalised, just fill it with their favourite sweet treats so they have a supply to have on their desk at work or stored at home.

 
 
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Clothing

I mean socks are a given, but if anyone else buys my husband socks I may have to move out - SOCK OVERKILL. If you think buying clothes for someone else is too much of a personal decision then why not go festive. You could get a pair of Christmas pyjamas or a Christmas jumper that they'll enjoy for years to come, both are items that don't have to be taken seriously. 

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Music

Well I still collect CDs because digital is just so cold to me. But if the one's you love are all for digital then you could still buy an iTunes voucher, as much as it pains me to advise this, not everyone loves a CD anymore! *sobs*

 
 
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Film

This probably brings up more digital issues, but a festive DVD or film they've always wanted to see is a great filler. As people aren't as old school as me nowadays, and DVDs are dipping in popularity, you can pick one up pretty cheaply.

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Puzzle

Who doesn't love a puzzle or game at Christmas, especially in the slow afternoon when you're immobile due to overindulging. This can be anything from monopoly to a puzzle compendium magazine. Think Rubiks cube or travel scrabble too for fitting into the stocking. 

 
 
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Book

I will be the first to admit that buying a novel for someone else is extremely hard, even when you know them very well you don't always know if they'll enjoy a book. However you can buy books on ANYTHING so think about what they like to do in their spare time, or something they've always wanted to do and get them a book so they can read all about it. Have they got a holiday booked next year, or was there somewhere they went this year that left an impact on them? Wallpaper City guides are beautiful and a great thing to collect.

 
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Voucher

How about a little voucher with money towards a dinner out, cinema or their favourite shop to hit the sales after Christmas. It might only be £10 but it's £10 less that they'll have to spend. 

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Finishing touches...

When I was little there always used to be a clementine at the bottom of my stocking, along with a bag of chocolate coins obviously! Nowadays the clementine has been upgraded to a Terry's Chocolate Orange, natural progression. The smell of Clementines still remind me of Christmas morning to this day. It's often the little things that go the furthest in your memory. 

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Blogmas Day 13 | PACKAGING

Brown Paper Packages

In the words of Fraulein Maria 'brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things!' Now, you may have realised by now that I love a thrifty alternative and brown paper is the BEST wrapping resource you can get. Did you know you can get 25 metres of brown wrapping on eBay for around £5? If you compare this to around £4 for 3 metres then it seems like a win right? Right!

I know you may have reservations because there are so many pretty wrapping papers out there, but I'm going to show you all the ways you can jazz this up and make it look so pretty, plus if you buy loads of it you can use it for anyone's birthday and tailor it to whoever! Makes so much more sense than one use festive paper. 

 
 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

 
 

Sometimes simple is the most effective. You could print off the labels and then all you need is some fine thread to recreate this look. All that needs to be added for the finishing touch is a little bit of greenery, whether that's clipped off your tree or from a bush outside it doesn't matter!

 
 
 

If you're a bit of a stationery hoarder like me, then you may well have a set of rubber letter stamps in your collection. If so then you could easily create these personalised gifts. Added bows or ribbons will add some colour.

 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

 
 
 

I think this one is my favourite design. I am loving natural decorations this year and these are all things you can find foraging on a winter walk. All that's needed is some twine and maybe some bells to finish it off.

 
 
 

Pom Poms are so easy to make and you can usually find some wool pretty cheap, or perhaps ask a relative who knits if they have any balls of wool they no longer need. You can buy Pom Pom makers online fairly cheaply and in differing sizes, teeny tiny ones are my favourite. 

 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

 
 

If lettering is your thing then you could pull this one off really easily. I'm not good with calligraphy, I wish I was! This is another lovely way to personalise gifts using just brown paper, a gold pen and some ribbon! Easy and cheap!

 
 Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

So you see, brown does not have to be boring, in fact it can looks extremely pretty - you just need a bit of inspiration to get started.

🎁  Get Wrap Happy 🎁 

 

These ones are fun and could be really great for children! All it requires really is cutting out some shapes from other coloured card and sticking it on. Easy but effective!

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Blogmas Day 12 | FRUGAL CHRISTMAS

Making Christmas Cheaper

Christmas is definitely the one time a year that things can get a little out of hand. People can feel a lot of pressure to keep up with the Jones' and this is especially true if there are children involved. I have compiled a list of the different ways you can cut back and save some pennies.

 
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  • Stick to a budget - May as well get the obvious one out the way first. Working out what you can afford to spend on gifts and food for Christmas can be extremely helpful. If you know you will spend more on the children then set that budget aside and split the rest between family and friends.
  • One gift each - Speak to family and perhaps come to a mutual agreement to only buy one gift for each other. You may be surprised how others will be relieved about this too and then you can really set about making that one gift a really thoughtful one.
  • Secret Santa - If you are part of a large group of mutual friends or a large family perhaps see if people would consider doing secret Santa, this way you only buy a gift for one person but everyone receives something.
  • Make your own - You don't have to be a good baker or crafter to create a good homemade gift. You could buy a Kilner jar and fill it with someone's favourite sweets, or perhaps buy a lovely mug and pop a cellophane pouch inside full of ingredients to make the perfect hot chocolate. If you are handy in the kitchen then you could make a batch of homemade fudge or honeycomb and package it up all pretty. Homemade gifts are sometimes the most well received because the recipient knows thought and time went into it.
  • Plan ahead - Write a list of who you need to buy for and then find the cheapest places online for potential gifts. If you are heading for the shops then write a list of what you need to get with a maximum budget next to each item. It's so easy to get caught up in the moment and lose track of what you are buying, if you've worked it all out beforehand then you know sticking to your list is the only way.
  • Make a hamper  - If you have a few couples you need to buy for then a hamper could be the answer. I often find it hard to buy for the men in my family and so buying a hamper to share between couples can often bypass this difficulty and help you cut back on buying unnecessary items.

So there you have just a few ideas to help you stay thrifty this Christmas. Some of these have definitely worked for me whilst I'm a stay at home mum with babies, also trying to save for our first house! Budget is the top priority. It's also worth remembering that if someone only bought us one gift would we be disappointed? Absolutely not! Any gift is a blessing and if we knew anyone was worrying about finances we would want them to forget our gift entirely. So if you feel you need to be a little stricter then speak to those you know will understand - you may find they feel exactly the same. Christmas is about so much more than gifts.

🎁 Happy Shopping 🎁

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Blogmas Day 10 | HAMPERS

Build your own Christmas hamper.

I love making hampers for friends and family, it's just the perfect way to cover all bases and contrary to popular belief it doesn't have to be all about food. Hampers are popular at Christmas but can be very expensive, making your own is a great way to stick to a budget and you can really tailor it to the recipients by making the gifts more personal.

Where do I start?

I always find following a loose theme helps me get started and then I usually go off on a tangent so it becomes a collection of thoughtful things rather than forcing all the gifts to fit the theme. For this example I will show a hamper idea for a couple and go with the theme 'date night'.

Basket or Box?

Think about your budget and how much you have to spend on the gift as a whole. You can easily make a nice hamper for £20 so buying a giant basket that costs £15 doesn't leave much to spend on gifts to fill it! You can often pick up lovely second hand baskets fairly cheap from charity shops but Paperchase do lovely large gift boxes from around £5 which you could line with lovely tissue paper. Don't be afraid to buy the cheapest, plainest box though because you can make them very pretty with clippings of Christmas tree or festive ribbon. Sometimes less is more! Here are my picks: 

The Basket Company

This really is what you think of when you hear 'hamper' but it doesn't have to be this extravagent. Classic Wicker Storage Trunk - Hamper Basket £12.50

 

Brown, or 'Kraft' as it's known to avid crafty folk like myself, is definitely not boring. It's a blank canvas so get creative!

Paperchase

A large box can work just as well as a basket, bearing in mind that whoever receives it will be focused on the lovely things you've put inside. Large Kraft gift box £4.50


What do I fill it with?

As I said before a hamper, gift box or even gift bag doesn't have to be all about food, but it can be a little bit about food (shouldn't everything be a little bit about food?) So if we continue with my theme of 'Date Night' then here are some of my little ideas on how to fill your box.

Lakeland

If you've got more of a flexible budget for your hamper then these reusable cloth napkins from Lakeland are gorgeous for a date night and christmases to come. Festive linen - look holly napkins (pack of 4) £16.99

M&S Simply Food

At the higher end of the high street scale we have this Monticella Prosecco Superiore DOCG from M&S at £16.00 a bottle. 

 

Napkins will make date night a little more romantic than just grabbing a bit of kitchen roll for dinner. may as well make them festive while we're at it!


Bubbly is a must surely? With smaller boxes use cellophane with lots of ribbon to keep everything together and place the lid underneath so it can be reused as a box later.

John Lewis

If you are trying to stick to a smaller budget these napkins are really cute from John Lewis. Christmas Robin Napkins £3.00

Lidl

If you are on a tighter budget you could try this award winning Prosecco from Lidl at only £5.79

I try to avoid fresh food, as it's so tricky to include when it needs refrigerating. So this hamper is catering for all the elements surrounding dinner and an evening as a whole.

Hotel Chocolat

This is a perfect date night treat for a pricier hamper. It's chocolate fondue with all you could need for an after dinner romantic dessert - but fun too! Mini Chocolate Dipping Adventure for Two, Hotel Chocolat £20

Scrabble

A classic and who doesn't love a game of Scrabble at Christmas time? £39.99 on Amazon.

 

An after dinner chocolate treat would be gratefully received I'm sure and both these options are delicious.


Where would a festive night in be without a good game to play? Here we have two classics but for two very different budgets.

Green & Blacks

Just because you are on a budget doesn't have to mean bad chocolate. This luxurious Green & Blacks organic 70% dark chocolate bar is only £2.00 at Waitrose. 

Uno

Another classic but a lot cheaper, it allows up to 10 players to so that's Christmas sorted with all the family. £7.65 on Amazon.

A good night in deserves a good movie, check out my top Christmas films for ideas to include in your date night hamper. If you've got room for one more gift then why not include some good old popcorn and these brilliant popcorn holders below! 

Joe & Steph's

This is the ultimate luxury popcorn - Gin and Tonic? Yummy. £3.00 from Waitrose.

 

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Plastic popcorn holders for date nights and movie nights throughout the year - very cute! £1.95 from dotcomgiftshop.

Metcalfe's 

This popcorn is still yummy and if you haven't had sweet and salted you are missing out. The perfect movie night addition. £1.50 from Waitrose.

So there you have it, the makings of a pretty lovely hamper. You could extend on this quite a bit and take it from 'date night' to 'family night in' or wherever your search takes you, but a hamper can be made on any budget you just have to look around for cheaper options that still say 'treat'. Whoever receives your hamper will be happy about the thought behind each and every gift. 

🎁 Happy Hampers!🎁

Sharing a Chair | Blogmas

Blogmas Day 6 | CHARITY GIFT

A gift for those who have everything.

We all have those family members or loved ones who are particularly difficult to buy for. They have all they need or don't really want any more 'stuff'. So perhaps there is a way of giving a really meaningful gift that will have an impact far greater than making your Granny smile on Christmas Day. 

I think more of us should consider giving back at Christmas, whether that's completely swapping out what you would spend on someone's gift and using it for good, or taking 10% of your budget and setting it aside to help those less fortunate this festive season. 

Last year I took a look into a lot of different gifts you can give through charities and I thought I would share them here with you all for Blogmas. There are popular traditions that some familes now take on, particularly if they have young children, like filling a shoebox or collecting a reverse advent calendar to hand in to their local foodbank

Gifts you can give:

Gifts range from 'A Bog in a Bag' for £10 which provides cement for a toilet base, to hand washing facilities for a whole school at £160. There is a gift for every budget and every gift will change lives.

One of my favourite gifts to give from Save the Children is the 'Birth Kit for a Midwife' and it only costs £12! There are gifts you can buy that are even cheaper that range from toys to winter clothes. But if you have a little more you can give then perhaps you could buy a couple of goats for a family or even pay for a child to go to school. How incredible.

It is safe to say that all of our lives have been touched by cancer in some way, so this could be a really touching gift for someone you love. Gifts start from £5 which will provide 14 Cancer guides that can be distributed to those recently diagnosed. If you're looking to give quite a bit more then you could even fund a Macmillan nurse for someone for half a day. 

Refuge offers a slightly different approach to giving at Christmas. They have been running the 'Gift List Appeal' for several years which allows you to select as many items as you like from their pre determined list, in order to gift to women or children, or both! Gifts start from £5 for a pair of gloves.

Oxfam does incredible work and their gifts give the opportunity to really make a difference. For as little as £8 you could feed a family, and for £26 you could support a refugee with 'access to clean water, hygiene supplies, winter clothes, food and shelter – so they can focus on rebuilding their lives.'

Other things you can do to help this Christmas:

  • The 1 Million Minutes Campaign - ITV are running their annual, award-winning, campaign to encourage all of us to give just a little of our time to make a difference in the lives of those who are lonely this Christmas. I think this is such a wonderful thing to promote and time is free but can have such a huge impact on someone who doesn't see anyone day in day out. 
  • Help at a local homeless shelter - Many towns will put on a Christmas meal for the homeless or for those alone at Christmas time. This is a great way to give back if you can spare your morning before tucking into your own lunch at home.
  • Use up those end of year coupons - You know that final haul of supermarket vouchers you get in the post around November time? How about taking them to the supermarket and buying some essential items that would help a family in need. You could either give it to a family you know or donate to your local food bank or perhaps a women's refuge.

🎄Let's give beyond our family 🎄 

Sharing a Chair | Blogmas

 
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Blogmas Day 5 | Christmas Movies

My top 5 Christmas Movies

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5. Arthur Christmas

This has to be the best children's film to watch at Christmas. We love it in our house. 

Santa's son, Arthur goes on a mission with his grandfather to deliver a misplaced gift in less than 2 hours. 

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4. Home Alone

Well it's a classic isn't it? The music from Home Alone definitely gets me into the festive mood and sparks up the nostalgia. 

Kevin is a cheeky, mischievious 8 year old who protects his house from burglars when he is accidentaly left at home alone during the Christmas Holidays.

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3. Love Actually

You can't really go wrong with Richard Curtis, he ticks all the romantic comedy boxes and Love Actually is no exception - with a sprinkling of Christmasy sweetness that's probably a bit sickly but we'll let it slide, I mean, it's Christmas.

Several lives interwine with the focus being on all different kinds of love in the lives of ordinary people and their families. 

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2. The Family Man

This used to be my favourite Christmas movie, and probably in my top ten favourite movies in general. 

A high powered investment banker is given the opportunity to see what his life would have been like had he married his college girlfriend and learn how the other half live. He wakes up to find his penthouse swapped for a wife and two kids.

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1. It's A Wonderful Life

This took the top spot the day I watched it. It took me far too many years to watch it and I knew so many quotes from this film before I'd even seen it. It is a story that truly captures what is important in life and how we reflect on all these things at Christmas.

An angel is sent to show a downtrodden business man what his life would be like if he didn't exist.

 

🎅🏻 Time for a movie night 🎅🏻

 

Sharing a Chair | Blogmas

 

Blogmas Day 3 | Christmas Book Picks

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My Christmas Book Picks

If you are as crazy about books and Christmas as me, then this is the list for you. I love embracing the festive feels in any way I can, and a book is the perfect excuse to bring Christmas into the house as early as possible. So here are my selections for the season that will help build up the hysteria just that little bit more!

Letters from Father Christmas by J R R Tolkien

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This is a beautiful book that would make the perfect gift for a Tolkien fan. It is a collection of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children, acting as Father Christmas. Every December the children would receive letters from Father Christmas, and on occasion an Elf. The familiar scrawl of Tolkien brings these touching notes to life with the accompaniment of some joyful doodles. 

 

The Nutcracker // Penguin Christmas Classics by E T A Hoffman

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We all know the story of the Nutcracker and every Christmas the English National Ballet puts on a breathtaking performance of this famous tale. I remember playing the part of a sugar plum fairy myself when I was a little girl so this story always brings such warm feelings of nostalgia for Christmas' past. 

 

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

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This book is a modern day scrooge meets 'His Name is Earl'. A great story of redemption and forgiveness. It captures the spirit of Christmas and the most important things in life that we fully embrace at this time of year.

 

Little Women // Penguin Clothbound Classics by Louisa May Alcott

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This is my all time favourite story to read at Christmas time, and if you don't have time for the book then most definitely watch the film. The story of a loving relationship between four sisters and the struggles of adolescence in the Post - Civil war environment.  

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone // Illustrated Edition by J K Rowling

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This particular edition is lovely to read through during the festive period, the following two books are now out in this edition with the other four being released one a year, usually around October time. Harry Potter is always a cosy read a Christmas, or anytime really!


What's your favourite Christmas read? If you fancy joining my online book club, we will be reading The Great Gatsby during December and January. You can join in the fun on my Facebook page.

 

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ROUTINELY TABOO: WHY GINA FORD IS MY MODERN DAY HERO

 

The one thing that is supposed to unite us all as new shell shocked parents is the fact that we are shell shocked and exhausted. Sleep, or lack there of, is our mutual ground, our conversation starter, the foundation of our newly sprouted friendship. Well, where does that leave the parents who are getting sleep? Just because they are getting sweet juicy sleep does not mean they should be shrugged off. I can sense your eye-rolling disdain, but just hear me out.

 

Last week a guy was doing some maintenance work at our house, seeing my daughter we got into conversation about his own, also a one year old. He went straight in with ‘does she sleep?’ for some reason this question always makes me clam up, because my response needs to take into account that the asker may no longer want to talk to me. “Yea, er, we’re really lucky actually she sleeps pretty well’. Honest answer: she sleeps amazing. She sleeps from 7pm–6:30am, in the same room as her big brother who is almost three; who also sleeps all night, and has done since he was 5 months old. Despite my response, luck has nothing to do with it, it’s hard work and consistency and involves coming against a lot of opinions.

I never had any pre conceptions of Gina Ford before I was a parent, in fact I’d never heard of the woman. All I had pre wet wipes and raisins was my unrealistic expectations of attending a friends dinner party, putting my children down in their spare room and tucking into my prawn cocktail like nothing had changed, idiot.

My first introduction to Gina was when my son was 4.5 months old and only sleeping for 30 mins at a time during the day, I knew he was unhappy and never seemed to be getting the full sleep he needed. I turned to social media for advice, two dear friends, who had four children between them, suggested Gina whilst the rest of the parents told me not to worry about it and that my son would work it out later on ‘make the most of it’, ‘more excuses for cuddles’ all very lovely things to suggest, but along with the suggestions to eat all the cake whilst breastfeeding I felt it was more an ‘enabling’ kind of stance, culminating in making a rod for my own back.

I bought The Contented Little Baby Book and Gina became my parenting hero. As did the two legends who suggested I check her out.

 

They say there’s no manual but…

However, I quickly learnt that parents the world over have a lot to say about Gina. And most of it is not very nice. If you DARE to follow her routines then you are a certain type of parent, in particular, a parent who isn’t adhering to their offspring’s needs as lovingly as those who take the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach.

I mean, let’s back up a minute. When my son was born I taught him how to feed, we worked on that smile by smiling at him and showing him how it was done, we taught him to laugh by acting like fools, we showed him how to grip things, how to wave, how to say words and in a few months time we would teach him how to eat food, how to drink from a cup, how to walk…you get the idea. As parents we are teachers. So why when it comes to sleep are they supposed to be left to their own devices and know what to do? It’s crazy to me. I don’t get why parents who wanted to show their children the correct way to sleep were berated for it. And trust me they were.

I once saw a poor woman on a parenting forum get torn apart because she offered advice in response to someone asking for it. She wasn’t forcing her views she said simply ‘this worked for me, maybe give it a try?’ I made the mistake of showing support, voicing that the routine was also working wonders for my son, now 5 months. That was it. I was the world’s worst mother, I cared more for myself than my innocent son who ‘needs your love not a regime’ I’d love to say I had a thick skin and their words didn’t hurt me or fill me with doubt, but I was a first time mum and I definitely needed some love and reassurance after that. I had no regret at standing up for the other Gina mum though, that’s something I definitely didn’t lose sleep over...

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Remember: Sleep begets sleep!

I’ve since had my daughter and we’ve been getting that full night’s sleep for months now. She has been following the routine since she was two weeks old (yes weeks), but don’t tell the trolls or I’ll probably be reported for neglect — lack of sleep can make you a bit grumpy.

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Inspirational Insta - Mums 

This piece was originally written for Country Child Magazine.

I’ve undertaken the impossible task of choosing my 5 most inspirational mums on Instagram. These are ladies who are juggling the crazy world of parenting with their own careers, whilst also finding time to build huge social media followings from their extra-curricular activities such as writing books, raising money for charity and changing perceptions left right and centre. In the past year, I’ve become a mum of two and, along the way, have discovered some amazing and inspirational mothers online who are doing it all. These are women who have really helped me to feel less alone on those doubtful days, made me laugh on the tough days and motivated me to follow my dreams. They’ve shown me that as a stay-at- home mum, you can achieve things from your living room with a baby on your hip and a toddler round your knees.

I was never really into Instagram. Like Twitter, it seemed an utterly alien environment and the politics of ‘following’ people in order to gain followers for yourself went right over my head! In total contrast, Facebook was a little comfort blanket; sticking with what and who you know. It wasn’t until I had a lifestyle overhaul and found a huge support network of others on their own health and fitness crusades that I realised Instagram was actually a place you could really feel a part of something. With like-minded allies at your fingertips, all it took was one little hashtag for me to find an international team of parents who were honest, supportive and nothing short of inspirational.

In my opinion, Instagram is revolutionary for those of us who are stuck at home; let’s face it, there are times when parenthood can be very lonely. On the poorly days (these really increase with baby number two, don’t they?) when you’re all on lockdown, there can be a real detachment from the outside world and, sure enough, those little seeds of doubt begin to nestle in, trying to convince you that you aren’t as good as the rest, and that you’re the only parent who dreams of returning to work sooner rather than later. Oh the guilt!

Some of us may find ourselves becoming the first of our friends to have children, and no matter how supportive they are, they will never quite ‘get it’. This is where social media can really come into its own; it was on those Netflix fuelled hours in the dead of night, that I stumbled upon some really wonderful ladies sharing their honest journeys and their own coping mechanisms. I knew it was love when I was still scrolling and hadn’t noticed my daughter had long since fallen asleep, whoops!

I’ve listed the ladies (and one hilarious dad also features) that kept me sane in those wee hours and continue to make me smile one year on.

1. @theyesmummum – London Hypnobirthing founder, Hollie de Cruz created the company after her own positive birth experience. Hollie shows her clients how to reach a level of relaxation and therefore enjoy an entirely different, and most importantly, completely positive birth. Hollie has had numerous high profile clients lining up to use her birthing methods, but she is also encouraging mums all over the world with her own collection of affirmation cards. ‘Yes Mum’ cards are for every significant moment in life, whether you’ve just found out you are pregnant, struggling with fertility, or even setting up your own business. Hollie has curated a set of cards for situations of doubt or anxiety and is showing us how we can achieve it all with mindfulness and positivity. If you are on Instagram you’ve probably seen her cards in many a flat lay or coffee break shot, and rightly so. Find her cards here.

2. @mother_of_daughters – Clemmie Hooper is not only a super human mother of four daughters (two of which are gorgeous 1 year old twins) but  she is also one of those heroes that most mums are in awe of, she’s a midwife. Clemmie started a blog ‘Gas and Air’, sharing women’s true birth stories and giving advice and wisdom based on her years of experience as a midwife and mum herself. She has now written a fabulous book ‘How to Grow a Baby (and push it out)’ that collates all of this wonderful wisdom into one beautifully illustrated and lovingly written ‘no nonsense’ guide to pregnancy and birth. Some of the amazing women that I feature here also appear in the book giving advice on their areas of expertise. So she’s in great company! If you follow Clemmie on Instagram you will quickly realise that her husband @father_of_daughters is a must follow too, with his hilarious behind the scenes look at Dad life and his inability to do as he’s told. Warning – you will quickly become addicted to this gorgeous family and their hilariously relatable insta stories. You can find Clemmie’s book here: How to Grow a Baby

3. @mother_pukka – Anna Whitehouse, a journalist and editor for some high-profile brands and, according to her website, a previous Vice Editor at Time Out Amsterdam, has set up her website and blog as a place for ‘news, reviews and honest comments for people who happen to be parents’. Her honest, open and friendly approach to sharing has earned her 72k followers on Instagram. Anna recently gave me her thoughts on how the photo-sharing site can be a wonderful community for parents, “No mama is an island. While many feel social media leaves you disconnected, I disagree. I remember that 3am breastfeeding loneliness and for me Instagram offers some solace in that darkness. I’ve met brilliant women through this platform and continue to be inspired by the genuine support for each other out there. Finally it’s cool to be kind.” Anna is also an advocate for flexible working, something she believes should be more widely available and not just for mums but for everyone looking for a better work/life balance. She is leading a flash mob in Trafalgar square on Friday 31 st March for The One Show to spread the word about #flexappeal. To see what it’s all about and get involved you can find the latest information on her website here or follow her Instagram for more regular updates.

4. @dresslikeamum – If fashion is your thing then Zoe de Pass is definitely worth following. Zoe is standing up to the stereotype of ‘dressing like a mum’ and that as soon as we become parents, fashion and style goes out of the window. She has an eclectic and fun sense of style; showcasing clothes from high street favourites Marks and Spencer and Topshop as well as introducing you to some brands you may not have heard of. It’s a colourful array of motherhood with lots of pink, and the weekend simply cannot begin without her infamous Friday lunge! She also has a dedicated website where you can find lots of inspiration for mum and children’s fashion, recommended beauty products, lifestyle tips and insights with stylish mums in mind. You can peruse her website here.

5. @selfishmother – Molly Gunn has been a journalist for over 15 years, she now edits her blogzine selfishmother.com as well as selling her hugely popular #GoodTees which are a selection of tshirts and sweatshirts with empowering and relatable slogans such as ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Winging It’ and the simple statement ‘Mother’. The sale of these cool products has raised over £500,000 for various charities as of February this year. Some of the charities they support are Mothers 2 Mothers, Help Refugees, Women for Women International, Stand Up to Cancer and Save the Children. This Mama is doing incredible things for families not only in the UK but internationally as well. The Selfish Mother blogzine is an open place for mums to write their own blog pieces and contribute to the site; it’s a great place to support other parents and be supported. If writing isn’t for you then why not invest in one of the clothing pieces, spotted on celebrities such as Tom and Giovanna Fletcher, Gillian Anderson, Lauren Laverne and Jamie Oliver!

If you are already on Instagram, why not follow some of these incredible ladies and see the amazing things that they get up to for yourself. Be sure to comment and tell us about the people encouraging you on social media, too. Or perhaps this blog has inspired you to become a social media hero? In which case go and share your ideas and experiences and find the amazing women supporting and encouraging each other…changing the idea that social media breeds negativity and disconnection.

Article originally published by Country Child Magazine