Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rant about the 12 days of Christmas

It's the first day of December and marketers everywhere are ramping up their festive campaigns. One of the popular promotions at the start of Advent is to run a promotion based on the 12 days of Christmas. 

There's only one problem: the 12 days of Christmas actually marks the period between Christmas and the Epiphany and not the first 12 days of Advent.

I can understand that a 12 day promotion might be easier to manage than a 24 day event through December. I can see how it's a helpful follow-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But is it really acceptable to hook a marketing campaign to a season that actually takes place several weeks later? I don't think so! To me, it's lazy marketing. It suggests that companies don't understand what exactly they are tying their marketing to. And, quite frankly, it shows a lack of respect.

While I appreciate that Christmas, for many, is merely a season where you get a couple of days off work and can exchange presents and goodwill, for others it is a deeply significant religious festival celebrating the birth of Christ. 

The 12 days of Christmas is a period of celebration and reflection on the birth of Christ, culminating in the visit of the Magi or three wise men and the baptism of the Lord. It most definitely isn't the first 12 days of Advent, when Christians prepare in earnest for welcoming the Light of the World with the birth of Jesus.

Perhaps it's the well-known song that has confused matters. But even popular carol has a deeper Christian meaning. Some suggest that the lyrics were a code used by Roman Catholics in England between 1558 and 1829 when they were not permitted to practise their faith openly with the 'true love' representing Jesus.

  1. Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus
  2. Turtle Doves = Old and New Testament
  3. French Hens = Faith, Hope and Love
  4. Four Calling Birds = Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  5. Gold Rings = Five books of the Old Testament
  6. Geese-a-laying = Six days of Creation (the 7th day was the day of rest)
  7. Swans-a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Contribution, Exhortation, Leadership, Mercy, Prophecy, Serving and Teaching)
  8. Maid-a-milking = Eight Beatitudes
  9. Ladies Dancing = Nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (Charity, Chastity, Fidelity, Joy, Modesty, Peace, Patience, Goodness and Mildness)
  10. Lords-a-leaping = Ten Commandments
  11. Pipers Piping = Eleven faithful Apostles
  12. Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed
Credit for this information from: The Catholic News Agency - original source Father Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, Nebraska. 

I wonder how it would be received if marketers tried to attach a campaign to a festival related to another major religion?

For me, well I have an increasingly long list of companies that I will not be purchasing from this year. But, as it's the season of goodwill, perhaps it would be more Christian of me to forgive them their ignorance.

Monday, 21 November 2016

7 alcohol free drinks for the party season

This year will be one of the first Christmas periods is a long time where I'll be able to have a few drinks. But even though I'm entering the Christmas party season without being pregnant, life with four young children, two of which are still nursing, means that while I'm excited about being able to have a couple of glasses of the strong stuff, I'm still not keen on nursing a hangover.

Not drinking at Christmas parties doesn't have to be boring though. And, having spent several years struggling with sickly sweet kids drinks, I've discovered a few adult alternatives for anyone having a dry Christmas.

This post includes affiliate links.

Here are seven of my favourite non-alcoholic party drinks for grown-ups:

  1. Apple, elderflower and mint fizz: Combine half a glass of apple juice with a splash of elderflower cordial and top up with sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic spritzer.
  2. If you're a fan of Rose wine but don't fancy the alcohol-free versions, why not try Fenitmans Rose Lemonade. It's made using pure rose oil and tastes divine. 
  3. Just because you're missing out on the sparkling wine or champagne doesn't mean you can't toast the season. Schloer do a range of sparkling grape-based drinks including this Sparkling Rose
  4. Mulled apple juice: Conjure up the smell of Christmas with an alternative to the seasonal mulled wine. Simply add cinnamon sticks, orange peel and cloves to a pan of apple juice and simmer. You'll be sober enough to really appreciate the smell of Christmas wafting through the house.
  5. Cranberries aren't just for turkeys. Mix cranberry juice with sparkling water and top with a twist of lime for a seasonal and refreshing simple mocktail.
  6. Ginger and honey iced tea: If you're feeling under the weather, a ginger and honey iced tea will look classy while also easing your sore throat and boosting your immune system. Brew a black tea and stir in some grated ginger and a spoonful of honey. Remove the tea bags after about five minutes and leave to cool before putting in the fridge. Add ice and mint leaves to serve.
  7. Grapefruit and Rosemary Mocktail: This takes a bit of preparation, but the result smells so good, it's well worth the time. First, you need to make a rosemary syrup by heating up a cup of water and a cup of granulated sugar on the hob. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the sugar might crystallise. Once you have your syrup, add a couple of sprigs of rosemary and let it cool before putting it in the fridge. When your rosemary syrup is ready, add a glug to a glass of grapefruit juice and add ice and another sprig of rosemary.
What are your favourite alcohol-free party drinks?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

My Sunday Photo - A Trip to the Optician

Wilf started school in September and needs to use his eyes a lot as he learns to identify letters and numbers and starts to read.

Although many children will have an eye test at the hospital around their fifth birthday (well, in my area they do!), it's still important to get them used to having regular eye checks so any issues can be identified and treated early on.

There are a few things to look out for that suggest there might be sight problems. These include: if your child rubs their eyes a lot; if they hold things very close to look at them; if they blink a lot or squint; or if they stand very close to the TV.

Wilf has a terrible habit of standing right in front of our TV, so I wanted to get him in to see the optician for his first eye test to double check there were no underlying issues.

He tends to be quite reserved when he faces new situations, so we watched the "I really absolutely must have glasses" Charlie and Lola episode, which explains what happens at an eye test. He really enjoyed the different activities the optician asked him to do, such as pointing at letters she was showing him in the mirror and finding shapes within coloured dots. He even co-operated when she asked if she could shine her bright torch into his eyes.

It turns out, his eyesight is great.

The only problem is that actually, he really, really wanted to have a pair of glasses!


Saturday, 5 November 2016

8 of the best Advent Calendar ideas

The countdown to Christmas really gets going on December 1st with the start of Advent.

The word Advent comes from the Latin, meaning coming. It is the season of preparation and symbolises the expectation and anticipation of the coming of the Lord, culminating in the celebration of His birth on Christmas Day.

While most Advent calendars start on December 1st, in the Church, Advent can often start at the beginning of November because it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. That means that this year Advent starts on Sunday 27th November.

I suppose it's easier for Advent calendars to stick to the regular 1st December start date. I won't tell the children that they have potentially missed out on three chocolates this year!

And, to make it easier for you, I've compiled a list of my favourite Advent calendar ideas for this year (Disclaimer: this post features affiliate links):
  1. Ensuring my children understand the real meaning of Christmas is very important to me. We are Roman Catholics and the season of Christmas is a very important part of our faith. And while I don't want to deny them the sheer excitement that comes with opening a door of an Advent calendar and getting something, I also want to remind them of the importance of giving. This year, I'll be helping them to make an Advent kindness calendar. We'll write a list of  24 ideas of how they can be kind or helpful and place them in a fabric 'fillable' Advent calendar we bought years ago from a market in Lanzarote and then, each morning, they can pick out their Act of Kindness and try to carry it out that day. This is a similar Hanging Felt Santa Father Christmas Advent Calendar if you want something that you can re-use every year.

  2. Another idea that highlights that this is the season of goodwill is the Reverse Advent Calendar, which fellow blogger Mum In The Madhouse featured on her blog last year.

  3. For a more chocolatey take on reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, try The Real Advent Calendar by The Meaningful Chocolate Company (85g chocolate). I buy this for my husband, who is not religious. He enjoys the chocolate and I enjoy the fact that he can share the Nativity story by sharing the 28-page Christmas story activity book with the children.

  4. If your family are football fans, you will have no doubt come across the Match Attax football trading cards. Elliot is an avid collector and has already reminded us several times that he would very much like to extend his collection with the EPL Match Attax 2016/17 Advent Calendar. Behind the doors are 120 Match Attax cards, including a limited edition Gold Jack Wilshere card.

  5. Beatrix is really into her Lego at the moment and has her heart set on this LEGO Friends 41131 Advent Calendar. We've had Lego Advent calendars for the past couple of years and the children have really enjoyed building a scene and adding the various Lego models and characters to it as the month progresses.

  6. At the moment, Wilfred says he is not fussed by toys calendar and he just wants a Darth Vader chocolate one, like this Star Wars (Episode VII The Force Awakens) Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar 2015 (Toys Inc).  

  7. Of course, if the older children are getting collectables in their Advent calendar, the younger boys are going to want something to play with too. Luckily, VTech have come up trumps with the Toot-Toot Drivers Advent Calendar. We already have the garage and the airport and they are played with constantly, so I know this will be perfect for them and provide them with hours of fun.
  8. Advent is also known as the season of light as we prepare to welcome the light of the world with the birth of Jesus. What better way to celebrate this than with an Advent candle. This Traditional Festive Christmas Advent Countdown Taper Candle is a lovely way to count down the days to Christmas. Simply light it each day and then blow it out when you reach the next marker. While the candle is lit, you can talk to your children about the meaning of Christmas, pray or meditate. We started the tradition of lighting an Advent candle last year. Read about it here.
What Advent calendars will you be using this year?    

Disclaimer: this blog post contains affiliate links.

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

Monday, 31 October 2016

10 things to do in November

The clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, but Christmas is coming and there's plenty to keep you occupied in November. Here are ten ideas:
  1. Go vegan. November is World Vegan Month, so why not try a vegan diet for the month? Or, i, like me, your family are too fond of their meat and two veg and that seems a bit too much of a lifestyle shift, try a vegan recipe. There are lots of resources on the Vegan Society website.
  2. Write a letter to Father Christmas.
  3. Make a Guy and display him outside your house with a "penny for the Guy" sign. 
  4. See a fireworks display. In Devon, there are displays at Teignmouth Rugby Club on 4th November and at Westpoint Arena on 5th November. If you're feeling brave, you might want to go to Ottery St Mary for the annual Tar Barrels.
  5. Write a story. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And, while writing an entire novel might be a bit much to ask of your children, why not adapt a game of Consequences and write a sentence each day and see how your story ends up at the end of the month? Who knows, maybe you will be inspired to write your own novel!
  6. Pledge an act of kindness for World Kindness Day. There are lots of ideas on the Kindness UK website.
  7. If you extend your commitment to random acts of kindness, make a Kindness Advent Calendar, where you come up with 24 random acts of kindness and commit to doing one each day in the run up to Christmas.
  8. Dress up as a hero of your choice or wear blue on 18th November to raise awareness of Anti-bullying week. Post your pictures on social media using the #wearbluecampaign #antibullyingweek and #powerforgood hashtags
  9. Wear a poppy and attend a Remembrance Sunday parade on 13th November.
  10. Visit a Christmas craft fair. You'll find lots of original, hand-made presents that will sort Christmas shopping for even the most difficult to buy for relatives and you'll be supporting local small businesses. As well as the big Christmas Shopping Fayre at Westpoint in Devon, there are hundreds of smaller events taking place in local church halls and schools. Keep an eye on your Facebook feed or do a Google search to find a fair near you.
  11. Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

Sunday, 30 October 2016

My Sunday Photo - 30th October 2016

One of the best things about Autumn is going for a walk in woodland, kicking around in the leaves. and admiring the beautiful colours as the trees change colour.

Ossie is 18 months old and this is the first time he's been able to really enjoy exploring the different textures of nature in Autumn.

This photo was captures the moment he realised we'd found him after he'd been playing hide and seek behind the tree trunks. His face is a picture of surprise and enjoyment.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

4 reasons bullet journalling didn't work for me

I am constantly on a mission to 'get organised'.

If there's a new fad that promises to save you time and guarantee you won't miss an appointment or forget something vital on your shopping list, I'm a captive audience.

Generally though, a few weeks in and I've either lost interest or managed to find a flaw in the plan.

In my head, I love being organised, but in real life, things don't tend to go to plan.

I'm a big sucker for stationery and notebooks, which made me think that keeping a bullet journal, or BuJo, might actually be a workable solution.

Basically, a bullet journal combines your diary and all your to-do lists, bucket lists, birthday present lists and any other thoughts you have into one handwritten notebook. It seemed like the perfect solution to the woman who seems to juggle several notebooks as well as a diary, usually missing the vital notebook for the occasion.

I started bullet journalling at the beginning of the year, so I've given it a fair crack of the whip. But I've finally conceded that even this 'foolproof' organisation system doesn't work for me. Here's why:

  1. I couldn't commit to the index. The index page (at the front of the bullet journal) is essential to make it a workable system. If you want to continue a list, you use the next available page, which might not be the next consecutive page, and then you mark the page number in the index. I was hopeless at writing page numbers on each page and not particularly good at adding this information to the index, which meant I could never find the page I needed.
  2. The system is flexible, but not flexible enough for me (or maybe I wasn't flexible enough for the bullet journal system). The index page is integral to the bullet journal; you just add information on a page and the index enables you to find it. But I prefer to be able to just flick to a section and have all the information in one place, rather than have to flick between pages to find all the relevant details. I tried to get round this, by ditching the notebook and using an A4 ring binder, and that kind of worked. The only problem was that the folder is too big to carry around every day. Instead, it sits on the kitchen table, so it's more a family organiser and planner than a true bullet journal. And this meant that I was writing random lists on bits of paper, which is really not the point of a bullet journal.
  3. I'm not arty enough. To get inspiration and to try and make my bullet journal work for me, I joined a couple of Facebook groups. I was inspired by the really amazing and artistic spreads and trackers created by other bullet journallers, but my own attempts were more functional. I'm not arty. I can't draw to save my life. And I got overwhelmed and disheartened that I just couldn't produce anything near so pretty.
  4. I didn't have enough time and I lacked the commitment needed to make it work. I think to get the most out of a bullet journal, you need to devote time to filling in the pages and making them look good. My own use of the bullet journal was more rushed. To make a bullet journal work, you need to use it pretty constantly. You need to spend at least 20 minutes every night sorting out your life and your bullet journal for the next day. I do most of my organising on the hoof - often while feeding the baby. Trying to write in a notebook while breastfeeding a curious toddler is, quite frankly, impossible. So I started using electronic apps on my phone - well, my Google Calendar mainly. So I was ending up with some information in my phone and some in my bullet journal. And I didn't have the time to tally them up.
Things came to a head when I got to the end of my first BuJo notebook. The thought of transferring the vital information scattered across multiple pages in my original notebook scared the crap out of me. And I really didn't fancy carting two or three notebooks around. So I added the BuJo fad to the long list of failed organisation attempts.

Coincidentally, it was at this moment that I discovered an online organisation app called Trello. It's an online project management tool, which I started using at work. But I soon realised how helpful it could be in my personal life. Basically, you create a board for particular project and you then add cards to detail the specifics. Each card has options to add comments, a checklist and even attachments. There are also 'power ups' that enable you to link due dates with your online calendar, which I haven't explored yet.

I love the concept of the bullet journal and I can see how it is an amazing tool for some people. But sadly, not me.

What organisation systems work for you in managing your life?