In association with Wayfair

What does Christmas day look like in your house?

Ours has always started with Christmas stockings. Bee and Belle will both come into my bed, (via FaceTime last year when Bee was in England and we were in Ireland), and they will take turns to open a present. Stockings are a mixture of fun things and useful stuff – always socks, often something with a flamingo theme for Bee, just to annoy her.

This year I dared to suggest that as Bee was 23 now, perhaps she didn’t need a stocking any more?

‘I’m just going to pretend you didn’t say that,’ she said. And that was the end of that.

After stockings, we go downstairs for the obligatory festive Bucks Fizz, and to loll about for a while on the sofa while people take turns to shower and get dressed and smaller members of the family organise presents from the tree into piles. ‘You’re sitting there Gran, next to your pile.’

As a family we give a lot of presents, but this year seems to be a bit different. My sister and her family have moved this year into a much smaller house, so they don’t physically have the space for anymore STUFF and that seems to have rubbed off onto the rest of us. There are so many THINGS already in the world, do we really all need a dozen more each?

No, of course not.

The secret really is quality rather than quantity – taking the time to choose one or two things that you know someone will love, rather than just panic buying a load of tat. It’s easier said than done sometimes though, hard to know what people will actually LIKE.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, Wayfair has put together some Christmas gift lists, aimed at very specific groups of people. Looking for a gift for a pet lover? There’s a list for that. Want to splash out on something luxurious for someone special? There’s a list for that. Need to shop for a fussy millennial? Try the millennials gift list.

Wayfair asked me to have a look at the millennial gift list in particular to pick out a few of my favourite things. I’m not technically a millennial myself, but Bee comes in at one end of the generation and my sister at the other, so it’s always handy to have some inspiration. They may be known as the snowflake generation, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to buy Christmas gifts for.

OBVIOUSLY the first thing I was drawn to was this Cat Whisperer print from Gemma Correll:

gemma correll print View Post

There’s always so much to think about when it comes to giving gifts to small children at Christmas.

Will it make a mess?

Will it be noisy?

Will it be so horrendously annoying that next year the parents will give it back to me in the same wrapping paper so I can see how it feels to live with it?

‘But I wanted to introduce them to the joy of music…’

But what if some of the gifts we give without a second thought could actually be hurting our children if used incorrectly? What if a certain toy could in fact have the ability to permanently damage a child’s eyesight?

*scary music* View Post

In association with Hoppy

There are quite a few areas of my life where I pride myself on managing to be Not Old. I know how to use social media, I don’t say THE YouTube and I even know who Logan Paul is. (Although I do not feel that my life is enriched by this.)

And then there are other things where I just feel CONFUSED, like I need a six-year-old to come round and explain it to me, like remote controls. Or politics. It’s a horrible feeling, because you know that deep down you are a smart and capable women, but your brain just won’t process whatever it is. You read about it, and the individual words make sense, but together it’s like a different language.

One of these areas of weakness for me is my broadband and TV subscription. We’ve been with Sky for about the last ten years, almost entirely because I am too scared to switch. It feels like so much has changed since I first had a TV. How would it even WORK if I didn’t have Sky anymore? Do you still use the dish? Do you have to have any kind of BOX? Do you need an aerial? If I switch broadband who do I have to tell and how long am I without the internet? Honestly, I’m completely hopeless. You should have seen me peering at the back of my television, looking baffled. It was pathetic.

My Sky contract expires at the beginning of December though, and I am determined to educate myself and stop paying more than I need. I just checked my bank and my last direct debit to Sky was £71 for TV, phone and broadband. HOW?? I don’t even have sports or films. It’s so embarrassing. I can’t even check the bill as I’ve forgotten my login details and am too scared to sort it out in case I accidentally sign up for box sets.

It was ideal timing then when I had an email from Hoppy, asking if I wanted to try out their services.

The main aim of Hoppy is to simplify your home management. In fact, Hoppy is the number one FREE home management site. Rather than having piles of paper everywhere and seemingly endless to do list – checking gas prices, getting the car booked for an MOT, finding someone to fix the leaky tap – Hoppy lets you store and manage all of your information and tasks in one place. It’s one site, where you can do everything from finding a reliable tradesperson to comparing mobile phone tariffs.

Hoppy home management

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In association with EDF Energy

Back in May, I tested out all kinds of cool gadgets as part of Smart Homes Week. One of my absolute favourites was the Philips Hue lighting system.

Ever since I was a teenager and was SUPER COOL, I’ve been a fan of coloured lightbulbs. Back then though, changing the colour in your bedroom meant a trip to B&Q to pick out a different coloured bulb, and then taking it home again to switch with your regular bulb. It wasn’t exactly a slick process. Then of course there was that incident in my early twenties, where I had someone knock on the door in the middle of the night thinking I was running a brothel, but we can skip over that.

Imagine if you could go back to the early 1990s and show teenage me the Philips Hue wireless lightbulbs. For a start I would have no idea how they could even work, because I wouldn’t know what the internet was, but if I could put that to one side and look at the colour changing bulbs in action, my mind would be BLOWN.

How is this possible? From a PHONE??

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In association with Gumtree

Today I want to set you a challenge.

I’m calling it the £147.06 Gumtree challenge, but you’re allowed to change the amount. (I’m nice like that.) My amount is £147.06 because that’s how much it is costing for me and Belle to fly from Bristol to Ireland to stay with my sister over Christmas. We’ve been every year since they moved there and although we have flight costs, petrol and car parking, I easily make it back, eating my way through the Bendicks Mints and assorted savoury nibbles.

Still, it’s a chunk of money, and it’s always nice NOT to have to spend chunks of money if you can help it, so when Gumtree asked if I was up for a money making challenge, it seemed like a good idea to set myself a goal. I love a good goal – the more specific the better, as you will know if you’ve read my new ‘50 things to do before you’re 50‘ list.

We apply the whole SMART goals thing to business a lot – specific, achievable targets with measurable time frames – but it makes a lot of sense in all areas of life really. Take these two examples:

‘Ergh, I could really do with a bit of extra cash, I should probably clear out the garage sometime.’

‘I want to sell enough of the unwanted stuff around my home to cover £147.06 of flight costs before Christmas’

I know which one makes ME want to sort through my garage more.

So where to start? The good news is that if you hoard an average amount of clutter, chances are you easily have £147.06 worth of unwanted stuff lying around the house, in your attic, or out in the garage. According to research carried out by Gumtree, households selling unwanted and unused items have made an average of £378 in the last year, and on average we’re potentially sitting on £881 per household – that’s not bad for a poke around the attic and an hour or so on Gumtree is it?

I was at a slight disadvantage starting the challenge as I’m one of those annoying people who says things like ‘Ooh, clearing out the wardrobe is just so relaxing!’ There is nothing more stressful for me than an untidy cupboard, so I’m already pretty streamlined. Still, in a way this proves the point even better – if I can find things to sell on Gumtree then anyone can.

I’ve actually used Gumtree quite a bit over the last few years. Scrolling back through my account I’ve sold all sorts – a fish tank, a pink ukulele, an air purifier, chests of drawers – I must have made over £400 altogether, which is a promising start to the £147.06 challenge. I’ve always found Gumtree very straightforward and quick to get things listed, especially because I’m of an age when online selling used to involve uploading photos, (slowly), to a PC, and going through a long and complicated listing process. Gumtree really isn’t like that.

Listing something to sell on Gumtree takes literally minutes and if you have a few things to sell then even better, as you can whizz through photos of everything all at once. I use the Gumtree app, which means you can take photos on your phone and add them directly to your product descriptions, write up a little blurb, and you’re good to go. When you take your photos, remember to take them in decent light and make them look as appealing as possible. This isn’t Tinder you know – we don’t need topless photos in dingy bathrooms.

The product description – a bit like a dating profile – is probably the bit that could benefit most from a little bit of thought. The temptation is to just list details about the product but, like any good salesperson, what you actually need to do is create an aspirational idea BEHIND the product, get people thinking about themselves using it. View Post

In association with Coca-Cola Great Britain

Here’s a quick quiz for you – answer yes or no to the following questions and then check your score.

In the past month, have you:

  • Eaten a mince pie?
  • Had a glass of sherry?
  • Hummed a Christmas tune to yourself?
  • Pondered a Christmas wrapping scheme (everyone does this yes?)
  • Bought a Christmas-scented candle

If you answered YES to any of those questions then CONGRATULATIONS, you are ready to start the festive season! If you answered YES to all five then CONGRATULATIONS, you are me!

I absolutely love the run up to Christmas – the twinkly lights, shopping for presents, the smell of my winter-scented candles – I love it all. The trouble with Christmas though, and wanting to do all of the Christmas things, is that it can cost A LOT – both in financial terms and environmentally. The joy is sapped out of Christmas a little bit if afterwards all you have is a massive credit card bill and a mountain of plastic packaging.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been working with Coca-Cola GB over the last few months to help raise awareness of their sustainability initiatives. With Christmas fast approaching, they’ve challenged me to create a festive family-on-a-budget guide so that you can enjoy the Christmas season without it costing the earth. And, with Coca-Cola known for helping to bring the holidays to you, I’ve included a little suggestion from them at the end.

Visit a Christmas market

This is one of my favourite things to do to get myself feeling festive, and if you manage to resist the smell of mulling cider (good luck) then you don’t need to spend any money at all – just soak up the festive atmosphere. Town centre Christmas markets are normally outside, so you get to wrap up in hats and scarves and have a full-on winter experience, but if you’re less keen on the whole ‘cold cheeks for Christmas’ vibe then there are indoor options too.

You can find loads of round-ups of the best Christmas markets online to get you started – there are so many, you definitely won’t be short of options! Look out for local events in church or community halls, school Christmas fairs or events at things like National Trust properties and stately homes – there is so much going on, you’ll definitely find something nearby.

Bristol Christmas Market View Post