It might still be quite early in December but Christmas is definitely in the air.

If you want a craft activity to do with your children to get in the festive spirit then take a look at these fun lolly stick Christmas decorations.

I’ve made stars and Christmas trees, using the same basic idea and same materials, which can be hung on the tree or propped up on the mantelpiece.

Simple lolly stick Christmas decorations

 

Here’s what you’ll need for both crafts:

  • Lolly sticks/craft sticks in various colours
  • Glue and glue dots
  • String or ribbon for hanging
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Mini pom poms
  • Sequins

Lolly stick Christmas ornament craft what you need

 

Lolly stick star ornaments

To make the star ornaments you need to get 5 lolly sticks and glue them together to make a star shape

Bostik lolly craft stick Christmas decorations

 

You can use glue or glue dots to do this and generally both options give you a bit of time to wiggle the sticks into place to make the perfect star shape.

Once the glue has dried and the star shapes are secure you can start to decorate them.

Bostik lolly craft stick Christmas star decorations

 

Using glue or glue dots stick mini pom poms or sequins all around the star.

Christmas star lolly stick pom pom craft

 

An alternative idea is to carefully wrap a pipe cleaner around the star.

Or you could go all out and do both pipe cleaners and sequins/pom poms.  It’s completely up to you and the look you want to go for.

Bostik lolly craft stick Christmas star decorations sequins pipe cleaners

Once you’ve decorated the stars you can stick a loop of string or ribbon on the back of one of the points so you can hang it up.

 

 

Lolly stick Christmas tree ornaments

To make the Christmas tree decorations you need to get 3 lolly sticks and cut about inch from the end of one of them.

Glue the 2 full sticks and the shortened one together to make a tree shape.  Then glue on the extra bit to look like the trunk.

Bostik lolly craft stick Christmas tree decorations

 

Once the glue has dried you can decorate your trees.

Bostik lolly craft stick Christmas tree decorations sequins pipe cleaners

The idea here is just the same as it is for the stars.

Decorate some trees with mini pom poms and sequins, and wrap pipe cleaners around others.

 

And there you have it!

Really simple and fun to make decorations to brighten up the house even more this Christmas.

 

Disclaimer: I was sent a box of craft items for the purposes of this post, but all ideas, words and photos are my own.

With a few weeks left to go until Christmas day, there’s still time to pick up some bits and pieces to make the festive season extra special.

And you can do it all from the comfort of your sofa, with a glass of mulled wine in your hand, if you head over to Etsy to get everything you could possibly need.

From Christmas jumpers to chocolatey treats, you can find so much on Etsy to make Christmas extra special this year, and support small businesses while you’re at it.

Here are some of my favourite festive finds this year:Making Christmas special with Etsy

 

Handmade Christmas cards

There is something so special about sending a handmade card to your loved ones at Christmas.  If you’re not the crafty type though you can cheat a little and buy some lovingly made by someone else!

JoJo Designs has some gorgeous Christmas cards to choose from that anyone would be happy to display on their mantelpiece.

Etsy handmade Christmas cards

 

A Christmas eve box

Christmas eve boxes have become really popular over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a real treat for the family to open the box and start really getting into the Christmas spirit.  Most people fill them with new pyjamas, chocolate, a festive film and/or book and some hot chocolate.

You can get a personalised Christmas eve box from Forever Bespoke which would last the family for years to come.

Etsy personalised Christmas eve box

 

A new Christmas book

Books are always a lovely present idea, and they’re even more special when they’re personalised.

The Christmas adventure books from My magic name book are really lovely and make your child the star of their very own Christmas story.

Etsy personalised Christmas book

 

Handmade Christmas stockings

One of the most exciting parts of Christmas eve is putting out the stockings for Father Christmas.

These gorgeous knitted stockings from out of my bubble would look amazing hanging up over the fireplace.

Etsy handmade stockings

 

Fun new decorations

A lot of families have a tradition of picking out new ornaments or decorations to hang on their Christmas tree each year.

For a bit of fun this year, I love these superhero minifigure baubles from BooMooGifts.

Etsy superhero minifigure baubles

 

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

Seriously, what would Christmas be without chocolate?

These white chocolate Brussel sprouts from ChoconChoc look amazingly realistic, and much tastier than the real thing.

Etsy sprouts chocolates

 

Festive mugs

Make your Christmas hot chocolate extra special with a new festive mug.

Colour wave clothing make these lovely personalised Christmas mugs that would be perfect for adding to your Christmas eve box.

Etsy personalised Christmas mug

 

A Christmas jumper

Make a festive fashion statement this year with a new Christmas jumper.

You can get them in so many different styles from traditional knitted jumpers to funny slogan sweatshirts.

I really love this ‘merry and bright’ sweatshirt from BettyBramble.  It looks so comfy and it’s Christmassy without being too in your face about it!

Etsy merry and bright Christmas jumper

 

So what are you waiting for?

Pop a festive film on the TV, grab a mug of something hot and delicious, and go check out all the Christmas goodies available over on Etsy.

 

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links

 

As someone who has been through university, I am very happy to say I have been there and done that. I absolutely loved my time at university, and found a good balance between working hard and having fun.  I’m so grateful that I was able to have the experience I did at uni.

The course of higher education through college and university is one that I believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and despite the negativity that is often in the media these days, I believe that many young people are still keen and excited to make this journey for themselves.

Although my children are not yet ready to embark on the journey, I know that one day they will and there are many parents out there with older children who will be making big decisions very soon.

Things to consider when your child is choosing a university

 

Whether you are helping your teen by making a PRO/CON list to choose between Harvard and Yale or are trying to determine which Oxbridge university offers the best learning environment, there are many other considerations that do need to be factored in when making such a big decision.

 

Subjects on offer / Reputation

One of the most important considerations has to be the courses that are on offer and the reputation that the college or university has for this subject. Review recent student satisfaction surveys and look at university rankings to determine the best options available.

 

Learning environment

Another consideration should be the environment that your child prefers to work in. Some thrive in independent study, others prefer group oriented sessions and lectures; some courses are very big which means mentor time may be limited so if this is an issue, perhaps a course with fewer students might work better.

 

Assessments

The way in which higher education is assessed varies from institution to institution. Some are purely academic – with written coursework and exams, while others also incorporate presentations, observations and practical submissions.

 

Location

Location is a very important factor to consider. Firstly, proximity to home and emotional support when needed, but also the location of student halls of residence and the teaching campus is important, too. While many students can drive before they move away for university, taking a car might not be practical depending on the end destination and associated costs.

 

Library facilities

As any student will tell you, a lot of university time is spent in the library reading. The facilities on offer can vary from college to university, so it’s always a good idea to go to a tour and have a look around at the university library. Are there quiet spaces for independent study readily available?

 

Competition

A big factor to consider, especially when applying for Oxbridge or Ivy League status universities is the level of competition for places. There are always statistics available to determine how many places have been available versus the number of applicants available, so use this information to your advantage when making applications. For example, if all your options have a low ration of applicants receiving offers, then it may be worth considering applying to an institution with a higher ratio.

 

Nightlife and Societies

With any university application, the social life opportunities need to be considered, too. It is important to find a university that is right for you academically and on a personal level, and you must enjoy living in that town or city, too. Research the locale in question to see whether or not this will fit with your son or daughters expectations of how uni life will be. For example, many universities have a lot of sporting societies which is great if you like sports, but if your child likes photography then an institution with access to galleries or dedicated society will be an obvious contender.

 

Choosing a university is a big decision, but with a little guidance it should be easy to choose the right one for your child as they start the next chapter of their lives. Good luck and if you are choosing universities over the next year, then let me know how you get on!

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

Christmas is the time of year we treat all our loved ones to thoughtful gifts, delicious food and special days out.

Our children, our siblings, parents, friends, they all get shown in some way or another how much they mean to us at this time of year.  Even our pets get their own stockings and treats.  But is there someone, or something missing from that list?  What about our cars?  Isn’t it only right that we treat them a little bit at Christmas too!

Here are some ways you can show your car some love this Christmas.

Show your car some love this Christmas

Hit the open road

If you live in a big city like London then it’s possible that you spend a fair bit of your driving time going slowly in busy traffic.  Or you might be like me and only really drive short journeys to school and back.  Either way it’s time to treat your car to a good long run on the open road.

Go for a drive somewhere you can open her up and pick up some speed.  Our mechanic has often recommended that we do this on a regular basis, to keep the car running efficiently and to reduce the car’s emissions.

 

Schedule a service

To really make sure everything is running smoothly you should book your car in for a service.

You can arrange a car service in London with Iverson Tyres, or have a look online for a company local to you that offers a good, comprehensive service.  They’ll check everything over for you so your car is happy and efficient and you’re reassured that everything is as it should be.

 

Declutter

There’s something about cars that makes them attract random clutter like magnets.

At the moment in our car there’s an umbrella and a pair of wellies in the passenger seat footwell.  There are multiple tissues and chocolate wrappers in the central console.  I don’t want to mention the amount of child-related ‘stuff’ that’s on the back seats.

If this sounds at all familiar then show your car some love by having a little clear out.

 

Book a spa day

Once you’ve cleared out the clutter, treat your car to a trip to the vehicle version of a spa by taking it to be properly cleaned, inside and out.

Have the whole thing washed, vacuumed and generally spruced up.  You could even splash out on a nice new air freshener if the new car smell is a distant memory.

 

Check the tyres

In the winter months it’s really important to make sure your car’s tyres are in good condition.

Check the pressure and use an air compressor to top them up if you need to.  You should also check the tread on the tyres to make sure they’re still safe and legal.  If they’re looking worn then get them replaced with some good quality new ones.

 

We spend quite a bit of time in our cars and they get us safely from A to B, so it’s only fair to show them a bit of love now and then.

How often do you treat your car to a bit of tlc?

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

 

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I am so pleased that I do these posts every month because they give me the push I need to make sure we take photos of the four of us together.

Some months it feels like quite a bit of effort to do it, and there are times when I think about not bothering.

But every single time I’m so happy that we take the time to just do it.

And I know that in another month’s time when I can look back at a whole year’s worth of family photos I will be thrilled that we’ve stuck with it.

This month’s photos were taken on a quiet Sunday walk in Clyne woods.

Me and mine November

Me and mine November

 

We’ll quite often have a slow start to the day on Sundays.

Then we’ll take the children to their swimming lessons after an early lunch, then go straight from swimming for a walk somewhere.

We tend to head to either the beach, Singleton Park or Clyne woods for a good wander.  With these places being quite a regular part of our family routine, I really love having family photos taken there.

I hope the children have happy memories of these little Sunday outings when they’re older, I really do.

Christmas will be here before we know it, and it feels like there are a hundred and one things to do, buy and remember.

Making sure we have the right food, and enough of it, for Christmas is one of the main things on a lot of people’s to-do lists.  A lot of the food like the turkey and smoked salmon need to bought quite close to the big day but there are lots of other bits you can stock up in advance and tick off your list.

Here are some store cupboard essentials to stock up on to see you through the festive period.

Christmas storecupboard essentials

 

Pasta and rice

These are absolute staples in my little store cupboard.

Pasta makes a quick and filling meal with just a simple sauce, and can also be perfect for cold salads too.

Risotto rice is really handy to have for a simple meal, and long-grain rice is a great alternative to pasta in salads.

 

Stock

Stock cubes or stock melts are really useful to have in the cupboard.  They can be used as a base for gravies or sauces in all kinds of dishes, and are so easy to use.

 

Tinned fish

We always have a few tins of tuna in the cupboard for pasta salads and tuna melts.

You can also use tinned fish for pies, homemade fish cakes or simple fish pate.

 

Jams or preserves

Strawberry jam, raspberry jam, marmalade, lemon curd, honey.

Keep a few options in the cupboard for spreading on toast for a quick breakfast, putting in the middle of sponge cakes or to add to puddings and baked goodies.

 

Condiments

Have a think about the type of meals you’ll be eating over Christmas and make sure you have all the condiments you’ll want to go with them.

This’ll include things like mayonnaise, ketchup, brown sauce, cranberry sauce, salad cream and sweet chilli sauce.

 

Pickles

Along with condiments it’s always nice to have a few jars of pickle and chutney in the cupboard for enjoying with cold meats and cheese.

 

Stuffing mix

This is useful to have for the main meal on Christmas day but can also be a nice thing to mix up and cook to have cold with leftovers on boxing day.

 

Mincemeat

A jar of mincemeat is a must have if you’ll be making mince pies.

It can also be used to add to a muffin mix or stirred into ice cream for a festive twist.

 

Mixed nuts

A great snack to put out for guests, or just for yourself, as they are.  But you can make them a bit more special by roasting them with some chilli flakes and sea salt.

 

Custard

Whether it’s in a tin or a carton, custard is the essential accompaniment to Christmas winter desserts.

 

Chocolate

Keep a few bars of each type of chocolate in the cupboard for any baking you might want to do, or to melt to use as a sauce over puddings.

 

Biscuits for cheese

A box of cream crackers or assorted crackers and biscuits is great to have handy to serve with cheese after dinner, or as a simple meal when you don’t want to cook.

 

Coffee, tea bags and hot chocolate mix

For you and any visitors who may stop by over the festive period.

If you have young children waking you up at the crack of dawn on Christmas day you really don’t want to be running out of coffee or tea!

 

I think that’s pretty much all your Christmas store cupboard essentials covered.  

Is there anything else that you always make sure you have tucked away at this time of year?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

I think the story behind how I started this blog is one that a lot of people share.

I decided I wanted to do it and just jumped in without any real clue of what I was doing.  I had no idea how much work was involved and how many skills I would need to learn.  One of the big challenges for me has been getting to grips with SEO.

For anyone new to the blogging world, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.  And it’s all about the different things you can do on your site to help it show up higher on the list of recommended sites on search engines like Google.

This little guide has some of the information on SEO that I wish I’d known when I first got started with my blog:

SEO what I wish I'd known when I started blogging

 

Get to grips with keywords

Keywords are often thought of as the foundation of good SEO.

Basically, these are the words that people will type into google when they want to find something out.  If you want your post to be one of the first that comes up after people search, then you need to include the keywords they’re using in your post.

So, if you’re writing a post for a chocolate cake recipe then you need to think about what people will type into google to find a recipe like that.

Most people will search for something like ‘best chocolate cake recipe’ or ‘simple chocolate cake recipe’, so these would be the keywords that you want to make sure you include in your post.

A few places to try and use your keywords are:

  • Your blog post title
  • The post url
  • Your image names
  • The post meta data
  • Throughout the post itself

Don’t go crazy with this throughout the post though.  If you force the keywords into every other sentence it’ll make the post feel forced and unnatural, and google may well actually rank the post lower as a result.

 

 

Start building links

Another great way to improve your site’s SEO is to work on building links.

Ideally you want a good mix of internal and external links leading back to pages on your site.

Internal links are links from one page or post on your site to another. 

So going back to your chocolate cake recipe post, you might include a sentence about how baking with your children is one of your favourite rainy day activities.  Then you would use ‘rainy day activities’ as anchor text to link to another post on your site all about, you guessed it, rainy day activities to do with your children.

Did you catch that I’ve done this within this post?

Where I first mentioned chocolate cake recipes I linked to an old post of mine with a recipe for an amazing chocolate cake.

Adding links to old posts is something we should do every time we write something new.  It’s also worth taking time now and then to go back to old posts you’ve written and seeing if you can add in links to some of your newer posts.

 

External links are links from other websites back to yours. 

Getting these links can take a bit more effort but it’s well worth it.

A good place to start is by commenting on lots of other people’s blog posts.  If you’re going to do this make sure you actually leave decent, thoughtful comments that show you’ve actually read the post.  Commenting something like ‘great post’ doesn’t really help anyone.

 

Another thing to try is guest posting on other sites and responding to crowd sourcing requests.  This is where a blogger will ask for people’s thoughts, opinions, or tips on a particular topic and include them all in a blog post.  I did this on a post about why I won’t do my son’s homework and the result was win win.  I was able to show various opinions on the topic instead of just my own, and all the bloggers included got a back link to their sites.

 

 

Optimise

With the basics covered there’s still more you can do to improve your site’s SEO.

You can optimise your blog post’s title, url and meta date by making sure they include your keywords.

Then move on to optimising your images.  Make sure that the image title includes your keywords.  Next think about the image description and make sure it states what the picture is of.  This is especially helpful for the visually impaired who can’t see the image so they know what it’s of.

After doing all this you want to make sure your site is optimised for the web and for mobile use.

So many people these days use their phones to browse the internet so your site needs to be mobile friendly.  If you’re using WordPress then check that the theme you’re using is set up to work perfectly on phones.

 

Hopefully this post has given you a good basic understanding of what you can do to improve your site’s SEO.

There are loads of far more detailed posts out there if you want to dig into it further, and if you want some expert help then companies like Click Consult offer some great guides and services to give your site a real boost.

Now I need to take my own advice and go back to the posts I wrote when I first started and give them a bit of SEO love and attention.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post