The pressure of social media at Christmas

For the last couple of weeks I have seen the same photo buzz around the internet. The same sentiment about not spoiling your children this Christmas. 4 presents, and 4 presents only. I believe it started from the American blogger Dandee Designs in 2009 and so many since have shared this very respectful motto. 

I've seen it shared and liked countless times but I can't bring myself to like it. Because that would be a complete lie. I guess I fall into the spoiling camp and I am here jumping in with both feet. It can be a dirty word on social media to admit you are going to spoil your children rotten this Christmas. I have bags full of presents up in the loft, some of which I bought at nearly new sales 4 years ago!

Every time I see a photo of a fireplace filled with birthday balloons and piles of presents I click the like button. It resonates so much with me that you want to create that magical moment, those photos in front of a stack of goodies, a toothy grin with no real interest with what's inside. Just at that moment, they feel so special. And it's not really the number of presents behind them, I know that, it's the effort and attention and adoration. 

Just because my children will walk into a room with a stocking bursting with presents, doesn't necessarily mean I've spent a fortune. I am and have always been a bargain hunter.  And I value time just as much as something plastic you can unwrap that makes their eyes pop out of their sockets with glee and breaks after 5 minutes. I scour charity shops, and car boot sales, I've been lucky to have opportunities through my blog and I've worked silly hours this year to earn every penny I can. There are holidays or toys that lots of children could only dream of that have become almost normal to our boys through this blog. But I don't see that as a bad thing. I see that as an opportunity to teach them to be more appreciative, more grateful, and realise how lucky they are. 

The boys have no clue whether something is new to them or brand new. And they simply don't care. I know this won't last forever, that I'm sure we will have peer pressure at school to contend with in the coming years, when presents seem to get smaller but simultaneously get more expensive. 

But spoiling comes in lots of forms. Our boys eat at restaurants with us, they have nice clothes, nice toys and I know full well there are people less fortunate and more fortunate than we are. We periodically clear out their bookcase and toy baskets, deciding which can go to the charity shop for other children to enjoy. 

I am very aware we have a jam packed Christmas, with friends and family starting tomorrow. 

The school Christmas Fayre. 

Ah if you haven't been to one be prepared. I adore them, I love the build up, the excitement of the children - like it's THE big social event in their little calendars. The helping, the donating, the browsing and the buying. The boy's school will have a number of local businesses selling their wares - shop local has never been so prominent in our daily social media existence and I for one will be armed with pennies to support those who have taken the time to prepare their stalls, who will spend a day of their precious time loading their boots, unpacking and dressing their stands and smiling nicely at everyone who just passes by without making eye contact. Well hopefully not but you know what I mean!

We have weekend treats with best pals coming up. Our annual Christmas treat with Samy's sweetheart and a new year weekend away with our best chums from Weston. All of which will cost money, but money we have worked so hard to earn this year.

Everything is relative. And when you are immersed in the world of social media all those lines are blurred. What is expensive to one is a drop in the ocean to another. And neither is right or wrong. 

All week I have been completely touched with the photos and this post which I read this evening. When I started the Surprise Project I didn't want it to be about money. I wanted it to quite purposely be about thoughtfulness and kindness. A guide of £5 compared to the three/four and more times the budgets of other parcel swaps around the world. 

Spoiling someone doesn't have to be about money. 

I am counting down the days until the 1st December, I have bought two (rather extravagant as advent calendars go) Lego calendars for my Lego obsessed boys. I don't want to feel like I can't share a photo of their happy faces on social media, to my friends and family on my Facebook page. 

I know it's not something they need, it's not even something they want, it's something I want to give them.

Not because they've asked, or written it on a list, (incidentally, their list comprises one thing - The Uggly Pet Shop series which features the rather charming surprise poo, which we should not get confused with the Surprise Project) but because I want to give it to them. They deserve it and have helped me earn the money to pay for it. They have smiled and made all sorts of craft projects, they have climbed trees in the background during photo shoots - not such a hard task but still! 

I think the real motto of this Christmas, and any Christmas is that we do what is right for our children, our family unit. What's right for one won't be a blueprint for another, and whether you wrap 4 or 40 presents this year, make sure you take a mental note of that moment when they feel like the luckiest child in the world. Beaming back at you.

I love finding little things, collecting ideas through the year. My sister does the same, rather than buying it all at once in December. For me I get as much pleasure buying as I do seeing them open it!

I relish the simple things, I make time for them to literally stop and smell the roses in the garden. I love pottering, watching them make potions in buckets with mud and leaves, treasuring simple pleasures. But I also want to indulge them. 

Because these days are so short, maybe I should work less, use after school club less, every day I could wrangle with parental guilt! I'm just trying to do my best, we all are. My house is more often than not upside down, I've well and truly commandeered the light filled conservatory as a photo studio instead of the playroom that I promised it to be. But if Christmas isn't the excuse to go a little over board then when is it?! 

ps. this might just be the first non photo post in a very long time. Normal service will resume tomorrow! 

West Elm Table Ware and mini ginger bread men

Ok, it may only be the 26th November but I am in the festive spirit. For me, this time of year is a little like the birthday cake at a children's party. We always display our cake in the middle of the buffet table, so the birthday boy and everyone else for that matter, can enjoy it. Not spend lots of time (uh hmm I mean some money - on the resolution list to bake a birthday cake) on this incredible creation for it to be whipped out in the final 5 minutes then cut up and popped into party bags to get crumbled into the car on the way home!

Christmas is just like that. I want to enjoy the build up for as long as possible and that means getting in the seasonal spirit from right now!

I've been slipping colourful crackers into the house, picking up lengths of ribbon and edible decorations for the last couple of weeks, ready for this post. I may actually have squealed at the postman when he delivered the box marked Fragile, with not clue what was inside. But I did. 

West Elm is one of my most favourite home interiors companies. It's one of the stores on my must go to list when we visit my brother in the States and when they opened a London store with shipping across the UK I was giddy. It's one of a very very small number of brands whose products my husband and I 100% agree on. Everything from the styling of the store, the simplicity and understated elegance of the website, to the cushions and crockery. 

It's all divine.

When we bought the house last year one of the first purchases was a West Elm armchair, a blanket and matching cushion for the living room. They were the only company who embraced a coral and mint colour trend last year and I wanted to buy up the store. 

When we stay with my brother and sister in law, we have had the chance to go into New York City for the day. A quick 50 minute train ride and we always head to the Flat Iron Building to walk around the pavement cafes enveloping the park and then make a beeline for Fishs Eddy. I walk in and gasp. An independent family store, selling every kind of kitchen ware, crockery and beautiful books, vintage linens and unique glassware and ceramics. I carry my hand luggage onto the plane like it carries the crown jewels! 

I recently broke my favourite sausage dog jug and was over the moon when I spotted a Fishs Eddy collaboration with West Elm. They stock a number of their gorgeous lines and new in for Winter this year is their gilded table ware - and it's currently on sale too!  It was a pleasure to style up a festive table scene on our old french table, the mini balloons and greenery pulling together this black, gold and a hint of lime scheme.

West Elm in the country!

west elm table ware 17.jpg

There's a hint of whimsy with the comical slogans and the elegant pattern reminds me of an art deco hotel. Paired with simple styling, elegant foliage, they get to be the star of the table. I love the more rustic woven napkin rings and ever since we moved here I have collected a stash of linen napkins. If you like classic lines mixed with contemporary prints and on trend colour palettes this is the collection for you. 

Gold feels like the colour of the year and their stemless glasses give the less formal naked table a more glamorous feel and the gold cutlery puts the fabulous in flatware! Take advantage of the sale where the glassware is on special offer. I would use the salad plates as dinner wares they are slightly smaller and perfect for a narrow table. And you can always have seconds!

I love the idea of table names, even just for a few of you. It feels like an extra special meal. Mini ginger bread men are a great way to get the children involved in your festive table, make a batch and use some for edible place cards, then you can eat your name tags! A sprinkle of edible gold leaf just gave them that extra sparkle.

The simplest recipes are always the best. My mum suggests this one. 

In a mixing bowl combine 350g flour, 100g butter or margarine, 5 teaspoons of ground ginger, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Mix with your fingertips until crumbly. Add 175g of soft brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of golden syrup and one egg and stir until it forms a firm consistency. If you find the mix a little wet, add a touch more flour and keep stirring until you have a pastry type texture.

Roll out your mix to your preferred thickness and cut your shapes with a cookie cutter. Lightly grease a baking tray and cook in a pre heated oven at 180c/Gas Mark 4 for 12-15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to make sure they are not burning as all ovens vary a little. 

Laying the table over the Christmas period is such a pleasure, I love planning it all, making an extra effort for Christmas Eve, (we are planning an Indian feast) the big day itself and we have lots of family and friends celebrations from Boxing Day through to New Year. It doesn't matter what you serve, making a little extra effort just makes it all taste nicer.

How do you style your table? Do you get your wedding plates out of a box like Monica from Friends?!!! 

I am loving all the beautiful tables shared on social media today. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US, especially my brother and sister in law and their mini bump!

In collaboration with West Elm. 

Christmas Party Styling • Talking Tables giveaway #CapturingColour

Have you been joining in with the brand new week of #capturingcolour?! This week you are in for a treat.

I have joined confetti weilding forces up with Talking Tables - the wonderful party ware company, and we have a gorgeous give-away for you.

I love party styling, the day my boys say "Oh Mama can we just have money?" will be a sad day! They love big birthdays, the appreciate and remember all the little details and I adore all the late nights spent making up party bags and the after party where all our family and closest friends share a drink amongst the party debris!

This week we want you to share your botanical inspired images in honour of the Talking Tables Botanical Christmas Range of party supplies for your chance to win a set!

The holly and berries pattern is so distinctive, it's classic festive feel is perfect for any Christmas table, whether you are in the city or at home in the country this year. The delicate illustrations and traditional colours are such a treat to see.

All you have to do to win your set from the Botanical Range is share a photo to Instagram with the hashtag #capturingcolour.

Do let us know so we can see them, I will be sharing a grid of favourites as well as announcing a winner next week.

We would love you to tag us @capturebylucy and @talkingtablesuk and follow them for incredible party inspiration. Their whole feed is delightful!

It's a blooming good week :)

Show us your beautiful botanicals, share a photo of florals, the great outdoors, anything inspired by nature!

There's even been some well over due sunshine over our house this week, a perfect excuse to get in the garden with my camera.

Happy snapping and good luck.

To enter tag your botanical themed photo with #capturingcolour. Entries are open until midnight GMT Sunday 29th November 2015. Open to UK and EU residents. 

#AutumnTimeSurpriseProject day is finally here!

All day my phone has pinged with wonderful notifications of lovely messages and photos of your thoughtful parcels zipping around the world!

I am just in awe of all the creativity, some have been so resourceful on the £5 guide price, parcels have been bursting with craft supplies, vintage goodies and sweet treats, others have had a special present that was perfect for their partner. 

Your kindness is inspiring and uplifting.

Receiving happy mail is like receiving a bunch of flowers for me. It makes you feel giddy and you want to sit and admire the contents of your parcel! I hope there are a few of you displaying your notelets or cards on your fireplaces of window ledges, I loved a card sent to me in the first swap at the beginning of the year that still has pride of place on the mantlepiece.

It's a reminder of how important an act of goodwill is. 

If you joined in the #autumntimesurpriseproject the deadline for sending gifts was for them to be ready to open today, but I loved that people have shared their parcels over the last couple of weeks too. You didn't have to wait at all and I loved seeing the excitement building!

If you still need to send yours don't panic, just drop your partner an email and let them know you haven't forgotten. Everyone understands that life can take over sometimes and the to do list spills over into another day. Just keep them in the loop.

Look at all the parcels!

This is just a small hint of the pretty gift wrap, the colourful creations, sweet notes and absolute thoughtfulness in the #autumntimesurpriseproject gallery. Go and have a peek.

For anyone who missed this surprise swap and would like to join in next time I will be opening the #wintertimesurpriseproject over the Christmas holidays for parcels to be sent in February. Hopefully that will be something to look forward to after the festivities!

Next year, after the final seasonal swap I hope you will join in with the #surpriseproject which will run three times a year. That way, whether you are basking in Spring sunshine or your playing in the snow we can just exchange fun parcels that put a smile on our faces. 

I have so much love for the Surprise Project society of women, men, bloggers, Instagram fans, friends and to my family who also join in!

I will be updating the website over the next couple of weeks ready to open the winter project. But we won't be sending parcels until February, after the madness of the Christmas festivities and it will be something to look forward to in the new year.

I also wanted to say a thank you to The Fresh Flower Company. I won this beautiful bouquet as part of their #freshflowergiveaway on Instagram by sharing a seasonal floral image. I adore the colours, how autumnal can be just as bright and cheerful as the deep rich traditional colours of the season. I realised I hadn't assigned myself a partner in the swap so it was a very lovely surprise for me.

I am going to print a few of these photos as they match our dining room decor! 

Thank you so much for everyone who followed through and sent their parcels, and for those who are busy wrapping over the next few days.

You've made your partners really happy.

Happy Sunday all xx