Preparing the home for Christmas • Featuring John Lewis

I know I’m not the only one. In fact I’d like to find someone who hasn’t walked around their house lugging boxes of decorations down from the loft or to-ing and fro-ing from the garage with a Christmas tree under their arms singing to themselves “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”

I love this time of year. I love the build up, the countdown to the end of term and the start of holiday playdates, drinks parties, family visits and sleepovers with friends on school nights without the school, nibbles at the neighbours and a trail of glitter on the floors, no matter how many times I vacuum. 

I love it all. Even the cleaning and sorting to get the house ready for all the decorations. 

I get almost a tingle of excitement in my fingertips when I unfold the dog eared tissue paper smothering my beloved baubles, all shapes and sizes that I have slowly built up over a decade of Christmases. Every year I add to it, taking an annual visit to my favourite department store for inspiration and browsing their festive displays to hunt out their newest gold and white and grey collections. 

Yes I am one of those people who like a coordinated tree and I am not ashamed to admit it. It’s funny how something you display for only a matter of weeks can tie a room together and then it feels so empty when it’s taken down. The twinkling lights make it instantly more cosy and I get to totally indulge in decorating every surface with garlands and greenery.

I should tell you I have lovingly kept every single decoration the boys have ever made me and their eyes light up when they head to their bedroom to decorate their very own tree. And I head downstairs and blast out some Mariah. They do help, I get about half an hour of over excited enthusiasm and then the reality kicks in that we are only half way through and they give me “permission” to finish hanging all the decorations for a big reveal and the big switch on. Tell me we are not the only family to give a comedy oooooh as the plug socket goes click?!

As we slowly renovate the house I keep wanting to decorate with greys, whites and blues. As we update door handles, window latches and light fittings we’ve fallen back in love with traditional brass and gold accessories and when I got the chance to collaborate with John Lewis this year to share with you their new Snowshill Range it was like it was meant to be. 

Sumptuous hints of rich golds, rustic natural textures mixed with shimmer and glass. The whole range manages to combine contemporary elegance and cool tones with countryside tradition. Owls and pheasants, mistletoe prints and a hint of copper which makes it ideal to mix and match with others in their 2017 collections. 

Christmas is a hectic time of year, we are hosting again this year, digging out the emergency chairs, blow up beds and spare bedding but decorating the house with a calming colour palette helps bring a little gentleness to proceedings!

The star and ice garland is one of my favourite and incredibly good value buys from the range and it works wrapped around the banisters, hung from tiny hooks along the mantlepiece and from the ceiling above the table! I think even Moose was impressed. And I am sure the glittery clip in antlers I spotted by the wrapping paper section were intended for all our fur babies...!

I've tried to balance being a more is more kind of girl at Christmas with Rich's preference for clutter free festive decorations. So instead of masses of candles and baubles balanced along the centre of the table I think I will go with a little greenery that looks as lovely dried as it does freshly cut and a few simple bud vases so the crackers can be the star of the show. Well them and the westies of course. 

Just like I did as a child, Ollie has written the name places (which we only ever seem to use at Christmas) ready for the big feast. He's also in charge this year of reading 'Twas The Night Before Christmas to his small cousins. They are both at an age where they lap up the responsibility of our little traditions and both know the national anthem for the Queen's speech!

One of the nicest things about recording our Christmases on a blog is that I will have so many photos to look back on in years to come. Of how the walls have got a little fuller with pictures and the window ledges are filling up with family photos. 

I feel like everyone has got into the Christmas spirit earlier this year, Facebook is full of tree photos waiting for presents to be stuffed underneath, nativity plays seem to be on school calendars even earlier and I cannot wait for the day next week when they run out of the gates and the Christmas countdown can truly begin. It's Ollie's turn tomorrow and we are heading on mass to school for their around the world nativity. I felt like Emma Thompson in Love Actually when he told me his part... not a lobster, he is the bullfighter! 

Cameras at the ready!

There's some beautiful accessories in the Snowshill range this year but be quick!

In collaboration with John Lewis 

Photo Backdrops • The Edit - Grey Planks

The last few days, few weeks really have been one of the most exciting and nerve wracking times in the life of my blog. I have finally, after almost two years (it might actually be almost three but that sounded so ridiculous) of fiddling and faffing with an idea, launched a product on a brand new new look site!

I have been so fortunate that this blog has led to some wonderful photography work, loyal clients where I feel like a remote but very real member of the team. I have spent the last few years getting to know my camera. I slap my own wrists for not reading the manual that still sits in the box in my office, but I have learnt what it can do, settings that feel like second nature, and each year I hope you see a little improvement in the quality of the imagery on this blog. 

I want to help others like me who often work from home as well as professionals who shoot for a living. People who might be like you, who take photos just for fun, style flat lays of pretty things, arrange products you have been sent to review, showcase gorgeous recipes you've made or take photos for a magazine or blog feature, stop motion videos or just generally have a good faff.

I've started with a first collection of textures and surfaces that I have photographed and made into vinyl backdrops that you can wipe, roll and store in the tube they get delivered in. I live with dented cardboard and foam boards and realise I spend more time editing out little marks and scratches sometimes than I do editing the overall image.

I share my work space with my boys and a lot of the time it's littered with Lego. I need to be able to set up a scene while they are at school and then whip it away for when they get home. And not have masses of enormous boards wedged behind my desk or under the sofa. 

Head on over and let me know what you think! What you love what is on your wish list for Father Christmas and what you think is missing. Tweet me, tag me, leave a comment. I want to develop the next collection with you in mind.

I don't want to flood the store page with too much information that it feels overwhelming, so instead I am going to share a series of blog posts here where I show you each backdrop in the range, one by one and some different edits. All my photos are taken in natural light and these have been edited using one of my favourite set of Photoshop Actions from Sarah Gardner.

Introducing the Grey Planks....

I spotted this set of planks hidden behind an old door in a garden section of a scrap yard at the back of an Antiques emporium. It has texture and age but was almost in pristine condition, protected from the weather by a peeling painted door in front. It can feel cold and moody or cleaner and airier depending on the light you are shooting in. 

My favourite detail is the subtle ombré effect from natural exposure to sunlight. You can't recreate this on a computer. Well I don't think so anyway. The planks aren't too close together to be real, I have photographed them true to scale. There's a slight variation from the original in the final printed version but I don't think you can notice it in your photographs. 

Smooth vinyl, but with texture and depth in the image. 

What feels more like you? My natural style fits with the first images, but I love how you can change the atmosphere of a photo with some simple edits. 

I've realised more and more as life gets busier and busier with after school activities, homework and party invitations I need a way to create general images for my social media accounts. I am most active on my Instagram feed and these style photos help let my gallery breathe. 

They give my more hectic captures space. Sometimes I look back at what I've posted and it's a mass of full frames, no negative space (which we all know the good people of IG love) and each one is practically fighting each other for your attention. Plus taking even five minutes out of a day to create something is good for my soul.

Next up I am going to show you one of my favourites, my old marble table that is currently drowning in paperwork, Christmas cards to write, car keys and uniform to stuff into pe bags tomorrow morning! 

It is such a pleasure to have this collection live, there's a few tweaks and bumps to iron out but it is such a thrill to see people ordering them! If one is coming your way with the postman next week I would love you tag me and use #cblbackdrops if you share a photo. It's like seeing your babies fly the nest! 

Happy shopping and happy snapping!

Life's What You Make It • Featuring Slumberdown WIN Your Housework For a Year

Do you ever feel like you are just existing? You get up, get the kids, ready for school, set off on the same familiar journey, almost on auto pilot, and the day ends as quickly as it started, and you wake up and the whole process begins again. Like so many other parents I try and squeeze as much into one day as possible, juggling work, an endless to do list and trying to keep on top of the house. It’s basically organised chaos, and the organised bit might be stretching the truth a little.

There’s baskets of washing that need putting away, trousers and tops that have been shaken to within an inch of their lives rather than ironed, (anyone else use that trick?!) and I find smoothing them as I fold them can work a treat too in desperate times! Baby wipes are my best friend, just don’t look at the window ledges too close or you might see the tell tale ever so slightly smeary signs that I’ve whizzed round the picture frames with a wet wipe instead of dusting. 

It almost feels sometimes like we are survival mode. The house isn’t dirty it’s just not quite up together. Instead of Saturday mornings spent hoovering the stairs and evenings in front of an ironing board we work and play because life feels too short. I’ve been too bogged down with the weight of grown up life lately and I’ve missed enjoying the boys. I keep thinking what will they remember when they’ve left home? Will it be that there was never an airer of clean washing in the kitchen or will it be the bike rides, trips to the seaside and movie nights under a blanket with a 7pm “midnight feast”?

If I could wave a magic wand the one thing I’d want is a cleaner. To just take the stress out of keeping a busy household ticking over. Term time weeks just race by, the boys stay late for clubs three days a week and with darkness descending before we even make it back on the driveway I desperately make the most of the time we do have at weekends. All the chores mount up during the week and it feels miserable to spend a precious Saturday sorting the recycling and washing bathrooms floors. We both work from home a lot of the time and don’t have that same longing to be together as a four that I imagine so many including my sister and brother in law feel if you have a long commute or work silly hours or just simply miss them during the day. 

In lots of ways working from home is such a blessing and in others it can make you forget how precious quality time can be. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary it can be as normal as being at home on a Sunday afternoon for a roast and a game of Guess Who or taking the dogs out with their scooters. 

As part of Slumberdown’s latest and may I say greatest competition I challenged the boys to a noughts and crosses pillow game and a few rounds of duvet Twister. They LOVED it. We used every pillow in the house to make our board and then drew and cut out our own cardboard pieces. They are surprisingly competitive when it comes to noughts and crosses, whispering tactics and strategies in my ear as they tried to out fox each other!

Slumberdown pillow games 9.jpg

Our version of Twister couldn’t have been easier, we whipped the cover off one of their duvets and used some sheets of coloured felt from their arts and crafts stash. We borrowed a dice from a board game and we were set. You realise how inflexible you are when you play against nimble 5 and 7 year olds! 

We are not quite sure who was the winner as we all ended up collapsing in a heap after about 4 turns and then the inevitable pillow fight took over.

It sounds silly but I need to force myself sometimes to make time for games like this. Forget the list of things that should be done, that need to be done, and put them off for just one more day. Some jobs can’t wait but lots can. With our bedroom and bathroom renovations well under way I am not going to win the battle for a show home house anytime soon but even when it’s all plastered and painted and the carpets are laid I still think I won’t be up to date on washing and ironing! Well unless my mum comes to rescue me. 

Slumberdown’s new competition is all about making the most of time with our kids and they are offering one very lucky winner the chance to win their housework for a WHOLE YEAR! 50 regular cleans and 2 deep Spring cleans from Molly Maid to help give you more time to spend with your family instead of cleaning bathrooms and washing dishes! 

All you have to do to enter is share and upload a photo of your family and a moment you wish you had more of. If you could free up more of your time with a fairy godmother visiting once a week what would you spend that time with the kids doing? Tell Slumberdown for your chance to win.

Share your photos with #LifesWhatYouMakeIt. Upload from Instagram or Twitter or upload your file directly from your phone or computer here

Good luck!*

Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Disclosure* In collaboration with Slumberdown - I wish I could enter though - what a prize!