Saturday, 24 December 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

I'm posting this on Christmas Eve because growing up it was a Jones family tradition to spend each Christmas Eve in London taking in the amazing Christmas light displays, doing some last minute shopping and generally just topping up our Christmas spirit.

It has been harder to maintain since we moved away from Harpenden and are now all in different parts of the country (sometimes even in other countries like Mel and Arne who are currently in Belgium).  This year Mara and I did our best to carry on the tradition on behalf of everyone else...and a few days before Christmas Eve but it was just as fun all the same.

Our first stop was a Jones family favourite - the Kings Road! 

and Partridges, one of our favourite stores! well loved for the amount of American goodies they stock - I was able to get most of the ingredients needed for my peanut butter and chocolate brownie trifle I will be baking up for our Christmas Day dessert tomorrow.

We also stumbled upon this whole shop devoted to Christmas crackers - my mom would have been loving it! 

Of course no Gem and Mara trip is ever complete without eating ridunculous amounts of treats.  So we stopped off at the new Bea's of Bloomsbury.

There were festively decorated cupcakes a plenty...

and their infamous enormous meringues! 

We went with a duffin - that's a doughnut crossed with a muffin.  It was a pretty delish start to the day...

but the highlight had to be this amazing vanilla cupcake with passion fruit frosting, it was the softest, lightest, creamiest, fruitiest frosting I have ever tasted.  I was a big fan...

and was loving this Christmas pud cushion too! 

Next stop had to be Covent Garden, check out the size of those baubles! 

and the size of that tree! You'll have to forgive me for the picture have to remember I have been stuck in North Wales where they don't really seem to be in to decorating for the season so my camera was going in to overdrive as I beheld all these festive sights...

and delights like this candy cane alley - aren't they just the cutest! 

Covent Garden isn't complete at Christmas without that good ol' giant reindeer either! 

and a pit stop at Cyber Candy brought us this very original Christmas tree made entirely from Moutain Dew soft drink cans! 

Carnaby Streets decorations always impress.  Mara took me for a surprise Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel after this.  It was a completely amazing Mad Hatters themed tea and you can read all about it here.

The Southbank was a sight to behold with little Christmas market huts lining the Thames with a canopy of twinkling lights I have missed London! 

I was excited to make it over to Trafalgar Square to check out this super tall 25m tree that Norway have been gifting to us in an annual tradition for over 60 years to thank Britain for the assistance they gave them during World War II.  Not only is it a pretty tree, but for the whole of December there has been carol singing happening underneath it's twinkling lights each evening.  We were surprised when half the crowd ran to the front in the middle of a song change to join it - it seemed like everyone was welcome to contribute to the choir which was extra fun! including the guy playing keyboard complete with backpack...he looked like he had just been strolling by and decided to play a few tunes for everyone! 

The lights of Picadilly were some of my favourites, such simple white lights but really effective...

and I would have expected no less from Bond street - their lights were the classiest of all.

Cartier had a particularly impressive display of lit up red trees adorning every window! 

and it was hard to get a shot of the whole of Selfridge's because it's obviously such a HUGE shop but I liked this one I snapped as you can see the bustling crowds too! 

Selfridge's also had some really snazzy window displays, that were not only great to look at but interactive too! If you swiped your finger in an anti clockwise movement along all those circles in the picture above, the window pane would play music!! How cool is that! 

After we walked the whole of London flat, there was no other option but to fill up on some pulled pork, Bodean's style...

complete with Root Beer too.

I finished off my day of festive fun in London by stopping by the giant Lego tree at St.Pancras station.  Yes, you heard me right, that 10m tree is made from lego! In fact, it is made from 600,000 pieces of lego and took over two months to build but I'm sure you'll agree it was worth the effort! 

Even those little baubles are made from lego! 
It was the perfect ending to a perfect day! 

I'll leave you with this window display I happened upon from Byron burger...and with a little editing it is a Christmas message from the both of us! 

Here's wishing all our families and friends wherever you are in the world (including South Africa, Belgium, Spain, America, Denmark and Turks and Caicos!) a very Happy Christmas, here's hoping everyone has a truly magical Christmas day tomorrow filled with lots of fun, love, and of course tasty food! as we remember and celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

An Afternoon at Aber Falls

You may have noticed a slight undertone in my blogging since we've moved of me not being all too impressed with our new surroundings ;) and for that I apologise.

I mean I guess it's not Wales' fault that it doesn't have any of my favourite shops or restaurants or that it doesn't know how to make a decent cupcake because to be fair people don't travel to Wales for the good shopping, they come because of this.... 

The great outdoors! the beautiful scenery, and well I guess while you can get a great cupcake in London and shop up a storm after grabbing a double thick shake and some corn dogs at The Diner you can't find places like these! 

So I'm trying to appreciate Wales for what it can offer...rather than dwell on what it can't, and what it offered to Byron and I last week was a trip to Aber Falls.  Unfortunately we came a few weeks late and all the trees had already lost their leaves so it wasn't quite as colourful as I had hoped for but we enjoyed our walk up to the Falls all the same.

The water was so powerful that it created quite a spray that could be felt from a fair distance away! 

We may not have seen too many red and orange leaves but we did see these red berries which were pretty festive :)

and we even managed to find a strategically placed rock so we could snap a picture of the two of us enjoying our great outdoors! 

In other news this week, we ran a cupcake stall at Bangor Uni's Christmas Market to try and make up for the lack of cupcakes we've come across so far...I'm not sure it was that well received, I have a feeling it would have generated far more excitement if it had been down South but it was still kind of fun to do...

and the countdown is on...9 days 'til we get to go on our London/Harpenden/Ampthill/Wellingborough/Hodnet adventure where we will get to spend time with all our families and friends and I can get my cupcaking, milkshaking and shopping fix! oh yeah! 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The holidays are coming...

It's the start of December! So let's talk about Christmas Trees...

Everyone has their own ideas about Christmas Trees and their own traditions.  I grew up in a house where we firmly believed in real trees! To me it's just not Christmas without the fun of going to pick out the tree and then bringing that lovely pine needle scent into your home! 

When we were younger we used to go to the local apple tree farm to pick ours! It was a whole family outing.  I remember there being a huge massive selection and my sisters and I would spend ages running around checking out every tree to see who had found the perfect bushiest tree with the most evenly distributed branches! We would also get warm drinks given to us by the farmers wife...and one year I remember them throwing in a free wreath for our front door too! The only problem with this little happy scenario was this usually used to happen most likely in the week leading upto Christmas, we tried every year to get it to happen sooner but my dad was always a bit last minute with our apple tree farm visits! 

So...when Byron and I got married I tried to carry on most of our Jones Family tree traditions like only going real (By had grown up with fake trees) and also going to local places where we could pick out the prettiest tree we wanted.  The one tradition I obviously changed was the date that we bought the tree so the Braithwaite family tradition is that we buy our tree on December 1st - so we get to enjoy it for as long as possible! 

I thought it would be fun to take a look at Christmas trees past...

This tree was from our first Christmas as a married couple (sorry for the grainy pic - I had to get it from facebook!) Another tradition I continue from my mom was that our trees had to be decorated with a 'theme'.  So I decided it would be fun to carry on the theme we had at our wedding - pink, black and polka dot. We were still poor students so we had to go for a rather small tree, but we were pretty happy with it.

So when our 2nd Christmas rolled around, I thought I would carry on another tradition of my moms which was changing the theme! and buying all new decorations! but that one didn't go down too well with Byron so we stuck with pink and black for another year! and this time eco friendly By decided we should get a plantable tree that we could dig up again the next year.  As luck would have it we would have moved again by the following Christmas! 

So we were able to get this beauty! My favourite tree by far for Christmas no.3! and we finally decided pink and black wasn't a good theme because we were struggling to find new decorations that fit the theme so I was happy we got a new theme - red and cream and rustic! Another Jones family tradition is tinsel is a definite no go so I was happy with this candy cane stripped ribbon that adorned our tree instead! 

Everything was going well until island living threatened our prospect of getting a real tree last year!! or any tree for that matter! The real Christmas trees sold on the island had been imported from Canada so they had a nice fat price tag of $100! and as much as I desperately wanted a real tree that just wasn't in our budget so our plans looked doomed for a while until we found the garden centre down the road had these little trees for a much more reasonable $32! 

Unfortunately our theme sort of had to go out the window because we didn't have room in our 4 suitcases we took over for decorations! but lots of our friends and family sent over lovely decorations for us like cupcake baubles and gingerbread men and candy canes so I guess maybe we had a sugar themed tree! 

It wasn't the most impressive looking tree we'd ever had but it was one of my most loved since I was so worried we wouldn't be able to fufil our tradition of having a real tree! and that little tree saved the day! 

which brings me around to this year! when plans to get a real tree were again uncertain since we are going to be away for alot of Christmas visiting family and we're also back to being poor students without extra money for making our house super festive! so we thought it wouldn't make sense to get one.

We went to look at a few garden centres to see how the trees were priced just incase.  We went to one garden centre that on its website had raved about amazing christmas displays that people come from far and wide to see! We didn't get our hopes up, we've sussed out North Wales definition of amazing now and it doesn't match ours so we didn't hold our breath and it was a good thing in the end because the displays weren't even worth taking pictures of (I had taken my camera just in case!)

So I had given up hope of a tree until yesterday when By suggested we stopped by B&Q.  I wish you could have seen the look on my face, B&Q does not fit in with where I usually like to buy my trees.  I realise this is making me sound like a snob...but I have been spoiled by too many wonderful Christmas trees past to make me ever want to buy one from a chain like B&Q.  One of the saddest things was that all their trees were already bagged up so you had no idea if yours was going to be lopsided when you cut it open or if there was going to be a bare patch in the middle! but the prices were very reasonable so we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best, I swallowed my pride and we took our tree home!

and I am very happy to say that this little tree is the straightest most well proportioned tree we've probably ever had!

 I can't stop looking at it and getting over just how perfectly distributed all the branches are!! I am officially apologising to B&Q for having no faith in their trees and I am so happy that we got to have a real tree in the end...and what made me even more happy was being reunited with all our decorations! 

So we got busy, I put on our Christmas playlist on itunes (Rockin' around the Christmas tree is By's fave whilst I'm partial to a bit of sleigh ride), I whipped up some brownies and we set to work decorating...

This set of advent envelopes was made for me by my lovely visiting teachers from Reading a few years back, and each day we read a scripture relating to the birth of our saviour...

because after all, Jesus is the reason for the season! Let's not forget that! 

and let's not forget how co-ordinating festive treats to the activity you're doing makes everything more fun! like these triple mint choc chip brownies complete with Christmas tree sprinkles!