Christmas is coming. And I’m trying not to … PANIC! My tips for a thrifty-ish Christmas! | Simply Marcia

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Christmas is coming. And I’m trying not to … PANIC! My tips for a thrifty-ish Christmas!

I love the sparkly season. Christmas is the best. I love it. And so does my 10 year old daughter who’s inherited this love for the festive season and has already decorated her bedroom in a more-is-more fashion. Her stocking is already up, ready-and-waiting. Basically her bedroom has been transformed in to Santa’s Grotto (ho, ho, ho!).

Whilst my natural tendency is to nosedive head first in to all things Christmassy, glittery and mulled-winey, a spot of overspending in October and hence a slight budget issue means I’m having to resist going completely wild in the aisles this Christmas. Bah! humbug! But instead of panicking (and hitting the credit card) I’ve got creative and come up with some (untested and not-yet-tried) ideas for a thrify’ish Christmas:

Christmas Cards – this year, I’m thinking virtual Christmas Cards (Blue Mountain have some cute, free ones) and hand crafted ones (more specifically, hand made by the kids) for grandparents/family. It’s also time to dig out last year’s Christmas cards to transform them in to this year’s gift tags (et voila!).

Budget – not one of my strong points (see above) but a necessary task … Money Saving expert is a great site for tips and common sense advice to help avoid a potential financial nightmare-before-Christmas – this is where my Christmas budgeting plans will start their existence. And having spent some time trawling through the never-ending Christmas wishlists my kids have written, I think a good compromise is possible though when it comes to everyone else, some corners have to be cut this year… So one thing we’ve agreed as an extended family this year, is to run a secret santa! So this year, each family is ony buying for one adult and one child from another family et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (there are literally loads of us). Brilliant! Money and time saving.

Christmas Food – I love getting in the kitchen creating Christmassy goodies (usually just for us) but this year, I’m going a step further thanks to my well-thumbed Nigella’s Christmas book and have already made a start on some fab chutneys and freezer-friendly foody gifts. And when it comes to Christmas food-food, this year it’s an Aldi and Lidl Christmas for us – I think Kevin the Carrot would approve.

Christmas stockings – so in the past the kids’ Christmas stockings have been full of loads of little bits and pieces which, whilst cute, the kids have kind of overlooked and abandoned (especially my boys who are now teens) – time to rethink. I’ve decided to only buy stuff that’s actually useful (or edible!) in their stockings – so it’s in with shin pads and deodorants and out with novelty mini-football games and the like. Considered purchases are the way forward this year. Careful, online browsing and research using comparison websites is my plan. Which brings me on to …

Lists – I’m a bit of a list freak so this bit feels pretty natural. For me, if I’ve written something down in list format it won’t get forgotten. For Christmas, I have lists for food, recipes to try (and ingredients to buy), presents and events to take the kids to (think Santa’s Grotto, Christmas Markets and Lights switch ons (Candutu is a brilliant site for finding Chrsitmassy events near you!).

Recycleables – some of our Chrsitmassy items are perfectly good enough so it’s ‘in with the old’ for us – that means no new Christmas decorations, party dresses (whaaaat!) or jumpers … that kind of thing. The one thing we will be getting is a real tee – there can be no compromise as far as I’m concerned. We’ll be heading to Cedar Croft nurseries in Cornwall for ours!

Happy Christmassy plotting & planning!

Souk it up in Marrakesh


Yes, the summer hols have just ended, yes, the children are all back at school and yes, autumn is almost upon us (with thoughts turning to Christmas soon arghh!), so plotting your next sunny holiday may not be top of your to-do list but just-in-case I have to fill you in on my recent holiday (with two teen boys and under 10 year old daughter) to beautiful Morocco.

Since the day I started reading Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, swiftly followed by the film version starring Kate Winslet, Morocco has been on my ‘go to’ list and, nearly 25 (!!) years later, I finally made it and quite frankly, loved it. It’s crazy, chaotic and colourful – why did I wait so blimmin long?!

So, my top tips if travelling to this beautiful land:

1. If you like to unwind at the end of a very busy day spent relaxing by the pool with an ice-cold cocktail you MUST check that the hotel is not a dry one and more importantly, that you’re not travelling during Ramadan. I speak from experience! On the plus side, this does mean there are no annoying pissed people anywhere – oh joy!

2. Alcohol can be hard to track down, though some restaurants in Marrakesh do serve it. You might be better off heading to the CarreFour supermarket in the centre of Marrakesh and buying your own (though check the hours within which you can buy alcohol as these will be different to the normal opening hours).

3. I love a cuppa (think PG Tips), though much as I wish I was, I’m not really a fan of herbal teas but this is what you can expect – lots of mint tea – if you fancy doing-it-yourself then it’s off to CarreFour for teabags!

4. It’s hot, hot, hot – a swimming pool is a must.

5. This is not the place for hot pants and crop tops (thankfully) so a more conservative approach to clothing is the dress code to aim for – think long maxi dresses and floaty wraps/shawls around your shoulders.

6. The mix of languages is so lovely – a real mix of English, French and Arabic – so if like me, you fancy trying to retrieve your GCSE standard French – give it a go 🙂

7. It’s a non-judgemental place – which is really liberating. No-one cares what size you are or what you look like (apart from not flashing the flesh) – there are no billboards bearing half naked bits and bobs. Lovely and refreshing. Image is not everything in Morocco.

8. Brush up on your haggling skills – go on – maybe try a bit of role play before you go! Haggling for everything from taxi fares to goods is kind of expected and the norm so do as the locals do and get assertive.

9. The continent of Africa is closer than you might think so if a bit of culture is what you’re hankering after, but you don’t want to spend hours on a long haul flight, Morocco is for you. It’s around a 3 hour flight from the UK and is in the same time zone!

10. This isn’t really a tip – more another potential reason for you to head to this wonderful place – no mosquitoes. None. At least not when we were there …

11. The food is uh-maz-ing. Delicious tagines, stews, cous-cous, fruits (the melons here are HUGE!) plus, due to the French influence, there are so many yummy pastries, croissants and cakes – I was in food heaven ha!

12. If you dare to check out the sights and smells of the souks (which you absolutely have to by the way), amongst the camels, fire-eaters, monkey trainers and snake charmers you’ll find stall after stall after stall selling a myriad of amazing and beautiful gifts for you, your family and your home. Think delicate tealight holders, woven bags, leathers, Moroccan slippers, pom pom baskets, oils (including the amazing Moroccan hair oil), spices and stunning fine silver and gold jewellery. You’ll be spoilt for choice!

We stayed at the Le Vzior Center & Resort on the outskirts of Marrakesh (20 minutes from the airport) and it was perfect for us – family friends, lots of pools, lots of food and lots of sunshine!

Don’t ask Google, my 13 year old knows EVERYTHING

Other browsers are available of course, however it becomes irrelevant when you have a 13-year-old in your house as they will know absolutely everything about everything. It’s just the way it is – accept it dullard parents.

So basically, a typical sort of conversation in our house:

Me: ‘It’s pouring with rain and super-cold – you need to wear your football thermals for football training tonight.’
13-year-old (know-it-all): ‘Oh, god, you’re such an idiot. I don’t get cold. You know that. And it’s going to stop raining by the time I train. Umm hello – like, check the weather forecast. Goddddddd. You’re so sad.’ Que lots of muffles and (probably) swearing under my/his breath.

The transition from wide-eyed child believing you know everything, to 13-year-old know-it-all takes place around the end of Year 7 at secondary school. They’ve now (finally) settled in to secondary school life, they’re about to head in to Year 8 (no longer the Year 7 bully targets that they were) and basically, they change. They’ve moved on from primary school believers-of-everything to secondary school believers-of-nothing-their-parents-advise/tell/inform them. It’s the ‘becoming a teen’ thing – and if you think 2 or 3 year olds having tantrum meltdowns are bad, you really, really haven’t seen anything like it (naturally though, a 13-year-old’s meltdown will only happen in the comforts of their own home (usually their bedroom because the Wi-Fi has STOPPED wtf wtf wtf) with zero chance of any witnesses …). And 13 year olds are BIG. So their tantrums match; they’re wild, snotty, sweary, dramatic, emotional, draining.

I used to verbally fight and resist 13-year-old know-it-all but have come to realise that most of the time, there’s no point and (to avoid regular conflict of gargantuan properties) it’s wise and advisable to pick your battles. The best starting point is getting it; it being the fact that your 13-year-old basically thinks you are fundamentally thick/stupid/an idiot. Their mates’ parents however, are, like, amazing and (probably) you’ll be told on a regular basis how your 13-year-old wishes that they:

– were born in to another family
– weren’t born at all
– could swap you for so-and-so’s mum who is lovely, cooks nice food, has no rules and has loads of cash.

They will also regularly remind you that:

– their life is shit
– they hate their life
– the Wi-Fi is shit
– you’re really boring
– everything you cook, go to, do is boring
– their siblings are shit
– school is shit

(There’s a bit of a theme.)

For info, 13-year-old’s do have some not-so-shit things in their life:

– their friends
– social media
– their playstation/X-box
– hot chocolate
– Nando’s
– football training (mine’s a boy)
– being away from you (mine engineers sleepovers away from us as often as possible)

Back to the battles. When needing to give information/advice/instructions to 13-year-old know-it-all this is how I now tackle it:

Me: ‘Oh blimey, it’s so cold and yucky out there tonight. Thank god for thermals’. This has to be said in a nonchalant ‘whatever’ tone of voice. Usually snuck in amongst some other random conversation with all the kids and not given any sense of importance, or to be misconstrued as ‘advice’ by 13-year-old know-it-all.

I’ve come to realise that I can offer all the advice in the world about everything and anything to 13-year-old and he will pretty much never, ever take it/listen/agree/think ‘oh yes, mum, you’re right of course’. Instead of reacting to his ‘knowing best’ conviction and his kneejerk ability to do absolutely the complete opposite of whatever I suggest, I now just let him get on with it. The less hung up I am about some of these battles, the easier it is (btw, some battles are non-negotiable like bedtimes and mobile phone use at 2am!).

I now think:
He’s 13 (he’s actually almost 14).
He’s not a baby.
He’s been given options.
He’s made his own decision.
He thinks he knows best.
Ok then.

I just make sure I’m on standby with a warm coat and /or hot chocolate at football training pickup time when he clambers, shivering, back in to the car. No words needed 🙂



Not a concept I’m so familiar with these days. In fact, the closest I get to me-time is when I’m driving half way across the county to pick my 14-year-old up from football training on a Thursday night. Then it’s just me, Jo Whiley on Radio2 and her ‘taxi run service’ (if you’re lucky enough not to still be out taxiing kids around late in to the evening, it’s where Jo gives parents a chance to get a song of their choice played whilst out doing the ‘taxi run’).

Post-school evenings are full to brimming point and every weeknight involves ferrying kids backwards and forwards – sometimes needing to be in three places at once, which is naturally an easy feat to achieve … (thankfully I have a supportive and lovely partner and wonderful mummy friends to help share the load with).

Way back when (ok just over 14 years ago), and with no cares or massive responsibilities, there were literally days when I had so much time I didn’t always know what to do with it – I lolled around soaking up glorious amounts of special ‘me-time’. Sometimes (rarely) this involved a workout, but more likely, it was facials, massages, manicures, coffees and cocktails with friends (probably too much of that) and spontaneous anything – holidays, catch ups, dinners, dancing … I was super-indulgent and luckily at that time, had the monies to support my ‘me-time’ habit.

Everything changed of course, once baby no 1 rocked up; my whole ‘it’s all about me’ self-indulgence took a massive hit and a shock to the system was a bit of an understatement. I was convinced for a (short) time however, that I was the only new parent on the planet whose world and routines wouldn’t change because of a baby …

Baby no 2 arrived not long after, followed by baby no 3 – by which time I had become a bona fide ‘no-me-time’ mummy.

My three babies are now aged 9, 12 and 14 and whilst the older two are independent now in many ways (hooray!), the fact is that they have so many more clubs and social stuff going on that require ferrying around … So, a couple of quick tips for clawing back some much needed and completely deserved me-time.

1. When you have toddlers, absolutely stick to a regular bed time so that your littlies are tucked up in bed by a reasonable time giving you a chunk of evening that’s all yours – to do whatever. And not always the tidying up and boring stuff – leave it – it can wait. This is the time to get a friend around (or head out with one!); book a babysitter and head out with your partner; have a long soak in the bath; get to that yoga class … do something that you love as your me-time.

2. It gets a bit trickier as they get older and when you end up with not just a school timetable, but an after-school timetable too. This is when lift shares and play dates come in to their own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – other parents will be feeling the same – share that load and free up occasional pockets of time. And keep sticking to bedtimes relevant to your kids ages.

3. Once at secondary school the gap between eldest child going to bed and your own bedtime narrows (if not becomes the same time even (wtf)). In our house (bad parent alert) we have a rule that at 9pm any wide-awake-kids have to disappear up to their respective room to watch TV and ‘wind down’ (in actuality, they will be on some kind of device but we just go with it now although the Wi-Fi goes off at 10pm and no deviation from this). That gives an hour of me-time (ish) – basically, that now means box-set heaven!!

And then, it’s beddy-byes time too – night, night.


Surviving: the morning school run

All they have to do, is sit there, listen to the radio and metaphorically put their feet up whilst I drive them to school. Simple, you’d think.

Ohhh. My. God. The morning school run is anything but*. It’s the most dangerous time to be on the road (if you’re not a stressed and harassed school run mum (or dad). It’s fraught with tantrums, fights, forgetting of homework and school PE kit, last minute food tech ingredient requests, and sudden announcements of school trips with special items needed (announced half way to school when there’s NO TURNING BACK). It’s the most anxiety-inducing and stressful car-driving experience there can be. And, (brilliant) it takes place 5 days a week.

In my naivety I always assumed it would get easier as the kids get older. Surely it’s more stressful with little ones? WRONG. With littlies, good old fashioned distraction techniques and sing-alongs can work a treat (hooray!).

Sadly, 14 year olds just aren’t that in to sing-alongs with mum any more or being encouraged to count all the red cars on the road … Nope, the trials and tribulations of the morning school run just gets worse. Two ‘almost teens’ plus one established teen is the perfect formula for morning school run chaos and tears (mine usually – I regularly now rock the mascara-streaming-down-cheeks look). Arguments kick off CONSTANTLY due to really terrible, scary and crazy things when you’re a teen, such as: ‘he looked at me’, ‘she touched my school bag’, ‘he coughed’ … Give me STRENGTH.

A usual 20 minute morning school run will consist of: at least once, pulling the car over and turning off the engine until the kids stop killing each other, realise the time lag and then moan about being late for school (bizarrely mine don’t like being late); asking nicely, then quickly escalating to shouting (swearing) like a wild woman possessed, for them to stop (whatever it is that they’re doing to ‘pass the time’); knowing that my heart has literally stopped – I am having an actual heart attack – whilst uttering the phrase ‘Mummy is now having a heart attack – is this what you WANT!!!’ – I’m lying about ‘uttering’ I meant screaming. It’s at this point that all forms of communication are forbidden – no talking, no looking, no touching, no texting, no hacking in to each other’s Instagram, FB et al … accounts. NOTHING. NIL. And the radio is cranked up super, super loud. By the time we rock up at school drop off number one, I have a demonic look on my face and could literally kill anyone with my ‘death stare’ – please do not cross me at this point. I. HAVE. HAD. ENOUGH.

Over time though, and via much head-banging-on-steering-wheel moments, I’ve managed to get it a bit sussed and now have a proper strategy (and everything) to increase the likelihood of morning school run survival:

1. Inside knowledge – all three school and homework timetables are now in my possession for a sneaky the-night-before check in (boring and tedious but being ahead of the game is vital in the fight against car chaos!). I know (mostly) who needs what and when by.
2. Breakfast – full tummies equals less chance of cranky, grumpy (irritating) teens.
3. Music – turn it up LOUD. So you can’t hear the squabbles. This is also called ‘opting out’.
4. Seating – stick to the same rules every day as to who sits where and who’s turn it is blah, blah blah (boring but essential). If there are two kids on the back seat they must be kept separated at all times. No sitting in the middle seat. EVER. It’s too tempting for scuffles to kick off – you have been warned.
5. Communication – ensure earphones are handed to each child to plug in to which ever device they have. As long as mine are ‘plugged in’ they pretty much don’t communicate with each other in any way – brilliant. And I can listen to anything but the hell that is my kids plus KISS FM 

*Just so we’re clear, the morning school run is in a league of its own when compared to any other driving-with-children experiences including the actually not-so-dreaded after-school run. This is nearly not so bad mainly as I’ve cracked this one: the car becomes a moving cafe. It’s snacks a go-go. Works every time 🙂

Happy school run driving!


Handbag heroes

Back in the day (aka pre children) the contents of my handbag were a) few and far between, b) super glamourous and c) never sticky!! Generally all I needed back then were lipstick, my phone, lip balm and purse.

Roll on 14 years and it’s a very different story. The contents of my handbag are mostly now a) sensible (tissues (a mix of new and used), wet-wipes, plasters, empty bottles of calpol, cheap bifocals), b) food-related (crumbly breadsticks, rotting fruit, forgotten sweets stuck to the inside of my bag) and c) school letters and parental slips (that have been signed and then forgotten about, now lying crumpled up and past their ‘must-send-in-by-date’, waiting for the next handbag clear out …).

I’ve come to realise that I am in fact a walking-vending-machine-come-cash-dispenser-come-clearer-upper-of-messy-things … I don’t actually mind this – I like to be a provider of things for my hungry, messy, sticky, (sometimes) bloody and sore and ever-money-hungry children.

This hand-bag transformation starts the minute you have your first baby in your arms – a sense of mild panic runs through you if you don’t AWLAYS at ALL TIMES have EVERYTHING with you that your little darling might need (you also suddenly realise that no ordinary handbag will cut it – your new best friend needs to be able to handle all sorts of emergencies and scenarios and carry EVERYTHING) – personally I was a fan of ‘the bigger the better’ (translates as ‘can fit more in’). If you’re currently on the look out for one of these bigger and better bad boys, Mumsnet do some great baby bag reviews for here and now …

I think this feeling of being a provider of easy-access comforts for your children never quite leaves you (it’s a major habit of mine), so even now, eldest child (aged 13 and 3/4) along with younger two, is still greeted at the end of the school day with a plethora of food (some healthy, some (shamefully) not so), wet-wipes (the child is incapable of eating anything without leaving the remnants around and on him and his surroundings), and  … complete control of the in-car entertainment (Kiss FM anyone?).

But anyway, lurking somewhere in this sticky and crumbly collector of random old receipts and shiny coins there are in fact some things that never change – my handbag heroes – lipstick, my phone, lip balm and (less) money. They’re just a bit more battered and bashed up than they used to be!


In-car essentials …

You know how it is. It’s 7.52am and joy, of joys, you’re on the school run. We face and survive it every day, however, every single day, without fail, as we’re all piling in to the car (squabbling over who’s going to sit where, who’s turn it is to sit in the front passenger seat blah blah blah (I’m good at zoning out now!)), my heart slightly sinks a bit with dread …

It’s the same old story – we get going (everyone’s is seated where they need to be), and then Child A sneezes – needs a tissue … I find one stuffed in the side of the car door (not sure how long it’s been there but …it’ll do). Child B has forgotten a snack for break-time … I rummage around in my work bag and pull out a slightly-squished ‘seen-better-days’ banana (think more black than yellow) – Child B is NOT happy. Child A sneezes again – another tissue is needed – urgently! Arghhh – I frantically, and one-handed (I’m TRYING to drive!!!), rummage around in the car door (pretty much this car door contains everything) and my bag – the only option is tissue recycling. All is well. Until, in a queue of traffic, a casual glance at Child C’s school shoes proves disastrous (why did I look?) – they are vile and disgusting and need a quick wet-wipe clean NOW (naturally wet-wipes are nowhere to be found …). Best option at this point is to turn the radio up – loud.

So, now, I pledge that my car shall always contain the following at all times:

wetwipes (perfect for grubby shoes, faces, hands and car interiors)
anti-bac handwash
– snacks (think teeny in-car ‘vending machine’ containing non-easily-squished foods: boxes of raisins, school bars, breadsticks, apples …)
– chewing gum (for queasy kids and cross mummies)
– plastic bags for all the rubbish (because, yes, our car floor is absolutely not a dustbin as far as my kids are concerned and they absolutely, always pick their rubbish up and carefully place in said plastic bag – obvs)

Happy school running everyone 🙂 x