Thursday, December 26, 2013

Prepare For Post-Spamming (UPDATE)

Hello everyone. I hope you all enjoyed your Christmases, or your Wednesdays, or other. This is just a very quick post to give you all a heads up. During the month of December I created an event called Advent Countdown- where I created a virtual advent calendar with a post for each day on it. I kept these posts hidden for the purposes of the event, but they'll be appearing on this blog starting today. The only way I could keep each post hidden, was to trick it into believing it had already been published at a far earlier date. I'm going back and correcting all the dates, which means they'll show up at the top of my blog posts. 

That's pretty much it. Now that the event is over, and the holidays are calming down a little (well, there's still New Year's), I'll be getting back into my regular posting schedule for reviews. What with one thing and another, I just literally have not had the time, but I'm happy to say that that won't be true for long. I have a book haul coming your way soon, so look out for that if you're interested. 

Well that's all I wanted to say. Happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate it. Have a wonderful Thursday to those who don't. See you all soon.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 25- Merry Whatever!


Hello and welcome to Day 25 of Advent Countdown. We did it guys. Wooo, it's been a stressful month, and posting everyday is quite time consuming. Props to those who do. Thank you to everyone who has joined me for Advent Countdown. I hope you enjoyed it.

Anyway, this is just a quick post to say thanks and Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, have a great Wednesday, or whatever. Everyone have a great day (whatever you're doing). See you all next time.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" sung by Weezer

Day 24- Twas the....

Hello and welcome to Day 24 of Advent Countdown. Today I thought I'd tell you all a little about Christmas Eve traditions in my house.

Christmas Eve is a day of getting everything done. Some cooking takes place, some movies are watched, and some emergency shopping is done by some members of the family. Personally, I like to shop early, and get it all done by the beginning of December. I actually start a list of what I want to get people pretty early on. Anything I see during the year that I think might be nice for someone, I add to their individual list. By the end of November, I've done some fine-tuning and decided exactly what I want to get every person on my list. So when December comes around, I actually get it all done. If I'm ordering anything online, I think it's especially important to get it early. Things can go wrong. Shipping problems, sold out issues, life can get in the way, etc, etc. I spend a long time deciding what to get people, and it would be a shame if procrastination got in the way of being able to do that. For my own peace of mind, I always prefer to start early.

I usually spend my Christmas Eve wrapping gifts for everyone, listening to seasonal songs and watching my favourite festive movies, absorbing as much of the good cheer as possible. 

At night, everyone in my family puts out a stocking. And I mean everyone. Our pets get one too. No matter how old I get, this is a tradition that will be carried on through the years. Once you get old enough that your parents are no longer doing it, you find yourself making your significant other's. And someday you'll be doing it for your own kids. I think the stocking may be my favourite Christmas tradition. You wake up, see it at the end of your bed and you just know- Christmas has begun. 

Other than that, my family doesn't really do much for Christmas Eve. We like to spend it alone, just us and get ready for the insanity and hecticness that is tomorrow. 

Thank you all for joining me for Day 24 of Advent Countdown. I do have a Day 25 for you all tomorrow, so join me tomorrow for that. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Day 23- You're a Mean One...

Hello and welcome to Day 23 of Advent Countdown. A little late today I know, but hopefully you can understand why when you see what I have in store for you.

My very own version of 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' by Dr. Seuss- though this one is based off the TV special from 1966. For legal reasons I have to say, I do not own anything. I simply re-recorded the audio, then applied images drawn by myself (obviously inspired by screenshots from the short) and turned them into a 'movie'. My goodness, this took a lot of work. And the recording nearly destroyed my voice. Haha, that Grinch voice is certainly hard to do for any period of time. Unfortunately, I also had a bit of a cold during the recording, but I don't think it's overly obvious. I'm afraid some of the quality was also lost in the upload- both in the audio and video too, but I hope you'll get some enjoyment out of it. I used a transcript I found here. Please enjoy:

Well I hope you did. If you'd like to share this attempt at entertainment, please ask me, and make sure to credit me please. Thank you all for joining me for this delayed day Day 23. See you all tomorrow for Day 24 of Advent Countdown. Are you panicking yet?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 22- He Sees You When You're Sleeping

Hello everyone, and welcome to Day 22 of Advent Countdown. Today I'm looking at the big man himself. In my culture that would be Father Christmas/ Santa Claus, depending on whether you prefer the British or American name. But who exactly is he? And how did he come to be? Well let's find out.

Frank Sinatra "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

A man of many names. Some call him either of the two above, or Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, or simply Santa for short, but do all these names refer to the same person?


Let start with Saint Nicholas. Often said to be the predecessor to the modern Santa, and the original gift-giver. But was he? Saint Nicholas was a Greek Christian bishop of Myra in Anatolia (now Turkey) during the fourth century. He was very religious, even from a young age, and devoted his life to Christianity. Famous for his generous gifts to the poor, including a famous event where he left three bags of gold anonymously on one family's doorstop, so their father could use them as dowries and his daughters wouldn't be forced into prostitution. 

So well loved was he, that for centuries people celebrated a day in his namesake- Saint Nicholas Day, on the sixth of December. During the Middles Ages, children were given gifts on the Eve of the fifth in his honour. During the Reformation (and its opposition to the worship of saints in many countries), the date was moved to the 24th and the 25th, and Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus. 

The custom of gifts for Christmas began with Martin Luther. He wanted children to focus on Christ, rather than Saint Nicholas or any other saints. It was he who suggested Christkind as the replacement gift-giver (who remains so in many cultures), but Saint Nicholas held his popularity in a majority. 

Prior to Christianity, the Germanic peoples (and the English) celebrated a midwinter event called Yule. When Christianity spread through Germanic Europe, many of the Yuletide traditions were brought into modern Christmas. 

During Yule, people believed that supernatural occurrences were much more frequent. One such event was the Wild Hunt- a ghostly procession through the sky. Many believe the leader of the hunt was Odin himself (as he has been given the names 'Jolnir' (meaning yule figure) and 'Langbaror' (meaning long-beard).  

Odin is thought to have some mark on the formation of the current St. Nick- with his long, white beard, and his custom of  bringing gifts to children.

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, St. Nicholas is often referred to as 'De Goede Sint' (The Good Saint) or Sinterklaas. He is portrayed as an elderly, serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wore a red cape over a traditional white bishop's alb, wore a red mitre, and held a long, gold shepherd's staff with a curled top (a crosier). He would distribute presents to children, checking his book of Saint Nicholas (full of childrens' names) to see if they had been naughty or nice.  This is a version of the real Saint Nicholas, who's celebration day is the 6th of December. He would arrive on a steam boat from Spain in mid-November, and begin to distribute gifts to all the houses (during a three week period), riding on a white horse above the rooftops.


In the 1840's, Nordic folklore celebrated a being known as 'Tomte' or 'Nisse'. In Denmark, he became their gift-bringer, and was normally portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in grey clothes and a red hat. This was very much a corruption of the folkloric creature, now influenced by the new Santa Claus traditions making their way through Scandinavia. By the end of the nineteenth century, these new traditions had reached Norway and Sweden, replacing the Yule Goat. However, a straw goat is still a common Christmas decoration throughout Scandinavia.

Father Christmas had a different origin. In sixteenth century England (during the rule of Henry VIII), Father Christmas was portrayed as a large man dressed in green or red robes lined with fur. He was the embodiment of good cheer at Christmas, and brought peace, joy, good food, wine and revelry. At this point, England no longer celebrated Saint Nicholas Day, so Father Christmas' celebration was put on the 25th to coincide with Christmas. 

He had many portrayals, and the Victorians brought him to new life. A famous depiction was the image of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', where he was illustrated by John Leech as a great, jolly man wearing green robes lined with fur. Around this point in time, Father Christmas and Santa Claus were widely seen as one and the same person. 

So Santa Claus himself is a mix of all three above- Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass and Father Christmas. His own name was first used by the American press in 1773. Many of his modern attributes (including flying, his sleigh, the reindeer and going down chimneys) were made canon by Clement Clark Moore's popular 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' (now more commonly known as 'The Night Before Christmas'), which he published anonymously in 1823.

Though his chimney entering ways may also have come from Pre-Christian Norse traditions. Odin would often drop down chimneys to deliver gifts on the Solstice. In Italian Befana tradition, a gift-giving witch is portrayed as constantly covered in soot from her trips down chimneys, and even in tales of Saint Nicholas himself, he would throw coins in through windows of peoples' houses. This evolved to down the chimney, as windows would often be locked. 

The hearth itself was seen as a sacred source of magic, used by elves and faeries as a portal to our world, that they used to deliver gifts. However, the association of chimneys with Santa Claus was down to Clement Clark Moore's aforementioned poem.

His base in the North Pole is thought to be down to an illustration done by American cartoonist, Thomas Nast. In 1863 he drew an image of the Jolly Old St. Nick, with the caption "Santa Claussville, N.P.".

Mrs. Clause may have come from a poem by Katherine Lee Bates in 1889 called, "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride",  but she was popularised and brought into the canon in 1956, when George Melachrino released a song called, 'Mrs. Santa Claus'. 

Woah, there was a lot to get through there. No doubt this isn't all the lore that brought the modern Santa to life, but I did my best. I hope you all enjoyed learning about one of the most famous men of all time. 

Thank you for joining me for Day 22 of Advent Countdown. See you all tomorrow for Day 23. 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Day 21- Rockin' Around the....

Hello and welcome to Day 21 of Advent Countdown. It's close now, isn't it? Anyway, today I have some Christmassy photos. This countdown needed the Christmas tree somewhere in it, and I decided what better way to do it than to show you my very own Chrimble tree? So here it is:

And here we have the micro Christmas tree for my room. It's become a tradition carried through the years from my childhood, that my sister and I get mini trees in our rooms. Now that I'm older, I continue it still. It's nice to always have some pine-scented goodness around you. 

I hope you all enjoyed this brief look into my Christmas life. Thank you for joining me for Day 21 of Advent Countdown. See you all tomorrow for Day 22. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Day 20- Have You Seen Him?

Hello and welcome to Day 20 of Advent Countdown. Today I have a little illustration I made for you all (in the style of the great Edward Monkton). I tried to draw and write something at least half decent. I hope you all enjoy.

Sorry for the copyright awkwardly placed in there, but you know how it is. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this short, Christmassy piece. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to create. 

Thank you for joining me for Day 20 of Advent Countdown. See you tomorrow for Day 21. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Day 19- Here We Come a Wassailing

Hello everyone, and welcome to Day 19 of Advent Countdown. Today I thought we could take a look at some seasonal songs. Since there are far too many to go through them all, I've decided to turn this into a 'Top 10' list. So without further ado, here are this year's 'Top 10 Christmas Songs' in my opinion. Some of them will be old favourites and some will be new discoveries. FYI, this list won't be in any particular order. This list is also dependent on particular singers for each individual song, so I'll list the versions that I feel make the cut.

Number one: Baby, It's Cold Outside sung by Zooey Deshcanel and Will Ferrell

Taken from one of my favourite Christmas movies of all time (Elf), I adore this version. I find it a hard song to make work, and I think the dynamic between the two singers has to be done incredibly well. It's also a song with some questionable lyrics, so I like that they're sung by Will Ferrell's innocently clueless character Buddy. I'm just sad they never made a completed version of it. It wasn't released as part of the soundtrack, so you only have the movie version, unfortunately. 

Number two: Christmas All Over the World sung by Tim McGraw

I know, I know, but Christmas is a time for cheesy (sometimes terrible) songs, and this song fits into the mindless happy category that just appeals to me. I don't have much to say about it other than that. It makes me happy and puts me in the Christmas mood.

Number three: Mary, Did You Know sung by Clay Aiken

I know a lot of people don't like Clay Aiken, but I personally like his voice, and I think it fits this song perfectly. It's smooth and has the range. Mostly, I just love this song for its melody, the lyrics could be about anything and I would still sing along happily. I'm not a religious person, so the lyrics are just something to sing to, to be honest. Like I said- I'm in it for the melody. 

Number four: Red Nosed Reindeer Blues sung by Asylum Street Spankers

I adore this song. It's catchy, it's pretty clever, and it has originality. Not to mention you've got some mean blues chords in there. Listen to it. That's all I have to say.

Number five: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? sung by The Head and the Heart

 The Head and the Heart are a band I'm very fond of in general, so when I heard they'd done a seasonal (I don't know if I can really call it Christmas) song, I had to check it out. I'm so very glad I did. They make this song their own, and create wonderful harmonies between their individual voices. Please check it out.

Number six: White Wine in the Sun sung by Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin is an explicitly funny, Australian comedian. And I mean explicit in the censored way (or non-censored). He's a great musician, and incorporates that into his stand-up. Considering that, this song is surprisingly meaningful, and pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about the holidays (minus the sun part). In fact, this could be my favourite song on the list. If you only listen to one song on this list, make it this one.

Number seven: See Ya Santa sung by The Irreconcilables 

A bit of a comedic one here, maybe more suited for older listeners. The tune is catchy, the lyrics are catchy, the whole thing is unbelievably catchy. And god I love her voice. I was in love with this song last Christmas, and still love it enough for it to be in my Top 10. 

Number eight: This Christmas sung by Me, You & Her
(Hint- click the play icon. It's the fourth song).

If No. 6 is my favourite song on the list, this is a close second. These girls most certainly make the song their own, and create absolutely beautiful harmonies with their voices. I could listen to this song on repeat for hours. You can pick this song up for free using the link above (i.e. this one) for a limited time. The whole album is lovely Christmas listening.

Number nine: Home Made Christmas sung by The John Hancock Band

I have to be honest here. While I do like the singers voice, I love this song purely for its message. This is another song that just screams 'meaning of Christmas' at you. And how I love it. You can pick the song up for free at the link above (this one) at the moment. 

Number ten: It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year sung by Andy Williams

This song has been consistently in my Top 10 for years. I adore it. It is easily my favourite 'traditional' Christmas tune, and I don't think I'll ever grow tired of it. It absolutely never fails to put me in a festive mood, and has me singing along every time.

Well there you have it guys, my 'Top 10 Christmas Songs' of 2013. I hope you found some new favourites from this list. I'm a huge fanatic when it comes to Christmas music, and can often be heard singing various jingles around the house at the top of my lungs. The only downside is they're always so freaking catchy- which makes it hard to quit them after the season. Many a time I've found myself singing carols in summer. Oh well.

I hope you enjoyed Day 19 of Advent Countdown. See you tomorrow for the final leg and Day 20.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day 18- Pop Goes the...

Hello and welcome to Day 18 of Advent Countdown. Today I'll be looking at the origins of Christmas crackers (and having a little too much fun with the jokes).

So where did the idea come from? Well it's all down to a London bon-bon maker named Tom Smith. On a visit to Paris he discovered bon-bons wrapped in tissue paper (in the traditional way- with a twist at either end), and decided to try sell them himself. This was in 1847.

However, they didn't sell so well. Desperate to up his sales, he created various promotions. His first was to include messages inside the sweet wrapper. As most of his sweets were bought by men for women, these messages were love poems. 

In 1860, he landed on the 'cracker' element while staring into a log fire. He was inspired by the crackling and sparks, and incorporated them into new packaging for his bon-bons. Obviously, the wrapper had to be made much larger to include the 'cracker' mechanism. 

Over time the sweet was replaced by trinkets. They were originally called 'Cosaques' (after the Cossacks- who were stereotypically seen as riding on horseback, firing into the air), but replaced by the onomatopoeic 'cracker'. 

When Tom died his sons took over his business. Walter Smith eventually added the paper hat in the 1900's, and by the 1930's the love messages were replaced by jokes and limericks. They had themed crackers too, such as ones for bachelors, Suffragettes and even the British Royal Family. All of this was designed to differentiate them from the mass of rival companies who'd suddenly sprung up. 

But back to the jokes. Christmas cracker jokes are infamous for being truly awful, eliciting groans from those who hear them. This is actually a carefully devised plan. It was decided by the powers that be, that all cracker jokes must be abysmal, so that everyone could agree they were. This was intended to prevent any arguments with family members on Christmas. Rather than splitting the family into 'those who loved the joke' and 'those who didn't' (because that is absolutely what would happen), they wanted everyone to agree. Which is why we now have cringe-worthy rubbish like this:

"What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?

Cue the groans. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), they do have a kind of charm. It's traditional for them to be terrible. You expect it, and it's makes them enjoyable in their own stupid way. Some of them even reach the 'so bad they're good' mark. Here's one:

"Who delivers presents to baby sharks on Christmas Eve?
Santa Jaws"

Credit: Original non-photoshopped photo here:

Enjoy this photo I've photoshopped for you all. I'm truly sorry, but I couldn't get the image out of my head. Some of you may know I'm a huge fan of 'shark movies', so obviously Jaws holds a special place in my heart. Both the book and the movies (that's right movieS, plural. Yes, the sequels are terrible, but my God they're enjoyable (except Jaws 3-D. I just pretend it never existed)).

Anyway, I thought I'd have a go at my own cringe-inducing Christmas cracker joke. Why not, right? It is Christmas after all. The more the merrier and all that. Here's what I came up with:

Where do Hogwarts students go at Christmas?
A winter wand-erland

Oh come on guys. It wasn't that bad. You know, that was actually kind of fun. Let's try another:

What do robins do in winter?
Go on holly-day.

Okay, I'll stop now. A small disclaimer: If you want to share my Christmas cracker jokes (HA!) anywhere, please credit me. Thank you. I wonder if I'm delusional?

Ahem, let's move on shall we? If you have any cracker jokes of your own, or any personal favourites, please share them with me. It wouldn't be Christmas without them. 

Thank you all for joining me for Day 18 of Advent Countdown. See you all tomorrow for Day 19. Are you panicking yet?


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Day 17- Cold Weather Makes For Dry Skin

Hello everyone and welcome to Day 17 of Advent Countdown. Today I've got yet another DIY for you. You may remember I had Candy Cane Sugar Scrub and Candy Cane Soap DIY projects in past Advent days, well this time it's...

Body Butter/ Lotion

Yes, that's right. I'm going through your bath/ shower regimes. I'm making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out what makes your skin feel nice. Or something. So, we've had soap, then a scrub, now a lotion. This is another simple project, that really doesn't take much time (unless you count the cooling period, but we'll get to that). So first things first, what do you need? This is to make 1 cup of body butter/ lotion. I used a recipe I found on GI 365. All credit there. FYI, they used peppermint oil for the scent.

Ingredients (Again I will post links on the ingredients to where I bought them).  

1/4 cup grated beeswax (I bought 100g, which made three portions of body butter. And there's no need to grate it).

1/2 cup coconut oil (I bought this from Sainsbury's (a supermarket in the UK), but I'm not sure how good it was. I know that the website where I got the beeswax offers coconut oil, and I'd get it from there if I was to make this recipe again. I don't think it was supposed to be as hard as I found it).

1/2 cup aloe vera gel (I bought 250g, which struggled to make three batches, but would be more than enough for two).

1/8 teaspoon essential oil of your choice (I chose a ginger, cinnamon and mandarin mix that smells divine. I got 5ml and found that was plenty).

So now it's time for the How To:

1. Place your beeswax and coconut oil in a saucepan over a  low heat. 

2. Wait until they have melted, then immediately remove from the heat.

3. Whisk in the aloe vera gel and the essential oil, then leave to cool for about an hour.

4. Once cooled, stir the ingredients to make sure they are all combined, then mix with an electric hand mixer or a blender until light and fluffy. 

5. Scoop into a container. 

This lotion lasts for between 2-3 weeks. If you want it to last longer, keep it refrigerated (though that will change the texture a little).

And that's it. You have your lotion. This is a very moisturising product, in my opinion. I tripled the recipe to fill one jar, and had a little left over. I tried it out on my hands (which I'm constantly washing, and so are always in danger of drying out) and my elbows, and it worked wonders. I'm not entirely sure whether it's a lotion or a butter, as it's thicker than the former, but thinner than the latter. I'd say it was closer to being a butter though. It's pretty decadent and very luxurious feeling.

I really have to mention the essential oil I used too. I was  
afraid I wouldn't like it (as scents are so personal, and I bought it online), but it's the perfect warm, spicy scent that compliments the season beautifully. It's strong so you only need a little to go a long way. 

All in all, I'm very happy with how this recipe turned out. Let me know if you give it a shot.

That's been Day 17 of Advent Countdown. See you tomorrow for Day 18 (oh it's coming up on us fast, isn't it?).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 16- I'm Thinking of a Word

Hello and welcome to Day 16 of Advent Countdown. Today I've got a Christmas crossword for you all. But not just any crossword, it's a crossword I created myself. Yes, all the clues and answers are of my own devising. I did try my hardest to create an interactive crossword, but sadly it was not to be. I did find one program that had the ability to create exactly what I wanted, but it cost $50 before tax, and I couldn't justify the money on something that I would likely never use again. Oh well, c'est la vie. Que sera sera and all that. Now, without further ado, here's my very own Christmas crossword:

Unfortunately, (as I said earlier) despite my best efforts I could not create it to be interactive. Instead, I can offer you a link to the website I created it with, where you can solve it online or print it off here. Let me know if it doesn't work for any reason. The answer key is on there too. I debated posting the answer key too, but I know that's just temptation. So, what I will do is post the answers at the bottom of this page. I'll leave a hideously large gap between my last sentence and the image, so you'll have to scroll down to see it. FYI, some of the answers can be found in previous days of Advent Countdown. 

Well that's it for Day 16 of Advent Countdown. I hope you all enjoy the festive crossword that I created just for all of you. See you tomorrow for Day 17.