I can’t believe this is the last post of the year – I’m running out of time and there’s lots I want to say to you so I’m going to crack on. I’m starting with a quick catch-up of the last few days, then moving on to a round-up of my best winter buys & 2021 over and out!
Christmassy days out
So let’s start over in Newcastle. We had a whirlwind visit to take mum-in-law out for the day and enjoy a spot of elf magic from the middle one. He needed his car taking over so that he can get home on Christmas Eve so we had to drive over in tandem and I realised how little driving I’ve done since lockdown. I think it’s all too easy to become an anxious driver in midlife and that’s happening to me. I found myself gripping the steering wheel as we drove and by the time we got through the city my shoulders were solid and my knuckles were white. So I now have a quiet resolution to push myself to do more of the driving next year and get over that.
Here we are after arriving in the flat – my teeth are still a bit gritted I think. In outfit terms I’d had a dilemma because we’d been warned that there was nowhere to leave coats at the event so I settled on light layers, it felt like a nod to Christmas – or maybe a Christmas tree.
Cos coat (SS16 I think); Donna Karan cashmere jumper (AW2000 – yes really!); Jeans; Hush boots (AW18); Midlifechic bag (AW19)
We picked mum-in-law up and had a lovely time. For the first time in ages she was well and on full form so it was like having her back to her old self for the day. We took her to a carvery and I watched her pile her plate high, thinking ‘she’s never going to eat all that’ and yet she did – and still tucked into a pudding too! It was great to see.
And then it was time to head off for the boy’s event which is called Road To The North Pole at the Vertu Arena in Newcastle. It’s been fully booked for ages but if you have small people in your life and a chance to go next year it’s really worth it. You’re led on a tour of the North Pole by your very own elf in a mission to thwart Jack Frost as he tries to ruin Christmas.
There are lots of activities along the way, here’s Mr MC and mum-in-law busy in the mail room, helping to sort the letters to Santa…
… and in the bakery making bags of food for the reindeer…
… and here’s our boy telling us how Jack Frost has dimmed the world’s Christmas spirit by plunging it into eternal winter. But – if everyone shouts “I believe” at the top of their voices, they’ll give Santa’s sleigh enough spirit to fly – which in a swirl of magical mist it did, rising high above us. It’s very dark in his room but you can just about see him telling his story to the crowd…
… and he made his grandma’s night by pointing her out and telling everyone that she’d been so bad all year that she was top of Santa’s naughty list! I managed to hang back and get a proud elf-mum moment before we moved on.
So it was a truly Christmassy day out and lovely to spend it with mum-in-law who was tired but still fizzing with happiness when we settled her back at home. Here’s a quick shot from the following day before we set off on a slightly terrifying journey back across the Pennines through freezing fog.
On Sunday evening we had the joy of the village carol service which felt particularly special because I had Mr MC, the eldest, the youngest and his girlfriend sitting in the front pew. After years of attending rather reluctantly it was good to hear the eldest say how nice it was to be back in a place where he feels like he belongs. His girlfriend’s family are still very kindly letting him stay with them in a rather exclusive part of Eastbourne and so I think he’s really felt the contrast as he’s returned to the old northern village where everyone’s known him since he was little. We ended the evening in the village pub with friends and we all said it felt as though Christmas had begun at last. It makes such a difference just having your people around you doesn’t it?
And then yesterday it was the eldest’s 25th birthday – I swear he was born on the winter solstice to bring light to his mum who never embraced this cold, grey season. He was a bit disappointed because a Covid outbreak amongst his friends meant his evening plans were cancelled but we had a lovely day out with a pilgrimage to the New Balance factory shop in Shap and the chocolate factory in Orton, then on for lunch at The Black Swan in Ravenstonedale (now there’s a place worth visiting if you don’t know it, the food and olde worlde atmosphere were both fabulous).
We have a lot of Quaker family ancestry in Ravenstonedale and I love the thought of our forbears standing up for what they believed in – we can still see the barn window where they invited the village in to hold their forbidden services in the 1600s before the Toleration Act was passed. Once again the eldest said that he’d been glad to spend the day with his roots and as the bright lights of London draw him to the south, I feel pleased that he has such an affinity with where he comes from.
(Before I get emails from new readers asking if I’m petite, I just have to say again that I’m 5ft 8, my boys just seem to keep on growing.)
So that’s a round-up of the last few days and I’m glad we’ve managed to tick off a few of the things we had planned because as is happening for everybody, the events we had going forward are dropping like dominoes. Even our trip to see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at The Lowry on Christmas Eve has been cancelled… too many actors have Covid and the show cannot go on. Now I’m just holding my breath a bit, waiting for the middle one to come home.
My best winter buys 2021
Somebody reminded me the other day that a few years ago I preceded the sales by outlining my best Winter buys – the pieces I’d had the most wear from that season. So I thought I’d do the same again by telling you what I’ve worn repeatedly. As I type there’s stock in most sizes but that’s changing rapidly, some pieces are in the sale and others might be soon.
This navy cashmere jumper with its turtle rather than roll neck is something I’ve worn a lot. I like the neckline because it isn’t too hot but it works beneath a coat without the need for a scarf. It’s the right length for wearing with straight and wide leg trousers or a skirt and it has a split hem so it doesn’t bunch at the midriff. It’s a chunky knit but not too heavy and I know it’s going to last for years – it’s in the sale now and other colours are available.
I’ve worn all of my cardigans from Baukjen a lot – this one in particular has a big reduction at the moment and is made from recycled wool. Baukjen’s knitwear is so ethically made that it can be expensive so now’s a really good time to get hold of a piece. You can find all of their sale cardigans here.
I sometimes wear my cardigans open over a white shirt like this – and this is a particularly lovely example…
… but more often I button them over a layering shirt. You’ll see that only the collar, bib and sometimes the cuffs are made from cotton, the rest is jersey so they’re great if you’re a reluctant ironer like me but they’re also more comfortable to wear and they don’t add any bulk. They aren’t cheap but it’s really worth having one or two in your wardrobe. Some are currently in the sale, others aren’t – you can find the full layering collection here and more sale layering pieces if you scroll down here.
Layering shirt – part jersey
Layering shirt – part jersey
I was gifted this dress in navy and have since bought it in chestnut and I wear them both a lot; they’re warm, cosy, comfortable and just easy whether you’re working from home or meeting people.
And I haven’t had this coat for long but I’ve worn it loads because it’s so warm and it just makes every simple Winter outfit look brighter so it’s definitely a candidate for my best Winter buys. It’s great value in the sale (and there’s that jumper again). The cream boots have done a great job of replacing my white trainers for Winter too, they’re incredibly comfortable and they work to update almost every jeans outfit. Now in the sale.
I have to give these jeans another mention because they’re the ones I always default to – this is my second pair and you’ll notice that I’m wearing them in almost every photo in this post. I have mine shortened slightly because my ankle bone is my best break point. I don’t know whether they’ll go into the sale but they often do for a while before going back to full price.
These leggings are such good value, they’re ethically made and soft and easy to wear. They’re for lounging rather than the gym and you’ll find the pattern really helps to break up your thigh. Easy to throw on at the weekends, not currently in the sale but already very, very reasonable. The slim cut joggers in the same pattern are very good too if you prefer a slightly looser fit.
I wear them with these soft fleece tops – I have a few different colours and they’re warm, comfortable and just the right length.
And last of all I have to give a shout-out to this dress which has just gone into the sale. It’s really lovely – if you have an event next year it’s a great buy and much, much nicer in reality than it looks on the website.
Best winter buys 2021 – the best of the high street sales so far
Retailers are trying to maximise margin and so the sales are starting late this year. I suspect they’re going to be big because there’s a lot of stuff left over from the last two seasons that will be thrown in as they work to plough through it all and reduce their warehousing. The best of the high street is here:
- Baukjen – strong discounts on a number of pieces here
- John Lewis & Partners – price-matching hub here (JL’s own sale starts on Boxing Day)
- Boden – up to 50% off here
- Me + Em – up to 50% off here
- Hush – 20% off everything here with code XMAS20 until midnight on Thursday when the sale starts. It’s a gamble because some pieces will return to full price, others will be reduced further so if there’s something you really want, you could always order it now at 20% off and then order again and return if it goes down a lot more.
- Jigsaw – especially good for coats here
- The White Company – sale site here
- Cos – here
- Sweaty Betty – here
- Whistles – lots of great pieces in the sale here
- Stories – here
Quick food bank reminder
In my latest catch-up with our local food bank they said that they were bracing themselves for a huge increase in demand straight after Christmas as bills start to hit home along with the impact of energy, fuel and price inflation. This was before omicron arrived and no doubt zero-hours workers will have been affected by that too. So now’s a great time to help if you can, if we all do our bit the food bank coffers will be in a better state to cope in January. Plus all donations made now are being match-funded by an anonymous donor so the amount will be doubled – with gift aid on top there’s no better time to help make a difference. You can find out more here.
2021 over and out!
And now it’s time for me to log off for the year so that I can go and enjoy the mess and chaos of my houseful of boys. Before I do though, I want to say a huge thank you to you all for so many different things. For reading, of course. For buying coffees and clicking links. Every time a coffee comes in I kick myself – you see as I work in the back end of the site I forget they’re there when I’m putting a post together because I can’t see them. And then I’ll receive the occasional coffee and message from one of you and realise that I must explain why they’re there and say thank you.
The reason that almost all bloggers have moved over to Instagram now is because it’s quicker to pull a post together, brands are keener to support it and it’s free. Writing a blog, particularly one that has as many readers as this one, often all reading at the same time, is becoming evermore expensive. So when the bills for things like hosting/plug-ins/security certificates and email software all come in at the end of January I can put the money from the links and the coffees towards them. You are literally buying us coffee time together for another year. I know some of you don’t like it but it’s a bit like paying for a magazine – the cover price is usually allocated to the print bills (the advertising pays for costs and overheads). Right now, quite frankly, I couldn’t keep this blog going without it – so if you’ve bought a coffee or something I’ve recommended by clicking a link this year, you’ve really helped and I’m more grateful than you know.
Thank you to everyone who’s booked and stayed at Baltic Nest – you’ve been dream guests and we’d never have known you’d been there. I’ve loved hearing your stories about the times you’ve had and it’s great to know that we’re spreading our love of Newcastle further and further afield. And thank you to those of you who have sought a piece of Ercol from Mr MC, he’s really enjoyed restoring them for you. It’s going well so there isn’t much stock in his Etsy shop at the moment (thank goodness) but you can keep an eye on it here and if there’s something you’d particularly like, he’s developed a few good sources so he can probably find it for you and restore it if necessary.
Thank you too to everyone who comments and makes this so much more than just my voice. So often when I put my strategic head on, I know I should divert more of my time back towards my day job. But then one of you says something that helps me to feel this brings value to you – and that’s in addition to the company and friendship that you bring to me in my northern outpost.
I know from private correspondence that more than a few of you have had an awful year, way beyond Covid, with so many different, difficult things to bear. My struggles with adapting to an empty nest and trying to keep a marketing business going at a time when everyone is cancelling budgets (again) have felt tough at times but I know they’re nothing when set against what some of you are going through. So often the collective wisdom and kindness that we’ve established here helps me keep going – and I know that some of the people I talk to privately say that even though they might not contribute, just reading through the comments restores their faith in people.
Although I always try to keep this blog upbeat, I can’t fudge the fact that this is, once again, a difficult and draining time for everyone to live through. I just want to reassure you that this will remain an inclusive space, free from any negativity from me; a place where people who don’t know each other personally can discuss whatever they’re feeling and take the time to support each other. Everyone is welcome regardless of age, race, nationality, faith, income-bracket, ‘coolness’ or gender identity.
None of us knows what’s ahead over the next few weeks and months but we can always find solace in nature and life’s urge to renew itself as it keeps on healing and growing. We’ve passed the winter solstice now and we’re moving towards the light. I usually sign off with a poem or some lyrics and this year I’m choosing both. The lyrics feel like the right ones for our second Covid-hit Christmas – I hope they stay with you as an earworm until the new year:
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
And then here’s a little something that made me smile (sing through the Twelve Days of Christmas in your head first and it will make more sense!).
I’m going to leave you to your Christmas now with one last, enormous thank you for being my friends.
On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love phoned me up . . .
“Well, I suppose I should be grateful, you’ve obviously gone
to a lot of trouble and expense – or maybe off your head.
Yes, I did like the birds – the small ones anyway were fun
if rather messy, but now the hens have roosted on my bed
and the rest are nested on the wardrobe. It’s hard to sleep
with all that cooing, let alone the cackling of the geese
whose eggs are everywhere, but mostly in a broken smelly heap
on the sofa. No, why should I mind? I can’t get any peace
anywhere – the lounge is full of drummers thumping tom-toms
and sprawling lords crashed out from manic leaping. The
kitchen is crammed with cows and milkmaids and smells of a million stink-bombs
and enough sour milk to last a year. The pipers? I’d forgotten them –
they were no trouble, I paid them and they went. But I can’t get rid
of these young ladies. They won’t stop dancing or turn the music down
and they’re always in the bathroom, squealing as they skid
across the flooded floor. No, I don’t need a plumber round,
it’s just the swans – where else can they swim? Poor things,
I think they’re going mad, like me. When I went to wash my
hands one ate the soap, another swallowed the gold rings.
And the pear tree died. Too dry. So thanks for nothing, love.
Disclosure: ‘My best winter buys & 2021 over and out!’ is not a sponsored post
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