Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A TANGLEWOOD NEW YEAR'S EVE...

Reader Laura has written a Chocolate Box story that's just perfect for New Year's Eve… again, I've added a little of my own story too, but I think you'll like the result!

It was a family tradition at Tanglewood for the sisters to make a wish and turn the lights out on the old year. Skye kicked off her shoes and peeled off her party dress, changing into a vintage nightie and pulling on red wool socks and an oversized jumper. The Tanberry-Costello party had gone on well past midnight, but until the ritual of saying goodbye to the old year was carried out, the new year could not begin.

The wooden floors were slippy under Skye's socks and she clutched the bannister tightly, her lantern swaying. Summer, Coco, Cherry and Honey followed, all now changed out of their party clothes and into cosy pyjamas, all carrying lanterns; each sister had a different one. Skye's was white metal with punched out stars, Honey's had butterflies, Summer's moon shapes and Coco's flowers. Cherry's was newer and shiny, with tiny pinpricks, and all of the lanterns had tea lights in them, casting long slots of light over the floors.

In the hallway, the girls split up. Honey went into the kitchen, where the dishwasher was still humming gently, washing the last of the dishes. Coco went out to the stables, Fred the dog trotting at her heels. Cherry went into the conservatory,  Summer went into the dining room and Skye to the living room where the tree glowed softly. Carefully, Skye switched off the main lights, padding across the carpet to unplug the tree lights too. The room was dark then, quiet and peaceful, lit only by the lantern. Skye closed her eyes and took a deep breath. 'Goodbye, old year,' she whispered. 'Thank you for everything, the good and the bad, the chances and the challenges…'

In the hall, Coco was shivering in the darkness, stamping snow from her feet; and Honey was handing out hot chocolate with marshmallows and peppermint candy canes to stir. 'All done?' Cherry asked.

'Everything's quiet,' Coco said. 'All done.'
'Yes, all done,' Skye said. 'Time for bed…'

The sisters went quietly up the stairs, hugging on the top landing before going to their rooms. Skye hugged Summer tighter than usual, tighter than she had last year. The twins went into the bedroom they shared, blew out their lanterns and slipped into their beds. In the light from the fairylights draped around the room, Skye watched her sister's eyes flutter shut, listened to her breathing slow. Skye shut her eyes and tried to sleep, but her mind was buzzing with thoughts of all that happened in the year gone by, and all that lay ahead in the New Year.

'Happy New Year, Summer,' she whispered.
Summer's eyes flickered open and she reached out into the darkness to squeeze her twin's hand. 'Happy New Year, Skye...' she said.

Cathy says:
I hope you enjoyed the story… mostly Laura's with a few tweaks from me to give it a New Year's theme. COMMENT BELOW to let us know what you think… and Happy New Year!

Monday, 29 December 2014

HOW TO DEAL… WITH YOUR FIRST HEARTBREAK...

Another in our occasional series by reader Emma on how to handle life's trickier situations. This time, it's how to deal with heartbreak…


Emma says:
Heartbreak; the age old problem suffered by all since the beginning of time. And nothing compares to that very first heartbreak… that feeling of being trapped in your own misery, when the concept of listening to Taylor Swift and hitting the Ben and Jerry's could not appeal more. However, being the optimist I am, I truly believe that with these tips we can handle heartbreak and come through the other side…

* Allow yourself time to recover. That first heartbreak can be a major blow to your confidence, and it is perfectly normal to need a few days to pick yourself up again.So, for a short time only, it is perfectly OK to whip out the Adele album and really be with yourself and your emotions.

* Keep busy. After allowing yourself time to recover, it's important to pick yourself up as quickly as possible. I know it may take a while before you feel completely recovered, but I find you feel better when you keep yourself occupied. This allows you to slowly get back into your daily routine and get back into things… it also adds a sense of normality in a time of abnormality.

* Accept support from your family and friends. I know you may feel it is easier to block people out at this time; however, I think you will find that by letting your loved ones in, some of your negative and hurt feelings may be minimised. After all, nothing quite compares to the feeling of having a chat with your nearest and dearest.

*Don't give up on love. Like I mentioned in an earlier feature, love is an infinite source. Just because you give some away it doesn't mean that you can't make more when you need to. Also, be proud that you were brave enough to give some away in the first place. I say, never regret giving love as it was your love that made someone else feel loved. I think that's the greatest gift of all.

Until we deal again, 
Emma x

Cathy says:
Lots of good sense here, as always from Emma. Have YOU ever had your heart broken? What happened, and how did you handle it? COMMENT BELOW to tell us your story.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

KEISHA: LONELY THIS CHRISTMAS...

Reader Keisha writes about how lonely Christmas can feel when you're really not in the mood to celebrate…

Keisha says:
This time last year, it was all so different. Christmas was great… we were all together, Mum, Dad, my big sister Elina and me, and it seemed perfect although with hindsight I can see that it probably wasn't. I remember that Mum was stressed and  Dad was drinking a bit too much, but it was Christmas and it didn't seem like a big deal. We were all together. That was what mattered.

In the months that followed, Mum and Dad began to argue. Mum stayed out a lot and Dad was drinking and often, late at night, they'd row. My sister was away at uni so I didn't have anyone to talk to about it. I didn't mention it at school because I thought my friends would feel sorry for me and I didn't want that. So I kept it to myself and in the summer holidays they split up. It turned out that Mum had been seeing another man. She blamed Dad and said she was sick of his drinking, but Dad said he was only drinking because Mum didn't love him anymore. It ended really badly. Mum left and we stayed with Dad, and again, I told nobody. I suppose by then I was ashamed… Dad's drinking was out of control.

So yeah… Christmas. Dad lost his job because of the drinking, and he got very ill… he's been in hospital with something wrong with his liver for almost ten days now. My sister hasn't come home at all, because like Mum, she blames Dad's drinking for what happened; she's really angry with him. She's gone to stay with her boyfriend's family and all I got from her was a phone call on Christmas Day. I'm staying at Mum's flat and trying not to hate her new boyfriend, but I do hate him, I can't help it. If he hadn't come along Mum and Dad might have stuck together and Dad might not have got so ill. Maybe. All I know is, this is the worst Christmas I have ever had. The one thing I want more than anything else is the one thing I cannot have. To turn the clock back, to when we were still a family… to before it all went wrong…

Names have been changed to protect the writer's identity. Pic posed by model Caitlin.

Cathy says:
Christmas is a lonely and difficult time for lots of people, for all kinds of reasons. Have YOU ever been through a family split, or struggled through a particularly painful Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to share your advice/ experiences with Keisha.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

MAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

I asked readers to tell me their feelings about confidence and make up… and the responses make very thought-provoking reading...

Rebecca says:
In your life, almost everyone will have something to say about you. We're trained to think certain things are right, from being a toddler upwards, with stick thin Barbie dolls with no imperfections at all, not so much as a freckle. By the time you hit your teens you are comparing yourself to models and film stars (who probably mostly eat lettuce) as well as your friends. Everything will seem worse when you are a teen going through puberty and battling spots and mood swings, but like most things, it WILL get better. If make up was a religion, most girls would follow it - it can make you feel more confident, but trust me you do NOT need it. You are perfect in every way - don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Tamanna says:
I think we should all have our own options and choices… to wear make up or not. It's my face, after all… I should be able to express myself and look the way I want to look. Being true to our own choices makes us look and feel confident and comfortable in our own style. Make up is not always my thing - I just wanna look natural. It makes me 'me'!

Lauren says:
The truth is, no one is ever good enough for society any more - we are all expected to be perfect, but that is impossible. Perfection is just an illusion… everyone is beautiful in their own way. Girls feel the need to wear make up to appear more beautiful… and I admit, I am one of those girls. But nevertheless, I still believe it's not right. Make up is meant to highlight your perfections, not cover up your imperfections.

Saffie says:
Confidence is a train. For some it goes smoothly, but for the majority of us it has a few bumps along the way. And it's not fair, most of us are self-conscious for their faces, their hair, their dress size, especially as a teenager. For me, i feel like I am OK. I don't care what anyone thinks of me. If I like it, why can't anyone else? If you don't like it, what can you expect from others? I feel like wearing make up is just trying to make yourself happy rather than everyone else, but wearing too much? Maybe that's like trying a little too hard to fit in. No one deserves to have their confidence train crash and burn.

Lindsey says:
When you are a child, it is easy to be yourself… you don't know any different. But as you grow up, it changes. People begin to judge you. A teacher says you're too loud, too bossy. A classmate says you're too big, too clumsy. Your mum says you talk too much, look too messy. Your friends say you aren't fashionable enough. Boys say you're not good looking enough. Is it any wonder girls hide behind make up? I wear eyeliner and mascara every day, and foundation because I have spotty skin. And when I go out I spend ages copying looks I have seen in magazines. But sometimes I don't feel like I am making myself look better, more that I am wiping myself away completely. I wish I could go back to the innocence of being a child again, but that's just not possible.

Pic posed by model Alex: thank you!

Cathy says:
So much truth here, but it's not easy to read… being a teenage girl is not easy. How can we find the confidence to be ourselves? COMMENT BELOW to let me know what YOU think on this issue...



Friday, 26 December 2014

LITTLE ANGELS...

We asked you about your fab tree fairies and angels… here are just a few of the coolest!

Janice says:
This old lady has been in our family for no less than sixty-seven years, and she still tops my tree every Christmas! She's made of a kind of plastic with moulded hair and fabulous wings and wand. She is very special to us… it just wouldn't be Christmas without her!

Cathy says:
Wow… as a vintage fan, I am totally in awe of this fab angel… she's gorgeous!
Michelle says:
This fairy has been in my family since I was little - I was probably around eight or nine years old when we got her, which must make her about twenty-six now!I think my mum got her from Romford market. She's now been passed on to me and I still think she's the prettiest Christmas fairy I've ever seen…

Cathy says:
Love this fairy, Michelle! She's so elegant! Have you book fans read Michelle's THIRTEEN TREASURES series of books? They're awesome!

Laura says: 
This is our tree angel. She has golden hair - the lights you can see are the fairy lights on the tree. She has a bit of a homemade look about her but I think she actually came from a shop. My mum got her before I was born, so she's the only angel I remember us ever having…

Cathy says:
She's great… colourful and cute and friendly looking! I love her handcrafted look and the red gingham and ric-rac trim on her bright dress is a great change from the usual all-in-white Christmas angel!

Martha says:
Up until two years ago my family lived in a country called Burundi, which is just underneath Rwanda in Africa. When we left, a work colleague of my mum's gave us this beautiful Christmas angel as a leaving present, along with other beautiful African clothes and gifts. She's a very special tree angel!

Cathy says:
She's amazing… I love the traditional African print on her dress and her beautiful fabric wings! What a wonderful souvenir of your time in Burundi!

Isabelle says:
This tree angel has been in my family for as long as I can remember. When I was very small, I always hugged her. On Christmas Eve I always wanted to play with her and keep her with me while I slept, but of course my mom always said no because she was so special and fragile. So mom told me that when Santa came she'd keep a look out and make sure he brought all the right things for me!

Cathy says: 
A brilliant story… and a really beautiful angel! Awww!

Does your Christmas tree angel/ fairy have a special story attached? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

THE BIG CHRISTMAS QUIZ!!!

Boxing Day Blues? Our Christmas quiz will test your knowledge of CC books... well, the festive bits, anyway! What will your score be?

1. Who or what is 'Humbug' in the book MARSHMALLOW SKYE?
2. Who was the original owner of the vintage gramophone Skye gets for Christmas in MARSHMALLOW SKYE?
3. Which boy does Honey bump into unexpectedly on the beach on Christmas Day in the book SWEET HONEY?
4. In the book LUCKY STAR, what does Mouse paint onto the snow outside Cat's house?
5. Which Chocolate Box Girl will not be eating turkey this Christmas? Why?
6. In the e-book SNOWFLAKES & WISHES, what happens at the New Year's party to frighten Sheba, Lawrie's dog?
7. In the book SUNDAE GIRL, which old film do the family watch every Christmas Day?
8. What happens to Anya's boots when she leaves them on the doorstep for St Nicholas on December 5th in the book ANGEL CAKE?
9. In the book SUNDAE GIRL, why do Jude and her family eat beans on toast for Christmas dinner?
10. In the book ANGEL CAKE, who kisses Dan under the mistletoe at the school's Christmas Dance?
11. What is the theme of Jude's dad's New Years Eve party in SUNDAE GIRL?
12. Why do Anya's family always set an extra place at the dinner table on Christmas Eve in the book ANGEL CAKE?
13. What does Scarlett find on her doorstep one afternoon in December in the book of the same name?
Which two characters make snow angels in the book ANGEL CAKE?
14. What is the name of the band who are booked to play at the Christmas Disco in the book Gingersnaps?
15. Name three of the little Christmas presents Honey's sisters send from Tanglewood to Sydney in the book SWEET HONEY.
16. In the book SWEET HONEY, Honey helps out at the beach cafe where a friend works. What is the name of the friend?
17. Which boy leaves a flower hair clip in Summer's locker at school in the book MARSHMALLOW SKYE?
18. Which sister gets lost in the snow and passes out, unconscious, after a birthday party in MARSHMALLOW SKYE?

Cathy says:
Not an easy quiz! Add up your scores and see how well you know your CC books… anyone got 18/18? COMMENT BELOW to tell us which answers you couldn't get...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

SO HERE IT IS… MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Cathy says…
It's Christmas… have a great day and may all your wishes come true! Last night we went to church and watched a movie and hung our stockings up above the fire. Today will be a very busy one for me… we have lots of family and friends staying and once the stockings have been opened, it's a lazy breakfast and then full steam ahead on the cooking. We're a veggie household, so lots of non-traditional dishes are part of our day… mashed potato snowmen, tofu quiche and a fabulous pasty-wrapped nut roast are just a few of the specialities! And then comes the sweet stuff… trifle, banoffee pie, chocolate yule log and chocolate 'cups' with ice cream. Yum! 

The age range in our house ranges from two to eighty-eight today… antlers and santa hats WILL be worn, and there'll be lots of laughs and quite a lot of chaos. We'll watch just a tiny bit of TV - The Snowman or Father Christmas maybe - and there will definitely be a dog walk through the park. I hope there's a bit of frost!

I still remember the excitement of Christmas when I was little… the Christmassy jumpers (this skiing one was a big favourite, and I wore it in my school photo when I was six…). The thrill of the twinkling Christmas tree and of getting a present you'd been dreaming about for months… and a tangerine at the bottom of your Christmas stocking… those are things you never forget. Naaaww!

Christmas isn't always an easy time, of course. If you know someone who might be struggling for whatever reason, take the time out to call them, send a text, a message, an email; or, if it's someone close to you, give them a hug. That's what Christmas is all about, after all. Have a good one!


HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!! I hope you have a fab time… and remember to check in to DREAMCATCHER tomorrow for a big BOXING DAY QUIZ! You can COMMENT BELOW to pass your Christmas wishes on, too!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

EMILY: REINDEER BITES!

Last minute prezzie panic? Fear not… reader Emily has the answer! An easy, gorgeous, sweet treat for Christmas Eve! 


Emily says:
Reindeer Bites are one of my favourite Christmas makes… they are INCREDIBLY easy to do and make brilliant last minute prezzies!

You will need:
200g chocolate chip cookies
100g soft cheese
200g milk chocolate
(this makes two or three dozen… adjust the measurements down if you want to make less!)

To make:
1. Crush the cookies to a fine powder… I used a rolling pin and a big bowl!
2. Mix the soft cheese into the cookie crumbs thoroughly, then use your hands to form the mixture into a ball of dough.
3. Refrigerate the dough for an hour.
4. Form the dough into small truffle-sized balls and put back into fridge for another half an hour.
5. Melt the chocolate… break it into small pieces and place in a heatproof dish resting above a pan of simmering water. Stir gently until melted. (Ask an adult to help you with this bit if you've never melted chocolate before…)
6. Coat the reindeer bites with chocolate and place onto a tray covered in greaseproof paper.
7. I sprinkled a few leftover crumbs on the chocolate coated bites!
8. Place in fridge to set… then serve or wrap!

Reindeer bites taste great and they're very fast and easy to make. They also taste amazing if eaten from frozen! I bought some gift boxes and cute cellophane bags on ebay to package them… have fun with the recipe… and HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


Cathy says:
This is my kind of recipe… fast, easy and chocolate-covered! Have a great Christmas Eve, and don't forget to COMMENT BELOW if you enjoyed this post or want to wish other readers a fab Christmas!

Monday, 22 December 2014

SUMMER'S CHRISTMAS GIFT...

A special Christmas story written from Summer's point of view by reader Gemma… with a few extra touches from Cathy Cassidy...

Christmas will be better this year, now that Honey's back. The Christmas tree glints in the corner of the living room, next to the TV where the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland is playing. It's all perfect, exactly as it should be, but I cannot settle. There are butterflies in my stomach and my heart is racing, as if I am about to step on stage in a dance school show; as if something amazing is going to happen. I can't work out why I feel so strange, so anxious. I sneak away, wrapping myself in a warm, fluffy coat, not bothering to pull shoes on over my Christmassy woollen socks or change out of my floaty pink skirt. I open the back door slowly so nobody can hear me leave, but it creaks just the same. Typical Tanglewood. Skye comes to see what's going on.

'I'm going out for a bit,' I tell her, and she nods, a little confused, and goes back to watch the end of the movie. I step out into the freezing cold snow, the icy wetness seeping through my socks. I head down onto the beach, even though it's definitely not beach weather, and then I hear footsteps behind me on the sand.

'Hey,' I say, turning to see my friend Jodie. 'Long time no see! I've missed you!'

'Hey,' she smiles. 'I've missed you too!' Neither of us say that this is because Jodie is away during term time, at the boarding ballet school we both auditioned for. Jodie got the place I had to pass up because of being ill, and although I have come to terms with the loss now it's not something I find easy to talk about. I know that Jodie does, too; it's as if she took the chance that was meant for me, but I can't blame her - it was my own fault. I couldn't handle the pressure. It dragged me down into a very dark place.

We hug and Jodie tells me she was on her way to visit when she noticed me coming down to the water's edge. 'I have a surprise for you, Summer,' she says. 'Come with me!' She leads me across the beach and through into the lane, where a car is waiting, engine purring softly in the falling snow.

'It's just Mum,' Jodie tells me. 'Come with me, please?'

'I'm not really dressed for an adventure,' I protest, but Jodie just laughs and tells me the car is warm, and that it will all be worth it. 'I want you to talk to someone,' she explains. 'And it has to be now… will you come?'

I find myself in the car, my frozen feet thawing out a little, huddling into my coat, chatting to Jodie and her mum about Rochelle Academy. 'And how about Christmas?' Jodie's mum asks. 'Are you all ready? Are you hoping for something special?'

I smile and shrug, because the things I want most in the world are things I just can't have; there's no point hoping for the impossible. After a while, the car approaches Minehead and parks outside the Exmoor School of Dance. It's the school Jodie and I attended together for years; the school I still take classes at, even though Jodie has moved on.

'I can't go in,' I argue. 'Look at me! No shoes! People will laugh!'

'There are no classes today,' Jodie says. 'Trust me… nobody will mind…'

Jodie leads me inside and knocks on the door of Miss Elise's office. The door opens and there in the warm sitting-room office is my dance teacher… and her friend, the once famous dancer Sylvie Rochelle.

'Ah, Jodie!' Miss Elise says. 'You found her! Thank you for coming in, Summer. You remember my friend Sylvie, yes? We've been having a chat about you. Summer… you are an exceptional dancer; gifted. But you and I both know you are not strong enough to be a professional dancer…'

There it is, the plain, painful truth, washing over me again. I shiver, and it has nothing to do with the cold.

Sylvie Rochelle takes up the story. 'Well, as Elise says, you may never be a professional dancer,' she tells me. 'It is a pressured life. It is not for everyone. But I believe you have a gift for teaching; Elise says you're wonderful with the younger ones. Rochelle Academy has an opening for someone wishing to train as a teacher. I wondered if you might be interested?'

***

Half an hour later, Jodie and I stand together on the pavement outside the dance school, the snow falling softly around us. 'Worth it?' Jodie asks, and I fling my arms around her and hug her tightly.

'Worth it,' I say. 'Thank you, Jodie. This is the best Christmas present ever…'

Cathy says:
I've never worked on a story with a reader before, but adding a little bit here and there to Gemma's story was a LOT of fun! I hope you like the result… don't forget to COMMENT BELOW to tell us what you though!


Sunday, 21 December 2014

REBECCA: MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE!

Reader Rebecca and her family make a Gingerbread house for Christmas every year… now you can make one, too!


Rebecca says:
My family love making and baking things in the run up to Christmas… it's a tradition stretching right back to when my brother, sister and I were all very little...


Mum was a stay-at-home mum then so she was always around to do things with us, but these days she's a cake decorator by profession, and that has it's advantages too! We make a gingerbread house every year… it's something we all do together and it makes our Christmas really special!

To make the biscuit dough, I would advise using a recipe book or finding a recipe online… our recipe came from the BBC Good Food website… the link is at the bottom of the feature. We don't follow all of the instructions to the letter - just the making of the gingerbread bit. It's a recipe we've tried before, that works for us. As my picture shows, the basic process is fairly simple. Mix, knead, wrap and chill… it's that easy!
The next stage is to cut out the templates and roll and cut the dough to shape. Again, I'd advise you find template shapes in a book or online, enlarge them to the right size and cut out before you start to work.

Roll out the chilled dough on sheets of greaseproof paper and very carefully cut out your gingerbread house pieces… the dough is easier to work once cool. Bake the pieces for 12 minutes at 180c or Gas Mark 6, and allow to cool on a wire rack.

We're all involved by this stage… and no matter how old we get, we still want to do the same things… it wouldn't be Christmas without it. Mum remembers decorating the Christmas cake with her mum, and making rum truffles…
The next stage is to mix up some royal icing and use this to stick the gingerbread pieces to the board and to stick the walls and roof together.  We cheat these days and buy ready-made royal icing, just because it's easier. Take your time with the construction; the house needs to be well put together if it is to last through Christmas!

Next, it's on to the decoration! You can use almost anything for this… bright, tiny jelly sweets, mini biscuits, peppermint candy canes, boiled sweets and lots of royal icing piped on which makes great snow! We even added in a duck pond this year… just to be daft, really! You can go for a neat, tasteful look or a bright, fun look… whichever you opt for, it's going to look amazing!
Once you are happy with the decoration, your gingerbread house is almost complete. One tradition we have is to melted a boiled sweet into a circle cut into the front of the house, while it is still in the oven… this gives an amazing stained glass effect and is very easy to do if you remember to cut out the circle and pop the boiled sweet in place before baking.

The final touch is to place a nightlight inside the house, because this then gives a beautiful glow. Be careful, though… last year, the nightlight actually melted some of the icing and our beautiful gingerbread house collapsed… disaster! Still, we did get to eat it a bit sooner… and it was so funny that nobody really minded that things hadn't worked out!

This year, the house looks perfect, although a few bits have already gone mysteriously missing… sweets, the gingerbread tree and the people! It'll be a miracle if it lasts until Christmas Day!

I think this is the sixth year we've made a gingerbread house, and I hope there'll be lots more times up ahead. I hope you will maybe have a go at making one of your own… there's just time to get it done for Christmas!

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4900/simple-gingerbread-house

Cathy says:
This looks like SO much fun… I am planning to try it next year for sure! Do YOU have any family traditions at Christmas time? COMMENT BELOW to tell me more!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

LUCY: THINGS TO DO IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS!

Reader Lucy has some fab ideas on making the Christmas holidays extra special this year… read on and see!


Lucy says:
I am guilty of being a HUGE Christmas lover and also guilty of never getting anything useful done in the Christmas holidays - which isn't great, as I am supposed to be revising for my exams! This year, I have devised a list of fun things to do… some are quick activities and some might take a whole day. The list is keeping me on track, and I hope it'll help you to get some things done too. (And who knows, I might even have time left over for revision!)

1. Give someone a hug! This one is really easy - with all the festive cheer zooming around it's actually quite hard not to hug everyone in sight!

2. Go on a winter walk… believe it or not, winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year. The trees are coated in a fine layer of glittery frost… and everywhere seems more peaceful.

3. Decorate a branch. Sounds a bit strange but the result is stunning! While on your walk, look out for a suitable branch… and when you get home, prop it up somewhere and twine fairy lights all around it and decorate the branches with baubles.

4. Make hanging birds. This craft can turn your windows into beautiful works of art. Simply print out a template of a little bird and cut out bird shapes from card. Cut a little piece of wrapping paper to stick on the breast of the bird so that it looks like the red breast of a robin. Next, take a small rectangular piece of paper and fold/pleat it several times do that it looks like a little fan. Make a slit in the bird shape where the wings should be and slide the 'fan' through the gap. Make sure the paper is even on each side. Finally, thread some string through the bird's back and hang in the window!

5. Dance wildly to Christmas songs. They are possibly the best and happiest songs EVER! I cannot wait to start rocking out to those Christmassy tunes. Plug in the music and dance away - who cares if people think you are crazy? They're missing out on all the fun!

6. Bake Christmas cupcakes! To make these, you will need…
4oz self-raising flour
4oz caster sugar
4oz butter
2 eggs
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Fondant icing, writing icing, cupcake cases
* Preheat oven to 180 degrees and cream sugar and butter together.
* Sieve in flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.
* Beat the eggs and whisk into the mixture.
* Mix thoroughly and spoon into cupcake cases.
* Cook for 15-20 minutes (it depends on your oven). To tell if they're cooked, stick a skewer into one cupcake; if it comes out clean, the cakes are ready.
* Once cooled, use a cookie cutter to cut out fondant icing tops for each cake and decorate with writing icing!

There you go… a short, sweet list of things to keep you busy this Christmas! Why not take a picture of everything you try, or jot the ideas into a notebook? If you've been having a hard time lately, put your troubles to one side and feel the Christmas love. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Cathy says:
Brilliant stuff, Lucy… now back to that revision! Do YOU have any Christmas rituals and traditions to share? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Friday, 19 December 2014

MAKE A CUTE TREE ANGEL...

Christmas tree looking a little bare? A little soulless? You still have time to add some Christmas magic with this cute heirloom angel…


Cathy says:
Ten or fifteen years ago, before my books really took off, I loved Christmas because it meant craft fairs and making stuff. Every year, I'd think up new designs for cards and decorations, and one year I made lots of these little tree angels using old fashioned clothes pegs ('dolly' pegs) as a base. We're getting kind of close to Christmas now, so I thought I'd show you how…

You will need a 'dolly' peg to start with… the old fashioned wooden kind with a rounded top and two long 'legs'. Old fashioned hardware shops are a good hunting ground, but art and craft shops sell them too… and of course, they are very cheap online too. While you are ordering - or rooting around that craft shop - buy a hank of raffia, too. What else will you need? As well as your 'dolly' peg and raffia, you need a needle and thread; scissors; fine cotton/muslin fabric, cream or white; white PVA glue; star sprinkles/ sequins; Sharpie pen in black & red; scrap of netting; gold embroidery thread. Now you're ready to go!

* Draw dot eyes and nose onto your peg with Sharpie pen; add red lips and cheeks.
* Cut a rectangle of cotton/muslin fabric 12cm x 6cm. Fray about 1cm at either end of the rectangle.
* Stitch the rectangle neatly into a tube, turn inside out to hide seam.
* Cut 3 lengths of raffia, 16cm long. Tie a knot at each end, approx 2cm in from the ends.
* Poke the raffia through the tube of fabric with raffia peeping out at either end… this will be the arms.
* Cut another rectangle of fabric 16cm x 11cm. Turn a hem at the top and run thread through, gathering the fabric neatly.
* Glue the gathered fabric around the top of the 'dolly' peg's body to make a dress.
* Fray the bottom of the dress and glue on a few gold/silver stars.
* Glue or stitch arms onto the back of the angel.
* Cut a scrap of netting 12cm x 6cm and glue or stitch to back of arms/dress.
* Glue on some lengths of raffia for the hair…
* Then add a 'halo' or headband from gold embroidery thread… and sit her on a branch! Awww!

Do YOU have any Christmas craft makes? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

MY BEST CHRISTMAS EVER…

I wanted to hear about YOUR best ever Christmas... this is what you said!

Charlotte says:
Christmas 2004 was my best Christmas ever. I was four years old, and a month earlier, my new baby sister had been born. My Granny and I both really wanted her to be called Chloe, but my parents decided to name her Amelia. At first I was really upset that nobody had listened to me - I was only four, remember! People kept visiting in the evenings and at weekends to see the new baby but they didn't pay any attention to me; I felt so jealous of Amelia. Then, on Christmas morning, I got a baby doll with a card saying 'My name is Chloe'. I instantly fell in love with her and took her to church with me that day. Everybody made a fuss over me and MY baby, and suddenly I felt more included. I became my best Christmas ever, as I had TWO cute babies. One stayed cute and baby-like, but the other grew up into a stroppy little sister… ;o)

Rebecca says:
I love Christmas so much that I don't think I could choose a certain year I liked the most! There is a photo from when I was four and my sister Lauren was three, and Mum was at home back then and we did so many Christmas crafts and painted loads of cards. It was messy but so much fun! We made biscuits, paper chains, cakes, gingerbread houses… actually, we still make a gingerbread house every year! I am really looking forward to Christmas this year, probably because I am getting a bit older and I want to make the most of it while I still can!

Grace says: 
My best ever Christmas was years ago when me and my siblings were little. I don't really remember what we got or who got us what, but the floor was covered in wrapping paper and my dad filmed it all on the camcorder. I was more excited to be playing in the sea of wrapping paper and scrunching pieces of it up into little balls to throw at my brother! Watching that piece of film now is the most amazing thing ever; it captures the joy and innocence of it all. I have always loved Christmas and especially when I was little, way back when I still believed in Santa and his flying reindeer. It has always seemed like the most magical time of the year!

Kiera says:
The best Christmas ever was almost two years ago when I got my first ever concert tickets, to go and see One Direction in March (at Easter). I was ever so slightly over-excited! The actual concert was the best thing ever… I had an amazing time. Ever since, I have wanted to go back to that moment - the moment they came on stage - so I could re-live those few hours. My friends were all really happy for me, too! It's almost two years since that special Christmas, and I will never forget it!

Ellie says:
Well, I'm not sure it was my BEST exactly but the most memorable Christmas I can think of was the year we were all sitting around the table eating Christmas dinner and my dad - or possibly my brother - jumped up to get something and knocked over the Christmas tree. The whole thing came tumbling down… right in the middle of our dinner. Oops! I do love Christmas… it doesn't have to be like on the movies, but the little things like hot chocolate and sledging and getting sent home early from school because of the snow… they're what make it special. We don't have turkey, we have a chicken roast and a nut roast, which I am sure Coco would appreciate!

Cathy says:
Naaaw… so cute! Can you remember YOUR best Christmas ever? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

MY FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS SONG….

We asked what your favourite Christmas song was… here are your answers! Naaaw…

Gemma says:

My favourite Christmas song is… well, I've got two! Number one is Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, because it never ceases to make me laugh. And number two is called Pohutukowa Christmas… it's a New Zealand song, and I like it because it's one of the few Christmas songs that talk about 'celebrating in the sun' instead of everything being all about snow and a white Christmas. Plus, it's a Kiwi song!


Robyn says:

My favourite Christmas song is Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney. It really reminds me of going to the pantomimes when I was little, as they always seemed to be playing it in the theatre whilst we waited for the show to begin. It always brings back happy memories!


Kaylee says:

I really like Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You… and I can thank my class this year for that! Not only is it fun to sing but the words mean a lot to me. I also love Silent Night… it's a really beautiful song. Another favourite is a Japanese translated version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sung by Sailor Moon… it's Japanese, so why not?

Rachael says:
My favourite - well, favourites - is definitely the Band Aid songs, the different variations of Do They Know It's Christmas. I love the way they manage to gather everyone together in one big community to do something amazing for charity. It doesn't just raise money, it raises awareness and also makes us think just how lucky we are to have presents and a delicious warm dinner on Christmas Day.

Stephanie-Jade says:
The Fairytale of new York is my favourite - a classic, but a fabulous one! I'm really into Christmas music at all, but that song is an exception.

Jasmine says:
Yes, the Pogues' Fairytale of New York has always stuck out to me. It has great lyrics and the voices are great too! My favourite Christmas film is Christmas With The Kranks, and the song from that is my ringtone… I love it, it reminds me of my childhood!

Autumn says:
I don't mind Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses. I usually detest soppy, sentimental Christmas songs but this is a bit more upbeat and catchy. It reminds me of Mum singing as she cooked Christmas dinner so it puts me in the Christmas mood. I did once sing Silent Night in French (Sante Nuit) at a Christmas concert with my classmates. I still remember the first two verses. Fair enough, right? Aside from 'Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright,' I don't know any of the words in English!


Caoilinn says:

My favourite song is The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was little we used to have this video with all the Christmas carols on it, with a Mickey Mouse cartoon, and that song was on it. I used to think that the bit about a partridge in a pear tree was 'par pear in a pear pee…' I know, I know, I was VERY little, OK?

Cathy says:
I think I'll opt for Fairytale of New York too… or maybe Stop the Cavalry… or I Believe in Father Christmas… or Christmas Wrapping… no, hang on… oh, I can't choose! What's YOUR favourite Christmas song? COMMENT BELOW to tell me!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

GRACE: I FEEL LIKE I'M LOSING EVERYTHING...

Another in our regular problem page series… reader Grace asks Coco Tanberry for advice.

Grace says:
My horse riding stables is going to be closing down after Christmas and I don't know what to do. I am a mega horse fan and I practically live at the stables; in the holidays I'm there from morning until evening. I have my lesson and then hang around with my friends and help out with the horses. I have so many good friends there, and of course, I'll really miss the horses too. I love being there and I know I will be lost without it…

Coco says:
Oh no… I really feel for you, Grace. I don't know what I'd do if my local stables closed down. Try asking your friends at the stables where they will be going for riding lessons once this place closes… there may be other options that you can check out. What do your family think? They will be aware of how much your riding means to you; talk to them about how you feel. If joining another stables is not an option, make the best of the situation… make arrangements to stay in touch with your riding school friends and investigate other classes, hobbies and activities that will keep you busy out of school time. Is there an animal rescue or pony sanctuary you can volunteer at? Perhaps a summer pony trekking holiday or a week perfecting your show jumping skills could be fun things to look forward to? And if horses mean so much to you, check out college courses in equestrian studies for after school… things may not be working out for you right now, but in the long run they still can. Good luck, Grace.

Cathy says:
Good advice from Coco… would YOU add anything more to it? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Monday, 15 December 2014

SNOWFLAKES & WISHES… LAWRIE'S STORY

A brand new winter story just for you... Snowflakes & Wishes is perfect for any Chocolate Box Girls fan!

Cathy says:
The last of four e-book shorts this year, Snowflakes & Wishes is out NOW… it tells Lawrie Marshall's story, and it's the perfect read to set you up for Fortune Cookie in May. (Yes, May… the publication date has been brought forward!)

Lawrie and his sister Jas and their mum Sandy are heading back to Tanglewood for New Year… unaware of the dramas about to unfold. If you like adventure, join Coco and Lawrie for a story that will  have you dreaming of snowy Tanglewood nights and biting your nails as Lawrie and Coco find themselves in the middle of a very unexpected rescue. And if you're wondering if there'll be any romance between Lawrie and Coco, a year on from Coco Caramel… well, you might just find that out, too!

Snowflakes & Wishes is available in e-book format only for now, but next autumn all four e-books will be collected into book-form for you to enjoy. Whoop! Right now, though, Snowflakes & Wishes is only 99p in the Amazon Kindle store… and if you don't have a Kindle or e-reader, it could be worth borrowing one so you don't miss out! Also, if you have a smartphone, tablet or computer, you can always download the Kindle app for free so you don't have to miss out!
Have you read this year's other three e-book shorts yet? Check out Chocolates & Flowers: Alfie's StoryHopes & Dreams: Jodie's StoryMoon & Stars: Finch's Story too! Chocolate Box Girls story. They are all available from amazon.co.uk and other e-book stores now… and they give you lots of extra insights into the world of the Tanberry-Costello sisters and the boys and friends in their lives!
They'd also make a perfect pocket-money prezzie for a friend!

You can buy SNOWFLAKES & WISHES here…
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Snowflakes-Wishes-Lawries-Cathy-Cassidy-ebook/dp/B00PTJ2SSE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418684245&sr=8-1&keywords=snowflakes+%26+wishes

Cathy says:
Have you read SNOWFLAKES & WISHES yet? If so, COMMENT BELOW to tell me your verdict… and let me know what you're hoping for from FORTUNE COOKIE in May!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

YOUR BEST & WORST CHRISTMAS PREZZIES...

We asked you for your best and worst Christmas prezzies… and this is what you told us!

Hazel says:
Ooh, hard… well, my best present is probably the books I've gotten over the years, and the tablet I got last year. My worst Christmas present? Undoubtedly the 'Learn How To Ballroom Dance' CD we got a few years ago. No offence to any ballroom dancers, but my brother and I do not want todo that, even if we DO like watching Strictly Come Dancing!

Emma says:
My favourite presents… well, this year I'm getting a laptop and I am super excited! My parents finally decided I needed one for my upcoming GCSEs and are getting it for me for Christmas. Past great presents… well probably just the little things, toys when I was younger, books as I got older and now iTunes vouchers! My worst present? Well, one year my nan got me fudge, which was really sweet of her as I love it… but she got me peanut butter flavour, and I hate nuts. She also got me chocolate fudge and it was all spongy and strange. Not good!

Deborah says:
My best is actually a present I didn't think much of at first. It was a Playstation 3 game called Dance On Broadway and after a while I grew to really love it.  Now, dance games are top of my list of fave things to play. I think the only presents I can classify as the worst are the ones involving bath salts and creams, but that's not because I don't like them, it's because they're the products that tend to make my eczema flare up more.

Blue says:
Hmm, my sisters presents tend not to be good. She gets me moisturisers and bath stuff, forgetting I have tons already. I have had plenty of good gifts… phones… my MP3 (I still use it even though the screen is scratched and cracked). My Salvador Dali 'melting' clock. A little build your own motorcycle model kit. Piercings. A book on how to draw monsters. And it may seem small and insignificant but Toby
bought me a bottle of Hello Kitty perfume once and it smells just like cherries, which is awesome. My Pusheen hoodie arrived today - I was supposed to give it to mum to put away for Christmas but I made the mistake of opening it to admire it, and I'm too attached now…

Saffie says:
I think my best and worst thing are actually the same. My worst thing is not the average 'worst prezzie' - it's not a hand-knitted jumper two sizes too small that your gran knitted you five years ago and then forgot about; no, for me, it's my phone. Don't get me wrong, I love it more than anything and if I had to choose between a life and my phone, I'd pick the phone. But that's the problem! I am so, so anti-social! I am never off it. But I am also so grateful for this phone… and that makes it my best present ever, too!

Hannah says:
I once got an electric metronome from my nanna when I was eight. It started ticking before I opened it and I genuinely thought it was some kind of bomb!

Laura says:
My worst present was coat hangers. Nice coat hangers, but still… coat hangers. My best presents have always been books…

Grace says:
Best present I ever got was a new purple journal. Worst present? A Justin Bieber CD and calendar.

Martha says:
My worst present was socks… my best was a pony to loan.

Harley says:
When I was ten, I wanted to learn guitar. Santa left me an acoustic guitar… five years ago, when I was thirteen, I finally learned to play it!

Cathy says:
My best Christmas prezzie was a small toy pony, about the size of my hand, when I was eight or nine; that or the Jackie annuals I collected as a teenager. The worst? An orange padded nylon jacket my dad bought from a garage, convinced I'd love it, when I was fifteen. Er… no. COMMENT BELOW to tell us your best and worst Christmas prezzies...