Thursday, 31 December 2015

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU?

What are YOUR resolutions for 2016? Readers share their hopes, dreams and plans for the brand new year!

Carly says:
I am promising myself I will break my bad habit of eating lots of junk food, especially chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks, because I don't think they are good for my skin or my health. I am going to eat lots more fruit and drink a lot of water, and I might try to do regular exercise as well, and I hope I see a big difference as a result of all that!

Daria says:
I am going to go veggie on January 1st. I have been mostly veggie for about six weeks, with just a bit of fish on special occasions like Christmas, so I am confident I can do this. I am doing it for me, for the animals and for the planet… bring it on!

Jessica says:
I am going to make a study plan and stick to it, because this year I have big exams. I am not looking forward to it exactly but it is something I have to do, because it is my future and I want as many options open to me as possible.

Liz says:
I will keep striving to get my novel published and to generally have a positive outlook on life. I'd like to travel more too, and do lots of blogging.

Esme says:
My resolutions are: Stop annoying the cat; get a hobby (possibly ukelele lessons); learn more about giraffes; be more socially active and get out of the house more!

Hazel says:
They're more goals than resolutions… I want to pass my Grade 8 flute and piano exams (preferably with a distinction) and to improve in my music aural. It'd be great to post and review on my book blog more and start some new activities. If 2016 is as great a year as 2015, then I will be happy!

Jo says:
There are lots of things I want to change about my life and the New Year is a great time to begin because it symbolises new beginnings. I have never bothered much with resolutions before but this time I will make these things happen because I am very motivated to make a better life. I have a list of ten resolutions and I am looking forward to taking control of my life!

Carina says:
I think New Year is a good time to change things that need changing because it is a fresh start, and every year I like to set myself a challenge. Most of the time I manage to meet the challenge! This year my plan is to learn Spanish and travel to Spain to stay with my Nan who has just moved out there. I am really looking forward to it!

Cathy says:
I love the ritual of letting go of the old year and welcoming the new... and yes, I have plenty of resolutions too! What are YOUR New Year's resolutions? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

MARI: SCARED OF WHAT 2016 WILL BRING

Reader Mari has had a nightmare Christmas; can Skye Tanberry offer any good advice in this week's problem page dilemma?

Mari says:
I have not had a good Christmas, actually I have had the worst time ever. Last year my mum and I went to live with Mum's boyfriend, Ben (not his real name). He seemed really nice and cared about us but this Christmas everything has fallen apart, there was a huge fight on Christmas night and it was not just shouting but hitting. I tried to stop them and Ben shoved me and I really hurt my arm. The next day Mum said it was just an accident and that the row didn't mean anything, but Ben has been so moody I am actually scared of him now. I do not want us to live with him any more and I am frightened of what 2016 will bring.

Skye says:
I understand your worry. It's only natural to be wary of someone who has hurt both you and your mum. We helped Lawrie and his family in a similar situation, but Lawrie's mum took a while to find the courage to leave her partner and actually accept help, and you may need to wait until your mum is feeling strong enough to make a break from Ben. If his mood has darkened, hopefully this will happen faster than you think. Let your mum know how anxious you are feeling. Meanwhile, tell a trusted teacher and get some support while things are difficult at home… and if anything like this happens again, stay out of the fight but instead make a quiet call for help from friends, family or the police. Good luck, and stay strong.

Cathy says:
Mari's situation is very upsetting, but help is out there… talking to a teacher to get some practical help should certainly help. Skye's advice is good, but what would YOU add to her suggestions? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Monday, 28 December 2015

WHO'S YOUR FESTIVE SOUL SISTER?

Which Chocolate Box Girl are YOU most like? Take our fun, festive quiz and see which sister you have the most in common with this holiday season!


1. My best Christmas prezzie this year was…
a/ A pink seashell necklace from a certain boy...
b/ It wasn't a prezzie, but I found a stray kitten in the snow on Christmas Eve...
c/ One of my sisters got me a vintage lace top with a really Victorian vibe. Love it!
d/ A blank notebook… I already have plans for things to write and draw!
e/ Having the coolest boy in the world to stay over Christmas…

2. If I could have one wish for 2016, it would be…
a/ To find the confidence I've lost over the last couple of years once more.
b/ An end to cruelty to animals and destruction of the earth's resources. Think Green!
c/ I would give anything to have a time machine… sigh!
d/ Peace on Earth. Cheesy, but I mean it… fighting solves nothing.
e/ To ace my exam results because then I can (hopefully) follow my dream.

3. My favourite way to celebrate Christmas and New Year is…
a/ Quietly, at home, with the people I love most around me.
b/ We sometimes have a beach bonfire on New Year's Day… anything outdoors suits me!
c/ A log fire roaring, old fashioned Christmas songs playing, fab food and my wonderful family. What could be better?
d/ At one of the awesome parties my family puts on… with half the village here!
e/ C'mon… this is the party season! You HAVE to get out there and have fun! Party hard… it's the festive season!

4. For our New Year's Eve party, I'll be wearing…
a/ The pink chiffony dress I got for Christmas...
b/ How do I know? Whatever comes to hand, probably jeans and a jumper!
c/ The vintage green velvet dress that once belonged to Clara Travers.
d/ Bright jeans, fringy boots and a cute tunic top with a quirky print.
e/ A cute mini dress, lacy tights and heels. You've got to dress up, right?

5. My New Year's Resolution will be...
a/ Be better, be stronger, reach for the stars...
b/ Save the world… it's the only one we've got!
c/ Believe in dreams… and trust to fate!
d/ Be thankful for my fab family and all the love and friendship in my life.
e/ You can turn the toughest situation around if you really want to… and you can achieve your dreams. And best of all… you don't have to do it alone. I'm grateful for so much, this year.

The results! Count up whether you are mostly A, B, C, D or E and read on…

Mostly A's… you're very like Summer Tanberry, a girly girl with big dreams. You're a hard worker and very organised, and you value friends and family above all things because they've stuck by you through some very difficult times.

Mostly B's… your festive soul sister is definitely Coco Tanberry, the youngest Chocolate Box Girl. Like Coco, you are animal crazy and determined to change the world. You have strong feelings about injustice and cruelty and big plans to make the world a better place. You're also a bit of a tomboy and love being outdoors!

Mostly C's… you're just like Skye Tanberry, quiet, kind, creative, dreamy... and vintage crazy! You're hooked on history and mystery and have at least one foot in the past, but everyone loves your gentle nature and dreamy outlook!

Mostly D's… you're very like Cherry Costello, the most imaginative of the sisters. You value family very highly as you haven't always had a close family unit and you know how much it matters. You've had your share of conflict, too, so you are a bit of a peace maker these days!

Mostly E's… you're like Honey Tanberry, the once-wild-child eldest sister who still has a streak of rebel running through her! Like Honey, you've learned the hard way that the only person who can turn things around is YOU. You're a strong person and you can achieve your dreams… stay focused and make 2016 the best year ever!

Illustrations by the awesome ERIN KEEN from the book CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS.

Cathy says:
Which sister are YOU most like? COMMENT BELOW to have your say and tell me if you'd like more quizzes in the future and read more about the Tanberry-Costello girls in THE CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series, or in CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

MAKE SOME COSY LEG WARMERS!

In France, where the Chocolate Box Girls series is super-popular, there is a French version of the UK's CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS but with totally different content and artwork… I thought I'd share one of the projects for you,  in English, of course!

Summer says:
When you dance a lot, as I do, leg warmers are brilliant for keeping the muscles warm and supple while you are working. They're also really cosy for winter days, and my thrifty sister Skye came up with a very cool way to make them using recycled or worn out jumpers… it's really easy!

Skye says:
So, the first thing you need is an old jumper that you don't want or wear anymore. Check with a parent that it's OK to use it, because once you start chopping it up there is no going back! If you don't have anything suitable, a jumble sale is a great source of unwanted jumpers… just take your pick of patterns and colours, all for pennies!

OK… once you have your jumper, take a pair of large, sharp scissors and chop the arms off. Lay the two arms out alongside each other and make sure they are even in length, and that the cut edge is straight - don't chop them on a slant! Next, you need to turn over the raw (cut) edge and roll it inwards, to the 'wrong' side of the fabric, to make a hem. Thread a needle with fine cord elastic (it looks just like thick cotton thread but is stretchy - needlework shops and haberdashers will stock it!). Stitch the hem neatly.

Thread a large-eyed needle with thin ribbon in a pretty colour, and run this around the cut end of the leg warmers just beneath the hem, in a large running stitch as seen in the pictures. You want to see the ribbon - and tie a bow on each leg warmer to complete. Easy, huh?

Summer says:
You can wear the leg warmers two ways… with the ribbed cuff at the bottom and the ribbon ties at the top, shown left; or the other way up, shown above, with the bows at your ankles. You could even have ribbons at top and bottom if you want! Leg warmers are so cosy at this time of year, and look great too… plus, if you love dance as much as I do, they're an essential. With this easy up-cycling project you can make some to go with every outfit… and get the most out of every pretty jumper you have. I like pretty, lacy knits but Aztec prints and patterns look just as cool… it's up to you!

Cathy says:
Wow… I love this project, and I love that it re-uses a garment you might otherwise throw away. Do YOU have a cool fashion fix or a crafting project we could use on DREAMCATCHER? Email me via the 'email Cathy' link on www.cathycassidy.com or COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Saturday, 26 December 2015

THE BIG CC CHRISTMAS QUIZ 2015!

Think you're a Cathy Cassidy superfan? Settle down with a hot chocolate and a mince pie and try our fun quiz to see if you make the grade!

1. Which vintage-loving sister is given an old fashioned gramophone for Christmas?
2. Which CC character did the gramophone belong to BEFORE it was given to one of the Tanberry sisters?
3. Which two characters chase a dog through the snowy woods in the early hours of New Year's Day and find themselves on an unexpected rescue mission? (clue: the story is in Snowflakes & Wishes AND Life is Sweet…)
4. What is the name of the boy who puts a snowball down the back of Jude's neck in the book Sundae Girl?
5. What is the name of the boy Anya makes snow angels with in the book Angel Cake?
6. Who does Honey meet unexpectedly on the beach on Christmas Day in the book Sweet Honey?
7. What Christmas treat does Honey make in the book Sweet Honey and what happens to it?
8. Which two characters go Christmas shopping with Honey in Sydney?
9. Name two CC characters who would never eat turkey at Christmas!
10. What is the name of the cafe where Summer and Jodie meet just before Christmas? (clue: the story is in Hopes & Dreams AND Life is Sweet!)
11. Who is the unexpected customer who admires the window display in the cafe on Christmas Eve in the book Angel Cake?
12. Which DVD do Jude and her family always watch on Christmas Day in Sundae Girl?
13. What part does Summer play in the Christmas ballet production in the book Summer's Dream?
14. What is the name of the cafe where Ash works over the Christmas holidays in Sweet Honey?
15. Which Chocolate Box Girls character shows you how to make a vintage papier mache tree fairy in the non-fiction book Chocolate Box Secrets?
16. Dizzy's mum always cooks her a fab family dinner at Christmas: true or false?
17. What do the Tanberry-Costello sisters do with their Christmas lists the week before Christmas?
18. Which Chocolate Box Girls sister shares her recipe for the best ever luxury hot chocolate in Chocolate Box Secrets?
19. Name three of the unexpected guests who visit Anya's family on Christmas Eve in the book Angel Cake….
20. Which two relatives do the sisters Skype on Christmas Day in the book Marshmallow Skye?

Cathy says:
Some very tough questions! Tot up YOUR scores and COMMENT BELOW to tell me how you've done! (You're allowed to check with the books!) 

Thursday, 24 December 2015

CHRISTMAS PAST AND PRESENT...

Cathy Cassidy, her mum Nell and her daughter Cait look back on Christmas times gone by in this CC-family flavoured blast from the past…

Nell says:
The first Christmas's I remember were in the 1930s. Money was tight and you would be lucky to get an orange and a threepenny bit in your stocking. I remember just before the war I was living with my parents in a flat in Coventry above a shop that sold clothes. My mum sent me down on Christmas Eve with the rent money, and the shopkeeper opened a drawer and let me choose a new pair of woollen mitts - I've never forgotten that. During the war, food was on ration and air raids were a worry, but we still celebrated Christmas - perhaps it meant even more to us then. Later on, the fun was in making Christmas special for my children, although getting the Christmas dinner organised was always very stressful! I don't think the magic ever goes…

Cathy says:
One of my first memories of Christmas is being driven home from a Christmas Eve visit to my favourite auntie and uncle, aged three or four. I was looking out of the car window, very excited, and saw Father Christmas walking along the road with his sack. I was beside myself. I spotted him again, further along… and began to panic that perhaps he would get to our house before we did! When we got home I practically raced into bed! It took years for me to catch on that I'd seen two separate partygoers in fancy dress. (Or… maybe… who knows?) We always had a real tree and the lights would never work to start with, but Dad always fixed them. Sometimes we went to my nanna's house - she had real, tiny candles on her tree which I loved! My little brother and I would set out a pillow case at the end of the bed, and it always had an orange and chocolate coins in along with the bigger presents. By the time I was a teenager, a Jackie annual was the thing I loved most, but I remember getting brightly patterned socks with toes in one year and loved those, and  there was always a selection box of chocolate bars. We usually had chicken for Christmas dinner but by the time I was fourteen I was veggie, so it was just sprouts and spuds for me! I have my own family now, and we've made our own traditions… hanging stockings along the mantlepiece above the wood burner, for example, and yes, there is always an orange and some chocolate coins! My best Christmas prezzie ever? Well, my daughter was born just before Christmas and we were allowed out of hospital on Christmas Day in the middle of a blizzard… that was definitely my best Christmas ever!

Cait says:
My earliest Christmas memory is sitting on Dad's knee and listening to the Pogues song Fairytale of New York while my brother danced around the room and Mum looked on. We'd just hung our stockings up and left a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie and a whisky for Santa! Mum used to make lots of Christmas crafts and sell them at craft fairs before she was an author, so another early memory is the smell of orange slices drying in the oven and strings and strings of papier mache tree fairies drying out above the wood burner! We lived in Scotland when I was growing up so in my memory it was always a white Christmas, and I remember seeing a deer at the side of the lane one year driving home from midnight mass, and Dad told me it was Rudolph! My best prezzie? Probably the year I was fourteen and got a second hand drum kit!

Cathy says:
What are YOUR best memories of childhood Christmasses? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

AMY: A GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

Christmas is a time for giving… but does that mean thinking just of our friends and family, or those who are really in need? Amy's cool idea has inspired me… it might just do the same to you!


Amy says:
I'm a working adult, not a teenager, but when financial problems hit earlier this year I moved back in with my parents, and I began to think about how lucky I was to have their unconditional support. I knew that when I asked them if I could come home they would say yes - they have always been there for me and, along with my amazing sister, we have always been a very close family. We always spend every Christmas together.

I began wondering what it might be like if I didn't have that support. I thought about the paths I would have chosen at different points in my life and what I'd have done without their guidance. And that got me thinking about the homeless people I see every day… people who may not have had that support or unconditional love. This may not have been their choice, but either way it doesn't matter - it is Christmastime and they're sleeping on the streets, alone.

That made me want to do something - just a token, so they know someone is thinking of them. I bought identical packages including a mini panettone, some sweets and thermal socks and wrapped them up, and this morning I gave them out. One girl who was sleeping rough was in the middle of being moved on by the police which was obviously upsetting, but I made sure she still got her present. I'm not sure what the police made of it, but the girl thanked me. I hope it made her feel less alone. Christmas is all about giving, isn't it, but sometimes we forget that, or forget to look beyond our family and friends. I am very glad I did this and glad I am lucky enough to have a loving, caring family; let's remember those who aren't so lucky this Christmas.

Cathy says:
I love Amy's inspiring idea… it's so simple, we could all do it, and there is still time before Christmas, too. Or, if you're reading this AFTER Christmas… do it anyway. For those living on the streets, every single day is a struggle. Your gift doesn't have to be much - just a chocolate bar would be welcome. Do check with family first and get them to come along with you if you're giving a present out - or, if you prefer, donate to your local food bank or children's charity. Do YOU do something for others at this time of year? Or perhaps all year round? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 21 December 2015

CHRISTMAS ANIMAL ANTICS!

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas… but does YOUR pet get into the swing of things, or is he/she a festive nightmare? Readers share their pics and stories!


Sophie M says:
Actually, this para is from Peppy… he is two years old and has a younger rabbit sister, Poppy! Peppy is definitely my fluffy Christmas bunny, anyway!
Peppy says: 'Sophie came towards my cage with what looked like reindeer antlers… tartan ones! Maybe I can be the tartan reindeer and help guide Santa through the skies to deliver presents? I was still dreaming when Sophie took my photo. Well you never know… it might happen!'

Sophie F says:
I couldn't resist dressing my black labrador up a bit for Christmas. Not sure if he looks impressed! Santa's Little Yelper, right? #doggytryingtobefestive

Kellie says:
We tried to dress my dog Rusty up in antlers and tinsel…. let's just say it did not go well. He chewed the antlers when we weren't looking and broke them, and pulled the tinsel to bits and slobbered all over it! I think he is secretly a bit of a Christmas Scrooge!

Katie says:
Yikes… I don't need to get my dog Neo in the festive mood, he is doing it all by himself… shredding up his cushion to make 'snow'! Arghhh!

Jess says:
Our cats aren't the sort to tolerate being dressed up - in fact we have had to ban them from the living room as they seem determined to wreck the Christmas tree! We came home one day and the whole thing had fallen over, the tinsel and baubles everywhere. Oops! I have got them cat toys and treats for Christmas anyway, I don't hold a grudge!
Rebecca says:
This is my kitten Gerrard's first ever Christmas, so I had to make sure he enjoyed it in style! I think he likes his Christmas jumper, but he absolutely loved playing with all the tinsel!

Macie says: 
My pets are guinea pigs and I don't think they totally get what's happening… although the other day they seemed to be squeaking along in time to Slade's 'Here It Is Merry Christmas' on the radio! Who knows, maybe they have plans to decorate their cage and hang up guinea pig stockings? I have some Christmas treats for them on the big day anyway!


Cathy says:
My dogs aren't keen on being dressed up for Christmas, but it's hard to resist sometimes… do YOUR pets like Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

CHRISTMAS MAGIC...

What do YOU love most about Christmas? Readers share their favourite things about the festive season!

Louise says:
On Christmas Eve we spend the day watching old Christmas movies and we have a special meal in the evening, because my Gran was German and it was a tradition for my mum when she was growing up too. We leave out mince pies and whisky for Santa and hang up our stockings and in the morning we are allowed to open our stocking gifts early, which is always exciting. My brother and sister are four and seven so it can be an early start to the day! Once we get up properly, we open the family presents and then people start to arrive… Gran and Grandad, my aunties, the cousins, and a neighbour who always comes to us. I think this year there will be eighteen of us. Mum does a traditional turkey dinner and the aunties bring puddings and side dishes so it's not just us having to cook. The afternoon is all about board games and eating too much Christmas chocolate and Grandad always falls asleep in front of the TV. I love Christmas… it's pure magic!

Kym says:
I like the build up to Christmas… the special markets and the events, and shopping for Christmas presents!

Sophie says:
Spending time with family and friends, buying presents and seeing how much love there is in the world!

Katie says:
I like how everyone gets to feel special, because you're giving presents and everyone is in the same room, having fun together. I love seeing the smiles on people's faces!

Kirsty says:
I love the build up to Christmas more than anything. Just this afternoon we were singing along to Mariah Carey 'All I want For Christmas' in the car at full volume! Brilliant… it's the best time of the year!

Deborah says:
The spirit of giving is the best thing about Christmas. I love the fact that everyone becomes so generous and there is all this happiness around you. It also feels good to see people who don't usually smile loosen up and laugh!

Jessica says:
Midnight mass and then having all day to curl up and read CC books!

Izzy says:
We don't go to church every week but we do go at Christmas. We wear our new Christmas clothes and join in with all the carols and when we come home we are all allowed to open one present each from under the tree. The next is the laziest day of the year but we love it… who doesn't love the magic of Christmas?

Today's awesome illustration is by reader Laura… thank you!

Cathy says:
I love Christmas too… and I agree, it's magical! What's YOUR fave part of Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to tell us!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

A CHRISTMAS STAR!

Have you ever been the star of the Christmas play… or did you always get a bit-part? Readers share their Christmas memories!


Lynne says:
Even though this photo must have been taken about 51 years ago when I was about eight, I still remember some of that day. I was playing Mary in the school nativity play and I was so excited! I am wearing my nightie and a cloak made out of an old curtain. I remember having to knock on various doors trying to get a place to stay and having to stay in a stable, which was the school cloakroom! The boy playing Joseph was called Louis but he was only at our school for a wee while. I loved being in the nativity and still look back on this memory very fondly!

Emily says: 
I've played a star (had to wear a really stupid costume for that!), an angel (ridiculous oversized wings) and even Mrs Claus in past school plays...

Sophie says:
I once played the main role of Mary and had to sing two solos… I remember being really scared and practising in front of my parents and friends who loved it!  I didn't really get along with the boy who played Joseph, though. My school was small and there wasn't much cash for costumes so I had to wear a sort of princess dress… I'll never forget it!

Violet says:
I never had an acting part but one year I had to play the glockenspiel. I was glockenspiel player no. 21 or something! It didn't measure up to my brother's run as the innkeeper when he was in P7. Everyone told Mum how lovely her son's performance was, but nobody mentioned my talents on the glockenspiel. Woe is me!

Lorna says:
Our primary school Christmas plays were so elaborate because everyone in Key Stage Two was in it, every year. In Year 6 I had the main part… a librarian with two donkeys! That year all the scenes were from books and we raised money for a library pulled by donkeys in Africa!

Melissa says:
I was the angel… of course! That's me in the tinsel...

Grace says:
I was the donkey… I had one line to say, but when it came to my big moment I looked at the audience and burst into tears, and the teacher had to come on stage and comfort me! I was so embarrassed!

Charlotte says:
When I was seven or eight I played a shepherd in the nativity with two boys. I had to have a beard painted on my chin. I don't know why they wouldn't just let me be a female shepherd, but I enjoyed it all the same!

Katie says:
I remember my headpiece magically disappearing when we did our junior play. I was the narrator and the play was Babushka, where a little old lady gives everyone presents. There were all these beautiful Russian dancers in ornate headresses, but my headress was lost and my fellow narrator had to do without one too so we didn't look odd. Oh well!

Amber says:
My best friend and I wrote the Christmas play in Year 6, which was awesome. We also got first choice of who we wanted to be, so I gave myself the role of narrator. I dressed up as a woodland fairy and it was fantastic!

Boo says:
I was a singing donkey! Originally I was just a donkey… the teacher told the class to be silent while my friend sang a solo and I was daydreaming until I heard the music and then without thinking, I burst out singing, louder than the soloist. The class told me to shush and I realised what I'd done but the teacher said I had a great voice and suddenly I was a singing donkey and had my own unique role!

Cathy says:
Wow… what was YOUR best part in the school Christmas play? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 18 December 2015

OH CHRISTMAS TREE...

Readers share their Christmas tree decorating traditions with us on DREAMCATCHER today…

Mathilde says:
We went to buy the decorations and every member of the family chose three decorations; then we went to choose the fir tree. The smell, the size and the colour all had to be right. Each year we have a different theme, and this year it's an English theme - I am one of Cathy's French readers, and we live in France. Dad starts decorating the tree with fairy lights, then my sisters and I put on the garlands, and finally the baubles. We finish by adding the star to the top of the tree. The ritual of decorating the tree is very important to us and we listen to Christmas carols as we decorate the tree. (Mathilde's tree, left)

Ruadhan says:
Our tree goes up two Fridays before Christmas. One year, my mum's, gran's and uncle's birthday were all on a Friday; Christmas was on a Friday too, so we decided we'd put the tree up on my uncle's birthday, two weeks before. We had baubles personalised with our names and put them on the tree. and it just stuck. And all of this happens at my gran's house in the Scottish islands…

Sophie says:
We decorated our tree on 7th December, after school and before my trampolining club. We put the orange lights and then the ultraviolet ones on to begin with, and then the cream ribbon. I got to put the first decoration on and from there we decorated the whole tree, finishing with the angel! (Sophie's tree, right)

Blue says:
We don't really have decorating traditions. Everything - the tree, the baubles, the lights, the tinsel and the star - were bought this year. Not sure what happened to the old tree, but we're not a family to fuss over tradition anyway. We always have a fake tree because Mum is allergic to pine - but the cats definitely aren't! They are OBSESSED with chewing the tree so we have to keep them out of the living room because we don't want them getting hurt. They've managed to run off with a few baubles but I've always retrieved them after distracting the kitty with a catnip treat. They're only kittens so this is their first Christmas and they're intrigued by the wrapping paper, the tinsel and the open fire. The colour scheme is blue, white and silver… I chose that!

Rebecca says:
Our tree goes up the first weekend of December. We decorate it together as a family and there are lots of Disney decorations on there as we spent an amazing family holiday there in 2011. We normally but a couple of new decorations each year to add to it… and it's a real tree, of course! It has white lights and hanging decorations, and it's beautiful! (Rebecca's tree, left)

Cheryl says:
I've never had a real tree and always wanted one, but I hate the idea of them dying and being thrown out after Christmas. We got a baby one last year, planted it in a pot on the patio and it grew all by itself with no care needed at all. We've brought it in for now, but the lights are outside ones so we can pop it outside every now and then to freshen. And by next year, it'll be even bigger!

Scarlett says:
My birthday is 4th December which is exactly three weeks until Christmas, but we never put the tree up until the weekend after my birthday. If we did it any sooner than this, it would feel as though Christmas was being celebrated before my birthday. Me and Dad put the tree up and Mum decorates it. We aways use lots of baubles and twinkly lights but never any tinsel, as we think it detracts from the simplicity of the baubles. (Scarlett's tree, right)

Koby says:
We always decorate the tree and the house on the first Friday of December, once me and my sister get home from school and my parents finish work. We usually have a real tree and this year is no exception. We decorate it all together and there is always a Christmas CD playing in the background. The tree always has a colour theme, and this year it is gold and red tinsel and ornaments.

Cathy says:
Our tree usually goes up about a fortnight before Christmas, and everyone joins in with the decorating. We don't really have themes… we use the same decorations every year, topped off with a hand made vintage papier mache fairy. Awww! What's YOUR tree like? COMMENT BELOW to tell us!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

COCONUT SNOWBALLS!

Reader Leah shows us how to make yummy coconut snowballs… perfect for a home made Christmas prezzie!

You will need:

200g desiccated coconut (dry, comes in a packet)
2 egg whites
110g caster sugar
a little icing sugar






To make:

Pre-heat the oven to 170c or gas mark 3.

Place a rectangle of baking parchment onto a baking tray.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy but not stiff and add the sugar, beating gently until it dissolves. Stir in the coconut.

Use damp hands to form the mixture into snowball shapes.

Place on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes, until the snowballs are golden and firm. Remove and allow to cool on wire rack.

Dust with icing sugar and store in an airtight container - or box them up to be given as Christmas prezzies!

Cathy says:
Oooh… I might have to try these… they seem simple enough even for me! Have YOU got a cool Christmas recipe? Email me via the 'email Cathy' link over on www.cathycassidy.com and COMMENT BELOW to tell me your fave festive sweet treats!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

ELISE: I HAVE NO SELF-ESTEEM...

It's problem time again on DREAMCATCHER, and reader Elise has a dilemma for Summer Tanberry to solve… will you agree with Summer's advice?

Elise says:
I'm in Year Seven at school and my friends are a bit like a roller coaster ride… exciting at times but mostly scary. I have lots of friends, but they all have best friends, someone more important than me, and sometimes I feel alone and invisible. Lots of the girls I was close to in primary have gone off with other people, but I seem to be stuck. I also have panic attacks triggered by loud/ unexpected noises like the fire alarm for example, and this really chips away at my confidence. Some days I just have no self-esteem and doubt myself in every way. It's especially hard at this time of year when everyone is sharing presents and Christmas outings. How can I rebuild my confidence?

Summer says:
First of all, I understand about the panic attacks… I've been there too. For me, they happened when I put myself in very high pressure situations, so I stepped back from that for a while and worked on my confidence and they attacks have faded. Being panicked by loud noises is not unusual… you're triggered by the anxiety you sense around you when a fire drill takes place, and your body reacts before your brain has a chance to reason that the alarm is just a drill. Often, rapid breathing is at the root of a panic attack, so train yourself to breathe slowly and shallowly if you can - breathing into a
paper bag is a very simple tactic that can help. You have friends, but I think you're unsettled by the way things do naturally change in Year Seven. Yes, people do make new
friends, but that doesn't mean they are rejecting you… just adapting and going with the flow. You can push yourself out of your comfort zone a little by joining lunchtime or after school clubs and meeting new people… slowly, some of these new friendships may take root. Confidence is tricky to rebuild… sometimes, it feels like you are building on sand and the work you put in may slip and fall, or be washed away by the tide. Keep trying. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else… and remember that you still have lots of upbeat, happy days.Those doubtful days may be linked to those growing up hormones… trust me, we have all been there! The Cathy Cassidy book LETTERS TO CATHY is a great self-help book with some fab sections on confidence and self-esteem… well worth getting hold of. Christmas can be hard for those who are struggling with friendships, but it won't always be this way… find the courage to give out little chocolate treat prezzies or ask a friend to go Christmas shopping and you may just deepen the relationships you already have. Good luck!

Cathy says:
Excellent advice from Summer… what would YOU add? COMMENT BELOW to have your say! If you have a problem for one of the sisters to answer, send it via the 'email Cathy' link over on www.cathycassidy.com and mark your email DREAMCATCHER problem...

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

PRESENT TIMES…

Readers discuss the best and worst Christmas prezzies they've ever had in this feelgood festive post…


Kym says:
My stepbrother once bought me an Inspector Gadget DVD because I hate it and he loves it! My best present was a Playstation when I was fourteen. I really wanted one but didn't ask for one because I didn't think my mum could afford it.

Zoe says:
Family and friends are the best presents ever. Unfortunately, my mum passed away in 2008 so Christmas feels emptier each year. The best present I ever got was my dog, though!

Maya says:
I love all my presents… except socks. Not the best, really!

Hazel says:
Best presents… my phone, last year, and all the wonderful books I get from my parents. Worst? A ballroom dancing CD that went straight to the charity shop!

Callie says: 
I've had some great presents in the past, but the best has to be riding lessons. I unwrapped a present and it was a riding hat… that was the clue! I've been riding now for two years and I love it. The worst present… hmmm. A children's colouring book from an elderly neighbour who seems to think I'm still about five years old!

Maria says:
Best… a toy penguin when I was about six. It wasn't even expensive, I don't think, but I loved it for years and it still sits on my shelf. Worst… strawberry scented bubblebath from my gran. It smelled really sickly, and we don't even have a bath, just a shower!

Zarah says:
Most of my presents over the years have been lovely, but my favourite things are always the little things you get in your stocking… a candy cane, chocolate, glitter, silly stuff. The worst thing I was ever given was a pencil case from a 'friend' at school… it was the present I'd given her a few days earlier, re-wrapped. I think she must have forgotten I was the one who gave it to her!

Many thanks to the very talented LOTTIE who drew this fabulous illustration - thank you so much for letting me use it!

Cathy says:
Love these! I still remember some fab presents from my childhood… awww! What has YOUR fave Christmas present been? And your worst? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 14 December 2015

WHICH CC BOOK SHOULD BE ON YOUR CHRISTMAS LIST?

How do you pick the perfect CC book for your Christmas list? Easy… just check out these fab reader reviews!


Maya says:
FORTUNE COOKIE is another fabulous Cathy Cassidy creation… I'm recommending it to my friends, including one, Sarah, who has never read any CC books because it's obvious she'd enjoy it! It's a great way to finish the fabulous CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series, but the twist is that this character, Cookie, is a boy! My favourite part is where Cookie and Cherry talk to each other about life, and I didn't like that Honey got offended by this but I thought it was realistic and how she would have reacted! My fave character was Cherry - why? Well, you see that Cherry is a very kind hearted person and you like her all the more because Honey is so mean to her… but will Honey finally make peace with her stepsister? You'll have to wait and see! I felt very involved with Cookie's story and I'm happy because not only do the sisters get a happy ending but Cookie gets a fresh start! It's definitely a five star book!

Amandeep says:
CHERRY CRUSH is a brilliant read. When Cherry Costello moves to Somerset her hopes of finding a better life come to a halt when she meets Honey, her fourteen year old stepsister - a pretty, blonde haired rebel. And then there's Honey's handsome boyfriend, Shay! Cherry knows he's bad news, but that doesn't mean she's going to stay away from him! As the two get closer, things get worse. Lies get you nowhere, just further from the truth, but will Cherry realise that before it's too late? This is a fantastic story about moving on to a new life and building a new family and new friends. It also teachers that life is tough, but that you have to deal with it. And CHERRY CRUSH is the first book in the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series, too, so you have a whole series of books to look forward to before you have to let go! Five stars… loved it!

Marisa says:
CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS is the book I'd recommend to any CC fan… or any new readers, too. I love the whole CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series but this one is like an extra treat… and it's perfect for me! The book is divided into seasons and each sister share their favourite makes, crafts, fashions, recipes and things to do for that season. So, for example, Honey shares her recipe for the best hot chocolate in the world (I've tried it, it is to die for) and Skye shows you how to give your school uniform a cool vintage twist, and Summer shows you how to make a New Year's mood board (I am totally doing that in January.) I've also tried out Coco's friendship bracelet weaves and Cherry's idea for making Christmas crackers, and everything I have tried has worked out brilliantly. A perfect book for anyone creative or arty, or anyone who likes doing quirky stuff or even just baking treats. There's so much in it it will keep you busy all year! Five stars. I'd give it six if I could!

Cathy says:
Love these picks… and don't forget that my newest book, LIFE IS SWEET, is in the shops now! It has all the e-book shorts collected together in book form, PLUS an extra, exclusive story from Ash's point of view! A must-have for CHOCOLATE BOX GIRL fans. Which CC book would YOU most like for Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

CHRISTMAS JUMPER CRAZY!

Have YOU got a favourite Christmas jumper? Cathy - and her readers - share their best and cosiest festive fashions!

Cathy says:
OK… a blast from the past here! I loved this jumper to bits and wore it long after Christmas was over! I was five or six in the photo, and this was my official school picture… the year after I was wearing the same jumper again, underneath a gymslip! I thought the jumper was soooo cool… I loved the red colour, too. My skirt was a blue, knitted, pleated one and the grey socks and black plimsols were school uniform. They didn't seem to mind the jumper, though! The ribbon was an attempt to liven up my much-hated 'Beatles' haircut. That's why I wear my hair long now, although I still wear a ribbon sometimes!

Sophie says:
I love my Christmas jumper because when I come in from school, I can put on my jumper, have a cup of tea and relax for a while and forget school and all its troubles. My jumper makes me feel happy, comfy and safe.

Harley says:
I'd have a Christmas jumper if I could! I've dreamt of OTT Christmas jumpers. hot chocolate by the fire and a white Christmas morning, but sadly unless the magnetic poles (and thereby the hemispheres) are reversed, us Aussies will just have to dream!

Jennie says:
My Christmas jumper is gorgeous, a fluffy red one with two little reindeers on it. I picked it out myself… everyone in the family gets to choose something special to wear for Christmas, but then we have to put them away until Christmas Eve. They are the very first prezzies we open, and once those jumpers are on I know that Christmas has really begun!


Ruadhan says:
I didn't have a Christmas jumper this year but I really wanted one. Instead of wasting money on one from the shops, I decided to sew a bunch of Christmas decorations onto one of my plain jumpers. I love it because it's unique and nobody else has one like it… and after Christmas I can unpick the stitches and turn it back into a plain jumper again!

Grace says:
If I had a Christmas jumper, I'd like it to be plain white with a slogan that says 'This is my Xmas jumper'! I think that would be really cool!

Cathy says:
These are fab… I don't really bother with Christmas jumpers anymore, but I still remember that little red one with the ski motif from long ago… now if I could just find one like it in an adult size! Do YOU have a Christmas jumper? COMMENT BELOW to tell us about it!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

VICTORIA: FLOWER SURPRISE CUPCAKES!

Reader Victoria decided to test out one of the recipes from THE CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS… with brilliant results! A perfect make for the run-up to Christmas!

Victoria says:
I bake a lot, and this recipe will become one of my regular favourites. In the book, they're called 'Flower Surprise Cupcakes' but I left out the flowers and used jam and chocolate spread as fillings because we didn't have lemon curd. They turned out really well and I loved having different fillings and having a surprise when you bit into one, as the outside looks the same. My brothers Robert and Douglas loved them too… I had to ration them to make them last!

The cakes: you will need:
110g butter
110g caster sugar
110g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium eggs, beaten
strawberry jam, lemon curd or chocolate spread!

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tin.
2. Beat butter & sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
3. Sift in flour and baking powder, add vanilla extract and beaten eggs. Beat until smooth.
4. Spoon mix into paper cases and bake for 15-20 mins until cakes have risen and look golden brown and firm.
5. Cool for 10 mins then move onto a wire rack.
6. When completely cool, use a small, sharp knife to cut a small hole in the top of each cake, halfway into the centre.
7. Fill the holes with jam, lemon curd or chocolate spread.

Icing: you will need:
110g softened butter
220g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a little milk to loosen mix if required
food colouring optional

Method:
1. Beat the butter until fluffy, then beat in icing sugar a little at a time.
2. Add vanilla extract to soften mix and add a little milk to loosen if needed.
3. Add a tiny drop of food colouring of your choice if you like.
4. Pipe onto cupcakes with a piping bag, or spread carefully on with a knife.

Cathy says:
Oooh… these look even better than the ones I made when testing out this recipe! Well done, Victoria! Have YOU got a copy of CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS yet? It's perfect for the creative, arty or baking crazy kind of reader. Add it to your Christmas list while you still have the chance, and COMMENT BELOW to tell us whether you love baking too...

Friday, 11 December 2015

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST...

What was Christmas like back when your great gran was a child? We look back at what Christmas was like during the difficult years of World War Two…

By Christmas 1940, many thousands of ordinary people had been killed in the bombings of London, Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry and other major cities. Britain was in crisis, and many people had lost their homes in the air raids. Many more had lost family members, either on the home front or in the fighting itself. In 1940, there was an unofficial pause in bombing on both sides, from Christmas Eve until the day after Boxing Day. Bombings were still felt to be a danger, however, as nobody knew whether the temporary truce would last, and many families chose to spend Christmas in their air raid shelters for safety.

Not all families were able to be together at Christmas, of course. Many men of 'fighting age' were away at war, and children from many big cities had been evacuated to the countryside for safety. These children had to celebrate Christmas with their new host families, which must have been very strange and perhaps stressful, especially when they didn't always know if their parents were safe. Within Britain, travel was not encouraged over the Christmas period, both to save fuel and also to keep the roads and railways free for the movement of war goods, weapons and troops.

Christmas dinner would have been tricky too, with most food very strictly rationed and only tiny amounts of meat available per person. Even combined, a week's worth of meat ration for a family of four would not have been enough to buy even a small chicken, for example. Some families reared their own rabbits or chickens to get around this. Sugar and tea rations were increased just before Christmas, but fruit and nuts were in very short supply and Christmas cake and pudding recipes were often very inventive and peculiar as they tried to compensate for the missing ingredients.

Radio broadcasts would have been the main entertainment, and the King's Speech would have been a highlight of the day. Variety shows and a cookery programme were also popular, and board games, charades and parlour games would have been part of the day's fun. Church services took place as normal, although no church bells were rung throughout the war, as the ringing of church bells was to be a signal of invasion. A radio broadcast was made from the ruins of the recently bombed Coventry Cathedral. Giving presents was discouraged throughout the war as people were putting as much as they could into the war effort and gift goods were scarce. Instead, people gave second hand or homemade gifts - the 'make do and mend' ethos was second nature at this time.

Cathy says:
Wow… would YOU have coped with celebrating Christmas during World War Two? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

MOLLY: SCARED OF THE CHRISTMAS DISCO

It's problem time again on DREAMCATCHER and reader Molly has a worry for Coco Tanberry to solve… will you agree with her advice?

Molly says:
I'm in Year Eight and everyone in my year is allowed to go to discos. My parents have said I can go to the school's Christmas disco, but the more I think about it the more nervous I become. I don't really like crowded rooms with music blaring everywhere and I don't like getting all dressed up or wearing make up. Plus none of my friends have invited me to get ready with them. I really don't want to go but at the same time I do. What should I do?

Coco says:
I feel your pain. I am not a disco girl, and I think I might actually be allergic to dresses and make up. I DO like parties, though, because they're fun and all about celebrating with your friends! The bottom line is that if you don't give this a go you will never know whether you'd have liked it or not, and you may spend the next year feeling like you've missed out! Most situations are better when your friends are around, so don't wait for them to invite you to get involved - tell them how you're feeling and ask them to help you pick an outfit, create a make up look and have fun. Go shopping, talk about the disco and allow yourself to get excited about it… if you think it will be fun, the chances are it will be! You can always invite one or two of your shyer friends - or the confident ones - over to your house to get ready beforehand - don't wait to be asked! Who says you have to wear a flash dress or fancy make up? Follow your own style! On the night, throw yourself into the fun and let yourself enjoy it…  I bet it's awesome!

Cathy says:
Good advice, but does it go far enough? What would YOU say to Molly? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

BOOT CAMP: STEPPING OUT IN STYLE!

More readers talk about their favourite winter boots… watch out, snow, we're coming to getcha!


Maddy says:
I first got my Dr Marten boots a couple of months ago from Winfields Outdoor Centre shop. I bought them because I'd never had Docs before and they were soooo pretty and really, really, REALLY comfy - they are acid pink with little flowers on them and black laces. I chose them because a/ they were the only size sevens #bigfeetproblems and b/ they were the most gorgeous boots ever! I love wearing them because they make me even taller than I already am and they go with pretty much everything. I wore them to school for the last non-uniform day and lots of people complimented me. I love the fact these boots make me stand out, because I hate blending in! My favourite memory of wearing my boots is when I wore them to a Cathy Cassidy event - and she liked them so much she asked me to write about them! If you're thinking of getting Dr Martens boots, I'd say GO FOR IT!

Hazel says:
I got these amazing new wellies a couple of weeks ago and I love them so much! I've been needing wellies ever since I got back to the UK… my poor shoes, perfect for California, where we used to live, do NOT handle mud well! As for snow… well, let's just say we haven't seen that for a while, so it's probably a good thing to be prepared! The boots have a gorgeous flowery pattern and I got some super-soft boot socks to go with them - yeah! So they're not just for rainy days but will be warm and cosy when the really bad weather comes in, too. Which is happening a bit sooner than I thought, actually! A great fit and they look good too… I'm a happy girl!

Katy says:
My brown boots came from a vintage shop in Liverpool two years ago and date from the 1930s or 40s. They cost £20 but if I'd paid ten times that they'd still have been worth it. They have a little heel and the leather is very soft, which makes them the most comfortable boots I have ever had. They are unique, too… nobody else has anything quite the same, and I love the idea that they had a whole different life once, back in the 30s or 40s. I'd love to know who wore them then! I wear them in the summer with lacy tights and in winter I add thick socks for warmth. I admit I am a bit obsessed. I wear them to college, I wear them out, I wear them every chance I get. The sad truth is that they are starting to split along the edges of the soles and I know they won't last forever… but for seventy-year old boots, they haven't done too bad!

Cathy says:
Ooh… I have a fave pair of boots just now too… maybe I'll share a pic sometime! What would YOUR dream boots be? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!