Friday, 30 December 2016

NEW YEAR FESTIVE FUN QUIZ!!!

Do you know all there is to know about the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS? Test your knowledge in this fun and festive quiz! Post your answers below and you'll be in with a chance of winning a surprise New Year prize!!! (Names will be drawn from hat on January 3rd.)

1. Name two of the items Coco writes on her Christmas Wish-List in MARSHMALLOW SKYE.

2. What sweet treat do the sisters eat beside the fire while writing their Christmas Wish-Lists?

3. What does Fred the dog eat behind the sofa at the Christmas Eve party in MARSHMALLOW SKYE?

4. What is Skye's most unusual Christmas pressie in MARSHMALLOW SKYE?

5. Which Harry Potter film do the girls watch on New Year's Eve in MARSHMALLOW SKYE, and what snack do they eat?

6. What Christmas treat does Honey teach Emma to bake in the book SWEET HONEY?

7. What film does Honey imagine her sisters will be watching at Christmas in the book SWEET HONEY?

8. What is the name of the boy Honey meets on the beach on Christmas Day in the book SWEET HONEY?

9. Give me two of the New Year's resolutions Honey writes in her journal in the early hours of  New Year's Day in SWEET HONEY.

10.  Honey manages to land herself a part-time job on New Year's Day... where is the job, and what will she be doing?

11. Jodie has a short solo in which Christmas ballet production in the story HOPES & DREAMS?

12. Jodie and Summer hug in a blizzard outside which cafe in the story HOPES & DREAMS?

13. Lawrie Marshall and his mum and sister drive from Kendal to Tanglewood for a party to celebrate what occasion in the story SNOWFLAKES & WISHES?

14. What frightens Lawrie's dog Sheba and makes her run away at midnight in the story SNOWFLAKES & WISHES?

15. What animal do Coco and Lawrie rescue in the snowy woods at New Year in the story SNOWFLAKES & WISHES?

Illustrations taken from the French edition of CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS.

Cathy says:
Are you a CHOCOLATE BOX guru? Post your answers below and the person who gets the most correct answers - or first name out of hat if several have all the answers right - will win a fab prize. Will it be YOU? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

AN UNFORGETTABLE BOOK: WATERSHIP DOWN

Some books that make a huge impact on us; WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams was one of those books for me...

Cathy says:
I didn't have books as a child unless you count BUNTY and JACKIE annuals and the armfuls of books I borrowed from the libraries. But a proper book, all for me? That didn't happen until I was twelve, and the book was WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. It was a paperback book with a drawing of a big rabbit's face on the cover. That was a bit worrying. I liked rabbits, I just wasn't sure what my friends would make of it. Would they think it was childish? (Note: WATERSHIP DOWN is not in any way whatsoever a childish book - it's a dramatic, violent, heart-wrenching adventure. Be warned!) It was one of those books that glues itself to your fingers... I read all weekend and couldn't bear to leave the book behind on Monday morning. I slipped it into my school bag, hoping I'd get a chance to read it at some point.

Luck was on my side. Our English teacher was late coming to class that day, and while the class clumped around chatting by the door, I edged away and found a radiator to sit on, pulled the book from my bag and was very careful to put my hand over the picture of the rabbit on the front. Soon I was miles away, lost in the world of the story... and then the most embarrassing thing ever happened. The coolest boy in our year walked right up to me and asked me what I was reading. This boy had never even looked in my direction before, let alone spoke to me, but now, crimson-faced, I had no choice but to show him the cover of the book. I fully expected to be laughed at and ridiculed for reading a book with a rabbit's face on the front, but I couldn't have been more wrong. 'Watership Down is the best book I've ever read,' he told me, and I made a new friend that day and also learned an important lesson: reading is cool.

The book has stayed with me over the years, one of the few books I re-read from time to time. I also love the animated film of the story. Imagery and symbolism from the book are a part of my lexicon and my belief system; when my beloved dog Kelpie died in October, I sat in the park with her and the words 'stopped running' ran through my head over and over. This Christmas, the book's author Richard Adams 'stopped running' too, and that's what has prompted this blog post. He lived to be an old, old man and I'm glad about that. I never met him, but often talked about his book in my own events and after one such event a little girl came up to get one of my books signed and told me that Richard Adams was her grandfather. In true fangirl fashion, I mumbled on about how much I loved him, and could she please tell him who important he was to me. 'Um, OK,' the girl said. That was the closest I ever got to meeting him, but the books of Richard Adams made a huge impact on my life. Thank you for the magic, Mr Adams.

'My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today.'

If you've never read WATERSHIP DOWN, I recommend it. Which book has had a life-changing effect on YOU? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

ANIMAL CRACKERS… AT CHRISTMAS!

Readers share the madcap antics of their pets this Christmas... Miaouu!

Jenna says:
Our cat Sprout is obsessed by the Christmas tree every single year, which is why we only put it up on the last weekend before Christmas. Even then, he has gone crazy, knocking almost all the baubles off the lower branches and trying to climb up the tree. We have to make sure he is never in a room alone with the tree!

Louise says:
Our Christmas pet disaster involved our new puppy, Skiddle, who is about nine months old and chews EVERYTHING. She was quite good while we were putting up the tree, we were surprised - she just had a look at what we were doing and a nose around the box that holds the decorations, and then wandered off again. Mum was boasting that she was a such a good dog and no trouble at all. And then we came to the point where we had to put the fairy on top of the tree, and there was no fairy to be seen anywhere. You guessed it... Skiddle had nicked her and by the time we found her, the fairy was basically chewed into three bits. We had to get a new one. Oops.

Kelly says:
We came home from Christmas shopping one day to find the whole Christmas tree collapsed on the floor and the baubles all over the carpet. And the cat asleep on the sofa.

Mia says:
Last year, our dog Prince opened a present from under the tree that was a big bar of chocolate, and ate most of it. We had to take him to the vets because chocolate can be poisonous for dogs, so BEWARE... our pressies and tree go up on a sideboard these days!

Zara says:
We have two cats and they think the Christmas tree is their own personal climbing frame. They are banned from the room with the Christmas tree now!

Hannah says:
Our dog Jay is so curious about the Christmas tree he has toppled it over twice in the last few weeks. My mum has now put up an old child-proof fireguard around the tree, which doesn't look as good but does at least keep the tree upright and Jay out of mischief!

Ana says:
Our cat stole a big lump of Stilton cheese RIGHT OFF THE TABLE on Christmas Day 2015, while we were all sitting around talking. She ran straight out the cat flap with it. This year we've wrapped up a tiny slice of Stilton to give to her!

Fab pictures of the beautiful Muffin by my friend Lynn.

Cathy says:
Badly behaved pets at Christmas... where do I start? Ours have committed SO many crimes over the years! Are YOUR pets naughty at Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

OWEN: I WAS ONE OF SANTA'S ELVES....

DREAMCATCHER brings you a Boxing Day exclusive... behind the scenes with one of Santa's elves!

Owen says:
I'm nineteen and a college student studying Graphic Design, Photography and Creative Writing...maybe I should have taken Drama, though! I started working as an elf last year - someone tagged me in a post asking people to audition for the local activity farm. I got the job! A year on and I've also been the Mad Hatter, Frankenstein and Frankenstein's Bride (not at the same time, obviously) and now I'm back to being an elf again.

The job involve taking groups of ten kids (plus parents) on the Santa Tour. We start at Mrs Claus' Kitchen where the kids decorate gingerbread men, and then a team of two elves takes the group up to see Santa in one of the barns. Upon entering we find that Santa is asleep (again!) so we lead the kids in shouting to wake him up. Once he's awake he checks to see if children are written down in the good book! Finally, we go to see the reindeer and make some magical food for them which people take home to spread out on their garden on Christmas Eve!

The main skill required for being an elf is to be able to talk to people - we chat to everyone, every day! Being willing to make a fool of yourself helps, and staying happy and upbeat all the time is key. I love working with my fellow elves - we all get on really well and joke around a lot. Seeing the faces of the kids when they see Santa is fun too, the amazement and wonder if just magical. It's not just the kids who like seeing Santa... he's very friendly and easy to talk to. We have a lot of 'Santa Banter' as we've been calling it! The only tricky bit is staying happy all the time... we all love being elves but we get very, very tired by the end of the day!

Sadly, I don't get to help Santa with his Christmas deliveries - I imagine that part of Christmas is very stressful for him, but for some reason he's quite secretive and doesn't ask for help. I imagine it's because he doesn't want anyone else to worry. Now that Christmas is over, I plan to catch up on some much-needed sleep! I also have a lot of college course work to finish... wish me luck with that one!

Cathy says:
Love this... an exclusive interview with one of Santa's elves, what could be better? ;o) Would YOU make a good helper for Santa? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 23 December 2016

COCO'S CHRISTMAS!

A gorgeous Christmas fan-fiction from reader Katie... enjoy!

Coco can't find anyone. Where is Lawrie now? she wonders. Where are all her sisters, for goodness sake? It's Christmas, isn't it?Honey is Skyping her Aussie boy, Cherry is listening to Shay play music and now Coco wonders if Christmas is even about playing in the snow. Maybe it's about putting extra hours in at the dance studio, as Summer is doing, or finding the perfect vintage Christmas outfit, as Skye is.

What does Coco do at Christmas, though, when so many of the animals are hibernating? That's an easy one. She gives. They are all a little bit older, a little bit more grown up. They are tied to people overseas or over the road, not necessarily each other any more. Coco considers this as she rips chunks of snow out of the ground. Pfft, pfft, go the chunks, her sled acting as a shovel, creating a track through the snow. Maybe Christmas IS still about playing in the snow? Coco takes old chocolate packing boxes, rips them into perfect rectangles with little handles. When Summer arrives home, Coco musters up her yelling voice from days gone by.

'SLEEEEDDDDIIIIIIINNNNNGGGG!' comes the call, and the girls are faintly curious. Honey is the first to take a sled, and then all of the Tanberry-Costello teens are tumbling through the tundra, giggling, sliding, very much terrified but also exhilarated, their eyes glistening. Coco's track jas led the Tanberry-Costelloes right back to each other... just in time for Christmas!

Cathy says:
Awww... love this feelgood Christmas story! Thank you, Katie! Have YOU enjoyed a festive glimpse of Tanglewood? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

A CHRISTMAS STORY... FOR FREE!

My lovely author pal Ruth Fitzgerald has just finished writing her Emily Sparkes series... but she has a special festive freebie story to share with you!

Ruth says:
This Christmas I am giving away a short story about Emily Sparkes and her friends called EMILY SPARKES AND THE WONDERLAND WORRIES. I've written four Emily Sparkes books now and there won't be any more books in the series, but I thought it would be fun to put together the occasional short story, as emily has so many fans and they're always so disappointed when i say the series is over! You can read the new story here www.ruthfitzgerald.co.uk

I'm sort of weaning myself off Emily too, I think. When I first started writing the stories both my daughters were in primary school, but now they're both in high school and the eldest is leaving there next year! I started writing the stories because my youngest daughter was having a few friendship problems, I realised there weren't many books about ordinary girls, who perhaps don't have a super best friend, but are just muddling through as best they can and trying to stay friends with someone! Emily's friend's aren't that great, but they're usually quite funny, and sometimes the only way to make yourself feel better about problems is to see the funny side and laugh about them!

I'm writing a new series now. No spoilers, but I'll just tell you it's historical and mysterious... but still fun, of course!

Cathy says:
I love Ruth's writing and I will definitely be checking out her freebie festive story! I think YOU should do it too, and then COMMENT BELOW to tell me how you got on!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS TO ME...

We ask readers what the real meaning of Christmas is for them... is it about religion? About giving? Family? These are just some of the answers we got...

Bev says:
Christmas is the time of year to be thankful for all you have and for the amazing family you have. It's  about coming together as a family and reflecting on the year.

Mary says: 
For me the meaning is simple... Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our Lord and saviour.

Katie says:
Christmas is about having a party in the summer with family (yes, summer... I live in New Zealand!) It doesn't matter whether it's all the family or close family, because Christmas is also about reaching out. Christmas makes everyone happy... it's about giving.

Grace says:
Christmas is about the people you see as family - doesn't have to be your actual family. Often, I find that my friends are like family to me. It's about spending time with those you care about, related or not.

Ana says:
Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus - it's simple, but it's ALL. In Spain, we have nativity scenes at home, at school and at work. Feliz Navidad!

Chantelle says:
It's about celebrating the birth of Jesus and spending time with family, friends and those you love!

Violet says:
Mum's a lapsed Catholic, but it has never been religious for us. Christmas helps us get through the winter - it's cold, it's damp and we're all fed up. And we like to give gifts! There's nothing like choosing the perfect gift for someone and seeing how happy they are. The food is a plus too... panettone and stollen and Yorkshire puds and stuffing and sprouts (I'm a bit weird in my tastes, OK?) Without Christmas, we'd probably have to hibernate, and that wouldn't work out well!

Shirley says:
It's about looking after other people... our own and others. It's about hope.

Cathy says: 
Love this! So many fab descriptions of what Christmas means to you... and if your comment isn't included, fear not... I had enough comments to do a second blog too, which will go live NEXT Christmas! So... what does Christmas mean to YOU? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

CHRISTMAS GINGERBREAD!

Reader Jessica has a fab recipe for Christmas gingerbread to share... ridiculously easy, fun and very tasty too!

You will need:
350g self raising flour (recipe works with gluten free too!)
2 tablespoons ground ginger
200g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
85g golden syrup
1 large free range egg

To make the cookies:
1. Preheat oven to 160 C and grease several large baking trays with butter.

2. Sieve flour and ground ginger into large mixing bowl; add sugar and mix well with a large wooden spoon to combine dry ingredients thoroughly. Make a hollow in centre of mixture.

3. Melt butter and syrup carefully in a saucepan over a very low heat. Don't let the pan become too hot, or you will burn your fingers!

4. Carefully pour mixture into hollow in the flour mixture. Beat the egg in a cup and pour on top of mixture.

5. Combine the two substances with wooden spoon. As soon as the dough begins to come together, use your hands. If the mixture is too hot, leave it to cool a little.

6. As soon as the dough comes together in a ball and is no longer crumbly, use a rolling pin to roll it out on a lightly floured surface. It should be about the thickness of a pound coin.

7. Use cookie cutters to make shapes and place these on your baking tray. They will spread out as they cook so leave plenty of room around each cookie or you'll end up with one huge 'blob' biscuit.

8. If you want to, decorate the biscuits with raisins, chocolate chips or silver balls before they go in the oven. Make sure you press them down or they will just fall off!

9. Bake for 12-15 mins depending on how soft or crunchy you like them. Once the biscuits are golden brown, take them out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on tray before placing on a wire rack to cool completely. If you want, you can buy or make icing to decorate them, too!

Artwork by Cathy Cassidy.

Cathy says:
These sound fab - and easy enough for me to try, too! They'd make a great last-minute gift for someone, too! What is YOUR fave Christmas recipe? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

RUADHAN: A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS!

Reader Ruadhan tells us how she and her family celebrate Christmas... and trust me, it's very cool!

Ruadhan says:
My family is from all over the world. Although most of us, including myself, are Catholics, we have relatives in South Africa who celebrate Kwanzza, a week-long celebration held mostly in the African regions of the Americas between December 26th and January 1st. My family celebrate Kwanzza because some of them are African-American or have close relatives (brothers, sisters...) who are. Because they live in Africa, which is so far away, we have a huge family gathering every two years. This year is one of the big gatherings, and it will be held at my house! I absolutely love it as I get to see my cousins, aunts and uncles.

My favourite part of the celebration is lighting the Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles. The candles are black (for the people). red (for their struggle) and green (for the future). The Mishumaa Saba represent the seven principles. The black candle represents Umoja (unity) and is placed in the centre of the kinara. The red candles represent the principles of Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujmaa (co-operative economics) and Kuumba (creativity), and these go to the left of the black candle. The green candles, to the right, represent the principles of Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose) and Imani (faith). You light the black candle first and the others from left to right on the remaining days.

Kwanzza does not replace Christmas, but is just as much fun. We also have gift giving and a huge feast on the last day of the celebration.  My auntie always makes a dinner of Malawian food like Nsima (silent n!) and beans so we can remember those who cannot enjoy Kwanzza like we can. (The picture doesn't do it justice - it tastes SO much better than it looks!) I enjoy Christmas, but I think I like Kwanzza just a little bit more!

Cathy says:
Wow... this is SO fascinating! I don't know anything about Kwanzza, but it sounds amazing! Does YOUR family have a different way of celebrating Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Monday, 19 December 2016

MOVIE MONDAY: STAR WARS ROGUE ONE!

Blogger Jess tells us her verdict on the new film STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE... I think it's a Christmas must-see!

Jess says:
We've had our tickets booked for months to see this film - we're all massive fans of the Star Wars franchise. Nothing, however, prepared me for how good it actually was. I was unsure to begin with - it didn't have the traditional scrolling introduction *everybody gasps and swoons in horror*. I know! This was made up for in sheer awesomeness.

The story takes place between episodes III and IV and features a new character, Jyn (played by Felicity Jones) whose father is essential to the Rebel Alliance; if they can find him, they can destroy the Death Star. Jyn meets the rebels and they fight to find the plans to the Death Star. It is Soooo cool!

I really recommend this movie - even if you haven't seen the others, you can understand what is going on. There's a really funny new droid called K-2SO, a fighter pilot named Cassian and some familar faces thrown into the mix as well. I loved it and I'm sure you will too!

Cathy says:
I remember the very first Star Wars films way back in the mists of time... how cool that they're still going strong! Have YOU seen a fab film recently? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

WHAT'S YOUR CHRISTMAS STYLE?

Readers tell us which pieces of clothing help them to get into the Christmas spirit... Christmas jumper? Festive PJs? Take your pick!

Cait says:
I have had a few Christmas jumpers over the years but I don't like the ones that are too cheesy, they just look cheap and nasty. Which is OK if it's just a throwaway Christmas thing, but then again... a bit of a waste! I got this last year in the sales, I chose it myself and it was a lot better than the one my gran had got me, which was nice but something I knew I just wouldn't wear. This is warm and bright and has a bit of a vintage feel, and it keeps me warm which is the main thing! My favourite Christmas item to wear was always my reindeer onesie, but I think the novelty of that may have finally worn off! Or maybe I'll wear it on Christmas morning to keep nice and toasty while I'm opening my pressies... ;o)

Lola says:
I live in India, and my family don't celebrate Christmas. We do Diwali! But I LOVE Christmas and I do have a Christmas jumper, so I thought I would share! The hat says "Li'l Elf" but the letters inverted because it's a selfie!

Maura says:
We have a tradition of wearing fake antlers at Christmas... even the dog! This year they came out early and my brother even wore them to school one day...

Jo says:
We always  get a new coat before Christmas and wear it to church for midnight mass. This year mine is a little red duffel coat with wooden toggles. I love it so much and it could not be more Christmassy. I am not allowed to wear it properly until Christmas Eve so I am literally counting the days! Is it wrong to wish for snow?

Rose says:
I got my Christmas pyjamas in November. There was Christmas music playing in all the shops and a part of me thought that it was MUCH too early and another part just really wanted Christmas to come! I was humming along to 'All I Want For Christmas' when suddenly in a charity shop I saw these pyjamas. They were brand new with the labels still on, and in my size - perfect! They've really helped me get into the Christmas mood. I was calling them my 'lucky Christmas pyjamas' but I'm not sure they are - I spilled milk from my cereal on them at breakfast. This afternoon I was dancing around to 'Christmas Must Be Something More' by Taylor Swift whilst trying to eat a posh pickled cucumber out of the jar - I ended up getting vinegar all over myself! Never dance in your PJs while holding an open jar of pickled cucumbers...

Cathy says:
Aww, love these posts! What is YOUR fave thing to wear this Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A CC CHRISTMAS STORY...

Which CC book would be your favourite Christmas read? Readers root out the Christmassy scenes from their fave CC books and tell us what they think...


Carly says:
ANGEL CAKE is the book that sums up Christmas for me. All of the plot just leads up to a peak at Christmas... the school party, Dan's meltdown, Anya's family facing the facts that they may have to return to Poland. And then the kindness they meet - that is what Christmas is all about and it is why this book is my very favourite festive read. I read it when I was eleven and I am seventeen now, but I will never grow out of the magic!

Maeve says:
I think that for me, MARSHMALLOW SKYE is the most Christmassy CC book because it has a few chapters telling us all about Christmas at Tanglewood, and you totally feel like you are there in that magic world with the sisters. I love the details... how the sisters throw their Christmas lists into the fire, the family party, how they hang up stockings, the food they make, how Coco gets a baby lamb... and the awkward call to their dad in Australia, too. It's my favourite book for all kinds of reasons, but I read it over and over at Christmas, just to get a little taste of that Tanglewood Christmas again.

Fatima says:
I love the book SWEET HONEY because Honey has her Christmas on the beach in Australia and it is so different from all the ideas we have of Christmas in the UK, with snow, dark nights, pine trees and people in silly Christmas jumpers. My family don't celebrate Christmas so it is quite sweet and exciting to me anyway, and I loved that Honey's story made it so different to all my preconceptions about what Christmas should be. Plus Honey meets the cool boy on the beach and it's such a shocking and chilling moment when she realises he is not the person who has been texting her.

Sarra says:
It's not actually a Christmas story but the bit in LUCKY STAR where Mouse writes in the snow outside Cat's house... that's the most romantic and beautiful bit in any CC book to me!


Paula says:
I love the wintry bits in SUNDAE GIRL, especially the bit where Carter and Jude are trying to catch snowflakes and the class go carolling in town in the snow. And you think it's going to be all romantic and suddenly it isn't! (No spoilers, promise!) And then when Carter turns up to the New Years party, that is just awesome. We all need a guy like Carter in our lives!

Jenny says:
CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS has saved my life for the second year running - the projects and ideas for December are amazing and so cool. This book is great if you a/ love the Chocolate Box Girls as there is lots of extra content on the sisters and b/perfect if you are arty, crafty and creative. If I am ever bored, this book comes off the shelf and the boredom is sorted!

Top photo by book blogger Kym, with thanks; bottom two pics by CC.

Cathy says:
I love this blog - you can tell I love Christmas from the way it has sneaked its way into so many of my books! Which is YOUR fave CC story for Christmas? Which book would make it onto your Christmas list? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 16 December 2016

POST EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS...

Do YOU still send out handwritten Christmas cards, or do you let a status on social media do the job for you? We asked readers to explain what Christmas cards mean to them...

Lola says:
I am making a Christmas card for a penpal in another country... a handmade card is special, right? I have never met my penpal, but I guess that just makes it more fun!

Jessica says:
I always send cards to my friends and I always get one back - by the end of term, my window ledge is full of them! Our family still sends them too, often with little letters to people we haven't seen in a while. Sometimes I help make them, too!

Jade says:
I love Christmas cards! I rarely get post, so getting a Christmas card through the door it's special to open it and hang it on tinsel strings around the house. OK, the easy option is to text or phone, but sending a real card has so much more meaning behind it!

Lucie says:
My mum isn't sending cards this year, except to close family - she is donating to a cancer charity instead, as we lost my gran to cancer this year. I understand why Mum is doing things this way, but I still plan to write cards for my friends at school... it wouldn't be Christmas without that!

Kym says:
I love Christmas cards but I'm quite fussy about who I send them to! I only send to the people who are the most important to me. After Christmas I cut up the old cards to make gift tags for the following year!

Katie says: 
I haven't written any this year - yet! I like cards and love writing and something about writing those personalised little Christmas messages is just so sweet!

Jodie says:
In theory I would like to, but when you think of it, it's kind of a waste of trees and paper! I end up forgetting to put up half the cards I get from school, they stay buried in my rucksack until the New Year, which is a bit pointless. I plan to just put a nice picture and message on my Instagram and Snapchat instead.

Sophie says:
I make homemade cards for a very few special people in my life, including faraway friends. I like doing it - those cards are made with love! As for the rest, I'm not worried... I wouldn't be offended if I didn't get one as people do Christmas differently these days.

Kelsie says:
I am so disorganised I end up carrying a box of cards around in my bag for most of December - someone you've forgotten will probably give you a card, so it's best to be prepared! I love the whole tradition of it, and I think it's important to go that extra mile and show your friends that you care. I'm just a Christmas addict!

Nicky says:
I spent a fortune last year sending cards and letters through the post. People say it's a waste of money but telling the people you care about how much they mean to you is never wasted, is it? It's what Christmas is all about!

Cathy says:
I love sending Christmas cards and pressies... and picking out the right card or pressie is half the fun! Do YOU still send cards? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Thursday, 15 December 2016

ALL PRESENT & CORRECT!

Reader Agnia has some great advice on getting the prezzies as perfect as they can be this Christmas!

Agnia says:
Every year we stress about getting the right prezzie for the right person… and end up leaving it all too late, so that we end up making last minute purchases that aren't quite right. The key is to be prepared… be organised… and plan those presents in advance!

- Make a list of people you are giving presents to and set a budget for each.
- Think about what kind of thing each person likes and where you might find it.
- If you're asking the person what they like, be subtle… or ask a friend for ideas!
- Check out discount stores - they have some bargains at this time of year!
- Don't buy something you're not sure about!

If money is tight and ideas are thin on the ground, make a name map for friends/ family. It's easy and effective! Get a square of cardboard and stick an offcut from an old map onto this. Carefully draw out the initial of the person you are making it for - if lettering isn't your strong point, look at cool fonts and lettering, choose a style and blow up the letter you like to size using a photocopier. You can then cut out and stick onto a pice of card, cutting neatly around the letter shape. Cover the letter shape with another map offcut, in a contrasting colour, or draw your own design in contrasting colours and stick this onto the background. You can then personalise the design with little extras… hearts, butterflies, flowers, whatever fits.

At some point in the Christmas season, you will forget a prezzie for someone who has got YOU one. Oops! Here are some last-minute rescues… worth having a few of these in reserve to avoid emergencies!

- A cool drawing, nicely framed.
- A book you've never read which the person may like.
- Home baked biscuits or cakes.
- Home made loombands or a knitted scarf.
- An online giftcard.
- A homemade certificate which promises the person a day out or a year's washing up for example!
- Chocolate!!!

Used all your cash on prezzies and need a last minute card? Make a pop-up card! Glue two long, think strips of paper into an 'L' shape and fold one length over the other, back and forth, concertina style, to make a kind of spring. Glue the ends together and stick the spring onto a plain or patterned piece of folded card. Draw a small snowman or santa to stick onto your spring, and write a message inside your card. Decorate the borders with patterns or glitter glue. Slip the card into an envelope… when opened, the motif will 'jump' out at you!

Cathy says:
Fab blog, Agnia! Remember, there are some great last-minute prezzie ideas in my book CHOCOLATE BOX SECRETS, too! Check it out! Have YOU got any cool ideas for getting organised for Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

CARRIE: MESSED UP CHRISTMAS

It's problem page time on DREAMCATCHER again and reader Carrie has a worry for HONEY TANBERRY to untangle...

Carrie says:
Christmas is ruined before it has even begun this year. Mum and Dad broke up in February and they are in the middle of a divorce. Dad is living twenty miles away with his new girlfriend and her four year old son, and me and my little sister are with Mum. It's bad enough that this has happened, because no matter how they try to explain that they don't love each any more and that splitting up is the best thing, it doesn't feel like the 'best thing' to us. We see Dad every other weekend which is awkward, especially if we have to go there. And now we have to spend Christmas Day with them. It won't be the same, and I am so angry about it, and even though Mum is being positive and upbeat I know she is upset too. I hate my life.

Honey says:
I won't lie, divorce stinks for the kids, to begin with anyway. It's messy and painful and you never get to see the absent parent enough, and no, it's never quite the same anyway. And Christmas? Hopeless. I've had Christmas phone calls from Dad when he lived in London, and Skype calls once he went to Australia, and they were awful, but not as awful as the year I spent Christmas with him and his new partner on the beach in Sydney. So no, it's not easy, but you have to do your very best to make it work all the same. Set aside your expectations of what Christmas 'should' be like and accept that this year it will be different. Ask how you can help, get involved, and go along with traditions and routines that may be different to the ones you are used to. Smile and act your way through it... try your hardest. Your Dad's girlfriend's son hasn't asked for this situation either, so be extra kind to him if you can. OK, your mum may be sad about spending Christmas Day away from you, but assign a day to celebrate together and make sure it's brilliant. Don't make things worse by hating your life... that's a mistake I made for way too long. Drop the attitude and look for the good stuff - it will be there, I promise. Life after divorce is a challenge, but you can make it work more smoothly by expecting the best rather than the worst, and trying hard to find the magic no matter what. Have a good one!

Cathy says:
I love Honey's advice - brutally honest, but very upbeat too! Do YOU agree with Honey's advice or would you add more suggestions? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

ZAILA: YES NEVER SOUNDED SO GOOD...

Reader Zaila always dreamed of a career in dance, but a health issue meant this would never be likely for her. Until a major operation changed everything...


Zaila says:
I've always wanted to be a professional ballroom and Latin dancer. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to dance. Unfortunately, I was born with a hip condition that made this very difficult, and so after mere months I was left with no choice but to quit. There is nothing more that I want in this world than to dance... and I'm finally going to be able to.

In August, I had the 'shelf' operation. This is where they take a piece of bone from your pelvis and attach it to you hip socket to deepen it. The 'shelf' operation is a major op, has a long recovery time and is very robust which makes it painful. It is also supposed to relieve a lot of the symptoms of bilateral hip dislocation.

I am only now beginning to walk again, but one of the first things I did was to go and see my consultant. Amongst other things, I brought up the subject of dancing again. Not only did he say it would be OK, he encouraged it - yes never sounded so good! After years of pushing my dream to the back of my head, it has become a possibility once more. Of course, I must recover completely before I can start my lessons, but this is an incentive to push harder through all the pain and aches. I cannot let anything stop me now. It is not an easy world, but all of us have a dream. If you've been looking for a sign to go and follow your dream, this is it... because seriously, if I can dance... well, you can do anything!

Cathy says:
I love the determination and positivity in this blog... and I am so happy for Zaila that her dreams of dancing can finally be reality! Have YOU ever had a dream that seemed impossible? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Monday, 12 December 2016

MOVIE MONDAY: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB

Blogger Kym has reviewed the film A Street Cat Named Bob for us... read on to find out if it should be on your festive viewing list!

Kym says:
A STREET CAT NAMED BOB is a film (rated 12A) based on the book of the same name by James Bowen. The book is based on his own life and his journey to overcome homelessness and addiction. At the start of the story, James (played by Luke Treadaway) is sleeping rough and struggling with addiction while on a recovery program to help him get clean. His support worker Val (played by Joanne Froggatt) pulls some strings and gets him higher up on the waiting list for a place to live, as she can see the potential in him and knows that he has the determination and ability to beat his addictions and make something more of his life.

Things are never straightforward, but James finds a stray cat called Bob (played in the film by Bob! Yes, the REAL Bob!) and the two form a very tight connection. I won't give any plot details or spoilers here, but it's fair to say that without Bob by his side, James would not have been able to find his happy ending.

It's a true story, too, so I think we're allowed to enjoy the ups and downs of emotion and really get behind the whole thing! I read the book first a few years ago, so I was really looking forward to seeing the film - it was even better than my expectations! A STREET CAT NAMED BOB is one of my top films for 2016 - loved it.

Cathy says:
I am determined to see this movie before Christmas... I've watched the trailer and I was hooked! I haven't read the book and I didn't know the story before, but Kym's review just confirms my suspicions that is one is a must-see! Have YOU seen a film you loved lately? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

ZIGGY THE RESCUE DOG...

Last week I blogged about the loss of my soul-sister dog Kelpie back in October; this week I want to tell you about Ziggy, the rescue dog who is helping to heal the hurt...

When your heart hurts because you've lost your best animal friend, nothing can really fix that; a new pet can't ever replace them. But when you've had two big human bereavements too, that hurt can feel overwhelming, and you find yourself looking around for a rescue dog because you need something to look after, and because your existing dog is lonely and pining.

Why a rescue? For us, it has always been a no-brainer. The dog pounds are filled with unwanted, abandoned pets and the animal rescues are crying out for people to adopt. Why pay hundreds of pounds to a breeder to bring more pups into the world when so many dogs are being put down each day for want of a good home? We started to look on rescue sites for lurchers, and that's how we found Ziggy, a one year old lurcher who'd been neglected, half starved, injured and finally abandoned. After emailing and talking to the rescue to make sure Ziggy was a good fit for our family, we drove across the country to meet her and bring her home.

Ziggy arrived at our house shivering and scared, upset after the long car journey. She met Pepper, our cat, who quickly made it clear he was boss, and Finn, our other dog, who instantly fell in love. Ziggy settled in quickly. Her fearful, cowering manner vanished and a joyful, cheeky, fun-loving nature began to emerge. Within the hour she had bonded with Finn, sitting down with her paws on top of his and snuggling up to him. It took us a day or so to come up with the right name. In her past life, Ziggy had been injured and a broken pelvis left to mend on its own, which has left her with a slightly zig-zaggy gait and an occasional limp... so Ziggy Stardust it was. (And no she doesn't play guitar... yet! She's learning...)

Now she has been with us a few weeks, we are getting to know Ziggy better. She likes to chew... my husband's glasses, my shoe, a packet of Christmas cards. She likes to put her paw on your hand, or even on your head, to say hello. She doesn't mind being bathed (she still has a skin condition which is clearing up really well) and her favourite cushion is the pink fluffy one. Last night after zoomies with Finn in the garden she was drinking from our bathtub pond to cool down, and I heard a splashing sound and went out to see her standing IN the pond, wet through but very happy. She's very clever, and we're told she is part saluki crossed with something fluffy - as her fur grows in she gets more beautiful by the day.

Because of her past injuries, Ziggy may get arthritis and need painkillers in a couple of years; she may not live to see old age as Kelpie did. But already she knows that she doesn't need to be afraid anymore. She knows that she is safe, that she is loved, that she is a part of our family forever. And we know that we didn't rescue her... she actually rescued us.

Have YOU ever adopted a rescue pet? Contact me through the EMAIL CATHY link and tell me all about it for a possible future DREAMCATCHER post... or COMMENT BELOW to have your say! 

Friday, 9 December 2016

A BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS: THE CHRISTMASAURUS!

Looking for a book to get you in the mood for Christmas? We've got just the thing... sit back and see what reviewer Jenny made of Tom Fletcher's THE CHRISTMASAURUS!

Jenny says:
Yesterday I sat and HAD to read Tom Fletcher's amazing new book THE CHRISTMASAURUS.
And I HAD to read it in one sitting. It took me two hours, fifteen minutes and twenty two seconds - ALMOST identical to the time it took the Christmas elves to make their startling discovery in the story. The book made me make a few weird noises like 'nawwhhahaa' and 'eeoowhhh,' but mostly I laughed out loud at unexpected funny words, sighed sadly at unexpected sorrows and gasped super-surprisingly at unexpected twists and turns in the plot.

Before, during and upon finishing THE CHRISTMASAURUS, the same feelings washed over me that I get on Christmas Eve: magic... and excitement... and wonder!

'They believe beyond any shadow of a doubt, and belief is the most powerful magic there is. Belief is the only magic that makes the utterly impossible completely possible, and the undoubtedly undoable undeniably doable! And of all of the different kinds of belief there are, the belief of a child is by far the most unbelievably unstoppable.'
(The Christmasaurus, Tom Fletcher)

So, this must mean something great - I'm a GROWN-UP who DEFINITELY believes in magic and excitement and wonder! And if I can do it, you definitely can. Believing is seeing - and that's got to be true, because it's in a book AND a blog!

PS: Dear Santa,
All I'd like for Christmas is to have magic, glittery smoke puffing from the chimney in my house. Oh, and a dinosaur. Thanks!
Jenny x

Cathy says:
Love this review - it makes me want to rush out and buy the book, which is brand new, beautiful, and just released. THE CHRISTMASAURUS is aimed at age 7+ so would be an ideal pressie for a little brother or sister, or one to snuggle up with yourself for some good old fashioned Christmas fun! What is YOUR fave book with a Christmas theme? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

WHAT'S YOUR PERFECT OUTFIT?

Reader Lauren has a fun fashion quiz to help you work out your signature style... read on and see what your perfect outfit might be!

Lauren says:
Going out with friends? School disco? Important party maybe? Stuck for what to wear? No worries, this quiz will help you find the perfect look!

1. Do you like big parties or do you prefer quiet get togethers with friends?
a/ I'm more of a home bird - I like lounging on the sofa in my fave hoodie!
b/ I LOVE parties, I'll be rockin' it out ALL night!
c/ Hanging out with friends makes me happy - especially shopping trips!

2. The alarm clock has just gone off - and your friend is at the door! What do you do?
a/ Tell her to come back another day - preferably when you're awake!
b/ Ask her to wait... you'll shower and get ready, but it could take some time!
c/ You jump up and pull on some clothes... sorted!

3. What's your ideal summer's day?
a/ Snoozing with your BFF under a shady tree...
b/ Ice cream and a pool party... SWEET!
c/ Surfing, tennis, frisbees, reading... you name it!

4. It's Christmas Eve and you're going out with friends... where do you go?
a/ A girl's night - movie, popcorn, YAWN!
b/ The biggest party of the year - WHOOP!!!
c/ Late Christmas shopping for extra cool stuff. Oooh!

5. It's your birthday - what do you ask for?
a/ A fluffy blanket and a DVD box set... NICE!
b/ Sportswear, party clothes and a surf board (well, why not?)
c/ A vintage dress, some bangles and a book by your fave author.

Count up your results...

MOSTLY As...
You love sleepovers and the cinema... you've got your comfort zone down to a fine art, but it might be a good plan for you to get out and mingle a bit more! Your perfect outfit is all about cosy comfort... if you're going to change out of your onesie, it will probably be into a cosy sweater, boyfriend jeans, suede boots and a cute fluffy coat!

MOSTLY Bs...
You are an active and excitable girl... the life and soul of the party! Your perfect outfit just has to stand out from the crowd - choose dance-wear for casual, or a striking, statement dress in a jewel bright colour for going out, teamed with kitten heels and a flower in the hair!

MOSTLY Cs...
You like to be different, and you love authentic, unusual things with a cute, quirky vibe. You love to shop and know all the cool boutiques and vintage stores. Pick a cool vintage dress teamed with bright woollen tights, flats, a cute duffel jacket and a little hat!

Cathy says:
I loved this fun quiz... thank you, Lauren! Were YOUR results accurate? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

DINA: NO FRIENDS TO GIVE PRESSIES TO THIS CHRISTMAS...

It's problem page time again on DREAMCATCHER, and reader Dina has a problem for Skye Tanberry to solve...

Dina says:
I'm in Year Eight and somehow over the last year I have drifted away from my friends. One group were leaving me out and making fun of me, so I joined a different group but that didn't work out either and for the last few months I have been pretty much a loner at school. I have people I can sit with in lessons, but nobody to give cards or pressies to this Christmas and that makes me feel very sad. I don't want to go on this way.

Skye says:
Christmas is a perfect time to change things. Why not decide who you'd like to give cards to? The girl you sit with in maths, the person you chat to on the school bus, the kid you sometimes sit with at lunch? Write the cards and give them out, even if you get nothing in return; if you want to give a pressie too, make it something small, like a homemade friendship bracelet or a mini chocolate bar. You're showing you want to be friendly, and you can build on that in the New Year. Make resolutions to join school clubs and after hours groups - get involved and you'll find new skills, interests and friendships do develop. If you're still struggling, talk to your guidance tutor and get some adult support to make those connections... in time, you can find true friendships again.

Cathy says:
Wise words from Skye, but does she go far enough? What advice would YOU give to Dina? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

ALEXANDRA: A SHORT CUT FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

Reader Alexandra decided to take the plunge and cut her hair - so that a child going through chemotherapy could benefit...

Alexandra says:
I found out about the Little Princess Trust after a girl in my school donated her hair to the charity and talked to us in assembly about how the charity make wigs for children who have lost their hair through chemotherapy for cancer. She explained what a big effect losing your hair can have on a child and how self-confidence can plummet as a result. I have had long hair ever since I can remember and have only ever trimmed it, never had a proper cut. I imagined how I would feel if I lost my hair to cancer and that's when O first considered cutting my hair to donate it.I told my mum and sister, and although Mum was initially upset because she loves my hair she agreed that it was a good thing to do in order to make another girl happy. My older sister Francesca also decided to donate her her - she is on the right in the picture above.

On the last day of school, I went up to London for an appointment at the hair salon Vidal Sassoon. I had checked beforehand on the Little Princess Trust website to see how much hair they needed and any specific requirements. Some charities will not accept hair that has been previously dyed, for example, or hair that has had a lot of products used on it over the years. When I arrived, they measured thirteen inches of hair and tied it with an elastic band, then cut above the band and put the hair into a small, plastic zip-lock bag. They then styled the rest of my hair and gave me a side fringe. While this was happening, I admit I got a little upset - even from a very young age, I have never liked having my hair cut. Afterwards, though, I was really happy, not just because I loved my new hair but because I knew someone else would be happy because of it all.

The man in the picture to the right was my hairdresser - he was Romanian and was spending a while in the UK to train as a hairdresser. He spoke little English, but told me it made him happy to see children willing to do this in order to help others. If you have ever considered cutting your hair to donate it to a charity such as the Little Princess Trust or Wigs For Kids, I can tell you it is a very positive thing to do. Each wig requires about fourteen ponytails to make, and so they do desperately need more people (like YOU!) to donate! Not only will it make a child somewhere very happy, it will make you happy too to know you have done something wonderful for somebody else. Be sure to check the charity websites first to make certain your hair fits their requirements, though! Overall, this is something I was very proud to do and to be honest I also love my new haircut much more than I thought I would!

Cathy says:
Wow... what an amazing thing to do! I love long hair, but Alexandra and Francesca have done a wonderful thing here - just awesome. Would YOU ever cut your hair for a charity? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!