Mama OWL Blog

How to make a Christmas Hot Chocolate Station

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

As Autumn creeps in you might be inclined to enjoy cosy evenings in, candles burning with festive scents while you're snuggled under blankets on the sofa. Today is particularly wet and miserable and it has me thinking about big steaming mugs full of rich hot chocolate & marshmallows, and how I plan to be buried underneath my fluffy teddy fleece throw in front of a family movie later (I'm very eager to see the new Mulan film).

I have always loved the idea of creating a hot chocolate station in the kitchen for the kids to help themselves to as we approach Christmas and after trawling the internet and Pinterest I have found some great inspiration for building ours. I realise it is only mid October, however this year after so many things have been cancelled I really want to give everyone something special to look forward to, so having a little stand with Santa and a Snowman on it for a few extra weeks is just something little to remind them that it's not going to be this way forever, and nice things are coming their way.

I started my search in Poundland, because, well it's Poundland why wouldn't you? I found a little Snowman Tealight Holder which I thought was cute, and I already have some flameless flickering LED tealights, for safety. In my sundae dish (that I already had - I recommend having a rummage through your cupboards to see what you can use before you buy anything else) I have some tiny long life Carnation mini milk pots, they come in packs of 20 for £1 each and are great for making tasty creamy drinks.

On the top tier I have a Santa Mug from Poundland, which I have filled with Festive Stirring Spoons, or I may use them to make our own chocolate spoons closer to Christmas - these were £4.99 for 8 spoons from a seller on Amazon and would make nice gifts if you wanted to make your own hot chocolate stirrers, just top them off with marshmallows & wrap in a cello bag with a bow or some string. Next to Santa in a repurposed candle jar I have Candy Canes for stirring with, to give a little peppermint twist - they come in packs of 12 for £1.

The small clear clip-top lidded jars were £1 each from B&M and are the perfect size for marshmallows and small chocolate treats for stirring in to drinks (or to eat while you're waiting for the kettle to boil...), we've also filled one with some chocolate wafer straws - £1.99 for a box from B&M. I have a jar of regular small pink and white marshmallows that you can pick up in just about any supermarket, and one for vegan marshmallows from Freedom for my eldest daughter, and also my niece and great-niece when they come to visit - these are available in ASDA and Holland & Barrett (and probably elsewhere too). We have some Cadbury's hot chocolate powder as it is our favourite, alongside the Sweet Freedom Liquid Choc Shot which is vegan, and I also plan to add some fun flavoured sachets from Options and the like.

I bought some biodegradable paper straws in fun festive gold, white and red, and the tube was £5.49 for 100 straws. The stand is a two tier slate cake stand, which can also double up as a cheeseboard for when we are allowed to entertain at home again. It was £15.99 from Amazon and is the ideal size for all of our bits & pieces. The only thing we can't add is the squirty cream which no hot chocolate is complete without - that's in the fridge chilling and ready to go! Roll on the festive season - I'm so ready!

Lockdown Diaries - April

Monday, 5 October 2020

I was so happy when the Easter holidays rolled around. We decided to follow the school calendar and timetable to keep things as stable as possible but things were still difficult. Our eldest's planned trip home from university in Derby was cancelled because we could not travel, and she was also still working because she was a keyworker - we hadn't seen her since February and then had the added worry of her being exposed to the virus at work, all while she was studying in the final weeks of her degree. We did not get to spend Easter with her, and she missed her sister's 10th birthday which was really hard for her. The rest of us spent Easter weekend together with a traditional egg hunt around the garden and a roast dinner, to be honest after March the days all just sort of rolled into one so it was important to me to make it as special for them as I could.

E was kept busy with gymnastics challenges set by her club to carry out at home to help pass the time. The kids spent a lot of their time out in the garden, particularly H & E as they worked together to keep up their fitness routines for rugby and gymnastics - E enjoyed putting H through his paces with some strength and conditioning, and H had E to help practice passing (or he was just throwing the ball at her I'm not 100% sure which - maybe both). We reached peak lockdown when we started baking banana bread, and E and H had both made some really tasty cakes, muffins and brownies in the weeks we had been at home.

H gave us a real worry one night with a grumbling appendix for a second time just after the Easter break ended. We narrowly avoided a hospital trip but we did need a visit from the ambulance service to give him the once over after calling 111. It was a rough night for him, he was very poorly but by morning he was feeling better. He spent the next day on the sofa with his laptop and watching BBC Bitesize because I am mean like that and made him do his schoolwork since he was working from home anyway. He was waited on hand and foot all day so don't feel too sorry for him.

I was worried about E's birthday. A lockdown birthday was less than ideal and when you're 10 all you want is to have your friends around for sleepovers, and to have fun and be silly and laugh. Sadly, she was stuck with just us for the day, but wonderful friends and some family members pulled out all of the stops to make sure she didn't feel forgotten. Before lockdown started I had anticipated what was coming, and bought a helium tank and some balloons which I hid away ready for the big day. She was not waking up to an empty living room and no celebration.

I was sent lots of lovely video messages which I compiled in to one and played it to her in the morning when she woke up. People mailed gifts, and dropped them off on our doorstep. Twitter was doing what it does best and everyone was joining in with an Amazon gifting spree - I added a wishlist for her and explained it was her birthday, and she was gifted books and nail polish and stationery by complete strangers who wanted to help make sure a little girl had a special day during some horrible times. She received some fantastic cards and pictures drawn for her by the children of friends including a beautiful card with a hand drawn gymnast on it, by the very talented teenage daughter of a friend. We had a special birthday breakfast of pancakes and any toppings she wanted, and in the evening we made our own cinema in the living room with lots of snacks and sweets. It wasn't the birthday celebration we wanted, but we had a great time at home together & it was certainly one to remember.

By the end of April I was feeling pretty mentally fatigued. The break from home learning over Easter did us all good but for me, I just wanted to know what was happening, what was coming next - as did we all. I think it's important to tell you that I have found this hard. One evening I walked out of my house and just wandered around my town, having a quiet sob into my cardigan cuffs before I made my way home in the dark. I missed my friends, and my job, and my family. I still do, because none of this is normal nor is it anything that any of us have experienced before and it is perfectly okay to admit that it is affecting us and we are finding things a challenge, so if anyone wants a chat my comments are always open (and anonymous if you wish). Please don't ever feel alone.

Lockdown Diaries - March

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

March feels like it was years ago now, doesn't it? In early March I was wandering around New York City with my husband celebrating our wedding anniversary. One day we walked all the way from the Empire State building to Brooklyn, stopping off in the West Village for coffee before grabbing lunch from a deli and eating it in the sunshine in the park underneath Manhattan Bridge. We spent an evening on a river cruise on the Hudson looking at the city all lit up. We walked the High Line, and wandered around Chelsea Market with our Starbucks Reserve coffee, watched a Knicks game in a packed Madison Square Garden. Coronavirus was just starting to creep in to our daily lives then. There were hand sanitising stations starting to pop up in a lot of places in NYC, but no masks and no social distancing. I had taken sanitising wipes on the plane and wiped everything down when we boarded both there and back. The night we flew home our flight was delayed, and as we were boarding Donald Trump was giving a press conference, we stood in the departure lounge at our gate and watched - for a few moments I was worried we were going to be grounded on the wrong side of the Atlantic - the flight after ours was cancelled. We got on, and then waited while others got off and had their luggage taken off lest they be stranded in Europe with all of the uncertainty surrounding the rapidly escalating global situation.

When we got home I went back to work. Things were starting to be cancelled, it was very apparent that our lives were about to change in ways we could not have seen coming. Watching the news every day, watching the case numbers and death toll climb steadily. Schools were closing, businesses and offices soon after. We picked up the kids from school that day and then... That was that. Stay at home. Do not see your family and friends. Don't go out. Also don't bother to try and find toilet roll, pasta, flour or rice because of the selfish prats who rushed out to unnecessarily panic buy had taken the lot - sod the rest of us. Luckily for me I keep well stocked cupboards and regularly planned our meals so we had what we needed, but there were many who were left with nothing thanks to the painfully stupid and thoughtless actions of a few.

Work was quickly wound down and then closed, I had a sudden avalanche of of admin to deal with and suppliers and contractors to cancel. Navigating home learning with three kids at different stages - primary, secondary, and college - was no mean feat. I had no idea what I was doing, I was so, SO grateful to Twinkl for opening up their resources for everyone to use for free - it meant I had access to everything I needed to keep E's learning going while we waited for her school to set up their online learning platforms. We also managed to put our own twist on her learning by doing things like drawing, baking cakes, writing book reviews, and planting seeds in our garden. I have to say, the three of them were phenomenal. Everything was ripped away from them at a moment's notice and they just accepted it and got on with it. No seeing their friends, no sports, no school or college - their entire world was turned upside down and they took it all in their stride with a strength and understanding that still makes me tear up six months on, I am just so bloody proud of all of them. We had a few rocky days with L as expected, and dealt with more meltdowns in two weeks than we had in two years, but we made it through together.

Those weeks leading up to the Easter holidays were tough going. The wall to wall sunshine we were lucky enough to have at the time made things easier because we could make the most of the garden and going out for dog walks, and it certainly lifted our moods (as much as it could, anyway). We stuck to the kids usual daily school timetables and based our learning around those to get us through the days - keeping to their routines as much as possible, and looked forward to April when we could take two weeks to have a breather, and see what was going to happen next.

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