Monday, 21 October 2013

How to Choose the Best Christmas Wreaths and Christmas Garlands

One of my very favourite times of year is when the days get shorter and we start getting the Christmas decorations out.  Decorating our homes for the Holidays is a time for all the family to come together and help to create something beautiful for the festive season.  It is a time for special memories when those hand-made decorations, tinsel and baubles that have been treasured down the years are taken out and hung around the house.  But some of the decorations that really bring the holiday spirit into the house are the Christmas wreaths and garlands. If you choose fresh wreaths and garlands you also get to enjoy that wonderful fresh scent of fir and evergreens in your home over the holidays.  If you prefer artificial wreaths that you can keep and use again for Christmases in the future, you can find some very attractive ones and you can even get artificial ones that are pre-lit and decorated for you. One of the best places to find a wide selection is online, so if you are thinking about your Christmas decorations for this year why not check out the great range available on Amazon today.

History of Christmas Wreaths and Garlands

People have been bringing evergreens into their homes in the darkest part of the year since ancient times. In ancient Persia, Greece and Rome wreaths were given for achieving victory in war or in the games, and were made from laurels, evergreens, flowers and branches.  Before Christianity arrived in Europe, in December every year the Germanic tribes used to bring wreaths and garlands of evergreens into their homes and light fires to remind themselves that the spring and the sunshine would eventually return. These traditions were retained when Christianity spread through Europe, and the wreaths and garlands were hung during Advent to symbolise that the birth of Jesus was imminent and that light would be returned to the world. Traditionally in Germany the wreaths would be made of evergreens with four candles set in it, with a fifth candle placed in the middle.  A candle would be lit each week during Advent, with the fifth middle candle being lit on Christmas Eve. In more modern times, wreaths began to be hung on front doors as a festive welcome, and garlands of fir and evergreens are hung from mantelpieces and around banisters.

Fresh Christmas Wreaths

If you really love to have your home scented with the fresh, outdoor smell of evergreens and firs during the Holidays, you might be surprised to find out that you can choose them online.  There is a fantastic range available and there are fresh Christmas wreaths in many different sizes and made of lots of different evergreens.  These beautiful decorations are usually circular in shape and can contain cedar, pine, balsam, berried juniper and other fragrant evergreens.  You can choose a simple, undecorated fresh one if you are looking for festive simplicity or use one to add your own decorations and create your own look. Of course, there are also many pre-decorated ones to choose from and the most popular decorations are festive red bows, pine cones, red berries, and flowers.  There are even pre-lit fresh wreaths, if you like the idea of twinkling of lights in your festive evergreens. If you need one, you can also buy fresh ones that come complete with a wreath hanger.

Artificial Christmas Wreaths

If you want to be able to enjoy your wreath for more than one Holiday season, then an artificial one is for you.  There is a huge variety of artificial wreaths that you can choose online, and one of the first things that you have to decide on is what colour do you want your wreath to be. You can buy in the traditional evergreen, and also in white, gold, silver and red.  Select a simple, undecorated artificial one to be able to add your own decorations and colour scheme.

However, there are many decorated artificial Christmas wreaths that you can buy. Favourite decorations are scarlet bows, glass balls, fruit, berries, pine cones and artificial snow.  Twinkling lights are always a welcome sight during the Christmas season, and there are also many lighted artificial Christmas wreaths to choose from, with either plain white lights or lovely coloured lights. One of the joys of an artificial wreath is that they are very durable and can withstand the elements, and so are perfect for hanging on your front door as a festive welcome to your home.

Christmas Garlands

If you have got a fireplace or banisters in your house, what could be more beautiful than hanging them with festive garlands during the holiday season? As with the wreaths you can opt for fresh evergreens in your holiday garland to enjoy that wonderful smell of fresh pine and mountain air.  There is also a great range of artificial Christmas garlands available online, with a huge choice of decoration and pre-lit garlands.  There are also more unusual ones that you can buy, such as garlands composed of poinsettia, tinsel, berries and pine cones. Whatever theme that you are using for your decorations this festive seasons, there will be Christmas garlands online that match it.

So look online today to find your perfect Christmas wreath and garlands to hang on your front door and decorate your home.  Amazon has a great range, with a huge amount of choice, and ordering today will ensure that your home is decorated to perfection for the upcoming festive season.

Christmas Wreath image Richard Croft Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Sunday, 20 October 2013

How to Choose a Great Santa Claus and Mrs Claus Costume

Why Dress Up as Santa Claus?

It is Christmas Eve and the house is shrouded in darkness.  Everyone is in bed, and even the excited children have finally gone to sleep.  The lights are twinkling softly on the Christmas tree and the snow softly falls on the lawn outside the frosty windows.  Suddenly, there is a gentle thump as two black-booted red velvet clad legs come down the chimney and land in the fireplace.  A large gentleman clad in bright red velvet trimmed with white fur, with a huge white beard and moustache and red velvet cap steps into your living room, carrying with him a large sack filled with festively wrapped gifts.  Santa Claus has arrived on his annual trip to leave Christmas gifts for all the children who were nice rather than naughty during the year.  He arranges all the presents under the Christmas tree, drinks the milk and eats the cookies left out for him and takes the carrots up to the reindeer, off to the next house to go through his same Christmas routine.

Santa Claus
Santa Claus

Choosing a Santa Suit

Now if in your house, you leave milk and cookies out for Santa and try to lie awake to hear him landing on the roof with his reindeer. You would be very upset if he did not arrive and you did not wake to find your presents under the tree, now wouldn’t you? So just maybe you need to get a Santa suit this Christmas just to make sure that nobody gets disappointed. Usually in the household it is Dad who gets to dress up as Father Christmas, hanging Christmas stockings on the end of the beds and putting presents under the tree, so luckily there is a huge range of Santa suits available to choose from.  The traditional Santa outfit is a red velvet tunic edged with white fur, red velvet trousers kept up with braces, shiny black boots, and a red velvet hat, worn with a curly white wig, beard and moustache.  A variation on this traditional costume is a long red velvet cape trimmed with snowy fur, with a hood drawn up over the head.

Santa Suits for Men

You can buy a lot of different designs in Santa suits for adult males, so there is a Santa outfit out there to fit all Dads!  You can buy Santa suits in red velvet, velour and plush and there are costumes to fit all budgets.  Don’t forget that traditionally Father Christmas has a very large stomach, so make sure that if you are on the slender side that you buy a suit with enough room to plump out your tunic with a cushion!  If you already have a Santa suit but need to get a beard, wig, hat or boots, don’t worry as you can buy all of these accessories separately. So this Christmas Eve, even if one of your kids does wake up, your dress up will ensure they believe that what they have really seen is Father Christmas leaving their gifts!

Mrs Claus Costumes

Now we can’t leave the Moms out of this dressing up for Christmas!  Santa Claus is a married man, and lives at the North Pole with Mrs Claus, the reindeer and the helper elves.  So why not dress up as Mrs Claus this Christmas?  You can choose to dress up as a traditional Mrs Claus, with a long red dress, white apron and mob cap, or you can get an altogether sexier Mrs Claus costume.  A sexy Mrs Claus costume comprises of a tight, short red velvet frock, long black boots, red velvet hat, all trimmed with lashings of soft, white fur.  There are lots of Mrs Claus costumes to choose from, so let your imagination run riot this Christmas, as you channel your inner Mrs Claus!

Baby and Children’s Santa Suits

What can be more adorable for a baby’s first Christmas than a baby Santa suit?  Choose a baby Santa suit for your newborn’s first Christmas morning, and help to bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home.  Santa baby suits are red sleep suits edged with white and with a little red cap, with maybe some white fur trimmings.  If the older kids in the family want to help distribute the Christmas gifts you can also get mini-Santa suits in all kids’ sizes.  These suits for kids are ideal for those special fancy dress parties over the festive season, and for present opening on Christmas morning itself. It could be the first opportunity that you ever have to see what your little one looks like in a beard and moustache.  For little girls, you can also buy a cute Miss Santa costume.

Christmas Elves and Dog’s Santa Suits

Now if the family would rather dress up as Santa’s helpers or Christmas elves, there is also a great range of Santa’s helper and elves costumes available online.  Santa’s elves costumes are made up of a green tunic, green elf cap, green tights and little green boots with curled up toes.  Just what you want to dress up in if you need to help feed the reindeer or help to hang up the Christmas stockings!  Even the family pets can have the chance of dressing up as Santa this Christmas.  There is a cute range of dog Santa suits that you can get for your best canine friend, so that they can join in the festive fun. The dog Santa suits are  little red tunics, with white edging and black belt details, with a little red Santa hat, and you might even be able to get them to put some of the presents under the tree!

So, as you see, there is a great Santa suit available online for every member of the family from Dad all the way through to the family dog!  Have a browse through the great range of Santa suits at Amazon and make your choice today. Have a happy Christmas Eve dressing up and make sure that that you make it really seem as though Father Christmas has visited, by drinking all that milk and eating up all of the cookies!

Santa Claus image Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Why Choose Organic Toys for Your Children?

Everyone wants the best for their children, so when getting them toys as presents why not choose organic toys where possible?  There are lots of reasons why buying organic toys makes good sense; they are healthier for your children, kinder to the environment and the materials used are produced in a much more ethical manner.  By choosing organic toys you are cherishing your children and looking after your planet.
Organic toys are manufactured from materials and fabrics which have had no toxic substances or pesticides used in the process, have been grown ethically and are from sustainable resources.  All children’s skin is sensitive and should not be put in contact with harsh chemicals and irritants, but if your child suffers from allergies or skin sensitivities this is even more important.  Toys can be made from organic cotton, wool, hemp, wood and even organic plastics.

Toys - Wooden Blocks
Toys - Wooden Blocks

A lot of organic toys are made from organic cotton, which is far more environmentally friendly than non-organic commercial cotton.  The production of non-organic cotton is very damaging to the environment.  . Organic cotton production is much safer for the cotton farmers as they do not have to work with the very strong chemicals used in the production of non-organic cotton, the use of which can be potentially fatal.  Also it means that the chemicals are not polluting the air that the local communities have to breathe or leaking into the water supplies or contaminating the soil.  Critics say that organic cotton uses a lot more water than non-organic cotton to produce, but this is not necessarily true and, in any case, the benefits of choosing organic cotton toys far outweigh the negatives. The production of organic wool is also kinder to the environment and the sheep that are used are also treated better.

You have to be more careful with buying organic toys than with organic food, however, as currently in the UK it is not compulsory for non-food organic products to be tested and certified.  However, many of the top manufacturers of are voluntarily going through the certification process to prove that their products are truly organic.  Another thing to watch out for is that a toy could be made with 100% organic cotton, but that fabric could have later gone through a harsh bleaching or dyeing process that compromises its purity.  There are several bodies that offer certification for organic toys and these include Global Organic Textile Standard, Institute for Marketecology, Organic Trade Association, Demeter and Control Union, so look out for toys that have been certified when you are shopping.

There are now many good-quality wooden toys to available in the shops, ranging from blocks, jigsaws, train sets to bigger items such as rocking horses and baby walkers.  Wooden toys are free from the dangerous chemicals found lurking in plastic toys, and if you choose organic wood, you will be avoiding any contamination from pesticides and chemicals.  When buying wooden toys ensure that they are made with solid wood, and not pressed wood as that tends to contain formaldehyde, another nasty chemical.  When you purchase your organic wooden toys, ensure that they are made from organically farmed trees and from sustainable resources.  In addition, if they are painted or decorated, the paint and any varnishes should be non-toxic.

As all children enjoy being creative, try to ensure that they are using non-toxic crayons, paints and pencils, that have been made from organic or natural materials from sustainable resources.  Try to buy drawing paper and colouring books made from organic paper that has also been produced from sustainable resources.  As small children tend to put crayons and pencils in their mouths, it is very important that the ones you buy them do not contain dangerous chemicals.

Toys made from organic plastics are not so common, but there are compelling reasons not to give your children conventional plastic toys..  Organic plastic has not been made from non-renewable petroleum products, and so does not contain dangerous chemicals such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and BPA.  It is the phthalates (PVC) that make the plastic soft, so currently most soft plastic toys for infants and toddlers contain these dangerous chemicals.   As they are used a lot in teething rings and other toys designed to be sucked and chewed, it makes it even more likely that your child will ingest these highly unpleasant chemicals. Small children are far more vulnerable to poisoning from toxins in their environment than adults, as they have very small body masses and their skins are very absorbent.  The chemicals absorbed can lead to cancers, failure of the reproductive system to develop and kidney problems.  Organic plastics are made from renewable plant sources, such as sugar cane, and therefore are free from the dangerous chemicals associated with petroleum-based products.  If these plants are also grown organically, there is also no contamination possible from pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and they have the added benefits of being biodegradable and, unlike ordinary plastics, will decompose in landfill sites.

So, as you can see, there is a wide range of organic toys to choose from when buying gifts for children.  Whether it is for Christmas, a birthday or just as a little treat, make sure that whatever you buy keeps your children healthy, looks after the planets and has been produced ethically and fairly.

Building Bricks image Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine Books, DVDs and Toys

Who is Thomas the Tank Engine?

Are you a Thomas the Tank Engine fan? We all have treasured memories from childhood; memories of our favourite toys and favourite characters from books. One of these fictional characters that remains a perennial favourite with kids is the lovable blue railway engine Thomas the Tank Engine. This popular character was the creation of the Reverend W Awdry in the 1940s who started inventing the stories about railway engines with human faces and human personalities to entertain his son Christopher while he was recovering from scarlet fever. Christopher apparently begged to have these stories retold so many times that the Reverend Awdry started writing them down on scraps of paper and started to sketch pictures of  the various locomotive characters with their different faces and expressions.  The Reverend Awdry’s wife convinced him that his railway engine tales deserved to be read by a wider audience, so he sent them to a distant relative who was a publisher. The result was that his first book ‘The Three Railway Engines’ containing three different stories and illustrations was published in 1945.

Thomas the Tank Engine
Thomas the Tank Engine

However, the iconic Thomas the Tank Engine did not appear on the scene until the second book was published in 1946.  These gentle tales of the life and trials of the railway engines and their friends were so popular that a new book was published every year.  The original illustrations in the early books were all executed by C. Reginald Dalby who adapted the Reverend Awdry’s hastily scribbled drawings into the locomotive characters and based them on real designs of British steam engines of the time.  The railway engine used for the character of Thomas was a little known 0-6-0T Class E2 shunting engine from Victorian times, while the illustrations of Gordon were based on the engine class that contained the altogether more dashing ‘Flying Scotsman’. The family of railway engines grew over time as more characters were added, forever trundling over the railway tracks of the mythical Island of Sodor and being overseen by the imposing Fat Controller.

Thomas the Tank Engine Books

The Rev. W Awdry continued to write books about the adventures of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends in his Railway Series until 1972.  All of these books were beautifully illustrated and designed so that they could comfortably fit into small children’s hands, be easy to read and be simple to turn the pages over.  The Rev. Awdry’s son Christopher took over from his father and started writing new tales in 1983. To add to these children’s books there are now Thomas the Tank Engine Annuals published yearly and other Thomas and Friends picture and pop-up books that have been published.  This lovable train even features in his very own comic.  The books are just as popular with kids today as they were in the 1940s and 50s and one of the easiest ways to find them is online. There are collections of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, the individual railway tales, special anniversary editions, ABC books and many more.  These kids books make great gifts and if you know a child who is collecting them, why not get them the next one in the series for their birthday or Christmas present?  Also, little girls love Thomas the Tank Engine as much as the boys do, so one of these books makes the perfect stocking filler for your daughters and young relatives.

Thomas the Tank Engine on TV and Thomas & Friends DVDs

As the fame and popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine grew, it was almost inevitable that he would end up starring in his very own TV show. Originally called Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, this new TV show for kids was first aired in Britain on ITV in 1984. The name of the TV show was changed for Series 7 in 2003 to Thomas & Friends.  The TV show also proved popular in the United States, and both in the US and in the UK has attracted some high profile celebrity narrators including Ringo Starr, Alec Baldwin, Michael Angelis and Pierce Brosnan. He also starred on the big screen when his movie ‘Thomas and the Magic Railroad’ was released in 2000.  Inevitably, Thomas’s adventures on screen have migrated onto video and DVD and you can now watch the tales of Thomas and Friends with your kids at home.  These DVDs make great gifts and if your kids get bored in the school holidays or on long journeys, why not get some to while away the time? Online is a good place to look for, so have a browse today and find your child’s favourite story on DVD.

Thomas & Friends Toys, Games and Puzzles

The huge popularity of the books and the Thomas & Friends TV showed, led to an explosion in merchandise of all kinds.  For kids there is now literally hundreds of toys, games and puzzles featuring your favourite train that you can buy. One of the best selling toys is the Thomas the Tank Engine Wooden Railway.  This is a toy that is especially recommended for very young children as it is very easy to put together and the wooden railway engine moves smoothly round the tracks. It is also sturdily built, so it is not easy to break.  You can get all of the railway locomotive characters separately, including Thomas, Percy, Salty, Gordon and Toby the Tram Engine and also wooden train tracks and accessories packs. Everything you need, in fact, to have your very own Thomas the Tank Engine railway network.  As for other toys, you can get play vehicles, Sit and Rides, jigsaw puzzles, backpacks, stuffed toys, games, fork and spoon sets and even tents.  If your child has been nagging you for a Thomas the Tank Engine themed bedroom it could not be simpler, as you can buy bedding, drapes, pictures and rugs on online. Your kids can even dress-up as Thomas the Tank Engine this Halloween, if they are looking for a more unusual dress-up costume.

So if your kids love Thomas the Tank Engine, you will be able to find them everything that they could want online.  You will find a huge selection of books, DVDs and merchandise, so have a look today and ensure that you order everything Thomas that you want for upcoming birthdays and Christmas presents.

Thomas the Tank Engine image Gemma Longman Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

What is Ice Cream - The History of Gelato

What is Ice Cream?

One of my earliest memories is waiting to hear the chimes of the ice cream van on a hot summer afternoon and impatiently watching it trundle around the corner and pull to a stop near our house.  Clutching my money in my little sweaty paw, I would run over to the brightly painted van and weigh up my choices.  Would it be a cone filled with soft, whippy ice cream with a chocolate flake stuck in it to make it a ‘99’? Or maybe an ice lolly or a biscuit oyster shell filled with ice cream and topped with clotted cream?  This has always been my favourite treat and it makes the perfect dessert for any occasion.  So what is ice cream?  It is a frozen dessert that is usually made from milk or cream, with fruit, flavourings, colourings and sugar being added to give it taste.  Nowadays, for those who are intolerant of dairy products, it can also be made from soy milk or rice milk. It comes in many different flavours, with the most popular probably being vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

Strawberry Ice Cream
Strawberry Ice Cream

The History of Ice Cream

Humans have enjoyed eating frozen desserts for thousands of years.  The Chinese were eating a dish made of frozen milk and rice as long ago as 200BC, and it is said that Marco Polo brought the secret of making ice cream to Europe in the 13th century from his travels in China. The Ancient Persians were fond of syrups and sherbets cooled with mountain snow and around 400BC created a frozen treat made from rose water and vermicelli. The Ancient Persians used structures called yakchals for refrigeration that stored the ice and snow that they needed for their frozen desserts and kept the storage rooms at freezing point by using tall windcatchers. The Roman emperor Nero had snow transported down from the Appenine Mountains, and used to eat it smothered in fruit. The Arabs were the first to use milk and sugar in order to make ice cream, and they flavoured their frozen desserts with rosewater, nuts and dried fruits.

During the 16th century Moghul Emperors in India used to employ relays of fast horseman to bring ice back from the Hindu Kush, and Catherine de Medici’s Italian chefs introduced ices and sorbets into France. The first French recipe for flavoured ice cream dates to 1674 and then English and American recipes started appearing from the 18th century. In Georgian England, high society ate their ices in the famous Gunter’s Tea Shop in Berkeley Square while they traded gossip and eyed up eligible bachelors.  From the late 19th century onwards, the uses of ice cream became more innovative, and treats like ice cream sundaes and ice cream sodas were introduced.  In the US, soda fountains and ice cream parlours became widespread, especially with the introduction of Prohibition.  It started to be sold from stalls and from the mobile vans, with their distinctive chimes that alerted people to their arrival. The first ice cream bicycles were seen on the streets of London in the early 1920s, with Walls Ice Cream using the slogan ‘Stop Me and Buy One’.

How Ice Cream Was Made Before Refrigeration

These days we tend to take it for granted that we have a fridge and freezer in our home and that making our own ice cream or storing shop-bought frozen desserts will not be a problem.  But before the days of refrigeration, it was a luxury reserved only for the wealthy.  Those who could afford it built ice houses in their grounds, which consisted of either a pit dug into the ground and lined with straw and covered or a brick or wooden structure also insulated with straw and covered.  During the winter months, ice would be chopped from frozen ponds and lakes and carefully stored in the ice houses to be used in the hot summer months to make ice cream and cool drinks. A man from Boston called Frederic Tudor turned this process into a business, by collecting ice in New England and exporting it all around the world.

How they made ice cream before the days of refrigeration and electrically powered ice cream makers was by placing a large bowl in a tub that was filled with ice and salt, which was known as the pot-freezer method.  All the different ingredients were placed in the bowl, where the combination of the ice and salt brought the temperature of the mixed ingredients to below freezing, thus creating the ice cream. A variation of this method was practised by the French who used a covered bucket with a handle attached to the lid that was called a sorbetiere.  The pot-freezer method was replaced by a hand-cranked churn in around 1843, which also employed salt and ice to lower the temperature of the ingredients enough to freeze them. This method produced the ice cream a lot faster and the resulting frozen dessert was also a lot smoother and creamier.

During the 19th century it was mainly produced and sold by confectioners, caterers and cafes.   The first ice cream factory wasn’t built until 1851 in Pennsylvania, when Jacob Fussell frequently had a surplus of cream and needed to do something with it. Fussell went on to open several factories and taught his ice cream making methods to others, who also opened factories.  With ice cream becoming produced in larger quantities, it brought the price down and for the first time you did not need to be rich to enjoy this frozen treat.  The invention of industrial refrigeration in the 1870s, made the cutting of ice and the old ice houses obsolete, and modern ice cream production was born in 1926 with the invention of the continuous-process freezer. Soft ice cream was invented later in the 20th century, where the amount of air in the product was doubled which reduced the costs of production for manufacturers as less ingredients needed to be used.  This soft ice cream is usually served in a cone that is filled from a spigot in an ice cream parlour or from a van on the street.

Making Ice Cream Today

Making ice cream is actually a fairly simple process.  Once all the ingredients have been mixed together, they are then stirred slowly while being cooled.  This stirring stops large ice crystals from forming, and ensures that the ensuing dessert is smooth and creamy. The easiest way to make your own today is to use an ice cream maker that is powered by electricity and churns the ingredients until they are smooth and then either cools them inside a freezer, uses a solution of pre-frozen salt and water which melts to freeze it or the more expensive ice cream makers have a freezing element incorporated into them. One of the latest methods for making your own at home is to stir liquid nitrogen into your ingredients in order to freeze them.

Where Does The Best Ice Cream Come From?

Where the best ice cream in the world is made is a hotly contested issue.  Many believe that the gelato made in Italy is the very best that you will ever taste. Italian gelato typically contains less fat than ice cream and much of it is still made in individual shops called gelaterias.  The US has a huge market and is the home of companies such as Baskin Robbins that have a huge range flavours for sale, where you can choose different flavours for double and triple scoops.. Australians and New Zealanders are also very large consumers of ice cream, and the distinctive hokey pokey flavour, which is vanilla containing lumps of honeycomb toffee, was created in New Zealand.

So whether you like making your own ice cream at home or buy it at the store or from a van, you can now enjoy ice cream or gelato as an everyday treat.  If you want to try your hand at making your own, you can now buy an amazing range of recipe books, ice cream makers, scoops, glasses and spoons online.  So whether your favourite flavour is vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, pistachio, tutti frutti or toffee, enjoy your favourite treat and appreciate the fact that all you have to do these days is get the tub out of the freezer!

Strawberry Ice Cream Image Lotus Head Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported