Sunday, 31 December 2017

FIVE MINUTE FICTION: A TANGLEWOOD NEW YEAR!

Talented reader KATIE has written a fab fanfic to take us back to Tanglewood just in time for New Year... curl up with a hot chocolate and catch up with the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS (a couple of years on from where the series left them)!

Katie says:
Skye simply could not stop herself from glancing out of the window every five minutes. She was a natural procrastinator after all, but this was something else. This essay on the American Civil War refused to write itself. Skye looked up at the Christmas tree and sighed. She'd got all of the Christmas presents she'd wanted, made a batch of truffles, reacquainted herself with the goings on at Tanglewood... but something was missing. Or more accurately, someone.

Skye pulled up her emails and read. It was right there. 'I'm sorry Sissy, Stuttgart Airport is closed and all the planes are grounded.I think the universe is telling me I need to do more dancing - this ballet school is seriously amazing. But don't worry, I WILL be with you by New Year's Day!' Skye sighed,  closed her laptop and went to join her family. It was nearly time for the encore of the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

Before Skye knew it, it was almost midnight on New Year's Eve. The celebratory truffles were laced with champagne and popping candy, so every bite resulted in a fizz and a pop. Skye felt fizzled out. The countdown began. 'FIVE!' How long would she even stay? 'FOUR!' Did her mum and Paddy know? 'THREE!' She probably felt overworked and exhausted, even more than Skye does. 'TWO!' Sometimes Skye wished she was as young as Coco, even now. 'ONE! HAPPY BEW YE-'

There was a loud knock at the door. Skye was the first to reach it, and in a burst of determination she even pushed Honey out of the way before flinging the door open wide. Skye took in every inch of the person standing outside. Long blonde hair, just like Skye, glittering teeth and dressed in - ski clothes? 'Who wants to start the New Year in France?' she asked, grinning.

Skye turned away. 'What's up, Buttercup?' Summer asked, frowning like a puppy.

'I just didn't expect... oh, Summer, what about a family New Year?' she said. 'Here, at Tanglewood? It's been forever since we've all done that. I have four essays to write and I still came home, while you've been swanning around Germany. And now you want to whisk me off to France!'

'Sis, in case you haven't noticed, it's the New Year,' Summer said. 'New Year, new possibilities! You saved me from not having any at all, remember? And we're grown ups now. Mum and Dad...' she smiled at Charlotte and Paddy charmingly - 'Won't mind, not really. Honey's staying on for a while and Coco still lives here of course. Cherry, how's the book going?'

Cherry nods brightly, writer-speak for 'I'm stuck right now, but I'm sure it will come...'

So a day later, Paddy drove the twins to the airport and they headed off to start the New Year with a whole lot of new experiences. They held hands as they glided down ski-hills, locked legs as they rode back up on the ski lift, smiled at each other as they chatted away and caught up over endless hot chocolates and champagne and raised a toast to 'New Year, new possibilities!'

Cathy says:
Awww! My eyes seem to have gone all misty! Love this story of Tanglewood revisited... just perfect! Should we have more fiction on DREAMCATCHER in 2018? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

COSY AT CHRISTMAS...

Readers tell us about their festive footwear... Christmas socks or toasty-warm slippers? You show us your faves!

Kerry says:
My slipper socks are from Peru or somewhere I think... they look handmade anyway, and I absolutely love them! The colours are green and red which makes them Christmassy - in my book, anyway! When I get in from school I get changed (because who wants to slob around in their uniform?) and putting these on makes me feel happy and excited about the whole Christmas thing. And cosy, obviously, because they are so warm and toasty! They came from a local hippy shop and cost about £8, and because they're more slippers than socks I think that is a total bargain!

Jen says:
Socks with Christmas trees on... you don't get much more festive than this! I saw them in the shops and I couldn't resist. They're 'happy' socks - they make me smile every time I put them on. A lot of the time I put them on over my tights or over other socks, instead of slippers, to keep my feet extra warm. My main problem will be not being able to wear them anymore once January arrives!

Kayleigh says:
I love my Santa socks, and I plan to keep wearing them inside my boots until the weather warms up again... why should they be just for Christmas? We have a bit of a tradition at our house about getting silly Christmas stuff... jumpers, PJs, socks, etc. It makes the run up to Christmas really special but it's hard to leave all the silly good humour behind once January arrives! These socks are OK though because most people will only see the top part of them with the stars, and that's fine... only I know I have 'Secret Santa' toes!

Cathy says:
Love this... and I love the 'snuggle up' ethos of the week between Christmas and New Year too! Did YOU get cosy socks or slippers this year? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 29 December 2017

DECK THE HALLS...

We asked you to tell us about your favourite Christmas decorations... and the stories you shared are just gorgeous!

Ali says:
These decorations have been on various trees of mine since 1985! They were bought on a school exchange to Hanau, near Frankfurt, in what was then West Germany (the Berlin Wall didn't come down until 1989!). We took an excursion to a nearby town which had a Christmas shop. I remember walking in and standing on a balcony which overlooked a whole floor of twinkling, sparkling, glitter decorations - it was magical! I bought these three things, all of which have seen better days. My nutcracker, now missing an arm, and two smaller decorations which have lost their loops - I balance them on the branches now! I would encourage anyone in their teens to buy a small decoration every year and take a photo of yourself with it, so that one day you can look back on them and share your memories!

Vikki says:
My dad started a tradition of buying one special tree decoration each year for my daughters - this is just one, pictured left. Holly has seventeen now and Alex eleven! When they each leave home, the idea is that they can take their tree decorations with them - the only problem will be that out tree will be bare!

Maisie says:
It's not my favourite exactly but every year we put a salt dough Santa decoration on the tree, which I made in Year Three at primary school. I remember making it really well - the salt dough was sticky and strange to work with, and the teacher took them away and baked them and then we painted and varnished them. It was my mum's Christmas present that year. Now I am sixteen, but that wonky salt dough Santa comes out every single year, and goes on the tree along with the posh decorations. My mum loves it.

Marti says:
I don't know what to say about this - see right - apart from that it is an acquired taste! The thing is, I don't have a clue where this decoration came from or why it's even on our tree in the first place. One day it was just there, along with all of Mum's beautiful decorations. That vile pink THING has pride of place every year! I mean... why? Is it a pig? I literally cannot tell!

Lauren says:
My favourite Christmas decoration is a soft snowman with a purple scarf. We've had it for more than three years now and it's technically my mum's, but but this year I get to have it on MY tree!

Louise says:
One year when I was little my big sister made me a strange dog-shaped tree decoration out of cardboard and tissue paper and glitter. It was the year I really wanted a dog for Christmas and we couldn't have one then, so the dog decoration was sort of to make up for it. It looks mad but it will always mean the world to me. My sister is away at uni now - but we DO have a real dog at last!

Alice says:
These are the baubles (see left) I bought for the first Christmas of my children - they will always be very special!

Hannah says:
My ballerina decoration is my favourite because I love ballet as much as Summer Tanberry!

Violet says:
I love the faux icicle decorations we bought from a shop on Well Street. Firstly, they look pretty and classy, almost like real icicles... very wintry! Secondly, they're clear so they go with any colour scheme! One year I asked if we could have a silver and blue theme as opposed to our usual red and gold - and we could still use the icicles. Lastly, whenever I think of these, I think of our cat Caramel who went to the Rainbow Bridge nearly eight years ago... once she casually sauntered up o the tree, grabbed one of the icicle decorations off one of the lower branches and sprinted off with it in her mouth. She was like a dog with a stick and wouldn't let us take it back! Awww.

Cathy says:
I LOVE these posts... so many lovely stories! Have YOU got a favourite Christmas decoration? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

LOST & FOUND AT CHRISTMAS!

A brilliant LOST & FOUND Christmas fanfic from talented NZ reader Katie... find out what Lexie, Marley and their friends are up to in this gorgeous festive short story!

Katie says:
The Lost & Found have just played the last not on their Funky Carols Concert. With a triumphant 'Thank you and goodnight!' from Marley, they disband in a frenzy of noise, hugs and music stands stabbing into their sides. Lexie, Bex and Happi break off into a huddle against the cold, and with one last look at their band they skip off to their practice studio, the old railway carriage at Greystones. Jake was off at Tanglewood for the Christmas holidays, but Louisa Winter always greeted the Lost & Found warmly, even on the coldest days.They were all set up in the garden, and Bex and Happi wrapped themselves in the blankets and started batting baubles around like kittens, trying to stay warm. Lexie's mind was on the letter she had sent; she was waiting for one more special guest.

'Yoohoo!' Someone was clanking at the Geystones' gate. Someone... new... who didn't know the special trick to get the gate to slide open with a clunk...

'MISS WALKER!' Lexie cried joyfully, brushing herself off and running to meet her favourite librarian. Miss Walker's bubblegum pink hair was a beacon in the softly falling snow. She placed herself down with elegance on one of the abandoned blankets and produced a bundle of books.

'Every good party needs reading materials!' Miss Walke smiled, and as she say back Lexie noticed the librarian was wearing another of her trademark book-themed dresses, this time patterned with icons from harry Potter.

'This is officially a book party!' Lexie declared. 'And you're the life and soul of it, Miss Walker!'

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and playing in the snow, until it got too cold and Miss Walker headed off to meet the bingo group at the library and Lexie, Bex and Happi traipsed inside for hot chocolates with Louisa Winter.  They toasted both Christmas and the Lost & Founs, and the hot chocolate warmed everything from their chattering teeth to their curled toes.

Cathy says:
Awww... what a fab, feel-good story! Have YOU read LOVE FROM LEXIE yet? Get to know Lexie and her friends in the first of my new LOST & FOUND series! COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A CHRISTMAS STAR...

We asked you to share your memories of taking part in a Christmas play… and we got lots of lovely replies!


Lauren says:
I love being a performer because I get to put on someone else's shoes and walk in them for a while! I love being a part of a community and making friends with people I wouldn't normally have met. I've been in a few Christmas shows... Dracula The Panto; The Three Musketeers; and A Christmas Carol (the pic is from that one!). Christmas productions are always special as you get to help spread a bit of Christmas cheer and it makes Christmas that little bit more magical!


Yasmine says:
Christmas is always a special season for my family. Every year, my Hiphop Dance Academy performs in Christmas Spectacular, an event we have in New Zealand. Hundreds of thousands of people come to see the exciting shows, carols and fireworks! I love dancing so it's fun to take part in such a special event. Usually my friends and family are watching so it can be scary sometimes too! Each year we choose a new song to perform... a few years back it was Greased Lightning, and we had cool 50s outfits and red ribbons in our hair as you can see from the photo! As well as the Christmas shows, I do lots of community productions which help to build my confidence in the run up to the Christmas Spectacular. It's loads of fun and I love doing it every single year!

Georgia says:
Christmas is approaching - what better way to celebrate than with an end of term Christmas show? As a performer, I love being on the stage, so I was over the moon when college announced the show with just two weeks to prepare! It was very tough, but something a performer needs to be able to do. the excitement began here! Teachers began choreographing their numbers and it is honestly such an amazing feeling being put at the front - it shows that hard work does pay off and you get noticed by the teachers! When the big day arrived we had last-minute run throughs, polishing everything with the lights and surround sound. Everyone had their costumes on - a sea of red, white and silver flooded the college and as we topped up our make up and fixed our hair we knew it was almost SHOWTIME! The studio lights dimmed, bright lights flashed and it was time to hit the stage! I've been doing dance shows since I was two, so I don't really get pre-show nerves any more, more a buzz of energy ready to put my all into the piece. We were just about bouncing off the walls when we came off stage to a massive cheer from the audience! There truly is no greater feeling than doing what you love best, surrounded by the people that you love too!


Emily says:
For the last few years I have performed as a juvenile dancer at the Oakengates Theatre and the Theatre Seven in the pantos Cinderella and Aladdin. I've danced as a villager, a dog. a skeleton, a mummy, a fairy and partygoer at the ball. It has been a great experience, and I got to meet lots of famous people, which was fun! I will definitely audition again next year - I've loved every minute of it and hope to do more in the future! In the picture, this is me on the right in blue… as a villager in the panto Cinderella!

Cathy says:
I LOVE this! Thanks so much to all who contributed... you're right, too, it isn't Christmas without a show! Have YOU been to see a Christmas production this year? Or even been IN one? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Friday, 22 December 2017

A CC BOOK TO READ AT CHRISTMAS...

Readers recommend their favourite CC books with a festive theme... pick up a copy and get yourself some Christmas spirit!

Deborah says:
ANGEL CAKE is by far my favourite CC book! I love the story and how Anya adapts to life in Liverpool. My favourite element of the book has to be the description, especially when Christmas comes around! I find it amazing that I am actually able to see the scenes as if they are actually happening in front of me... and feel the snow as if it's falling all around me. I enjoyed reading about the Polish traditions for Christmas and seeing how different they are to English traditions. Books that master imagery reel me in every time, and ANGEL CAKE is definitely one of them!

Abigail says:
ANGEL CAKE is an empowering book for anyone who has ever felt alone, and it has a great Christmas theme too. Anya, a Polish girl who moves to the UK, feels lost until she meets Dan - an angel to his mum, a bad boy to the teachers and a hero to his mates. Anya's friends warn her off Dan but they can't help falling in love, even when the world around them gets seriously complicated - Anya's family may be on the move again, and Dan is trapped in a tangle of lies. The whole Christmas theme makes this a perfect book to read in December, to capture the magic that many families find at Christmas!

Tania says:
MARSHMALLOW SKYE is my favourite CC book to read at Christmas. I love hearing about the Christmas parties and traditions of the Chocolate Box Girls and I go back to read the Christmas chapters over and over. My favourite is the bit where Coco gets her pet lamb, Humbug! The book has all the magical wintry background I absolutely love, like Alfie and Skye watching the snow fall on the steps of the gypsy caravan and going sledging on the hill... those bits are wonderful to me because I live in Australia where we don't have snow, and where Christmas comes in the middle of summer!

Kris says:
It's my favourite CC book and not especially a Christmas book, but it DOES have a bit of a Christmas flavour - the book is SUNDAE GIRL. I love the part where Jude and her class go carol singing in the snow and then she gets to walk home with Carter, and they get snowflakes on their lashes. It's romantic but also very funny! I also love the sound of Jude's dad's New Year's party - mad! I totally recommend this book to all CC fans! And the last and final reason it's my favourite book at Christmas time is that I got it as a Christmas present, five years ago now. I was nine then and I am fourteen now, and I still love it just as much as when I read it the first time!

Cathy says:
Aww, love these posts! Do YOU have a fave CC book to read at Christmas? If so, which one, and why? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

MOLLY: CHRISTMAS MEANS STRESS

It's problem page time again on DREAMCATCHER and reader Molly has a dilemma for troubleshooter HONEY TANBERRY to solve...

Molly says:
I am actually dreading Christmas. Last year was horrible... my mum and dad had a big row on Christmas Day because my dad had drunk too much to help in the kitchen and my mum got really stressed and burnt the roast potatoes and dried out the turkey and forgot the gravy. My gran and granddad made some nasty comments about the dinner and after they'd gone home there was a huge, huge row. My mum was screaming and crying and my dad said some terrible things and stormed off, and he stayed away until Boxing Day. I hated it. They did patch things up but I am dreading this year. Mum and Dad have both said it will be fine and gran and granddad aren't coming, but I feel sick every time I think about it.

Honey says:
Even the most perfect of parents mess up sometimes, and the stress levels last year were clearly sky high in your family. This year should be better as both your parents are clear that they don't want a repeat of that. The fact that your grandparents aren't coming for Christmas Dinner may help - perhaps their unkind comments were the last straw last time around? You can help by taking the pressure off wherever possible - clear up discarded wrapping paper, make cups of tea without being asked, help with washing up, and offer to take on simple tasks in the kitchen like making gravy or keeping an eye on the veggies. It all helps! Try to let go of your anxiety, as that will just make for a tense atmosphere... not what anyone needs. It's hard to accept that our parents aren't perfect, but that's the way it is... yours deserve a chance to out things right after last year's meltdown. Good luck... I hope it all works out!

Cathy says:
Christmas can be a VERY stressful time, and when you add extended family into the mix, things can get tricky. If things have been calm since then, I agree that there's no reason to think this Christmas will be a repeat performance! Have YOU ever experienced a stressy or nightmarish Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

CHRISTMAS CARDS... YES OR NO?

We asked if you still send Christmas cards to friends and family near and far - or if you prefer to send your greetings via the internet! This is what you said...

Violet says:
I don't send cards. If words are from the heart, they are meaningful no matter how they are transmitted - Christmas card, Facebook message, trained parrot, elaborate codes scribbled in the back of library books. It's the friendship that's important, not the mass-produced tree pulp. If my friends think I don't care about them because I don't send them the same glitter-coated, insipid, printed rhyme that I'd have to send to my other friends too, then they don't know me as well as they think they do. Some people give cards. Some don't. Everyone should do what they feel comfortable with, not what society tells us is the done thing.

Hollie says:
I do! I bought a pack of NSPCC charity Christmas cards this year. Technically I wrote them, but they're not from me... they're from my pup Boris, each containing a cheese pun Christmas message such as 'Eat, drink and Brie merry,' or 'You Cheddar watch out, you Cheddar not cry,' and complete with a Christmas photo of the beautiful puppy himself, with a Santa hat on and fairy lights draped over him. That, my friends, is what makes Christmas great!

Kym says:
If the person lives far away and I'm sending a gift, yes, otherwise no. If we do buy them, we buy boring ones that can be recycled, usually charity ones. We don't use proper wrapping paper either, just brown paper and twine - a ribbon or tissue paper if I'm feeling fancy!

Catherine says:
I love making Christmas cards and people love getting them - how can anything else replace a homemade card? Buying cards is a cop out if you can make them instead! I've kept old Christmas cards over the years and have a collection of nativity, robins and Santa cards. It's beautiful to know that each one was chosen for me!

Rowan says:
I bought charity cards from the hospital where my mum was treated for cancer last year. The right chemo and surgery has meant she has survived a rare type of cancer and the hospital were amazing. I think charity Christmas cards are wonderful!

Jade says:
I am old fashioned, not all of my friends bother, but I give out cards and they are home made ones too! I love Christmas and it makes me happy to make something a bit different for my friends. I think we live in a world of technology and it's rare to have something made by hand!

Lara says:
My family are not sending cards this year, we have made a donation to a local homeless charity instead. I think it has taken a lot of stress off my mum and saved a bit too, and we still feel like we have done something good that has the spirit of Christmas in it. But now my friends are starting to give me cards at school and I feel bad - dilemma!

Cathy says:
I love sending cards - I buy charity cards, this year from Survival International and Side by Side for Refugees. Do YOU still send cards - or do you think it's old fashioned? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC AT CHRISTMAS!

We asked you to share your stories of animal antics at Christmas... this is what you said!

Hollie says:
This is our dog Boris... he had to be bribed with significant portions of turkey and cranberry biscuits to sit for this photo! Boris is spoiled at Christmas, more than anyone in the family. Don't tell him, but this year he has already been bought a sock monkey, an activity mat and some treats to go in it. And he's already had an antler chew! They've all been wrapped as we've discovered wrapping paper is the one thing he'll put in his mouth but not swallow! He's already torn an angel off the tree and eaten a few pine needles but we wouldn't have him any other way! (Apart from possibly sitting on all my homemade prezzies and crushing them!)

Katy says:
Well, there was the year our dog Scooby ate two selection boxes from under the tree! He looked so guilty, but I knew he'd probably do it again given half a chance! Chocolate is supposed to be poisonous to dogs but Scooby was fine, thankfully. Needless to say, we always leave chocolate prezzies on a high shelf now!

Bev says:
Severus, or Sevvie for short, really loves the run up to Christmas - there's always lots to play with in the apartment, as you can see in the picture to the right! He's like a mischievous toddler really, always looking for trouble, and the tree gives him he perfect place to lie in wait for any unsuspecting human passing by, ready to pounce out and nip their toes. He has his own stocking on Christmas morning, full of new toys and treats, and is allowed two sachets of his favourite soupy cat food instead of the usual one. Sevvie is very much a pampered pet but so darn cute and easy to love!

Holly says:
We have a great pic of our cat Lister from about seven years ago, venturing out into the snow. Lister's black... he ended up looking like a reverse Dalmation, all speckled with snowflakes!

Michelle says:
The pic on the left shows my three year old lop rabbit Silver... I made him some white wings and a sparkly halo so he can be an angel for Christmas. The wings and halo are just made from pipe cleaners and paper, and rested gently on him... how adorable does he look?

Jan says:
I am SO not impressed with our cat Lucifer this year. THREE times he has knocked the Christmas tree down! We've had to start keeping him out of the room. He thinks it's one big adventure game specially for him, with every bauble a cat toy!

Saffy says:
On the right is a pic of my lovely old cat snuggled up under the Christmas tree... she's not with us any more, sadly, she passed away last year, but I love this pic. Christmas won't be the same without her!

Sonia says:
This is a bit gross, I warn you! We had a real Christmas tree for the first time last year. It looked really pretty but after a while the room started smelling a but funky - and not in a pine-needles kind of way. Then one day my dad caught our dog Pie actually using the tree as a toilet! Urghhh! We had to get rid of it. This year we have a fake tree placed on a high table, and Pie is not allowed to be alone in the room with it!

Cathy says:
Aww, great pictures and fab stories! Do YOU have any stories of animal antics this Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 15 December 2017

CURL UP WITH A CLASSIC... A CHRISTMAS CAROL!

Reader Jodie-Mae shares her favourite classic read... and it just happens to have a Christmas flavour! Make yourself a hot chocolate and dive into A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens!

Jodie-Mae says:
If there is one story that sums up the festive season to me it has to be A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. I admit I knew the story long before I ever read the book... the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his miserly ways has been popularised with several film versions! I first read the book this time two years ago, when I was off school after an illness My gran came to visit and she'd just borrowed a copy from the library. I could not resist having a look, and she decided to leave it with me! It seemed the perfect thing to read before Christmas, and I loved it so much my lovely gran actually bought me a copy of my own for Christmas!

So I am guessing we all know the story of how the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come (as well as the ghost of his old friend Marley) visit Scrooge and show him the error of his ways... and what he's missing out on. It's an uplifting story of how kindness, love and generosity make the world a much better place... and how mean mindedness only turns a person sad, sour and lonely. I never tire of the message, but also love the way a Victorian Christmas is conjured up. The book does not shy away from describing how hard life was for those living in poverty, and that is a message I think we can still learn from.

The short book was first published on 19th December 1843, and the first edition had sold out by Christmas. By the end of the following year, thirteen editions had been printed and the book was well on the way to becoming a classic. The book was written at time when Christmas trees were just becoming popular and carols were having a revival, and some feel the book's celebration of Christmas actually helped to shape and cement the way we celebrate. The book got me interested in reading Dickens and finding out more about his life, and I liked that he often wrote about injustice and inequality and tried to do something about it. I am in Sixth Form now and studying both English and History, with a special interest in Victorian novels and history. It's an area I would love to study at uni one day, and I have A CHRISTMAS CAROL to thank for that!

Cathy says:
Brilliant... like Jodie-Mae, I read this novella as a teen and loved it! Do YOU have a favourite classic read? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more, or email if you'd like your suggestion to feature on a future DREAMCATCHER post!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS...

What does Christmas mean to YOU? CC readers share their thoughts and beliefs about Christmas...

Deborah says:
Christmas for me is the day that Jesus was born - hence the name CHRIST-mas. I believe our gift to Jesus on his birthday is to give gifts and goodwill to the people around us. To do something loving and considerate to mark the birth of our Saviour.

Isabelle says:
To me, Christmas is about having fun with your family. On Christmas, the whole family comes to our house and so do friends as well. Then in the day we go to the beach! It's really windy and cold, but it's a Christmas tradition for us! Christmas is all about being with friends and family and being happy!

Melissa says:
Christmas is about hiding away from the world and its stress - locking the doors and playing games with the kids and making them feel special, showing them how important they are to us.

Cheryl says:
I use Christmas as a milestone to assess where my life is and what I want to achieve in the coming year. Just seems like a good time for gratitude and new wishes!

Harley says:
My family aren't religious, so for us it's about spending time together, eating good food and giving gifts. We still go to carol services, look at the lights and join the Christmas Eve street party for the local children's hospital, but that's part of the tradition of it all.

Bob says:
Peace on Earth. Can it be?

Jessica says:
Christmas is what it is... and different for everyone! For me it's a time to give and receive, to sing carols with your friends, to remember the nativity. It's about seeing family and friends, being thankful for what you have, reflecting on the year past and looking forward to the year ahead!

Kate says:
I love so much about Christmas. The smell of the pine Christmas tree, the twinkly lights, the presents - and you may not believe it, but I like giving much more than I like getting. It's a time to show people that you care. I like going to church, even though we don't go much the rest of the year, and I love that it brings families and friends together. It's special - it's Christmas!

Cathy says:
Awesome comments... but what does Christmas mean to YOU? Tell all - just COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

KELLY: TEN THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO THIS CHRISTMAS!

Reader Kelly has a list of ten things to do this festive season to get the very best out of Christmas... how many can YOU manage?

1: Make a snowman! If it snows, you just have to do it... there is nothing like a bit of snow to bring out the kid in all of us! Don't forget to add a hat and scarf and a carrot for the nose!

2: Go to a carol service! This is a great way to get a taste of the real meaning of Christmas and remind yourself what we are actually celebrating. 

3. Eat too many mince pies, chocolate coins, tangerines and peppermint candy canes... and then on the day itself, pig out on Quality Street and roast dinner followed by turkey sandwiches and trifle for tea. It's Christmas, it's allowed!

4. Do some baking. Whether it's making a gingerbread house to ice and decorate or helping to stir the Christmas pud, it sets the scene perfectly. Who knows, you might decide to do some cooking on the day itself too!

5. Take a little brother or sister to see Santa in his grotto. Remember how magical that felt when you were little? Hanging out with the little kids will make sure you don't miss out on that Christmas magic!

6. Go to a Christmas market - buy a hot chocolate and browse the stalls with your friends! You'll find interesting and unusual things to buy and better still, soak up a real flavour of Christmas. The lights, the smells, the music... Christmas shopping has never been so much fun!

7. Go ice skating with your besties... the perfect winter day out, followed by hot chips and and a gingerbread latte...

8. Think about those less fortunate than yourself this festive season - and make a shoebox for charity, or donate toys, books or warm clothing for local homeless families or refugees. It's all part of the Christmas spirit!

9. Christmas Eve special by putting on new PJs and snuggling up with your family to watch a favourite Christmas movie. Make non-alcoholic mulled 'wine' by adding cinnamon sticks, orange slices and star anise to a carton of grape juice, and heat gently in a pan until warm... the house will smell super Christmassy!

10: Hang up a stocking and remember to leave a glass of whisky and a mince pie for Santa and a carrot for Rudolf! All that's left now is to enjoy the day itself!

Top photo by Jess Goode; bottom photo by Ellie Ogilvy. Thanks to our two fab photographers for their help!

Cathy says:
Love this... I try to do most of these (except for the turkey sandwiches, of course - I'm veggie!). What is YOUR must-do ritual or tradition at Christmas time? COMMENT BELOW to tell all!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

TAYLA: TURKEY WARS...

It's problem page time again on DREAMCATCHER, and this week reader Tayla has a problem for COCO TANBERRY to solve...

Tayla says:
I am eleven years old and I want to be a vegetarian, but my mum says I am too young and can't make decisions like that until I'm at secondary school. I hate that she doesn't take me seriously. Most of the time we compromise, I eat Quorn stuff along with whatever everyone else is having, or sometimes fish. However, we will have twelve extra people over for Christmas Dinner and mum says there is no way she is doing a vegetarian option as she'll be run off her feet, and I have to eat turkey like everyone else. I think she is trying to force me to eat it because I know my uncle thinks being veggie is stupid and he'll make a fuss if he knows I am not eating meat. I care about animals and I do not want to eat turkey. What shall I do?

Coco says:
Hmmm... I think that eleven is old enough to know your own mind, but then I would say that! Well done for moving towards a veggie way of eating, though! Christmas can be stressful, especially with twelve extra guests for dinner and a relative who likes spouting off about vegetarians. Talk to your mum and plan and make your dinner in advance - there are lots of ready-made veggie options that work really well and won't put your mum to any trouble. Next, make sure you're seated at the opposite end of the table to your uncle... he might not notice you're not eating meat! If he does, just say you're veggie at the moment and refuse to be wound up if he tries to make a big deal of it. Let your mum know you'll help her any way you can, but that you just can't eat meat... hopefully she'll understand. If she insists on serving you turkey, just eat the rest, leave the turkey.. and fill up on Christmas pud!

Cathy says:
I had several failed attempts at going veggie before I managed it properly, aged fourteen. My mum was convinced I'd fade away without it! I think Coco's advice is good, but do YOU agree with her suggestions? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 11 December 2017

SOUNDS LIKE CHRISTMAS!

We asked for your favourite Christmas song or carol... and your least favourite one, too! Here's what you said!

Carly says:
My favourite is Wham's Last Christmas... it has a special, bittersweet meaning for me. The song I hate is Slade's So Here It Is Merry Christmas, because you hear it EVERYWHERE in December and it's just so cheesy and lame! I don't know, I just don't like it... and the band seem a bit creepy and weird, even though I know that's just the style of things back then!

Rowan says:
My favourite song at Christmas is a carol, In The Bleak Midwinter. It was written by a Victorian woman poet called Christina Rossetti. It's very sad and moving and last year I was chosen to sing it at our school's Christmas carol service, which was a scary but unforgettable experience! I don't have a least favourite - well, maybe the Pogues' Fairytale of New York just because it is played so much at this time of year and you get a bit sick of it!

Marlyn says:
My favourite is Stop the Cavalry, an oldie by Jona Lewie. OK, it wasn't an oldie when I first liked it - which makes ME the oldie now I think, but I remember buying the single when I was thirteen and playing it to destruction. It's an anti-war song and I think it is more relevant today than ever!

Jennie says:
I am a Christmas song addict... I love everything about Christmas, the songs included. My favourites are Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Frosty The Snowman... I have loads of Christmas playlists with different versions of my favourites on. I don't have a least favourite... well, maybe some of the Cliff Richard Christmas songs, I suppose!

Tilda says:
It's a bit of a Marmite one because people either love it or hate it, but my favourite is Fairytale of New York by the Pogues. It's not Christmas without it! My least favourite is probably the carol Angels We Have Heard On High because I always hate singing the 'glo-oria' bits as they are way too high for me!

Molly says:
I have loads of favourites and they're mostly carols... everything from Little Donkey to See Amid The Winter's Snow to We Three Kings... and more! I know them all inside out because in our village a big group of us go carolling in the week before Christmas and it's magical. I've been going since I was about six or seven and I'm fourteen now. We collect money and send it to a chosen charity, and this year it's for UNICEF and the refugees which I think is a brilliant cause.

Cathy says:
Awww, love this! My favourite Christmas song is Greg Lake's 'I Believe In Father Christmas' - with 'Fairytale of New York' a close second! I don't have an unfavourite... they're all fab! What is YOUR fave carol or Christmas song? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

YOUR STARS FOR CHRISTMAS!

Skye Tanberry consults the charts to see how the stars will work their magic for you this Christmas... read on and see if it strikes a chord!

SAGITTARIUS: Nov 22 - Dec 21
Impulsive, confident, friendly and generous, you love the festive season - it's just made for you! Giving prezzies and organising fun stuff with friends should keep you busy, and there could be a gift from an unexpected admirer, too!

CAPRICORN: Dec 22 - Jan 19
You're not usually a party person, but Christmas could be an exception - and once you take to the dance floor, you're a bit of a dancing queen! This could be the year you overcome your shy streak and learn to trust - whether it's in a new friend or a new partner, it's definitely a risk worth taking!

AQUARIUS: Jan 20 - Feb 18
Never one to follow the crowd, you like to celebrate Christmas in your own unique style, and this makes you a bit of a trendsetter amongst your friends. Your soft heart means you often put others before yourself, and this year is no exception... aww!

PISCES: Feb 19 - Mar 20
Your inner child loves every bit of Christmas... the tiniest details bring a smile to your face, and you don't miss the true meaning of it all, either. Getting your friends together to raise money for charity or entertain the old folks at the local retirement home are just a natural part of it all!

ARIES: Mar 21 - Apr 20
You like certain traditions at Christmas, but sometimes there's no choice but to go with the flow - and that could open up some new opportunities for you! You're definitely dreaming of a white Christmas, and if it happens you'll be out there with a sledge and a bunch of mates, making the most of it all!

TAURUS: Apr 21 - May 20
If money is tight, go for a home-made Christmas - from mince pies and truffles to hand-crafted gifts, you have the skills to do it, and your friends and family will love that personal touch. Don't let jealousy derail a friendship... step back and let things settle naturally.

GEMINI: May 21 - Jun 20
Nothing makes you happier than time spent with friends, so plan a movie night, a party night, a day at the ice rink... whatever it takes to get you into the festive spirit! Watch out for a kiss under the mistletoe from someone special... even if it's not who you expect!

CANCER: Jun 21 - Jul 21
You like to be organised, and your festive season is always properly planned with no last-minute rushing. Remember that you can't plan everything, though - and that's OK! A very special Christmas prezzie could open new doors for you in 2018...

LEO: Jul 22 - Aug 21
Dramatic, kind but sometimes hot tempered, you're in for a roller coaster few weeks - but there will be fun by the bucketload! Your warm heart and creative skills mean you love the build up to Christmas, and close friends and family may even be in line for a cool and quirky home made gift!

VIRGO: Aug 22 - Sept 21
Watch your health this December - you'll be rushing about as usual and may not notice that you've taken on a little too much. Show your friends you care by baking some Christmas cookies and sharing them out - small gestures mean a lot!

LIBRA: Sept 22 - Oct 22
Sociable, charming, arty and romantic, you love every bit of the festive season and you and your close friends are determined to make the most of every minute! A last-minute fashion find in pastel colours will bring you luck!

SCORPIO: Oct 23 - Nov 21
You feel things very strongly, but often keep those feelings hidden - a bit of a mystery girl! Attracting romance is rarely an issue, though, and this festive season will be no exception. Make sure you don't over-spend on Christmas treats, and wear deep red for extra luck!

Cathy says:
Oooh... I love a good festive horoscope! Do Skye's predictions ring true for YOU this month? COMMENT BELOW to let us know!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

BOOK PICKS: THE UNKNOWNS...

My lovely writer-pal Shirley-Anne McMillan has a brand new book out... and it's amazing! Find out more...


Shirley says:
One of the things I love most about having grown up in Northern Ireland is that I have met some really brave people. From people who have stood up to terrorists in their community, to people who have decided to be themselves in places that they know might reject them for standing out or being different. As an author I always want to write books about those people, because I want to be someone like that myself (some day!). In my last book, A GOOD HIDING, I created three characters who all had secrets that they needed to keep to protect themselves and other people. It was a story about what happens when you need to let other people into your life in very difficult circumstances.

In THE UNKNOWNS I wanted to write about young people who have decided to deliberately stand up against racism and sectarianism in their communities. I wanted to write a story about how it is sometimes the most rejected people who lead the way because they understand what it's like to face bullies. I remember being a young person myself and going through difficult times. I felt like I had a deliberate choice to make: I could let the difficult thing crush me and make me angry and bitter forever, or I could use my feelings to empathise and stand with other people who were facing hard times.

I'm still trying to do that and I don't always get it right, but I think it's a good way to deal with life when things are hard. So I made up characters that would band together and be one another's chosen family, and together they face more difficulty than I have known - violence, and even death - as they try to help other people who struggle too. But they have one another as well. They have epic parties and they make brilliant art, and they care about one another. I know groups in Northern Ireland who live exactly like this, and it made me wonder... what if we all did?

THE UNKNOWNS by Shirley-Anne McMillan is out now.

Cathy says:
This book is top of my to-read list... I think you'll like it too! Have YOU read any cool books lately? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

TRISH: CHRISTMAS BAKING!

Blogger Trish tells us why baking is such an important part of Christmas for her - and shares a favourite recipe for you all!

Trish says:
I grew up in Canada and we did Christmas BIG! There was a tradition where the women and children would gather at my Aunty Wendy's house and bake for the holidays, and I took part in this from the age of six onwards. We'd do some baking ahead of the big day to swap around, and when Cookie Day came around we'd bake dozens and dozens of cookies together. Decorating was always the best part! All the kids would get an apron and a paint brush and set to work making the cookies sickly sweet and sticky with icing, food colouring and sprinkles. It was so much fun spending time with my cousins and aunties, with Christmas music blaring in the background.

My mum always loved baking and when we moved to England we carried on doing our own baking day, always trying to drag friends into the fun. After my mum passed away, I decided I would keep the tradition of baking for those I love, especially at Christmas. This year, my favourite recipe is for shortbread cookies... classic, and so delicious!

You will need:
225g unsalted butter
110g caster sugar
225g plain flour
110g cornflour
pinch of salt

To make:
- Line two baking trays with baking paper.

- Cream butter and sugar together and then stir in flour, cornflour and salt. Mix until smooth.

- Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a soft dough.

- Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper to a thickness of 1cm... then cut into shapes and prick the biscuits with a fork.

- Place on baking trays and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

- Bake at 170 or Gas Mark 3 for 20 minutes until just golden at the edges. Dust with caster sugar and allow to cool. Makes about 20 biscuits!

Cathy says:
Wow... I love shortbread, and this recipe seems simple enough even for me to try! Do YOU have any special baking traditions at Christmas? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Monday, 4 December 2017

KATIE: AN AFFINITY FOR SNOW

A fabulous, wintry Harry Potter fan-fic from talented reader Katie... grab yourself a hot chocolate and settle down for a cool short story!

'Still nothing?' Molly Weasley leaned over the table to whisper conspiratorially to her husband Arthur, who simply shook his head and nodded to their small daughter.

'Nothing yet.' Bill came running over to Ginny, the baby of the family, ad poked her with his wand. Looking expectantly at his parents, he received a stern look from his father and pursed lips from his mother. Ginny continued to play happily without a care in the world. Molly and Arthur were glad Ginny never looked up from her balls of string and rubber ducks, because concern was all Molly and Arthur could currently express. Fred and George came trooping through the door and whined, 'Mum, when's the snow coming?' Molly chuckled.

'I know it's late, dears, but you'll just have to be patient!' With a quick glance at Ginny, Molly moved to tend the fire. Surely they didn't have a squib? Molly swatted the thought away, as she always did.

Later that night, it grew dark very quickly. Molly and Arthur had the children dressed for bed quicker than ever, and were ready to put them to bed in case it was the Dementors and they had to go out and fight. Suddenly, snowflakes started falling, very softly, as if a light wind could carry the snowflakes away. Fred and George ran out in their pyjamas but came back moaning, 'It's stopped!'

Ginny was not pleased, and started crying. The snow started falling again, heavier this time. Bill gasped and held Ginny's nose. She stopped crying, the snow stopped. Bill let go, and Ginny's howls created a blizzard. Suddenly every Weasley, even little Ron who had just started inserting wands up his nose, emitted raucous laughter. Molly scooped Ginny up and flew out the door with her.

'She's magical, she's magical!' Molly and Arthur chanted. This would be a very special Christmas.

Ginny was to have an affinity for snow ever after, and during Ron's first year at Hogwarts it even made her forget that she was not allowed to go too!

Cathy says:
I love this brilliant fan-fic - thank you, Katie! Are YOU enjoying the new fiction slots on DREAMCATCHER? COMMENT BELOW to have your say, or tune in to the CC FB fanpage to join in with the fiction challenges!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

OH CHRISTMAS TREE...

Do YOU have a special way of decorating your Christmas tree? Readers share their Christmas tree traditions!

Francesca says:
Our Christmas tree is overflowing with decorations and this is because of our big Christmas tradition! Every year we go to the Birmingham German Christmas market, and me, my brother and my sister choose a decoration each! This means that our Christmas tree gets pretty full... so soon we won't have any room for new decorations!

Sally says:
We always decorate our tree on the first Saturday of December, and we do it as a family, my brothers and me. My dad does a Christmas playlist and my mum usually bakes the first mince pies of the season while we are decorating, so the house smells amazing too. It's the real start of Christmas for me!

Jenna says:
We have a tradition that the tree doesn't go up until the last Saturday before Christmas. This is because we have a real tree, and if it went up too soon it wouldn't last and would start dropping needles everywhere. We do decorate the rest of the house a bit, with lights and fake snow on the windows, but when we go to pick out the tree, that's the start of Christmas - time to get really excited!

Natasha says:
Our tree goes up on the first Sunday of advent, and sometimes that is actually in November! We all join in with making it look good and every year we have a slightly different theme or colour guide, just to make it a bit different. We decorate the outside of the house too so you could say we go a bit Christmas mad! Because the tree is up all through December, we then clear it all away on New Year's Eve to start the new year with a 'clean slate'.

Mariella says:
Last year we were staying with relatives over the Christmas period as we had lost our home and it wasn't until March we got sorted and found our current flat. So there was no tree last year. This year, Mum has promised a real tree and I cannot wait. It's going to be a very special Christmas in our own home, and I can't wait.

Jodie says:
Our tree is old and a bit bent on one side, and the tinsel is wearing thin in places but when Dad suggested replacing it last year nobody would let him! We use all the old family decorations, odd things we've made at school over the years or been given. It doesn't look posh or cool, but it's our tree, and we love it!

Cathy says:
Love this! Our tree is also a mix-up of old decorations and things the kids and I have made over the years. What are YOUR Christmas tree traditions? COMMENT BELOW to tell all!

Friday, 1 December 2017

WINTER WONDERLAND...

I asked you to share your favourite things about winter... and your least favourite! This is what you said...

Bev says:
I love Christmas, love snuggling up under a blanket with a good book, and love the snow - but I hate going to work in the dark, hate the icy rain and hate waiting around on cold railway station platforms!

Michelle says:
I love everything about Christmas time! All through December, I love the build up to it... putting up decorations, shopping and wrapping presents... and the warm happiness of being with family on Christmas Day! I love that the autumn leaves still crunch under your boots and that my rabbits can still play in them in the garden. I hate the cold and the frost, though it's bliss to snuggle up in warm covers at night and wear comfy, thick winter PJs and drink hot Vimto!

Helen says:
Love: wearing cosy thick jumpers, boots and socks. Hate: being dressed in said jumpers, boots and socks when the weather isn't as cold as it was forecast!

Katie says:
I'm among the very few people to strongly dislike winter - I hate the cold, I can never get warm. The only good thing is Christmas!

Toni says:
Love: warming up with cot chocolates with melting marshmallows. Hate: cold, dark mornings!

Violet says:
It's cold and icy and I'm never going to get over the time I slipped in S4 and dropped mince pies everywhere... *sobs*. It's dark most of the time and insipid Christmas music and ads and decorations are everywhere by the start of November which is too early! However, I like warm duvets and warmer cats, and staying in to read a book (or three)! I had a fudge hot chocolate from Starbucks earlier and honestly, just fill an Olympic sized swimming pool with that stuff and give me a spoon!

Caitlin says:
I love wrapping up warm in coats and scarves, feeling cosy - and hate the dark mornings! They just make me want to stay home!

Eileen says:
Fave things? Mulled wine, mince pies, a fleecy onesie and Strictly Come Dancing on TV... ticks all my boxes!

Hannah says:
Christmas with my family, snow, hot chocolate and Holiday on Ice shows on TV are my favourite bits of winter!

Clare says:
I love the snow... the deeper the better... as long as I'm not driving!

Jessica says:
Best bit of winter? My birthday in January - it always makes me grateful for another year of life!

Cathy says:
I love these! What are YOUR fave things about winter? And your least fave? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

THE REAL MARY SHELLEY...

Ok, so not the REAL Mary Shelley… as in the author of Frankenstein, we’ve done that already... Cathy's daughter tells all about the ins...