Boswells Blog

15th May 2018

Memories of Boswells

Memories of Boswells

To kick off our 280th birthday celebrations, we’ve been gathering up memories of Boswells from staff and customers alike. We’ve been learning all sorts of fascinating things about our own history along the way, and so we’d like to give you a little taste of what we’ve learned so far…

Fond Childhood Memories 

A little childhood magic can really forge fond memories. We’re truly honoured to hear that we are a part of so many of your wonderful, early memories!

Whitey ImageJan Barnard sent us this picture of a toy she got from Boswells as a child. We’re told that he’s called Whitey, and it looks to us like he’s had a long, happy life. Here’s Jan’s memory of getting Whitey: “My parents used to take me to the toy department in the 60’s when we lived in Oxford. You used to walk down a big wooden staircase into the toy department that was magnificent and enter a magical world. When I broke my arm and had to have it set at the old Radcliffe Mum took me there to treat me to a toy and I picked a toy dog which I still have. Wonderful childhood memories.”

We’ve also been hearing lots of magnificent tales of trips to see Father Christmas in store. Susan Walters sent us this fantastic memory of a visit to the North Pole (via Broad Street, of course):

“I am 70 years old and this is my most favourite memory of my childhood. The Father Christmas train ride to meet him. I honestly thought we were on a train as we sat in a carriage and watched the land go by through the windows. Then when we arrived, we went to the end of the carriage to see Father Christmas to get a present. Never dawned on me when we went out of another door that we were still in the shop but hadn't travelled back! Wonderful magical memory.”

Entering the World of Work

Boswells 1960s Image

There’s nothing quite like your first job to prepare you for what life has to offer, and so we’re very proud to have been somewhere where so many of you could make your first ventures into the working world!

Matt Muller got in touch to tell us about his first job, working as a Saturday boy in 1962:

“I can’t remember exactly when I started, but I recall looking forward to earning real money in order to indulge in my passion–pop records. Mr Piper was my boss. He was in charge of Linen and Leather. I have fond memories of Mr Piper, he was a small man, kind and supportive of his staff, thorough but someone you would not mess about! I met my longest standing friend in Boswells, John, another Saturday boy who now lives in Holland.”

Mary Anne Brown, who worked for Boswells in 1982, also fondly remembered her time here:

“Working in the upstairs office at Boswells was my first job after leaving school in 1982. I counted the takings each day in a time when credit cards were used much less and people often paid with cheques and cash. We had no computers. All accounts were recorded in ledgers. We worked at decades old wooden desks and chairs; it was quite a big deal when we had wheeled office chairs bought for us! I remember the two brothers that owned/ran the store; Mr. Tony and Mr. Christopher. Their first names were used since they shared the same last name, which would be confusing; but they were still always referred to as ‘Mr.’ In fact, all the department heads were called ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ –never by their first name.”

Things have changed quite a lot around here since 1982, although the novelty of the wheeled chairs still hasn’t worn off…especially in those parts of the store where the 1920s flooring isn’t quite close to level…

First Impressions

Cookshop Team ImageThe staff here at Boswells have been sharing some of their memories of what the store was like when they first started working here.

Linda in our Cookshop has been with us for an impressive 27 years and has seen the shop change a lot in that time.

“I was amazed at how big the store was. The Gift department had a large till in the middle of the shop floor which was very busy, went in to the China department, which is now the Pharmacy. There was lots of large stands with many different manufacturers names on and full of all sorts of china.” Getting to grips with the size and scale of the store is something that a lot of Boswells staff remember finding tricky at first, but the building really does have its own special charm!

Laura in our Luggage Department started working at Boswells 10 and a half years ago and has worked in most departments at one point or other.

She told us that her “First week consisted of Saturdays at the beginning. My first day I was quiet, shy maybe. I had a lot to learn, I started on a department that is no longer there. Also, the building at the time was a maze to whoever didn’t know where they were going.” Laura quickly got the hang of things and is now quite skilled at helping newer members of the Boswells team come out of their shells.

Expect the Unexpected...

Sometimes it’s the amusing, but unplanned moments that stay with us. Marion Rea sent us this fantastic memory about when she first came to Oxford:

Gifts Image

“As newly arrived students my friends Lisa, Jane and I bought a casserole dish together in Boswells in order to recreate the tastes of home that we were all missing. We proceeded to blow it up—even Pyrex isn't able to withstand being heated on a hob—causing a spectacular shower of glass across our shared kitchen, a fire alarm, and a long-standing reputation for domestic incompetence. But... we learned our lesson and the replacement Boswells casserole dish is still going strong, nearly 30 years later, and we three students remain great friends.”

Strange and unexpected things have also been known to happen to our staff. Lorraine in our Gifts Department recalled a time when a “Pigeon flew into the Broad St window and while everyone else was trying to rescue it Phil [who worked in Luggage at the time] went and got his camera to photograph the people running around.” Jen from Gifts informs us that in the middle of this kerfuffle, the pigeon actually landed on a member of staff, and stayed there long enough for Phil to get his camera! 

Fun and Games

Emma Meets the Queen ImageEmma in our stock room has been telling us about the celebrations the staff held for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. “We all dressed up in red, white and blue costumes and had a tea party in our staff room. I won the prize for best costume, as pictured, and won a giant chocolate gold medal!!!” Unfortunately Her Majesty was rather busy that day, so a cardboard "lookalike" stood in to do the honours...

Serena in our Cookshop has worked for Boswells for 32 years, and so unsurprisingly has plenty of stories to tell about her time here. This one particularly made us chuckle:

“[In the old lift] you would slam the inside door and there was a little window, and you could see when the lift was coming up. And when it literally died, my old boss, Mavis, put a bunch of flowers in there, put in there ‘R.I.P’. Of course, everyone, when the doors opened, thought somebody had died in there. She didn’t do it for that. It was because the lift was gonna be taken out…so it was like ‘goodbye’ to that lift. It served us well.”

A Little Piece of History

Boswells Building Design ImageAnd finally we were delighted to recently hear from Janice Bridges, who has a very special family connection to Boswells…

“I remember when I was a child that every time my mother and I shopped at Boswells she would say my Grandfather built this shop. Indeed, she was correct; E Organ and Sons created a fabulous piece of architecture for Oxford… Stand back and look up at the building next time you are shopping at Boswells. My family are so proud of the connection with such a wonderful store.”

How to Enter Our Memories Competition

We’re very lucky to have been surrounded by such wonderful people for the past 280 years! Boswells is the world’s second oldest independent department store, and made up of all of our stories, memories and experiences of it. With our memories, we all get to be a part of Boswells’ heritage, and we think that’s really quite wonderful.

A huge thank you to everyone who has entered our Memories of Boswells competition so far. I you haven’t entered it yet, we’d love to hear your recollections too!

The winner of our prize draw will win a £50 gift card, and have their memory included in our very own time capsule! To enter, all you need to do is send us your memories or photos of the store during May (more info on how to enter and the full terms and conditions can be found here).

So, what are your fondest memories of Boswells?

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29th April 2018

Celebrating 280 Years of Boswells of Oxford

Celebrating 280 Years of Boswells of Oxford


In celebration of our 280th year, we’ve been exploring our archives, digging through old photos, and marvelling at all of the changes the store has witnessed over the course of its long and illustrious life. So, let us take you back in time through our archives, and show you a little of our history…

Read on to discover our story, or choose from one of the below links to find out about a particular era of Boswells history!

 

1738-1845

1846-1861

   1862-1890  

1890-1927

1928-1991

1992-2018

 

Celebrating Boswells

Key Dates 

 

Boswells' Beginnings (1738-1845)

Old Trunk Image
A trunk manufactured by F. Boswell, date unknown.

In 1738 Francis Boswell opened a trunk and portmanteau (luggage) shop at 50 Cornmarket Street, Oxford (where Clarks Shoes now is). He might have imagined that his small family business, making cases and leather goods for the people of Oxford, would offer him a comfortable enough living, and a stable inheritance for his son. It seems doubtful that he would have had any notion that Boswells would grow to what it is today.

We’re extremely proud to have kept the Boswells tradition of selling luggage going continuously for 280 years, and we hope that Francis Boswell would approve of the skilled craftmanship of the Samsonite and American Tourister cases we sell today!

In the 18th century it was quite common for children to learn their family trade, and so Francis’s eldest son, Henry, was taught how to make luggage—and very fine luggage we understand too! And so Boswells, and the skills of the trade, passed from one generation to the next. And the next…

Soon, Francis Boswells’ small start-up had become a well reputed family business, spanning generations. 

The Eighteenth Century (1846-1861)

Charlotte Boswell Advert 
An advert for Charlotte Boswell's shop at 48 Cornmarket Street, 1846.

By 1846 the 4th generation of the Boswell family inherited the family business, with three of the children each taking on a different speciality. The eldest son, Francis, inherited his father’s trunk making shop at 50 Cornmarket Street, and his sister Charlotte took on 48 Cornmarket Street. Charlotte became a cooper and turner, specialising in wood turning. Henry Boswell, the youngest of the family, moved part of the business from 48 Cornmarket St to 2 George Street, and worked as a cabinet maker and upholsterer.

Francis Boswell married a woman named Jane, and together they raised 6 little Boswells above the shop. They were to be the 5th and final generation of the Boswell family to take on the business.

Henry Boswell (1862-1890)


Boswells 1870 Image

Boswells in about 1865-70. We believe the men standing outside the shop may have been Henry Boswell and his employees. 
 


 When the business finally passed to the young Henry Boswell in 1862, the company name changed from F. Boswell to H. Boswell (and officially remains H. Boswell & Co. to this day). Henry Boswell was an ambitious man. He wasn't afraid to make changes to his great, great grandfather's company, and was a keen to modernise and grow the business. 

Around 1871, Boswells expanded into 49 Cornmarket Street, adding hosiery to its bag of tricks. In 1874 Henry rebuilt 47-51 Cornmarket Street entirely, and the buildings that are there today are the product of his vision and enterprise. Nice work Henry Boswell (we particularly like the little turret on the end)!

47-51 Cornmarket St in 2018 Image

47-50 Cornmarket Street today. The building was commissioned by Henry Boswell in about 1874.
Henry Boswell was also an Oxford graduate, specialising in a type of biology called bryology—the study of mosses. He wrote and published a number of articles on the subject, while somehow also running a successful business. Oxford Botanic Gardens still look after his collection of mosses, which is a rather lovely continuation of his work. 

Henry and his wife, Catherine, didn't have any children, and so the company passed to Arthur Pearson in 1890. While 152 years and 5 generations of Boswell family involvement had come to an end, this was the beginning of several generations of Pearsons who would take care of the company, and keep its long-standing family outlook alive and well, right into the 21st century. 

Enter the Pearsons (1890-1927)

Pearsons, date unknown image

Pearson & Co at 31 Cornmarket Street. Date unknown.

Arthur Pearson was a local business owner and pharmacist. He ran The Oxford Drug Company at 1 Broad Street, and had recently purchased Lowe & Co. Ironmongers at 31 Cornmarket Street. It seems that H. Boswell & Co. had such a good reputation locally that Boswells proudly kept its name. And here we still are!

Around 1913 The Oxford Drug Company (which is still Boswells’ Pharmacy) moved to 31 Cornmarket Street. Today this part of the shop is our Accessories and Games Departments, but 31 Cornmarket Street was a separate shop unit until the 1950s. The Cornmarket entrance to Boswells is the most historic part of the building, and its history is what helps create its “Tardis-like” illusion of being the frontage to something much smaller than it is (we do like to keep our customers pleasantly surprised!)

City Wall, Martyrs Tower Image

One of the few remaining parts of Oxford's city walls, Martyr's Tower. View from Boswells.

This older portion of Boswells is where the old city walls and moat once ran. We’re told that Cornmarket Street used to be called Northgate Street, because it was the Northern entrance to Oxford through the medieval city walls. Behind the store, hidden, we have lovely view of one of the few remaining parts of the city walls, "Martyrs Tower."

Apparently, when our basement was first dug out (we think around 1912/13) some remaining parts of the city walls were excavated. Unfortunately, these parts of the wall had been holding up St Michael’s church’s graveyard for hundreds of years, and when portions of the wall were removed, skeletons came tumbling into what is now Boswells Cookshop Department! We’re assured that these were swiftly removed and re-buried at St Michael’s…

 

The Move to Broad Street (1928-1991)

Boswells House Drawing Image

The original design for Boswells House, 1920s.

In the 1920s plans began to move Boswells to a new building on Broad Street. By the time ground was broken on the new site, it was Arthur Pearson’s son, Arthur Hearne Pearson, who was running things. In order to make way for the new Boswell House at 1-4 Broad Street, the existing buildings on the spot were demolished, including the dilapidated former home of the celebrated poet W.B. Yeats, and the end of the street was widened.

Boswells moved into its new home between 1928-29. When we revamped the 2nd floor in 2015, we discovered that some of the walls had been made from straw, which we can only put down to depression era resourcefulness! The builders had great trouble removing these, and it turns out that Straw is actually a very strong and stubborn building material!

Boswells 1960s Image

Boswells, late 1960s-early 1970s.

Boswells, having always been a company to embrace change—perhaps the secret to long life—continued to adapt, and in the 1950s The Oxford Drug Company and Boswells House were united by a passage, to form the building as it now is.

The store operated as a sort of arcade until the 1960s, when Tony and Christopher Pearson (the sons of Arthur Hearne Pearson) took on the company. This generation of Pearson's brought the departments together in a new way, forming the store we now know and love.

Many of our staff still fondly recall Tony Pearson handing out the wages in person, and stopping to chat with staff and customers alike. Its fair to say that as Boswells has grown and expanded, so has the Boswells family, and the staff of Boswells really are a big family, many of which have worked here for a decade or two.

Into the 21st Century (1992-2018)

Tea Room

Boswells 1738 Tea Room on the day of its launch, November 2015.

In the early 1990s, just over 100 years after Boswells had passed into the Pearson family, Jonathan and Sarah Pearson (cousins) took the helm, modernising things somewhat, but also retaining that old Boswells charm that has seen us through the centuries.

And, of course, we’ve not been idle since. We added a website in 2014, www.boswells.co.uk, our popular 1738 Room in 2015 and added our Broad Street Café this March. 

The company has been in the Pearson family now for 4 generations; that's 128 years, and still going strong!

Celebrating Boswells

Boswells Staff Photo 2016 Image

Some of the wonderful staff of Boswells on International Women's Day, 2016.

 

It’s probably fair to say, that in some ways we aren’t quite your typical old department store. We think that the thing that has become traditional about Boswells is not necessarily the building or what we sell, but Boswells itself. It's been passed from generation to generation of owners for 280 years, but it has also been passed down through generations of customers and employees. We proudly serve the community around us, knowing that it's the people of Oxford that have made our 280 years so special.

In that spirit, we welcome you to celebrate our 280th year with us! We’d love to hear your memories of the store! We’re offering you a chance to win a £50 gift voucher and for your memory to be included in our time capsule in our competition! Simply send us your memories or photos of the store this May to enter (more info here).

We’ll also be sharing some more treasures from our archives throughout the year, along with our staff’s recollections of their time here. Keep your eyes peeled for news of exciting 280th year celebrations throughout 2018!

Key Dates in Boswells' History

  • 1738 - Francis Boswell opens his trunk making shop on Cornmarket Street.
  • 1840s - The 4th generation of the Boswell family starts to branch out and take on new skills. Francis Boswell runs his great grandfather's original trunk making shop, while his sister Charlotte is running the shop 2 doors down as a cooper and turner. The youngest of the siblings, Henry, is a cabinet maker on George Street.
  • 1860s - Henry Boswell inherits Boswells. He is the 5th and final Boswell to own the company.
  • 1870s - Henry Boswell expands his shop into 49 Cornmarket Street, and after a few years rebuilds 47-51 Cornmarket Street. The building is still there today. 
  • 1890s - Henry Boswell has no heirs, and so Boswells passes to Arthur Pearson, who also owns the Oxford Drug Company, as well as an iron monger's shop, Lowe & Co.
  • 1910s - The Oxford Drug Company moves from 1 Broad Street to 31 Cornmarket Street (previously Lowe & Co.). When excavating the basement, parts of the old city walls are unearthed, along with medieval artefacts in what was once the city moat. Skeletons from St Michael's graveyard fall through into the basement during the excavation, and are reburied. 
  • 1920s - Arthur Hearne Pearson inherits the company. Boswells moves to its new home in Boswells House at 1-4 Broad Street, where it is today.
  • 1950s - A connecting passage is constructed, finally joining The Oxford Drug Company to the rest of Boswell House. 
  • 1960s - Tony and Christopher Pearson run the store, transforming it from being an arcade of departments into a more fully unified department store. 
  • 1990s - Jonathan and Sarah Pearson join Boswells. The building and technology are modernised, preparing Boswells for the new millennium. 
  • 2010s - Boswells opens its first fully trading website, its 1738 Tea Room and the Broad Street cafe. 
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18th April 2018

Discover this Great New Game, Bears vs Babies!

Discover this Great New Game, Bears vs Babies!

“It's all about building amazing monsters, eating delicious babies and destroying the competition!” bearsvsbabies.com

Bears vs BabiesFrom the fantastically furry box to the amazing card artwork Bears Vs Babies is very much a part of the Exploding Kittens universe – random and raucous fun that’s open to everyone.

If you’re a first-time player, you can start by using the brilliant step by step tutorial to guide you through the process of building your own monsters ready to battle against one of the three baby armies.

Bears vs BabiesOnce you’ve got the hang on the basics more advanced cards are introduced raising the strategy, and hilarity, contained within. Do you focus on the Land army or do you make sure you can battle Sea and Air as well? Do you conceal your monster identity with a ninja mask ready to strike? when should you use the powerful, yet highly vulnerable, rainbow bear heads?

If all of this sounds just a little silly, it most definitely is, but that’s where the fun lies. Imagine the world where poor defenceless monsters are overrun by provoked armies of babies without laughing out loud and you’re doing better than any of my family did over the weekend.

I would highly recommend this game to everyone who’s after having a good chuckle whilst playing a family-friendly, highly-strategic (if utterly bizarre) party game.

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27th February 2018

Top Ideas for Planning the Perfect Mother's Day

Top Ideas for Planning the Perfect Mother's Day

Our mums are amazing people, well deserving of a special day where we recognise all the incredible things they’ve done for us. Finding the perfect way to thank the person that brought you into the world, and has run around tirelessly (or in many cases, tiredly) after you ever since, is not the easiest task. Where to even begin?

Mother’s Day is all about Mum, so the most important thing to consider here is what her interests are—what would she like to do? What does she enjoy? Once you’ve figured out this part, the rest should be much, much easier. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few suggestions to help get you on your way to making Mother’s Day really special.

Take in a Little Culture

If your mum is really into music, history or the arts, why not treat her to a day filled with cultural delights? One of the truly great things about Oxford is that it has no shortage of amazing things to see and do, even if you know the city well.

Make a trip to one of the city’s fantastic, free museums and take in the paintings at the Ashmolean, the dinosaurs at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, or the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Or maybe check out a little local history at the Museum of Oxford or Oxford Town Hall. If you both already know these places well, then why not try one of the latest exhibitions? There are tonnes to choose from, many of which won’t even cost you a penny!

Ashmolean Museum

Here are a few that are on Sunday 11th March

  • Archaeological Finds on the Berkshire DownsAshmolean Museum 10am-5pm (free)

If your mum loves a little music, why not check out the live jazz and swing trio on the 11th March at The Isis Farmhouse? For some beautiful choral music, Exeter College Chapel has Vox Chamber Choir that same evening. The ever-wonderful Holywell Music Room also has the Marman String Quartet playing Beethoven and Schubert over a little coffee the morning of the 11th, followed by Kitty McFarlane singing folk that evening. It all sounds extraordinary to us!

And, finally, taking in a little culture can be as straight forward as treating your mum to a trip to the cinema…her choice of film, of course! Just sit back, and let the silver screen take you away somewhere incredible.

Try Something New

Guitar ImagePerhaps your mum is active and adventurous, or maybe just yearning to learn a new skill. There are absolutely tonnes of lessons and activities available to try in and around Oxford, which could be a great way to treat your mum to something a bit different.

There are classes and workshops aplenty in this fair city, so there’s probably one out there to suit. This Mothering Sunday, for example, Oxford Playhouse are hosting their popular 40+ Acting Company. Or perhaps Mum longs to learn a language, or a musical instrument, so why not get her enrolled on that course she’s always wanted to take?

For those with a mum who’s shown an interest in yoga, for instance, you could take her along to her first session, and give her the courage she needs to try something new! There are tonnes of yoga classes out there to choose from, so there’s likely to be one near you.

Hot Air Balloon Image

If your mum has always wanted to take a hot air balloon trip, go rock climbing or learn how to ride a horse (or something else wonderfully exciting), but has never had the opportunity, this could be just the thing to make her day. Find out what sort of activities are on offer near you, and an adventurous, adrenaline fuelled Mother’s Day may well be on the cards!

Take a Trip

Blenheim Palace Image

There’s tons of amazing places within easy reach of Oxford, and so there’s bound to be one that would make a great day trip for you and your mum! Just remember to think about what Mum is interested in, and tailor your choices to that!

If you’d prefer not to have to go too far away, luckily Oxfordshire is full of great places to head off to for a day out. This leafy county boasts a wide variety of attractions, from Blenheim Palace in Woodstock to Crocodiles of the World in Brize Norton. For animal lovers there’s Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Millets Farm Falconry Centre, and Bicester Village is pure shopping heaven for the fashionable mum. Or if your mum has a very specific interest or hobby, perhaps something like a trip to Didcot Railway Centre, or a tour of Hook Norton’s historic brewery, would be just the thing to make her smile?

If you’d prefer to venture further afield, though, there are tons of exciting places to choose from within a relative stones throw, such as London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Winchester and Bath.

Spoil Mum Rotten

Pampering ImageIf your mum loves to be pampered, make this a day for her to put her feet up and just relax while you take care of everything. There are lots of ways to go about doing this, so make sure you plan ahead!

Start Mum’s day with breakfast in bed. Cook up a storm with something she loves, like a full English or a continental breakfast, and surprise her. Or, if she prefers her breakfasts to be unsurprising, how about a tea party or a picnic later in the day? And don’t worry, there’s no need to let the chilly Winter weather ruin your plans, improvising a picnic on the living room floor could be kinda fun!

Afternoon Tea Image

If you really want to help out, and let her relax for the day, find out if your mum has any chores or tasks that need completing on Mother's Day, and then take them off her hands by doing them for her…yes, all of them!

Alternatively, you could take Mum out for a special treat such as a trip to a spa, or for a special Mother’s Day lunch. Afternoon tea can be a fantastic way to make your mum feel appreciated…and also full of cake.

Pop into our 1738 Tea Room to try our Traditional Afternoon Tea for Two, or if you’re feeling especially extravagant, we definitely recommend a Sparkling Wine Afternoon Tea for Two. Be sure to book ahead on 01865 255531 to make sure we have space for everyone!

And that’s really all there is to it! Figure out how Mum would like to spend her day, and then make it one she’s bound to remember!

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15th February 2018

How to Make a Travel Itinerary

How to Make a Travel Itinerary

A travel itinerary is like a small database which outlines all of the elements of your trip, from hotel stops to destinations. Even though it can feel overwhelming and time consuming, it's quite easy to make one.

The advantages of having a travel itinerary for you trip are that it actually saves you money and time, as well as avoiding a lot of stress. Just imagine not finding any connecting flights to your dream destination, or no available accommodation once you get there… An itinerary can help prevent problems like these from spoiling your trip.

 Hiking Image

Plan

It’s important for you to decide how you’d like to spend your time from the outset. Are you an outdoor person? Will you want to visit museums and other cultural attractions? What will you want to do for nights out, and for food?

Take all of these factors into account and then create a list of everything you want to see and do on your trip. The internet will be your best friend when making a travel itinerary, so start using it now to research your destination. Check out things such as tourist attractions and activities, local holidays, events and markets. Don’t forget to also look for hidden gems, which don’t always make it into the tourist guides!

Based on how much money and time you have, now you can figure out where you’ll be staying and how to get there. You can either choose to stay in a 5-star hotel, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous and frugal, go couch surfing and backpacking! Setting a budget from the start will help you to figure out where you want to stay.

When planning out your holiday, it’s also a good idea to remember to check what to expect from the weather in advance. Will you need gloves, umbrellas, or swimming shorts? If it's likely to be very hot you may want to read up on the best ways to cope with the heat first. Keep your budget in mind at all times too, as you don’t want to plan activities for a whole week just to find out you’re out of money by day 3 once you’re there!

 Travelling Image

Organise

Once you have all these ideas written into a list, a great next step is to put them in order of location and priority. It’s much easier, and faster, to visit places in the same area then move on to the next one, rather than going back and forth randomly.

Make sure you allocate enough time for each activity. For example, it might take a whole day to explore a big museum. Consulting online forums and reviews from other travellers is also a good idea when deciding what to see and do.

If you want to get really organised and be prepared, spend time researching your options and always have a plan B. In terms of transport, keep in mind that planes save you the most time, however they can be expensive. To stay within your budget, you can look into trains, boats and rental cars. These can be more time consuming, but also way more adventurous, and a great way to see more of where you’re visiting.

A travel insurance policy can cover you against things such as bad weather, trip delays, lost or stolen luggage, emergency transportation, evacuation and medical problems, so it’s always a good idea to travel with an insurance plan in place. The level of cover needed for your trip will depend entirely on your needs, where you’re going and what activities you’ll be doing while you’re away.

 Notebook Planning Image

Store Your Itinerary

There’s a variety of mobile apps you can download to help you with your travel itinerary and stay organised. It’s very important that you have a hard copy of your itinerary first, rather than relying only on your phone. For this reason we would recommend drafting your itinerary on paper before adding it to an app.

These websites and apps make it much easier to store, sort and share your lists. Some of them even go the extra mile by automatically including weather and flight updates, maps, directions, activity suggestions and many more useful features. Some of the top apps of this kind are Tripit.com, TripCase.com, TripHobo.com and Google’s My Maps app. Again, make sure you have a plan B – your hard copy itinerary written in a notebook or journal!

Finally, what you need to do is add essential travel information to your itinerary: hotel reservations, rental car confirmations, important information for tours, trains and buses, and last but not least: information that you don’t want to have to use. This includes your home address, emergency contact details, addresses and phone numbers of your home country’s embassies, consulates etc. Read our blog on travel security for a bit more information on how to plan for a safe trip.

 Train Image

Relax!

All in all, flexible itineraries tend to be the best ones. Don’t try to micromanage every hour of your holiday, and it’s often good to leave an extra day for the unexpected. It’s very likely that you’ll discover some hidden attraction on the way, plus your trip will be very rewarding if you’re more laid back about it!

Some would argue that creating a travel itinerary is the most important step of a journey. Even though it’s not the easiest thing to do, planning doesn’t have to be a painstaking process either. You can learn to have fun while you plan, and now that you’ve learned how to make an itinerary, you can use the same template for all your future adventures. Happy packing!

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12th February 2018

February Half Term Activities in Oxfordshire

February Half Term Activities in Oxfordshire

We know how difficult it can be keeping the kids entertained during the holidays, so we’ve put together a list of our favourite Oxford activities that both kids and adults will love.

Crocodiles of the World

Here in Oxfordshire we’re very lucky to have the United Kingdom’s only Crocodile zoo. Just a short drive outside of the city is your chance to get up close with 14 different species of crocodiles, alligators and caimans from around the world.

Crocodiles of the World not only gives you the chance to view crocodiles swimming underwater, but there are also opportunities to feed and handle some of the worlds most feared predators. This is sure to be an amazing day out for the whole family, and not one that will be forgotten any time soon.

http://www.crocodilesoftheworld.co.uk/

The Ashmolean MuseumAshmolean Museum

One of our favourite Oxford museums, the Ashmolean has an extensive range of collections from across the ages, exploring art and archaeology. You can learn about ancient Egypt in one room, and then have a look at Renaissance Italian art in another.

On the 14th and 15th February the Ashmolean are hosting a Chinese New Year Party between 1-4pm, which is not to be missed. Apart from being the oldest museum in the World, one of the amazing things about the Ashmolean is that it’s free to visit (excluding some exhibitions).

www.ashmolean.org

(Image Credit)

The Story Museum

The Story Museum is always a fun place to visit, with loads to see and do for the whole family, as well as having a great little shop and café. The Story Museum gets even more exciting during the school holidays.

This half term, along with all the usual fun and educational activities that are going on, there are loads of extras including The Science of Magic and a book signing with author Lauren Child. 

http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Another firm Oxford favourite, the Pitt Rivers museum is just as well known for its shrunken heads as it is for its amazing educational programme of events. From learning about the freezing Siberian regions to seeing 17th century masks worn by actors in Japanese Noh dramas, there is always something exciting to see and do at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

There are all sorts of family trails that you can download or pick up when you visit to guide you and your family around the museum collections. There's also object handling sessions on Saturdays between 11am and 1pm, to get a little closer to some of the fascinating items on display. 

www.prm.ox.ac.uk/

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Rhinos, giraffes, meerkats and penguins might not be what you would usually expect to find in the Oxfordshire countryside, but just outside Burford you will find all of these exotic animals, and many more, at the Cotswold Wildlife Park. With a huge range of animals spread out in the beautiful Cotswold gardens, this is the perfect place to spend the day for both young and old.

With restaurants and cafes on site as well as a great adventure playground, you really can spend the whole day exploring the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk

(Image Credits)

Oxford Castle Unlocked

The Oxford Castle is a must for anyone visiting Oxford; you can explore the history in the Castle and Crypt, you can climb the mound or you can simply relax in one of the many restaurants. The Oxford Castle Unlocked experience is a great way to learn, have fun and meet some interesting characters this half term. 

https://www.oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk/

Didcot Railway Centre

Didcot Railway Centre ImageThe Didcot Railway Centre is a great place for visitors of a wide range of ages, after all you're never too young or too old to enjoy a ride on a steam engine. Located right by Didcot station, the Railway Centre is easy to get to, and easy to find. The Centre will be running their usual weekend Steam Days this half term, with two different lines open to take a trip along, and an impressive collection of locomotives and coaches to take a peek at. There should be plenty to keep the family occupied here, and you could also pick up a quiz and puzzle sheet for the kids.

During half term they're open on Wednesday 14th Feb for an extra Steam Day, so there's no need to miss out if your half term weekends are starting to look a little busy with all of the other exciting activities taking place.

http://www.didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk/

(Image Credits)

Millets Farm Centre

Located just a short drive out of Oxford, Millets Farm Centre is another family favourite. At its falconry centre, for example, you get a great chance to see over 80 different kinds of birds of prey and they have some wonderful flying demonstrations and hands on experiences that are sure to make this a fun day out for all. At the Millets Farm Zoo you can go say hello to farmyard favourites such as cows, pigs, sheep and horses, not to mention they have some rather special alpacas too! While you're there why not also check out the Meerkat Experience and the farm shop and garden centre. 

This half term there are plenty of great activities going on at Millets Farm Centre for the kids get stuck into, such as the Children's Jewellery Making Workshop and a magic show.

http://www.milletsfarmcentre.com/

Oxford PlayhouseOxford Playhouse

Currently showing at the Oxford Playhouse is The Little Match Girl (and other happier tales), which is inspired by the tales of Hans Christian Anderson.

Hurry though, performances end on 17th February, and tickets are selling very fast!

https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/

(Image Credit) 

If you can think of any more great Oxford activities that we've missed, let us know!

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10th January 2018

5 Ways To Add Value To Your Home

5 Ways To Add Value To Your Home

With Christmas well and truly over, many of us will be looking to get the year ahead off to a great start - be it healthy New Year's resolutions or a spot of home improvement. If your intentions steer towards the latter, read on, as we share our top 5 tips for adding value and style to your home over the next 12 months.

From simple kitchen makeovers and clever bathroom updates to money-earning extensions, we’ve got 5 fantastic ways to achieve impactful updates that you’ll love - and better yet, they’ll up the value of your property in the process.

1. Kickstart your kitchen

As the heart of the home, kitchens are typically a great place to add value as they’re used daily and are often a big selling point for potential buyers, too. But you don’t need to go through the hassle and expense of a full refit to give your kitchen a new look this year - as simple updates and a little elbow grease can go a long way, whatever your budget.

From a fresh coat of paint and new worktops to swapping out old kitchen accessories and appliances, these small changes could make a big impact on your interior - giving your kitchen a new and striking look.Kitchen example

2. Create more living space

If you want to significantly increase your property value in the long run, consider creating more living space. You can make best use of existing space by de-cluttering or using cunning storage solutions, built in or free standing to keep floors and surfaces clear.

In terms of building work, one of the least disruptive ways to do this would be converting an existing loft - which offers the ideal space for more bedrooms. However, if you have the room and planning permission, a single-storey extension could add even more value - especially if you have an eye on sustainability. Opting for the latest innovations in modular construction - with room modules built offsite - will ensure your extension boasts excellent energy efficiency. More than that, it provides additional appeal for potential buyers in the future and means your property will stand out from the crowd when it goes onto the market.

3. Add a bathroom

As with living space, adding a second bathroom or en-suite could be a great money-earning update for you home. Whether you reconfigure existing wall positioning, convert unused storage space or go for a completely new extension, adding a new bathroom will positively impact on your property price. Again, new construction innovations allow you to do this with relative ease, with modular bathroom pods now making additions easier than ever. If your budget is tight, even adding a small downstairs toilet or wetroom can make a huge difference. Below is an example of a bathroom pod and even we can't tell the difference between one built on site!

According to Nationwide Building Society, although converting an unused attic into an en-suite bathroom can take anywhere from six to 12 weeks to complete, it has the potential to add approximately 21% to your property’s value – making this a highly worthwhile investment. Similarly, a second bathroom can up its value by a welcome 5%, as long as it isn’t in place of a double bedroom.Elements Europe Bathroom Pod example

4. Brilliant bathrooms

If installing a second bathroom is out of your reach, don’t fret. Providing your bathroom suite is in good condition, you can still add value to your home without spending big or starting from scratch. You can create the appearance of a completely new bathroom using new tiles or decorative features on the walls. It’s the perfect opportunity to embrace the latest interior trends to achieve an enviable aesthetic - leaving your bathroom looking good as new and guests impressed with your on-trend decor.

An even simpler, more budget-friendly option is to update this space with bathroom accessories. From creating a stylish new colour scheme with bath linens and accessories to improving storage solutions to organise and declutter, even the small details can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a bathroom.

5. Spruce up the outside

While a lot of the focus for adding value lies within your home, it’s still important not to forget the outside areas, too. As the first thing visitors see when they arrive, sprucing up the exterior is undoubtedly beneficial - increasing both kerb appeal and value. From keeping plants and lawns well-trimmed to adding decorative ornaments and stylish garden furniture, you can use this area to make an instant style statement with your home.

However, valuing the benefit of regular outdoor maintenance - such as painting external walls, repairing guttering and ensuring roofs are fully weather-proofed - will also ensure you don’t lose value by allowing them to fall into disrepair.

Whether you’re planning to sell your house soon or you’re just looking to make some value-adding updates, follow the tips in today’s post for the essential insights on adding value and style to your home - ready for whenever the time comes to sell.

Example Garden

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19th December 2017

7 Tips for Travelling With Children

7 Tips for Travelling With Children

With Christmas creeping ever closer, for many of us, our minds are turning towards winding down for the festive period and getting excited about all that the holiday season has to offer. For parents and guardians of small children, Christmas can be a truly magical time of year - but this busy period is not without its challenges.

From sourcing must-have Christmas gifts to stocking up on ingredients for the most important meal of the year, it’s not unlikely you’ll have a seemingly never-ending to-do list. Today, we’re helping you tick one of the most important items off your list, as we offer some top tips on travelling with children in winter.

Involve Them In Travel Plans

Whether you’re spending Christmas abroad or just away from the family home, you can get your children excited about the holidays by informing them of your travel plans. From trains and aeroplanes to road trips by car, your young ones will love the prospect of trying something new and will be keen to get involved. Dig out old maps or use images on your smartphone to show them where they’ll be going - and, depending on their age and whether you’re visiting a different country, you could even try teaching them some local lingo.

Pack Travel Distractions

Travel ScrabbleFollowing on from getting your children involved in your plans, if they’re old enough, try giving them small tasks to ‘help’ with the journey. For example, if you’re travelling by car, have them look out for fuel and service stations. This will give them something to focus on and help them feel as though they’re contributing to the journey. On top of this, you can pack their favourite toys and comfort items. From travel sticker books to travel sized games and activity sets, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of entertainment options to cover the journey - as you don’t need us to tell you that little ones become restless very easily!

Keep Essentials On Hand

In the furor of travel, the last thing you want is to misplace your passport, car keys or any other essential items. With this in mind, you’ll want to keep a travel wallet or bag handy and make sure you know where everything is and that you’re able to access any crucial documents or travel information with ease. This will save you from rummaging around and getting distracted in busy airports and train stations, which is when you’ll want to keep your focus on your children. It’s also a great idea to keep wet wipes to hand, as well as a change of clothes for any children you’re travelling with.

Maintain Routine

One of the best ways to stay organised as a parent or guardian is to stick to a routine where possible - and while this might seem unnecessary when holidaying around Christmas, you’ll be thankful you saw it through. From eating habits to bedtime routines, it’s likely that your children are used to their days operating in a specific way, and any disruption to this routine can cause upset and unease for children of varying ages. Where possible, stick as closely as you can to your usual schedule. This way, whether you're staying in a villa in Lanzarote or a cottage in the countryside, you can help your young ones feel as at home as possible.

Alarm Clock - Maintain Routine

Stock Up On Snacks & Drinks

For children - and adults, for that matter - nothing works as a distraction technique quite like food. To keep hunger at bay and meltdowns at a minimum, stock up on your child’s favourite snacks and get these out at intervals throughout your journey. You might want to avoid foods like chocolate, which can melt, and anything too smelly - as this has the potential to make for an unpleasant trip. Keeping children and again adults hydrated, despite the need for loo breaks is also a good idea as de-hydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and irritability. Not good for anyone driving or for siblings prone to argue in the back of a car.

Have An ‘In Case Of Emergency’ Plan 

In the lead up to Christmas, the country gets steadily busier - and this can make travel particularly stressful. Whether you’re travelling alone with children or as part of a group, it’s a great idea to have backup plans should anything go wrong. From pre-agreed meeting points to making sure your young ones know their contact details or are at least carrying them, it’s a great idea to have measures in place to resolve any unforeseen situations that could occur at this manic time of year.

Plan In Pit Stops

Baby Sleeping

As a parent or guardian, you know that hours upon hours of time spent cooped up in a vehicle with irritable children is guaranteed to get your holiday off to a rocky start. If you’re travelling by car, it’s easy to schedule in regular pit stops to allow everyone to stretch their legs and get some much-needed fresh air. However, for those who are flying, you’ll be at the mercy of the flight length. Try walking to the bathroom or down the aisle with your young ones to keep them from sitting still for too long. The excitement will hopefully tire them out and they’ll sleep for at least a portion of the flight.

As a parent or guardian, you know that hours upon hours of time spent cooped up in a vehicle with irritable children is guaranteed to get your holiday off to a rocky start. If you’re travelling by car, it’s easy to schedule in regular pit stops to allow everyone to stretch their legs and get some much-needed fresh air. However, for those who are flying, you’ll be at the mercy of the flight length. Try walking to the bathroom or down the aisle with your young ones to keep them from sitting still for too long. The excitement will hopefully tire them out and they’ll sleep for at least a portion of the flight.

With the most magical time of year fast approaching, we hope these tips help you take some of the stress out of Christmas - allowing you to spend quality time with your friends and family this festive period. Merry Christmas from everyone at Boswells.

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15th December 2017

Top things to do in Oxford for Christmas

Top things to do in Oxford for Christmas

Just because the weather makes you want to stay indoors and enjoy a cup of warm tea, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing else you can do in the holiday season.
Winter is the time for family days out and celebrations with friends, with a plethora of events and activities you can partake in and around Oxford. We picked some of the best things to do for Christmas in Oxford this year and compiled them in this list for you.

The good news is that many of these happen every year so if you miss one this year start planning for the next. Merry Christmas from Boswells.

In Oxford

Oxford Christmas Carol Concert Evenings

Christ Church Cathedral ChoirMany of the University Colleges have world renowned choirs and orchestras or ensembles who give concerts at Christmas. Isn't that a great opportunity.  You can see most events on The Daily Info we've created just the right link for concerts until christmas or Music at Oxford.  

The choir pictured is Christ Church cathedral Choir courtesy of Music at Oxford.

 

Oxford Christmas Market

Oxford Christmas MarketThe iconic Broad Street isn't just home to Boswells but to numerous markets and events throughout the year, with one of the most important ones being the Oxford Christmas Market.
It features beautifully decorated wooden stalls offering a great selection of Christmas gifts and seasonal treats, with over 50 different exhibitors to choose from!
Apart from this, local choirs and bands will also be present, performing Christmas carols up until the last day of the market, December the 17th.

Did you know the market has a website too https://www.oxfordchristmasmarket.co.uk/

Christmas Ice Show

Oxford Ice RinkProduced by local skate couches who work at Oxford Ice rink along with skaters and their families, the Christmas Ice Show is an amazing celebration of both the festive season and of the popularity of ice skating in the city.

The theme for the 20172017 edition of the show is “Around the world in 80 minutes”, with the event taking place at Oxford Ice Rink.
Featuring international, national and local skating champions alongside over 150 local skaters, this show is an important member of the city’s Christmas events repertoire.

“The coaches, Ice rink team, skaters and families put a lot of work into making this show one of the premier Christmas events in the county and I would encourage everyone to come to the show and get in the Christmas spirit” said Vincent Harley, General Manager of the rink.

Further afield

Le Manoir At Christmas

Le Manoir Carol Concerts

Belmond le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is a hotel established in 1984, situated on the outskirts of Oxford, in Great Milton.

Every year they throw some magical Christmas Carols concert evenings with various choirs and singers. These events will be hosted by a well-known personality and will combine a feast of musical enchantment with all the delights of Raymond Blanc’s cuisine.

Each evening includes a Champagne Laurent-Perrier reception, a concert at nearby St Mary’s Church, plus a four-course dinner with accompanying wines, coffee and petits fours.

Read all about it on their website.

The glorious photo of Le Manoir to the left is by Paul Wilkinson Photography Ltd

Blenheim Lights FestivalChristmas at Blenheim

Blenheim Palace, the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace and ancestral home of Winston Churchill, is hosting a wonderful lights festival once again, after its success last year.

Its 2000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and Formal Gardens will be crossed by a wonderful light trail, winding through the landscape and allowing visitors to discover and interact with various festive scenes and seasonal experiences, while highlighting the palace’s rich history.

The festival is onto January 1st so perhaps a trip out between Christmas and the New Year is in order?

You can read all about it on their website. 

Santa’s Grotto at Frosts Garden Centre

Santa and ChildTake part in a grotto adventure at the Frosts Garden Centre of Millets Farm!
Lasting for around 45 minutes, key activities include singing with the elves, making reindeer food ready to sprinkle on Christmas Eve and listening to a story read by Santa himself in his own cosy living room. Children love a good Santa's grotto and this is a great one.

With lots of other surprises included, this is a marvellous way to spend the 24th of December with your family outside of the house. You can read all about it on their website.

Whether you will spend Christmas alone, together with friends or accompanied by your family, we hope you make the most out of these handpicked Oxford holiday activities. Just remember to bring some warm gloves!

 

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15th December 2017

How to decorate your Christmas tree

How to decorate your Christmas tree

Have you ever noticed how wonderful it looks when you pass a house with a majestic tree in the living room window, glowing in the night, waiting for gifts to be laid under its ornaments? For some of us, decorating a Christmas tree is one of our favourite things to do during the holiday season to create that lovely impression. For others it is a bit of an onerous task that they dread. Which is a shame so if you are not sure how to decorate your Christmas tree or where to start, then read on!

Setting up

There are many possibilities when it comes to decorating your tree and you can easily get creative in the process!

Do you get a real tree, or an artificial one? Getting a real tree means that your house will really smell like Christmas, making it easier for Santa to find your house. However, this also means that you will have to get a new tree every year and spend extra time to find the right one.

On the other hand, an artificial tree can come with built in lights and can be reused a few years in a row, even if it’s not ‘the real deal’. There's no right or wrong answer just what's right for you.

It’s a good idea to set up a budget beforehand, take into account the time it will take for the whole decorating process and ensure that everything is safe during and after you decorate it. Also, look around your house and decide where it’s best to set up your Christmas tree. Don't forget to leave room not just for presents but think about where you'll be giving them out if that's part of your Christmas day tradition.

A good tip is to set up the tree the day before the decorating day, no matter what type of tree you go for. You will give the branches time to settle and be able to observe whether the tree’s structure is sound and if the stand supports it. You should also make sure all the lights are working before you stringing them all up!

Theme

The most important stage in a project is planning, and this is no different when it comes to decorating the Christmas tree. Try and visualize the way you want the tree to look in the end. Spend some time to narrow down your choices and pick an overall colour scheme that you like. It will help you maintain a consistent design for the tree and throughout the house and ensures you won’t end up buying things you don’t even need or like.

Toy Soldier OrnamentsFor a traditional look, go for Christmassy colours, such as red, gold and green. If you’re feeling more minimalistic and contemporary, try going for a maximum of 2 or 3 colours, for example white and silver. Of course, you can take artistic freedom and mix whichever colours you like! Brown, blue, purple and orange are a few other popular choices.

Whatever you choose obviously impacts your hanging decorations choices. You could have a very specific them like our Nutcracker ballet soldier ornaments or just generally want to choose plain baubles for a clean contemporary look or ones with imagery for a traditional or victorian theme.

 

Lights

Do this first! Once you have your lights up on the tree, it makes it much easier to hang the rest of the decorations, compared to doing it the other way around. It’s also a good idea to wind them while they are lit up, so you can see what they look like as you go.

LED Star Tree TopperUsually, tree lights come in two wire strands colours: white and green. Choose the one that matches your tree, in order for it to be less visible. There’s also a variety of colours to go for, such as cool white lights, warm white and multi-coloured ones. Choose the ones that match your theme and also don’t be afraid to mix them! You can even add a lit up tree topper like this stylish star design.

Many people have their own techniques when it comes to stringing the lights. Our best suggestion is to start from the bottom of the tree, winding them around the inside of it working your way up. After reaching the top, wind the lights around the outer branches while going down. Voila!

Garland and Tinsel

These come in many forms, from plain to fancy and from monochrome to multi-coloured and if you watched last years BBC Inside the Factory program you'll know that much of the tinsel sold in the UK comes from a single factory in Wales.

TinselIt’s good practice to add them from the top to the bottom, to avoid branches bulging between tightly secured strands. Thin, beaded garlands look best hung from branch to branch; thicker paper, ribbon, or foil garlands look best wrapped loosely around the entire tree. Ribbon, beaded, or metallic garland all look great. Pick the one that goes best with your theme.

Some people prefer the easy way and just cascade them over the top of the tree, rather than wrapping them around and around looking for that even and balanced look. If done right, this can come outlooking pretty and it saves a lot of time. However, keep in mind that it best works with simple beaded garlands.

Ornaments

The next step in decorating a Christmas tree is to hang your Christmas ornaments. Place your favourites first, in key positions across the tree in order to showcase them. In order to give it depth, hang the bigger ones closer to the centre of the tree and the smaller ones towards the outside. Ornaments positioned towards the centre of the tree add a feeling of depth and give a more interesting display.

BaublesMake sure you space your ornaments evenly around the tree, taking into account weight distribution and going for a balanced look. Be sure to balance ornaments by size too, not just colour. You don’t want one side of your tree to end up with all large or small ornaments. Don't hang ornaments on the tips of branches as it makes them droop which breaks youe even look and in a worst case scenario they will fall off.

It’s all fairly straightforward when you follow this simple rule: add lights first, then garlands and tinsel and, finally, your tree decorations. Just remember to take a step back every once in a while, so you can get a better perspective and see your progress. And now your Christmas tree is almost done: all there is left to do is to decorate the tip with a Christmas tree topper and the base with Santa’s gifts! Have fun!

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