The run up to Christmas can be stressful. For most of us, it’s a whirlwind of online (and real life) shopping, cooking and planning, and of course my work doesn’t stop either (I’ve already cooked three Christmas dinners and it’s only just December). I decided to take a pre-Christmas pampering trip with a little help from Trainline’s new voice app. Here’s how I got on.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and just to make it extra special, this year is the 25th anniversary of the pink ribbon. Breast cancer will affect one in eight women in their lifetimes, and at the moment, one person is being diagnosed every 10 minutes, so it’s really important that we all come together and raise as much money as we can. Loads of brilliant brands have teamed up with breast cancer charities to provide opportunities for you to donate while you shop, and with Christmas coming up (67 days, folks!), it’s a really good time to get a start on your Christmas shopping, and do something brilliant for a great cause. Here’s my Breast Cancer Awareness Month roundup. Read more
One of my favourite places to shop is upstairs in our local T K Maxx. I’m not massively keen on the clothes, but I love all the kitchen stuff, gifts and candles. We recently discovered their new shop on our way to Lidl in Aylesbury (I think I mentioned it here), and Mr E and I recently went back for a proper look around and ended up having a really lovely Christmassy afternoon of shopping. Here are my favourite discoveries:
So it’s 1st December, which means I can finally start to mention Christmas without people throwing things (who am I kidding? I’ve been doing it for weeks already). I’m a complete Christmas-a-holic, and absolutely adore a Christmas advert too. I still cry EVERY TIME that single tear rolls down the face of the Man in the Moon, and every time Mog the Forgetful Cat accidentally ruins Christmas, I well up all over again.
The Christmas shopping has begun in earnest, so I was delighted to discover a gorgeous new website that’s going to be verrrry handy indeed. Join up and tell Lyst your favourite shops and brands, and you can see them all in one place. Once you’re logged in, you choose which brands and shops you want to follow, save items to buy later and even flag items so Lyst will let you know when they’re on sale – genius! There are items from designer brands like JBrand, Gucci and Michael Kors and retailers like Zara, Selfridges, Asos, Topshop, John Lewis and The Outnet. The lovely people at Lyst asked me to choose a few of my faves, so I’ve chosen carefully, just in case Mr E is reading…
So little Lyra is just four months old now and growing fast. Since our last update she’s really cracked the house training thing and actually whines at the back door now to go out. Trouble is, if we don’t know she’s there, she’ll still piddle on the doormat, but hey, pretty impressive for four months. She adores the boys and showers them with kisses every time she sees them (and a few nibbles – we’re STILL working on that).
We’ve also attended our first puppy class (‘HEEL!’) during which I went through about a kilo of sausage, but did succeed in completing a successful recall exercise and getting her to sit. Woohoo!
Work wise it’s been really busy. I’m really sad that my partnership with the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook has now finished. You can find all the posts here if you want to catch up. The dinner party one is particularly fab. Chocolate nemesis baby!
I’ve also been working with London Gatwick Airport to provide families with Christmas shopping tips – here’s the finished article – I’m pretty proud of it, got to be honest!
A Cost and Time Efficient Christmas: Shopping Tips for Busy Mums
As a busy wife and mum to two, Becky Wiggins (aka English Mum) shares her advice for getting ahead of the impending Christmas present buying panic:
First things first: make a plan: grab a pen and paper (old school!), write a list of people you need to buy for and have a think about your budget per person. Then stick to it! Consider cash as that helps avoid overspend. Keep the list handy so you can note down any gift ideas next to each person if you think of any.
Take time to sit down with your kids and write letters to Santa. It’s a lovely tradition and will give you great insight into the sort of presents they’re after – even if your budget won’t really stretch to a pony this year (again).
If you’d prefer to cram it all into one mammoth shopping day, start early. If you can, pick a midweek day and stick to your list. Oh, and it goes without saying to try and pick a date before Christmas Eve.
If you are shopping early, be on top of the present hiding. There’s nothing worse than gifts being discovered before the big day – be creative: use empty suitcases, boxes in the garage or even high kitchen cupboards!
If you’re travelling before Christmas, use airport waiting time to make the most of the favourable prices vs the high street and the fabulous shops all under one roof. Gatwick in particular has a good line up having just opened a raft of stores including a new Harrods Department Store, Aspinal of London, Hugo Boss, Mango, Superdry and Ernest Jones (plus Zara, Victoria’s Secret, Fat Face, Snow + Rock and Ted Baker arriving early December). They also offer a ‘voucher passport’ with a range of special offers and a free ‘Shop Fly and Collect’ service, meaning you can go to town on buying big gifts or stocking fillers. You simply leave shopping bags at the airport and pick them up on your return!
Whilst abroad, consider buying a few gifts to bring home: local wines, soaps, pastries and cheese (if you don’t mind stinking out your suitcase) make wonderful presents, especially if you’re not certain on people’s tastes. Just step away from the castanets.
If you’re buying for teenagers, gift vouchers are your friend. In the run up to Christmas, I add a gift voucher into my shopping basket every week. It spreads the load and no teen will sneer at iTunes or Top Shop vouchers.
Get baking: there’s no rule that says you have to buy your presents. Home made presents show that you’ve really thought about the recipient, so bake an extra couple of Christmas cakes, knock up a batch of boozy mince pies or make chocolates, lemon curd or chutney.
Think quality rather than quantity. We’ve cut down on the amount of silly stocking fillers that cost money and were discarded by Boxing Day. Favourite shower gels, shampoos and chocolate bars are all great stocking fillers that you can stock up on in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Have a couple of small emergency presents handy: wrap a nice box of chocolates or a scented candle just in case guests arrive at the door bearing gifts. There’s nothing more awkward than receiving an unexpected gift so be prepared with a backup. On the plus side, if you don’t give them away you get a surprise extra pressie for yourself.
And finally, give your children a small budget to buy something for each other (or for you) – it’s lovely for them to experience the joy of present giving!
In other news, Sam has got his first uni offer – much excitement! – and Charlie is working hard towards his GCSEs and going to multiple gigs in London. This pleases me as I’ve always been a fan of spending money on experiences over material things.
Latest Instagrams have included this little beauty.. Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva which smells exactly like black jelly babies and is absolutely delicious.
Next up, I’m working on the brand new Big Christmas Bakeoff and some wine and cheese matches as well as loads of new wine recommendations. Watch this space!!
So here we go with another Christmas gift guide then. They proved so popular that I thought I’d resurrect them and tell you about all the lovely stuff I’ve discovered that will be just perfect for your foodie loved one’s stocking.
First up from Octopus is Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 (£11.99). The best selling annual wine guide is back for another year and is indespensible if you’re a wine lover.
Organic Seed & Bean’s organic chocolates are really special, 100% ethical and handmade in the UK. The mini bars would make perfect stocking fillers for a food lover, while the hampers are beautiful.
A really special single malt whisky is a fabulous foodie present. Seek out The Macallan Amber for its smooth toffee apple and cinnamon flavours (available at specialist whisky retailers including The Whisky Shop) or The Glenrothes Select Reserve (around £38) for a touch of citrus and hints of spice – plus I think the bottle is amazing (available from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and whisky specialists).
Remember Blue Nun? Well now it has released a sparkling limited edition wine, with little flecks of 22 carat gold leaf suspended in it! It’s also available in teeny tiny little bottles that would make cute stocking fillers. I had a taste and it’s exactly as I remember – it’s medium, so if you’re not a fan I think it would be amazing as a party cocktail with a good spritz of lime or maybe a splash of cherry liqueur. Yum. The full size bottle of Blue Nun Sparkling Gold is available to buy exclusively online from Drinks Direct or The Drink Shop for around £10. Or you can buy the little baby bottles from ASDA for £2.25.
Lovely Louisa Cefaz makes the most amazing artisan marshmallow in some amazing flavours (I can testify that the white chocolate peanut butter flavour is to die for). Find Louisa’s amazing creations at: FluffyPuffPuffs.
Kings Fine Food specialise in luxury hampers stuffed with all sorts of really special products (I’m a huge fan of the Amedei Tuscan chocolate that they sell). Hampers start from £49.99 right up to £249.99 and there’s also a gift wrapping service. If anyone wants to buy me a pressie, I’d like to try their very delicious sounding Visciolata Del Cardinale cherry infused wine, thank you please.
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