Archive | December, 2011

Note to self

30 Dec

It’s ‘Thank You’ letter time again. And that’s the perfect excuse to invest in some stylish new note cards.

There are some gorgeous designs around at the moment, that don’t cost a bomb, and that will serve you well all year. My favourites are  Polaroid notelets, £6.55 for 20, above, which each have a different arty pic in the style of a Polaroid photo on the front.

I also love Cath Kidston’s note card book, £7.35, below, which contains 24 cards of various designs including a couple of specific ‘thank you’ and ‘happy birthday’ cards. They come with matching spotty envelopes in a cute folding box.

Finally, take a look at The Natural World photographic cards, £4.99. With 30 cards each printed with a different glossy photo of nature/wildlife, it’s a a total bargain and there’s a card to suit even the trickiest of customers.

All are available from http://www.amazon.co.uk

We are sale-ing

28 Dec

Traipsing into town and battling my way through the sale crowds is the last thing I feel like doing today, so I thought I’d take a look online to see what bargains you can nab from the comfort of your living room (although they’re available instore, too). Here’s my roundup of the best… enjoy!

Dunelm Mill (www.dunelm-mill.com) have reduced all their cushions – their classy embroidered tulip design is now £8.99 (reduced from £14.99 – a saving of £6); while their turquoise London Bridge cushion is just £2.49 (was £3.99).

Debenhams (www.debenhams.com) has great homes bargains with up to 70% off. I’m stocking up on bathroom goodies, like their Missoni-esque Pink Santiago Stripe towels, £6.50-£17.30 (30% off the original price); and Matthew Williamson’s bathroom accessory range in teal, hot pink or black, with 20% off.

Paperchase (www.paperchase.co.uk) also has some gems. I’m going for the cute but classy  kitty keyring, £3.50 (was £7) and as I love all things Japanese, I can’t resist the Toykyo Trippers Shopper bag, £7.50 (was £15).

The ingenious kitchen gadgets and gizmos at Lakeland (www.lakeland.co.uk) are often a wee bit pricey, but their sale is a good ‘un. My top picks? The Star Swirly Cupcake Stand, £3.99 (was £11.99) and the soda-coloured set of three Vacupot jars, £5.99 (was £14.99).

The Body Shop (www.thebodyshop.co.uk) has reduced all its Christmas ranges – the Cranberry Joy shower gel I’ve blogged about before is just £2 now (down from £4) but the real bargain is their amazing-smelling grapefruit shower gel – buy a humungous 750ml bottle for £7.50 instead of the usual £12.50.

Thinking ahead, I’m also investing in some Homespun Spots and Stripes crackers, £6 (was £12) from House of Fraser (www.houseoffraser.co.uk). They don’t look Christmassy at all, so will be great for birthdays later in the year.

Thinking along the same lines, visit Thorntons (www.thorntons.co.uk) and stock up on Chocolate Cupcakes, £2.99 (was £4.99) and Continental Chocolates gift boxes – the two-layer, 350g box is just £4.99 (was £9.99). They’d make great birthday presents.

Finally, BHS (www.bhs.co.uk) have reduced all their giftwrap from £10 for a set of four rolls plus bows/ribbon, to just £4. Buy now and use it next Christmas – or get the Coral and Mint set with stylish birdcage designs that you can use all year round.

Happy sale shopping!

Cake that!

26 Dec

I just had to share with you this mega cute Chirstmas cake – made by my mum – who was inspired by this blog to try a more adventurous design this year.

She got the inspiration from Good Food’s Rocky Robin cake (find it at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/889664/rocky-robin-cake if you want to have a go yourself). The ‘official’ pic of how the cake should look is below. But while Good Food’s robins are small  and refined, I don’t know about you, but I quite like the way my mum’s robins are big, fat, bruiser birds. I think they’ve had too much Christmas cake to eat themselves!

The need for speed

22 Dec

Just three days to Christmas and let’s be honest – time is precious right now. Yes, handmade stuff looks amazing and costs just pennies, but no-one has the time to be faffing around making jam by hand or baking biscuits to use as Christmas tree decorations. That moment has passed.

But if you’re still stuck for a couple of presents, or your tree is a bit bare, here are a couple of solutions – each looks like it took you ages to lovingly pull together, but only takes ten minutes max, promise.
A last-minute present that suits everyone
Everyone loves sweets, from best mates to brothers – and they can keep the useful jar afterwards.
Prep:
Visit Poundland, a 99p Store or Pound Stretcher, and buy an old-school jam or sweet jar like the one above. Then, from the same shop, buy a couple of bags of sweets – go for retro Fruit Salads and Black Jacks; different flavoured bonbons; liquorice strings; or even multi-packs of Orbit chewing gum. Finally, you’ll need a piece of ribbon (satin or metallic curling ribbon) and a luggage tag (can’t find one? Cut up a spare Christmas card and punch a hole in it).
Pulling it together:
Pop the sweets in the jar. Tie the ribbon round the neck of the jar. Write the name of the sweets, or a Christmas message, on the luggage tag. Easy!
Total cost: £3-4.
Professional tree decorations
Origami birds look fab hung from a Christmas tree or bunch of sticks arranged in a vase. Or you can just pop one on every guest’s plate as a table decoration. And despite appearances, they’re dead easy to make.
Prep:
Take some wrapping paper and cut it into squares 15cm by 15cm. Grab a reel of cotton thread (any colour), a needle and some scissors. Turn on your computer.
Pulling it together:
Visit http://www.origami-fun.com/origami-crane.html. Follow the simple instructions to make your origami birds (the beauty of a video is that you can pause and rewind if you get stuck). If you want to hang it up, use the needle to thread cotton through the top part of your bird and tie to make a loop. Voila!
Total cost: free
Cheat’s chutney
Okay so this is a bit cheeky, but it transforms an ordinary item into something a bit more special – perfect for aunties, nans and neighbours.
Prep:
Buy a couple of jars of shop-made chutney, marmalade, jam – whatever takes your fancy. Grab a sideplate, some scissors (pinking shears are best but ordinary ones will do), a scrap of cotton fabric (you could use an old brightly-coloured top or t-shirt if you have nothing else), some string and a luggage tag (or cut up a spare Christmas card and punch a hole in it). Boil a kettle.
Pulling it together:
Stand your jar in the sink or a large bowl, and pour hot/boiling water round it until the label is covered. Leave it to soak until the label rubs off easily. Then take the sideplate and use it as a template to draw a circle on the underside of your fabric. Cut out the circle. Place it over the lid of the jam jar and tie round the neck with a piece of string. Attach your luggage label and write the name of the jar’s contents on it. Done!
Total cost: £2-3.

Last minute dot coms part 2!

21 Dec

STOP PRESS!

Everyone loved last week’s  ‘Last Minute Dot Coms’ blog entry so much, I’ve got an update for you…

http://www.dotcomgiftshop.com inform me that not only can you still order something from their site until noon tomorrow (Thursday 22nd); but they’ll upgrade your postage to next day delivery. So, you’ll only pay the normal P&P fee of £3.95, but you’ll get a next-day service, worth £7.95. My choice? Some wrapping paper or bunting in their gorgeous Vintage Christmas print (above).

The guaranteed deadline for Christmas delivery from http://www.johnlewis.com has passed, but they’ve just extended the deadline of their ‘click and collect’ scheme to 7pm on Friday 23 December. So, you can shop online and reserve the items you want to collect in the store of your choice, thus beating the queues.

http://www.Next.co.uk have also got good news – you can order online up to 9pm tomorrow (Thursday 22nd) and get your pressies delivered the very next day.

How to be a wrap star

19 Dec

Every year, I see articles and pictures in magazines of presents wrapped beautifully with brown paper, red-and-white string, doilies, baubles etc and think, “Right, I’m so going to do that this year”.

Thing is, time and life catch up with me and I end up just buying pretty printed wrapping paper and using that instead.

This Christmas, I’ve tried to find a middle way – a method of wrapping presents that looks classy and luxurious, but that doesn’t take ages, cost loads, or involve any huge amount of skill.

To get the look above, I wrapped my presents in silver-and-white patterned gift wrap  (my paper is from BHS, but you can buy this colourway anywhere); added a silver gift tag (mine are from Poundland!); and then tied on some coloured ribbon (mine’s from http://www.midpac.co.uk but John Lewis or any haberdashery store will do).

If you’re still looking for inspiration, and want to try the more crafty/brown paper approach, there are some AMAZING-looking but simple ideas on this great blog: http://soresourceful.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/tuesdays-resourceful-little-idea-wrapping-presents-a-christmas-special/ (a teaser pic is below!)

Last-minute dot coms

16 Dec

If you’re very organised, you’ll have done all your Christmas shopping by now – but if you’re like 90% of us, you won’t have. And you’ll be getting panicky.

The good news is, with Christmas on a Sunday, you can order stuff online until quite late on next week, and still have it delivered in time for the big day. Here’s my top four websites for getting last-minute gifts…

Dotcomgiftshop.com
Packed with one-off presents you won’t find elsewhere; gorgeous retro-style nick-nacks and cute things for kids, such as their bestseller, the Rabbit Night Light, above, just £4.95 (I reckon big kids would love this too!). To get your parcel before Christmas, last orders (standard delivery) are Wednesday 21st; or by noon on Thurs 22nd (next day delivery).

Cubicuk.com
I love the stuff on this site – there are loads of quirky yet quality bits and bobs for the home, such as this set of Letter Press cookie cutters, below (which contains all 26 letters of the alphabet plus ! and & signs), £14.95. They also sell the squirrel hooks, squirrel flower pots, and bunny desk accessories I’ve featured on this blog before. Last guaranteed order date for Christmas is Tuesday 20th.

Firebox.com
A brilliant site with gadgets, games and generally fun stuff for everyone from your best mate to your boyfriend. I particularly like the new Fridgeezoo fridge pets, £14.95, below, which talk to you in Japanese when you open your fridge door. Incredibly, you can order up to 5pm on Thursday 22nd and still get your items delivered in time for Christmas.

Formahouse.co.uk
The place to go for unusual and stylish kitchen and table accessories, such as this friendly-looking parrot bottle opener, £7.09, below, which is available in several colours. Orders for Christmas are being taken up to the morning of Thurs 22nd.

Happy shopping!

Merry and bright

14 Dec

Want an excuse to buy yourself some new Christmas decs? Buy them as presents – then you have every legitimate reason to pop an extra one in your cart for yourself.

This year, it’s all about rainbow brights. The poshest of the bunch are the classy Pantone baubles from Firebox.com, above. Okay, so at £8.99 (the purple one has 20% off at the moment and is £7.15), they’re hardly a bargain, but if you’ve got an arty friend, they’ll go down a storm.

On the more affordable side, B&Q (www.diy.com) have got some gorgeous decs in their new Carousel range, also above, £2 each. I particularly love the kitsch flocked reindeer and the big fat balls of multicoloured jingle bells.

But if traditional is more your style, head to M&S (www.marksandspencer.com). I’m secretly coveting the white china reindeer with silver antlers, £8 for my Christmas table, and the laser-cut white snowflakes, £8 for a box of eight. All their decorations are on 3-for-2 at the moment, and start from just £1, so you can afford to go a bit wild in the aisles.

It’s a secret!

12 Dec

Secret Santa. Buying someone you don’t know that well a present for a fiver can be tricky – that’s why so many of us receive a pair of panic-bought ‘comedy’ racing grannies, that end up getting left behind in the pub at the end of the Christmas party.

Call me uncool, but I like to put just a wee bit more thought into it. So, here are my top six suggestions for cheap-but-cheerful Secret Santa gifts I reckon anyone would be happy to receive:

Vaseline Lip Therapy Gift Tin
Who doesn’t like lip balm? This cool oversized tin (choose from pink or traditional blue) contains four different flavoured mini tins of Vaseline lip therapy balm. It costs £6.99 from Superdrug (stores and http://www.superdrug.com), but is currently part of their ‘3 for 2 Christmas gifts’ offer, and P&P is free, so if you buy three (one for your Secret Santa, one for a mate and one for, ahem, yourself), they’ll work out at just £4.60 each.

Touchscreen Gloves
Anyone who’s ever tried sending a text/email or playing Angry Birds/Bejewelled on their iPhone in the freezing cold will tell you why these gloves are a great idea. With special fibres in the fingertips, they mean you can work your iPhone/iPad/HTC or even SatNav without getting frostbite. There are loads on the market, but you can get various basic styles (mostly in black) at http://www.amazon.co.uk for around £4.25.

Owl handcream
This little fella has appeared before on this blog, but he’s now available in three colours/scents and makes a brilliant double-duty gift as the owl-shaped pot can be used for bits and bobs once the handcream has run out. He usually costs £5.99 at http://www.flamingogifts.co.uk but is available for just £4.79 in the run-up to Christmas.

Mini baubles
Paperchase do some gorgeous decorations, and their pack of 24 mini baubles is just £4. Perfect for Secret Santa – with £1 left over!

If all else fails… festive food
John Lewis has a couple of great Secret Santa ideas in its Christmas shop this year – an individual Panetone, £4, in a cute festive tin; and a bake-your-own sparkle cookies mix, complete with snowflake-shaped cutter, for £6.  Yum.

Say hello to some good buys

9 Dec

This Christmas, I’ve bought several of my gifts from brilliant new website http://www.culturevulturedirect.co.uk. With a mix of stylish home buys; fun stocking fillers; arty stuff for aunties; crafty sets for creative types; and movie/music-themed gifts for difficult-to-please men, you’re guaranteed to find at least something you want to buy.

My top picks? The Fairest Of Them All Mirrors, £30 for set of five, above (ridiculously cheaper than similar designs I’ve seen elsewhere); Typewriter Stamps, £6.99 for a full alphabet and ink pad (brilliant for making handmade cards, jam labels, placecards, gift tags, etc); Conoisseurs Cheese Baker with box and wooden spatula, £17 (for fromage fiends); and the cute Calf And A Half Creamer jug, £14.99.

Play your cards right

8 Dec

While loitering in the amazing John Lewis Christmas shop this morning (a dangerous thing to do if you have any money on you whatsoever), I spotted these fab special edition Christmas cards by Cath Kidston. At a very reasonable and un-Cath-Kidston-like £4 for a pack of ten, a portion of the proceeds go to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

The lighting in the shop leaves a bit to be desired – so excuse the grainy photos! – but hopefully you get the idea. There are four lovely designs (I went for the green one) – which will you choose?

It’s the thought that discounts

7 Dec

I’m loving the plethora of discounts that we’re being bombarded with this Christmas. But call me greedy, I’m not interested in a mere 10% off –  if I’m going to get my credit card out, I need someone to offer me at least 20% off.

So, today, I’m sharing my top three discounts of the season..

1) 40% off at The Body Shop
The bods at The Body Shop seem to have gone a bit bonkers – visit http://www.bodyshop.co.uk and enter code VOUCH444 at the checkout between now and 12th December to get a humungous 40% off your order. My top tip? Their brilliant Cranberry Joy range, which makes your whole house smell like Christmas. I particularly love the shower gel (normally £4; just £2.20 with  discount) and reed diffuser room scent (normally £15; just £9 with discount). Alternatively, if what you want to buy falls under the ‘Winter Essentials’ heading, there’s a whopping 50% off onsite right now (but you can’t use the 40% code on top – that would just be crazy!).

2) 20% off at Paperchase
Buying my wrapping paper and cards at Paperchase is a tradition I look forward to every year. But I always wait for the inevitable discount code first. This year, it’s courtesy of The Guardian newspaper – simply visit http://www.paperchase.co.uk and enter code guardian20 at the checkout. I’m going to treat myself to their stylish Dotty Stags gift wrap (normally £3.50 for a 3m roll; just £2.80 with discount) or the glass balloon dog decs (normally £8; just £6.40 with discount).

3) 20% off at Flamingo Gifts
This website is great for quirky little stocking fillers and Secret Santa gifts. You don’t need a discount code – everything on the site has 20% slashed off the price this week. My top pick? The ceramic postcard write-on wipe-off notepad (normaly £13.99; now £11.19 with discount) which is a stylish solution for anyone with a mind like a sieve.

Read all about it

5 Dec

You’d think buying a present for a bookworm would be easy. But actually, it’s a minefield – how do you know which books they they own/have read?

This year, I’ve found the answer – don’t buy them a book at all.

I’ve just bought someone the brilliant Personal Library Kit, £11.95 from http://www.culturevulturedirect.co.uk, which contains library cards, stick-in pockets and a professional-looking library stamp. It means that when they lend someone a book, they’re guaranteed to get it back (thus solving a big bookworm bugbear).

I paired it with a box set of postcards featuring book covers – I’ve featured the Ladybird Books set here before, but the Penguin covers set is also fantastic, £10.43 from http://www.amazon.co.uk.

Finally, another great idea is a book journal – a diary to record every book you’ve ever read. They range from address book-style tomes, which involve writing a book’s title and giving it a rating; through to fancy ones where you can enter your own book reviews.

My two faves are the Book Journal by K Two Products, £7.50, for the ladies (very stylish cover) and Books I’ve Read, £6.87 (nice and basic, perfect for blokes), both from Amazon.

The added bonus of this gift? Next year, when you’re trying to work out if they already own a book you want to get them, just take a peek at their journal!

Brooch-ing the subject

1 Dec

These gorgeous glittery badges have just arrived at Superdrug stores. They cost £1, with proceeds going to a very good cause – the NSPCC’s Childline.

They’re a brilliant way to jazz up your coat for Christmas; and would make a great advent calendar or stocking filler. I’m going to buy all three!

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