With the nights drawing in, my thoughts are turning towards Christmas. I’m determined to be more organised this year and start my shopping early. I don’t have many people to buy for, but I like to buy the lucky few interesting things which have been carefully chosen. I’m always on the look out for something which is unique, which is why I did a little cheer when I stumbled upon the Uncommon Goods website.
Uncommon Goods stock a gorgeous range of unique handmade goods. It’s a place where beautiful handmade products are sold; a bit like a lovely craft market, but online and all in one place. They’re based in America, but they’ve recently started selling their wares in the UK too. This is something which pleases me. I like to think that my family and friends are special and unique people and they deserve special and unique gifts too.
I adore (I really do adore) this Solar System Necklace. It’s beautiful enough as a piece of jewellery, but I love that it represents the sun and nine planets (including Pluto). Handmade in Maryland, USA, this is a really unique and eye-catching piece of jewellery. Costing £40.78, this is part of a wider collection of planet themed necklaces, earrings and cuff-links which would make really unique and interesting gifts for Christmas.
My heart did a little melt when I saw these Baby Fortune Cookie Booties. Aren’t they adorable? They’re just £21.50 and handmade from extra-plush fleece with floor-gripping soles. Each little slipper curls back into a delectable cookie shape when not in use. These are perfect for my friend’s little baby on her first Christmas. Oh my heart.
There are so many lovely gifts for the menfolk in my life. Take these Mathematical Glasses; they’re really fun and perfect for my brother who is a Maths Teacher. These glasses are so beautifully decorated, I know he will love them. They’re just £28.06 and incredibly unique, I can’t resist.
There are so many lovely, lovely things on the Uncommon Goods website. It’s well worth taking a look to see what interesting things you can find for your family and friends this Christmas.
As autumn turns into winter I like to fill my house with festive smells. Cinnamon and spruce are my go to scents at this time of the year. I think scented candles, especially in the run up to Christmas are a simple way of creating a cosy and festive atmosphere in the home. We were sent the Voluspa Maison Candle scented with spruce cuttings to put to the test, but what did we think?
The two wick Voluspa Maison candle comes in a beautifully decorated tin, so you can take it wherever you go. The “Spruce Cuttings” candle is made from royal Colorado blue spruce cuttings, so when you light this candle the room is filled with an authentic spruce fragrance. The tin is also useful for keeping your candle dust free. I always find you can never adequately dust your candles, so a candle with a lid or cover is always welcome.
All Voluspa scented candles are made with without phthalates, parabens and sulfates. This lovely two wick scented candle is made from 11oz of coconut wax and has a burn time of around 50 hours.
The “Spruce Cuttings” Voluspa Maison Candle would be a lovely candle to have in the same room as your Christmas tree, enhancing its natural tree fragrance. The candle has a good throw – meaning that it fills the room fairly quickly with fragrance. I’ve had it lit downstairs this morning and I can still smell it upstairs. A good throw is generally an indicator of a good quality candle.
The Voluspa Maison Candle costs £20 which compared to other high end candles of this quality is good value. It’s made with high quality ingredients and the tin looks lovely and is the kind of thing I’d keep and keep bits and bobs in afterwards.
The Maison “Holiday” range includes several different festive fragrances including Cinnamon Ceylon and Copal and Visions of Sugar Plum, as well as a selection of different candle types including gift sets.
Voluspa candles are available on their website and from a range of retailers including House of Fraser.
With Christmas just around the corner, shops are thronging with people looking for lovely gifts for their loved ones. I hate crowds and busy shops, so I try and avoid going into shops during the run up to Christmas. Wherever I can I like to do shop online, but at the same time support local and small independent businesses. I have picked out some of my favourite places to buy from this Christmas…
Drop Dead Chocolates – I’ve extolled the virtues of Drop Dead Chocolates several times before. Their salted caramel chocolates are the best chocolates I’ve ever eaten and the peanut praline macarons aren’t that far behind (this is a hint to anyone wishing to buy me chocolates by the way, a massive hint). Prices start from just £2.50 for a little box and delivery is currently free when you spend over £14.
Branded Brandy – A bottle of something alcoholic always goes down well, but a bottle with a personalised label makes for a thoughtful gift. Choose from all of your favourite tipples, personalised bottles start from just £14.99 including free UK delivery.
The Manchester Bee Company – As a proud Mancunian I love our bee symbol – you can find the Manchester Bee all over the city. The Manchester Bee Company have been trading for a couple of years now, selling a lovely urban range of Manchester Bee themed products, including mugs, prints, cards, jewellery, key rings, Christmas decorations and more.
Theatre Tickets – Most of the adults in my family have everything they could ever possibly want or need (not me obviously, I need a new fridge freezer), it’s something of a thing in my family to buy each other tickets for things, bands, concerts, the theatre. This year I’m taking my boys to see Mr Popper’s Penguins at The Lowry in Salford Quays. And I have plans to buy tickets for various other shows for my other relatives. Tickets to things are a great present and always appreciated.
Wallace & Gromit’s Charity Shop – The ‘Gromit Unleashed’ and ‘Shaun in the City’ sculpture trails in London and Bristol featured the much-loved Aardman characters, Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, and were visited by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the UK. Wallace & Gromit’s Charity Shop are selling a range of merchandise in aid of The Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity. Do your Christmas shopping and donate to a good cause at the same time – what’s not to like?
If like me you hate shops but quite like online Christmas shopping, then My Voucher Codes have created a Christmas Toy Price Monitor where you can see the best prices for this year’s top toys from major retailers including Amazon and Toys R Us, which is great if you’re looking for the best deal. The Christmas Toy Price Monitor shows prices from the major retailers in several different categories, which makes finding the best deal really quite easy.
If you prefer online shopping, where are the places you like to buy from? Where do you recommend?
I love the smell of Christmas. As Autumn moves into winter and the house is filled with apple pie and cinnamon scents, which gradually change to warming gingerbread fragrances, mulled wine, pine needles, brandy infused Christmas pudding and the loving warmth of home.
For me smell is one of my most important senses, it’s one of the biggest things which help to trigger memories for me, I might not remember your name, but I will remember that the room smelt of violets when we last met.
Christmas scents are a wonderful way to remember Christmases gone by and I always try and fill my house with those scents during the run up to the big day. Scented candles and air diffusers are really useful for this, I’m a big fan of Yankee Candles for their long burn time and big range of scents to choose from.
House of Fraser have helpfully created a Christmas Scent Pairing Edit for those of us with a heightened olfactory sense, and for those who just enjoy filling their home with festive fragrances.
They’ve chosen a range of fragrances for different Christmas moods and occasions, from the cosy, homely “Cinnamon Stick” Yankee Candle picked out for Christmas Eve, something to scent your home with while you hang your stocking up and leave a brandy out for Father Christmas.
For Christmas morning they’ve gone for an invigorating lemongrass and ginger diffuser, which sounds really zingy and zesty, and is exactly what I need on Christmas morning. Having a small boy in the house means no lazy Christmas lie-ins any more.
I love the idea of the Biba Sparkling Champagne tin candle fro New Year too – I wonder how it has captured the delicate, almost biscuity smell of champagne? It’s such a delicate but distinctive fragrance and just right for the occasion! I’m putting this on my Christmas list!
This December I have been busy working in my local independent toy shop. A friend owns it and she promised me coffee and some wages if I helped her out. I like both of those things, so I cheerfully snapped her hand off.
The toy shop in question is a lovely establishment, packed full of gorgeous toys and games. Not a behemoth the size of ten football pitches; like Sodom and Gomorrah but with Barbie dolls and LEGO. It’s thankfully very different to that, it is an incredibly pleasant place to shop and work (there’s coffee, remember) and I’ve enjoyed my time at the tills immensely.
Now follows some thoughts and observations from my time in a toy shop during the busiest toy selling month of the year…
A fairly obvious one to start; the most successful shoppers are the organised ones. Those who come with a list of things they’ve already checked out on the website, or phoned ahead and we’ve put it to one side for them. You’re awesome, we love you. We love the lady who had everything listed on a spreadsheet. We love the “combat shoppers” who come in, blitz the shop and get all their shopping over and done with in half an hour. You wonderfully organised people, we salute you!
If you’re buying for someone else’s child it helps to have a vague idea of what they’re into. If they’re four and into pirates we can sort you out. If they’re four and you have absolutely no clue, we give it our best guess, but half an idea is a starting point.
If you want a really big expensive item like a train table or a dolls house we might have to order that in especially for you. This can’t happen on Christmas Eve. I’m sorry.
We love the people who appreciate our collection of silly seasonal hats, antlers and elf ears. Sadly we don’t sell them, but feel free to make me an offer I can’t refuse.
We’re small and local and that makes us chatty and friendly and a bit above and beyond helpful. Yes I am sorry that I wrap presents so slowly, but just look at it, it’s a work of art!
Approximately 99.9% of the customers are very lovely. It’s a toy shop, we sell happy things in packages. There’s no grumpiness or snark, no shouting or fighting over the last Furby (we don’t sell them anyway), it’s just an incredibly nice place to work.
Working in a toy shop in December has been hard work, but so much fun. I’ve met some lovely people; cooed over tiny babies, given reindeer food to toddlers, chatted dinosaurs, scooters and slime with children. Hidden vast packages under the counter for parents on a Christmas mission. I’ve wrapped, packed and taped presents, curled ribbon, priced up a thousand items, made hundreds of cups of coffee and loved every minute of the most fun job I’ve ever had in my life.
If you ever needed a reason to shop locally or pop into your local independent toy shop, then if it’s that brilliant just working there, then it can’t be a bad place to shop either.
Now I’m self-employed, I am officially a part-time member of the ladies who lunch brigade. When I was offered afternoon tea for two at Opus One at the Radisson Blu in Manchester, I decided it was high time I treated one of my fellow self-employed types to high tea. So last Wednesday myself and the exquisitely monikered Bobble Bardsley put on real clothes, turned Homes Under the Hammer off and went out for a posh tea at Opus One.
I’d been there before and had a lovely time, so I knew we were in for a treat. We arrived and were informed they were expecting a drinks party so we’d not be able to sit in the lovely, light and airy space by the window and we were seated in the main restaurant. We thought it’d be a great place for a romantic meal in the evening, but the red lighting was a bit much for daytime, and meant that we couldn’t really see what we were eating. Also, I love Bobble with all of my heart, just not in that way.
There were a few afternoon teas we could choose from but we decided that since it was December it’d be rude not to try the Festive Afternoon Tea. Bobble plumped for a pot of English Breakfast tea and I gave the Ceylon a go. Both were a good brew.
The afternoon tea arrived and as I’m vegetarian, they’d made a few extra veggie sandwiches for me. I’ll admit in the light it was hard to tell what they were, but we both liked the cheese and pickle and I enjoyed the cream cheese and cucumber. We were both half starved so the sandwiches disappeared in double quick time.
I’d been eyeing up the scones, I love scones, these were prettily presented and the proper, thick, crusty clotted cream had a shard of caramel stuck out of it. The scones were sadly cold, but that could’ve been our fault for faffing about taking pictures. They were however light and beautifully made, just the right size and for me and they are always the highlight of an afternoon tea. If you can’t give me a decent scone then I’m going home.
By this point I was beginning to feel grateful I’d popped an elasticated waist on that morning and Bobble was proudly telling me he was wearing his more forgiving fat jeans. But we still had the grand finale to munch through. We got fresh pots of steaming hot tea and soldiered on.
First up were the mini cream horns. I felt it prudent to start with these because they looked delicious and we needed to get them out of the way because Bobble kept giggling. I’m not overly keen on pastry and I like it wafer thin if I ever do have it, so this was for me a little on the thick side, but (bowing to knowledge passed on to me by Grandma who was a pastry chef) it was perfectly crisp and flaky. It was a good cream horn.
We then tried the fruit cake, which was moist and an excellent example of what a top notch fruit cake should be and it was packed with fruit. We both felt that it could’ve done with a bit of marzipan to make it feel more festive, but it was actually one of my highlights from the tea.
I was most excited to try the mini chocolate fudge cake which looked beautiful but for some reason photographed terribly. Take my word for it, this was the good stuff. The cake was moist, light and fluffy with a gooey-gooey centre that oozed out. It was plate-lickingly good. I might have rubbed a finger across the plate to ensure no crumbs were left, I might not have, I am a lady after all.
We finished off with the winter berry jelly, sadly we were only issued with one jelly, which we assumed was an oversight as other tables were given one each. So we had to share the little jelly, which felt a bit intimate. It’s been a long time since I shared a jelly with anyone other than my husband. I loved the jelly, full of lovely fresh berries and it was such a zesty, palate cleansing end to the tea.
In all we’d had a lovely time, we’d eaten some really tasty things, drank some very good tea, put the world to rights and taken a selection of shockingly bad pictures of food. I think it’s the ideal resting point after a hard morning of Christmas shopping and before getting the tram home. The staff are friendly and attentive and the atmosphere, despite the lighting is relaxed and intimate. It’s decently priced too at £18.95 per person.