Some festive things I’m loving this week

This was the last full week of school and work before Christmas. How did that happen? It’s been so busy. We’ve seen a ballet, listened to Norwegian folk music and generally put our festive hats on. Here’s what else I’ve been loving this week…

Snow! I have to mention it. Last weekend we had proper snow in the UK and it even stuck around for a few days. Sunday was a dream-day. We made the most of it and raced out with our sledge as soon as we’d eaten breakfast. Our local park was transformed into a winter wonderland and the whole city was looking gorgeous and sugar-coated. Some brave stall holders were gathered in town for the Sunday market. We made the spontaneous decision to buy our Christmas tree from one of the stalls and pulled it home on our little red sledge! And it’s not often you can say that, is it?

Snowman

Christmas at Kiehl’s. A couple of weeks ago I went to a lovely Christmas event at the Kiehl’s store in Cambridge. I’m new to this skincare brand, so this was the perfect introduction. They do Christmas particularly well – with beautifully designed seasonal packaging and skin treats galore. While there I invested in some pretty soap and came away with a big bag of samples to work my way through. So far, I’ve fallen in love with the Midnight Recovery Oil and the turmeric and cranberry seed face mask.

Christmas at Kiehl's

A bit of fluff. While out Christmas shopping this week I did a little bit of self-gifting. This furry scarf is a fabulous Primark find and is yours for the princely sum of £8. It’s the perfect thing to smarten yourself up on a festive walk.

Faux fur scarf from Primark

My first mince pie of the year. It always tastes the sweetest. Not sure how I held out so long. I’m a stickler for tradition, I suppose. I’m also a stickler for all-butter pastry and a boozy filling.

Mince pie

A crate of clementines. These beauties came from our local market. I can’t decide what’s nicest: the oranges, or the cute little crate? Either way, it’s just another one of those little December pleasures.

Wooden crate of clementines

What are you loving this week?

An indie wish list: your guide to the best independent shops this Christmas

An indie gift list

Buy independent this Christmas and you’ll be supporting small businesses up and down the country. 

I love the big high-street stores as much as the next girl, but they’re not where I look for beautiful and unusual Christmas presents. Instead, I like to delve into the world of small indies. Thanks to online shopping, it’s now easier than ever to discover these  artisan businesses.

And, luckily for you, I’ve made it even easier by compiling this list of my favourites. Enjoy!

Soap Folk Winter Skin Box

Soap Folk: for natural beauty treats

Treat someone to Soap Folk’s Winter Skin Collection, £30. It contains one of their gorgeous wrapped soaps, a jar of chamomile rescue balm and a bottle of beautifully scented safflower and rosehip bath oil. All their products are made in small batches in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside. They’re are as kind to the environment as they are to your skin. No time to wrap? Luckily, this collection comes in a beautiful gift box which can go straight under the tree.

Winter Skin Collection box by Soap Folk

The Printed Peanut: for gorgeous paper goods

I discovered Louise Lockhart’s The Printed Peanut through Instagram. Her bright, retro designs are perfect for children and adults alike. I’ve bought her Paper Doll and the Playing with Food activity book for the children in my life – and her affordable art prints and postcards make perfect little gifts for family and friends. All Louise’s homewares are designed and made in the UK.

Paper Doll, £5.95 / Coffee Pot print, £10 /Playing With Food Activity Book, £12.95

Paper Dolls House, £10 – all by The Printed Peanut 

Gourmet Brownie: For a sumptuous foodie treat

This family bakery, based in Ely, makes the most incredible brownies. Their Christmas Brownie Box, £28, is the perfect way to send someone some festive love! Each box contains eight delicious Christmas-inspired flavours. I can vouch for their deliciousness.

Jeff Josephinefor beautiful ceramics to treasure

This is an indie shop I return to again and again. Sophie Elm is an illustrator, surface pattern designer and ceramicist. Her shop is stocked with beautiful ceramics and delightful prints. Invest in one of her Christmas decorations for your tree – or find someone a gift that they’ll treasure for years to come.

Jeff Josephine Christmas gifts

Vegetable Garden print, £38 / Set of Garden Decorations, £30

Ceramic Decorations, £14 each / Radish Pot, £48 – all by Jeff Josephine

Melin Tregwynt: for the best Welsh blankets 

This little woollen mill, deep in the heart of rural Pembrokeshire, makes the most beautiful and useful things. A welsh blanket is a family heirloom in the making – why not treat someone this Christmas? Or if your purse won’t stretch that far, they also do a lovely range of more affordable accessories like purses and cushions.

Melin Tregwynt homewares

Knot Garden Throw, £149 / Vintage Rose wrist bag, £30

St David’s Flag throw, £149 / Knot Garden Purse, from £22 – all by Melin Tregwynt

There are so many wonderful small independent shops to discover this Christmas. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit some of them! I’d love to hear about your favourites too. 

A big thank you to Soap Folk who sent me their Winter Skin kit as a gift. 

Fabulous done properly: an interview with Skye McGuinness of Thyme on St Mary’s

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

Ely is an unassuming kind of place. But underneath its quiet exterior, there’s a vibrant sense of creativity hiding in plain sight. It’s right there, ready to be discovered. As part of a new series I want to find more of this hidden talent – to find out what makes these people tick and to share their stories with you. 

My first subject is Skye McGuinness – the owner of Ely’s newest florist, Thyme on St Mary’s. I met Skye at a Christmas fair two weeks ago and knew immediately that I wanted to interview her. She’s one of those people who radiates energy and is a perfect person to kick off this new series.

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

Skye is originally from Sydney, but settled with her family in Cambridgeshire five years ago.  She’s new to flowers, having previously worked in advertising and marketing. But you wouldn’t know it. That’s because she has vision and passion.

Over the last year, Skye and her team of talented florists have created one of Ely’s most exciting new shops. Stepping through the doors of this beautiful double-fronted building is surprising, and wonderful.

Amy at Thyme on St Mary's

One side of the shop bustles with early morning orders and a huge work table is covered with newly delivered blooms. The other side of is calm and still – with an inviting table and chairs. Just like the doll’s house in the window, this florist is picture perfect.

Why did Skye choose floristry? “Ely is such a friendly place. It’s full of newcomers and I found it incredibly easy to slot in,” she explains. “I wanted to give something back to the city that has made me and my family feel so welcome”.

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

Chatting to other mothers and new friends, it dawned on Skye that Ely needed an inspiring new destination. A place to buy beautiful flowers, but also a creative hub. “I’ve found so much local talent hidden away,” explains Skye. “It was important to me to create a unique place where this creativity would feel welcome”.

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

Skye is one of those vibrant people who seems to bring out the best in people – I can’t think of a better person to help Ely come out its shell. Over the last year she has found local talent and nurtured it. Most importantly there’s her team of brilliant florists – but there’s also the local flower farms who supply the shop and the Fenland artisan who makes her baskets.

The shop’s first year has been a learning curve and it’s helped Skye define her vision for Thyme on St Mary’s. Recently her dream of turning the shop into a local hub of creativity is coming to life though a new series of workshops – everything from festive wreath-making to flower-crown making and hen-parties.

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

December was a lovely time to visit the shop, which was full of winter blooms and swags of greenery. I couldn’t resist asking Amy, one of Skye’s florists, about her favourite looks for Christmas. “I’m loving the classic Victorian look,” Amy tells me. “Choose natural greenery, feathers and red ribbons, but give it a modern twist with a hint of copper.”

Skye McGuinness at Thyme on St Mary's

Right now the shop is busy making wreaths and beautiful winter bouquets. But Skye is already thinking ahead to next year. She’s making plans with her local suppliers and dreaming of working with more brides to create beautifully bespoke wedding flowers.

If Skye could sum up her vision in three words it would be “fabulous done properly”. And I couldn’t agree more.

Know a great place to visit in Ely or Cambridge? I’m gathering more ideas for this series and I’d love to hear your suggestions. 

 

A winter state of mind

A Winter State of Mind

It’s easy to feel relaxed in summer. Problems feel lighter on carefree sunny days. There’s more time to be spontaneous, happy and relaxed. In winter, it’s harder to get that feeling. The days of drinking in pub gardens and carefree picnics feel a world away.

But what if you could recapture the magic of summer in the middle of winter? This isn’t about trying to replicate what you do in summer. It’s about adopting a new mindset that bring that feeling of easy summer relaxation back into your life. Let’s call it a winter state of mind.

As part of their Shot of Summer campaign, e.on energy challenged me to find out exactly how to embrace this positive mindset. Here’s what I’ve discovered…

Find your inner warmth. Imagine that feeling of sheer relief you get when you bite into an ice lolly on a hot day. Now, think about how you can get that blissful feeling in winter. The answer lies in warmth. A hot drink in a travel cup is as essential on a freezing day as an ice cream in a heat wave. It’s hard to drag yourself out of the house when it’s bitterly cold – but drinking something hot while you walk creates an instant feeling of warmth and relaxation. It’s like lighting your inner fire.

Take a hot drink out with you in winter

Add spice to your life. The tastes of summer are simple, fresh and easy. Picture ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and that first sip of chilled rose after a hard day in the office. In winter, things are different. There’s a reason why past generations have always embraced warm, spiced flavours in winter. They add a warmth and depth to our lives that provides essential comfort on long, cold nights. Swap your chilled summer drinks for mulled cider or wine; and replace fresh berries with vibrant clementines. Find comfort in warm, spicy chilli or rich stews.

Hot Spiced apple at the Samovar, Ely

Be spontaneous. Just because it’s cold outside you don’t have to hibernate indoors. In summer, when the days are long and warm, anything seems possible. During the winter months it’s tempting to dash home as soon as dusk begins to fall. But don’t be afraid of the dark – why not actively embrace it? Take your children for a warming picnic in the fading light – or visit an outdoor market in the evening. You’ll be surprised by how much still happens between 3 and 6 o’clock.

Dusk

Winter-proof your home. Being spontaneous and getting outdoors only works if you’ve got a cosy home to retreat to afterwards. This winter, why not make your approach to heating a little smarter? Get your boiler serviced, or replace it altogether if it’s inefficient – and make sure your insulation is up to scratch. And once you’re sure everything’s working properly, you could even install a super-smart tado° thermostat that links your heating to your mobile phone.

What are your tips for feeling relaxed and happy during winter?

This post was commissioned by e.on. To find more information about ways to be energy-smart this winter click here.

 

#OnePerfectThing in November

Perfection often feels out of reach. But however imperfect you’re finding life, you can make an effort to find #OnePerfectThing. Something which makes you pause, smile and feel thankful.

Saying goodbye to November marks the beginning of the end for autumn. As we drift towards Christmas, winter creeps through the door. I’ll miss the beauty of late-autumn and it’s gone a little too quickly for my liking.

During the last month the #OnePerfectThing gallery on Instagram has been full of the simple pleasures that come with the end of autumn. The comfort of fingerless gloves and a cup of coffee on a cold day, new bobble hats – and the stunning simplicity of nature.

Here are my favourites…

#OnePerfectThing in November

Top row, left to right: @petiteandputtogether / @andrewtimothyob / @sophiewarrensmith

Middle row: @deborahvasspainting / @sophiewarrensmith / @analima

Bottom row: @_littleandbig / @bubbablueandme / @prettynotinc

I can’t wait to see all your festive #OnePerfectThing moments in December. Keep sharing and tell your friends! 

Starry Skies

Starry skirt by H&M

This December, the stars are shining bright. They’re up in the sky, but they’re also working their magic in our wardrobes. It’s like someone left the lid off the glitter pot – clothes, boots and accessories have all been sprinkled with a liberal coating of star-dust.

Last week you may have noticed me wearing a star-studded jumper. This week, I’ve gone one step further and invested in a skirt strewn with silver stars. They glimmer, shimmer and twinkle.

Starry skirt by H&M

Skirts often get overlooked in the rush to buy the perfect Christmas party dress. But a really top-notch skirt one is the perfect choice for this time of year. Wearing this one with a plain black jumper keeps things feeling low-key – you could cook your Christmas dinner in it. But you could easily take it up a notch for a party.

Starry skirt by H&M

My skirt is a delightful concoction of net and under-skirt – which also happens to be another welcome trend for Christmas. It feels swishy and a tiny bit old-fashioned – but not in the least sugar-coated. Which just about sums up my ideal look. It’s £24.99, by H&M.

I’m wearing it here with simple black sock boots and a dark coatigan. But, if it’s a really chilly day, it looks equally good with a thick wooly coat in any colour.

Starry skirt by H&M

Feeling star-struck? Look this way for more of my favourite celestial pieces available this Christmas…

Starry print Christmas party clothes

Clockwise from top left: Pussy bow dress, £38, Joanie

 Sparkle star dress, £56, Warehouse

Embroidered Boots, £69.99, Mango / Top, £19.99, and Skirt, £29.99, both H&M

Or, if your budget is limited, add a bit of glitz to your existing wardrobe with these gorgeous hair clips – which are £5.99 by ASOS.

I wear: Skirt, £24.99, H&M / Top, £15, Peacocks

Boots, £39.50, Marks and Spencer / Coat, £140, Thought

Starry skirt by H&M

Are you ready to sprinkle a little star-dust?

Creating new traditions with a Christmas Eve Box

A Christmas Eve Box

We all have our own Christmas traditions. Some are the ones we’ve inherited from the people we love. Others are ones that we’ve created for ourselves. 

I’ve always loved the thrill and excitement of Christmas Eve. In our house it’s a happy, low-key day – full of the scents of baking and the sound of carols on the radio. And we never forget to leave a mince pie and glass of sherry for Father Christmas out at bedtime – plus a carrot for Rudolph.

This year I’d like to add a new tradition – the Christmas Eve box. This is an idea which floated into my consciousness a few years ago. I think it’s an American thing, but I can’t be sure. The concept is to fill a box with special treats for the night before Christmas. I like the idea and it’s a new tradition which can continue even as the boys get older.

White Stuff: Stuff & Wonder Children's range

So, what’s going in our Christmas Eve box?

The most important thing is a pair of new festive pyjamas. This year, I’m rather excited that one of my favourite brands, White Stuff, have launched a new range of children’s nightwear in time for Christmas. It’s a gorgeous range with lots of mix and match pieces for boys and girls. The boys look very dapper in theirs.

White Stuff: Stuff & Wonder Children's range

Next in the box goes a new Christmas children’s book. This is one of our family traditions anyway, but I love the idea of presenting it like this. I always lean towards traditional choices and this year have invested in a beautiful hardback copy of One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell. It’s illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Emily Sutton and it’s the perfect choice for a cosy evening by the fire.

A Christmas Eve Box

And you must have some special hot chocolate. We always take our boys out for a walk before bedtime on Christmas Eve. A big mug of hot chocolate is the perfect way to warm up when they get home. This hot chocolate gingerbread spoon (available from Oxfam) is perfect!

White Stuff: Stuff & Wonder Children's range

And last but not least, I’ve put in some new ornaments for the tree. Because you can never have too many, can you? This year I’m loving bright, vintage-inspired decorations.

A Christmas Eve Box

I’d love to hear more about your favourite festive traditions. Do you make a Christmas Eve box too?

Three things I’m loving this week…

Winter bouquet

The weather’s turned wintry, and everything’s beginning to look decidedly twinkly. What have I been loving most this week?

A slightly festive jumper… I’m not ready for reindeer and snowmen quite yet, but cheerful sequin stars? Yes, yes and yes. This gorgeous jumper by Peacocks* is sparkly and pretty in a low-key way that’ll take you from late November all the way to Christmas Day. I’ve already worn mine at a couple of early festive events and it struck just the right note. It also looks and feels a lot more special that its £20 price tag would lead you to expect.

Peacocks Christmas Jumper

Some handbag-shaped self-gifting… All the discounts currently floating round the shops are tempting. I never find them all that useful when it comes to actual Christmas shopping, but self-gifting is another matter. I didn’t really need a new handbag, but I couldn’t resist this one from New Look. It’s not actually on offer anymore, but it’s still under £20. It fits loads in and I keep receiving compliments on it everywhere I take it. Burgundy is a great winter handbag colour – it seems to match everything!

New Look Satchel bag

Gloves… Because it feels like winter’s really here now. Forget them at your peril!  I’m loving all the shearling gloves and mittens around at the moment. I’m not investing in expensive ones that I’ll leave on a bus. Instead, these soft and cosy faux shearling gloves from New Look are keeping my hands incredibly cosy on the school-run.

New Look Shearling Gloves

What are you loving this week?

*A big thank you to Peacocks for sending me one of their Christmas jumpers to try! 

Velvet trousers: your low-key festive friend

Uniqlo velvet trousers

Velvet is having a moment. You can’t have missed it. It reminds me of my childhood when everything was better if it was made of velvet. Floppy hats, rucksacks, scarves – nothing was complete with a velvet bow. Now is the perfect time to embrace this trend again. But with one proviso: keep it simple.

I wouldn’t blame you if you give those stretchy, crushed velvet mini-dresses a miss. I’m going to swerve that one completely, and turn to the velvet trouser instead. They’re grown up, yet fun. Formal, yet comforting.

A pair of velvet trousers is just the thing to fill the gap in your winter wardrobe for those in-betweeny events – the kind of ones that veer between smart and casual. They’ll see you through those busy days when you need to steer yourself from office to party – or school run to festive drinks.

Uniqlo velvet trousers

Look for rich, berry-coloured hues or midnight blues. My Burgundy-coloured skinny trousers are by Uniqlo. They have a mince-pie-friendly stretchy waistband, but also manage to look really rather elegant with heels and a simple shirt. Add tasselled, statement earrings for easy glamour.

Velvet trousers

I wear:

Velvet trousers, £24.90, Uniqlo (sold out online in this colour, but try these by Zara)

Shirt, £25, La Redoute

Black ankle boots, £39.50, Marks and Spencer

Earrings, £5.99, New Look

Need more inspiration? Here are some more of my favourites…

Velvet trousers

Clockwise, from top left: Green velvet trousers, £80, Boden

 Wide trousers, £14.90, Uniqlo

 Navy velvet jeggings, £45, White Stuff

 Black jeans with a velvet trim, £39.50, Marks and Spencer

Will you be wearing velvet this winter?

A very bookish Christmas

A very bookish Christmas

Giving, and receiving, books is one of my favourite festive traditions.

There’s something incredibly comforting about getting a pile of beautiful new books for Christmas. I’ll sit and leaf through them by the fire – with a glass of wine in one hand and a chocolate orange in easy reach. Opening the pages of a gorgeous new book is like taking a reviving breath of fresh air. Press pause on life and lose yourself in wintry tales, inspiring recipes and beautiful illustrations.

I don’t work in a bookshop anymore – but once a bookseller, always a bookseller. Here are the books which have got me hopping with excitement this Christmas… 

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

£12.99, Quadrille

A beautiful little book packed with charming and comforting recipes to make the weekend feel longer. I was inspired to buy this book after meeting Rosie at Pint Shop in Cambridge, where she’s the development chef. Highlights include Caerphilly with leeks and mustard on toast, ham and macaroni soup and a wintry fireside drink inspired by the Bloomsbury Set. Read it by the fire and prepare to feel hungry.

Moomin Midwinter

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

£10.99, Sort Of Books

Any Moomin fan will be delighted to receive one of these beautiful new editions which have just been published by Sort Of Books. I can’t decide whether to give it my eight-year-old, my husband, or just keep it for myself! It’s a beautifully illustrated hardback to treasure

A Passion for China by Molly Hatch

A Passion for China by Molly Hatch 

£14.99, September Publishing 

I’m going to gush about this book because I love everything about it. It’s a celebration of the objects we eat from, live with and love. Molly Hatch is an acclaimed ceramicist, artist and designer – you may have spotted her beautiful designs while browsing in Anthropolgie.

A Passion for China by Molly Hatch

Molly combines anecdotes from her own family with the history of pottery and porcelain. Every page is covered with beautiful illustrations and snippets of text – there’s everything from an eighteenth century Meissan Chocolate Pot to 1970s coffee mugs from her Grandmother’s house. I love it and I think you will too.

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe

Penguin, £9.99

I’ve really fallen for Nina Stibbe’s funny and insightful writing this year. This little book is the perfect stocking filler with decent literary punch. Nina’s breezy, anecdotal ode to Christmas will make you smile amid the chaos of turkeys, wrapping paper and temper tantrums.

Ok let’s be honest, I’m probably going to keep all these books for myself. They’re all that good. Ask for them in your local independent bookshop and spread the love. 

A very bookish Christmas

A big thank you to September Publishing for sending me a copy of Molly Hatch’s book to review. It was a real pleasure.