I’m now officially in full-on Mrs Claus mode; filling our house with twinkly lights and the sounds of Christmas music and finalising the perfect gifts for everyone on my list. Having to go near the high street or a department store in December gives me anxiety, so with the exception of a couple of foodie gifts, everything is being ordered online by the end of this week (with a hot chocolate in hand).
Speaking as someone who everyone seems to find impossible to buy for, I can say with authority that if in doubt you can’t go wrong with a beautiful candle (this is my number one favourite), a good cookbook, anything cashmere or something indulgent from the recipient’s favourite beauty brand. I usually ask my boyfriend to avoid ‘stuff’ I’ll never use and just get me nice chocolate, one of my favourite lipsticks or nail polishes, and a ticket to the ballet or theatre – wonderful!
So if you’re yet to finalise your shopping, here’s my definitive guide to the best gifts for everyone on your list.
For Her (or yourself):
I like to either buy one excellent gift – perhaps a nice pair of pyjamas (I love this classic pair and this inexpensive pair for everyday), a gorgeous piece of jewellery or new handbag for someone special – or a thoughtful set of items tailored to the recipient; a new teapot and some lovely tea for your mum, or a set of gilded coupes and a bottle of champagne for your girlfriend.
I’m always a bit stumped when it comes to shopping for the men in my life, but never seem to go wrong with a good book (anything about science, psychology or cricket is a winner with both my fiancé and Father), dapper wardrobe essentials, some luxe (but man-friendly) toiletries, or foodie treats. This year my fiancé is getting a new cashmere sweater, face cream, and a stocking full of all his favourite small-indulgences.
For the Little Ones:
Truth be told, I’ve never really had to shop for children until recently, but suddenly all my friends seem to be either pregnant or having babies and I now feel it’s my responsibility to furnish them with cute things! I personally like to avoid anything too garish or noisy (for the sanity of the parents) and go for utterly adorable clothes or old-fashioned toys to stimulate their curiosity.
For their Stockings (+ small gifts under £20)
If you have tight budget, it’s always better to get one small but perfectly formed gift over lots of cheaper alternatives; I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be thrilled to unwrap an indulgent box of chocolates or a new version of their favourite lipstick/beauty treat. I always keep a few small pre-wrapped gifts on hand just in case I need an extra present or make last minute plans with a friend and don’t want to show up empty-handed.
I’d love to know your favourite things to give (or receive)!
Between my day job, blog, and an always hectic schedule, I hardly ever get any of the downtime I desperately crave in order to recharge. So this month, when my diary is even busier than usual with a flurry of holiday events + looming end-of-year deadlines and I’m on the verge of feeling overwhelmed by the stress of 2016 (seriously, what is with this year?!), I’m making a conscious effort to carve out a little quality ‘me’ time whenever possible this month.
If, like me, your schedule is threatening to trigger an anxiety attack, here are my seven easiest hacks to get you through to the end of the year in a state of merriment rather than stress:
1 // Make the everyday a little more luxurious
Until the day I can hire my own team of assistants, I have to the same mundane tasks as anyone. And while we can’t avoid doing things we don’t enjoy, we can make them feel a little less boring. Blast your favourite tunes and the morning commute feels suddenly more pleasurable; burn a scented candle and household chores feel less tedious; swap your tired old bedding for a delicious new set and bedtime feels like the ultimate treat.
2 // Choose optimism + practice gratitude
Instead of worrying about every little thing that stresses or annoys me each day, I’m trying to focus on that which I can be grateful for. I’m not talking about ignoring injustice or the issues that really matter (which most definitely deserve my attention), but rather not letting those little things – which in the scheme of things are insignificant – mount up and ruin my day; my train running late, someone making a hurtful comment online, or a rude stranger. Instead, every time I start to get stressed at something I can’t control, I try to shift my thinking, take a few calming breaths, and actively focus on what is making me happy instead (‘I’m going to be home an hour late, but I can use this time to catch up on my emails and message my sister, and there’s a cosy bed waiting for me at the other end’).
Instead of just quickly hopping in the shower and racing through your beauty routine as quickly as possible, carve out a little extra time a couple of nights a week to treat yourself to some pampering. Leave your phone in another room, play some calming tunes (I’m all about the ‘Nutcracker’ score at the moment; everything feels more festive and wonderful when accompanied by the ‘Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies’), light a couple of candles, put on a hair/face masque and run a bubble bath. That’s at least 20 minutes of peaceful ‘me’ time. If all else fails, the most luxurious towels and body products will make even the most hurried morning shower feel a little more indulgent.
4 // Wind down each evening
Instead of just coming home exhausted, parking yourself in front of the tv, and then falling into bed exhausted, carve out a window before bedtime to de-stress and wind down from the day. I like to make a cup of tea, dim the lights, climb into my pyjamas and escape with a chapter of a feel-good book (when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I actually prefer to re-visit an old favourite like Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Harry Potter that I know will bring comfort). Those relaxing moments help quieten my mind before bedtime and stop me running through a million things I’m worrying about/have to do when I should be going to sleep.
I confess this is the one I struggle with the most; when things are especially hectic and I’m trying to squeeze too many things into a day, making it to the gym and getting a good night’s sleep are often the first thing to go and I find myself having to scrape by on 4 hours sleep more than I care to admit. But no good ever comes from that, and it makes the following day feel unnecessarily like a struggle (and it’s so much harder to feel cheery when you’re sleep-deprived). While a full 8 hours’ sleep is not always possible, at least try to aim for the best quality sleep possible. Invest in the best quality mattress, pillows and bedding you can afford, ensure your bedroom is a sanctuary and take care of yourself as best you can.
6 // Schedule some festive downtime
While I love a jolly Christmas party, I also make sure to block out some time in my diary for some festive downtime, just as I would any other event. Whether it’s a Sunday at home wrapping presents and baking gingerbread, a festive afternoon tea with a girlfriend, or an evening spent snuggled indoors + watching favourite Christmas movies, it’s important to take time to slow down, go offline and enjoy the season rather than just rushing through the entire month.
7 // Seek out small pleasures often
I’m a firm believer in seeking out small pleasures that make you smile wherever possible. Wearing your favourite shoes just because it’s December; pausing to admire the Christmas decorations in town, the smell of hot chocolate, wrapping yourself in a fluffy robe fresh from the dryer, or finding a new favourite lipstick that makes you feel instantly more glamorous. It’s all about quality vs quantity (and not ‘saving’ your favourite things for a special occasion).
If my Instagram feed the past week is anything to go by, the only thing we should all be wearing now that December has arrive is a combination of red, plaid and cream aran knits. But while I love a little tartan – and I’m certainly not opposed to a sartorial cliche or two – I prefer invest in the sort of pieces I know I’ll be able to wear all season long and that won’t feel entirely passé come January. For me, a chic party dress and a classic coat beats a scratchy Christmas sweater any day.
Although blush pink is my favourite colour, I used to think it was just for spring and summer. But the past couple of years, it has established itself as a year-round favourite in my wardrobe. A pink coat might not seem like the most practical choice for winter, but it’s actually the piece I reach for the most once it’s too cold for a nude trench coat (my autumn staple). Aside from blush and navy, I don’t actually wear much colour, and a pink coat seems to instantly brighten an otherwise all-black outfit and add a pop of much-needed colour on a grey winter day and feels subtly festive at this time of year.
Although I already have several pink coats in my wardrobe, I fell for this blush version the moment I spotted it at Whistles. I resisted for a few weeks (on the very rational basis that I didn’t need a sixth pink coat), but then reasoned that as I wear a coat every day for five months of the year in England, buying a couple of lovely new options each winter was a sensible investment. Because really, life is too short and winter too long to settle for boring coats.
And I’m happy to say that on a cost-per-wear basis alone, the coat has already earned it’s place in my closet. I added a couple of these darling crystal brooches to make it resemble this Kate Spade version I was also fantasising about, and have been teaming it with a black dress and heels for work and appointments, and cashmere sweaters and over-the-knee boots for errands and weekend outings. Bonus points for the big pockets and the classic cocoon cut that makes me feel instantly more pulled-together.
I’ve lived in Cambridge for nearly eight years now, and it’s been a delight to build a collection of favourite local shops, cafés and the likes that I treasure (as well as discovering new gems that continue to pop up) over the years. To me, it’s the small independent boutiques, the local baristas (who know you by name), and the local neighbourhood cafés that really make a community (and which have helped make this adopted city feel like home for me).
This weekend, the UK celebrates Small Business Saturday; a day when people across the country are encouraged to get out support their local small businesses.
I’m always asked about my favourite places in Cambridge (and to be honest I think this warrants at least three separate posts), so when American Express – founder and ongoing supporter of the campaign – asked me to team up to highlight some of my favourite local independents, I was delighted to take part.
Whilst this list is far from exhaustive, here are a few of my favourite local shops and eateries in Cambridge that I regularly visit:
Hot Numbers // For me, Hot Numbers is the authority on good coffee in Cambridge (to the extent that most of the best cafés in town serve the coffee roasted in the café). At the original Gwydir Street location (just off Mill Road), its signature flat whites come with a side of jazz with live music on Thursday and Friday evenings, as well as on Sunday afternoons, and a rotation of local art on the walls. This is the perfect spot to read the Saturday papers or work on your creative idea (the staff don’t mind how long you loiter with your laptop); and you’re just as likely to pull up a chair beside a Nobel laureate as you are a tech founder.
Pint Shop // Bene’t Street is my favourite foodie destination in the city (I send all my friends there if they’re new to town), and Pint Shop is one of the best on the block. Granted, I don’t partake in two out of the three things it’s famous for (beer, bread and meat), but it’s still one of my favourite cosy spots to while away a lazy afternoon. This is a firm local favourite beloved for its craft beers and modern twists on British classic dishes.
6 Ice Cream // Hands-down my favourite ice cream in Cambridge. Aside from the Cambridge Cream (its signature combination of honey, lavender and burnt cream), its flavours change daily depending on what’s in season, so you never know what you’re going to find on the menu (which is half the fun), but expect unusual flavours like salted dark chocolate, blackberry sorbet, or strawberry and rose.
Urban Larder // Over on Mill Road – which is home to lots of independent grocery stores and eateries – you’ll find Urban Larder. It’s exactly what you want a local neighbourhood café to be, and serves up delicious coffee and snacks (made from locally-sourced ingredients) with a smile. Its three-cheese toasties are something else.
Garden Café // One of my favourite ways to spend a lazy Saturday is to find a seat beneath a big tree in the Botanical Gardens and spend a peaceful few hours with a good book and the weekend papers. I always stop at the Garden Café on my way in for a picnic to complete my perfect afternoon (its home-made sausage rolls, salads and cakes are excellent).
Cambridge Wine Merchants // Although I rarely drink, this is one of my favourite local gems and where I always head when I want to treat the wine-enthusiasts in my life. The staff are all oenophiles and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine, and it stocks both well-known and hard-to-find wines from all the best regions. The beautiful Kings Parade location (right opposite Kings College) also serves up Jack’s Gelato and Pimm’s from the window in the summer months, and hot mulled wine in winter.
Boudoir Femme // This award-winning independent fashion boutique is always one of my first stops in Cambridge for wardrobe basics; the perfect pair of MiH jeans, American Vintage tees, cashmere scarves and Yawn pyjamas.
Cambridge Satchel Co // Without a doubt my favourite Cambridge-based brand. This label has grown from humble beginnings – founder Julie Deane started the label from her kitchen table in Cambridge when she couldn’t find a proper leather schoolbag for her children – to become a global success story. Beloved by preppy students and fashion editors alike, its chic leather bags are entirely desirable. If in doubt, go for the classic satchel in tan, navy or oxblood.
Love, Miss B xx
This post is in partnership with American Express and Small Business Saturday (but I couldn’t be more proud to support the ‘shop small’ initiative). Visit amexshopsmall.co.uk to learn more about Shop Small in your city.
Promoter: American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom. It is registered in England and Wales with Company Number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.