Merry Christmas!

A very short post today to wish you all a very happy Christmas - hope you have a lovely day and Father Christmas brought you what you wished for!

#thebigblogmasproject2014: Gift Guide for Him

This is the last gift guide of #thebigblogmasproject2014 (as I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear!), and this time it's gifts for men. I must admit I often struggle to buy for the men in my life as most of them are very reluctant to say what they want - does anyone else's dad do the whole 'don't waste your money on me' routine? - and consequently I end up getting the same things all the time. But, if it's done well and you know the person well enough, you can usually be quite successful. So for this gift guide, instead of picking out specific items, I'm going to go through each section in categories.

Books are always a great fall-back gift in my view, as there are books about pretty much everything. For my brothers-in-law, it will be books about rugby or football (there is always a sportsman with a new autobiography every Christmas); for my dad, music books or history books; and for my husband - it still feels weird saying that! - history books again, though slightly different from the ones I'd buy my dad. I tend to buy most of my book presents on Amazon but will always go to Foyles or Waterstones to get some ideas ahead of time (and also because bookshops are my happy place) - browsing often turns up some brilliant possible gifts.

Obviously this only works for men who are old enough to drink and like the taste of alcohol, but if you know someone who fits that category then drinks aren't a bad choice of present. Both my dad and my husband drink whisky, whilst my brother-in-law is more of a gin man, but you could easily go with a set of craft beers or even a good rum. Most large towns and cities will have some kind of fancy off-licence or a local brewery selling their own beer, but for spirits I really like the Whisky Exchange as it has a huge selection so you're sure to find something that the person you're buying it for will like. Or if you're feeling a bit flush, what about membership of a wine club?

Pretty much a winner for most men as long as you pick to their taste; Nick and I are even doing food stockings this year. All the men in my family are absolute cheese fiends, so if that sounds like any men you know you could really go to town with a fancy hamper - either bought pre-assembled or put together yourself - of fancy cheese, crackers and chutneys. But equally you could go for something sweet-themed, or a hamper of posh tea or coffee, or simply just all your giftee's favourite foods! Another alternative would be a food subscription service of some kind - there are lots of different ones out there so it really depends what the person you're buying likes.

Often gadgets are thought of as a bit of a throwaway stocking filler thing, but if you get a good one it can be a great gift in itself. Again I'd subscribe to the previous rule: if the gadget is related to something they actually enjoy then you're on to a winner for the novelty factor if nothing else. I am actually slightly gutted that I'm not buying presents for my dad in the secret Santa this year, because if I was I would so be buying him this plectrum maker - he always complains he can never find a plectrum for his guitar and it's such a great use for any old bank or store cards. Whereas for my husband, who's really into his cooking, I'd go for this garlic press that you roll back and forth to crush the garlic.

I must admit that unless you know the man you're buying for really, really well, or he has mentioned a specific piece of clothing he wants - even if it's just saying 'I like that' when you're out shopping together - then I would get vouchers instead. But if you do know exactly what they'd like then often clothes can be a good purchase, especially if it's a bit more than they'd usually spend on themselves. Alternatively, a stock of nice but practical things can be a nice little extra - posh socks for instance.

What do you buy the men in your life for Christmas?

#thebigblogmasproject2014: Gift Wishlist

I am a bit rubbish at wishlists for myself - mainly because I always think 'oh no I can't ask for that, it's far too expensive'. I know people like to have ideas but I worry that it will come across as greedy to ask for these types of things and consequently I end up asking for vouchers or 'a surprise' (which has potential to backfire). But as today's #thebigblogmasproject2014 is a gift wishlist, I've put my inhibitions to one side. If anyone I know is reading this, here's the things I'd love to find in my stocking on Christmas morning...

NARS Virtual Domination Cheek Palette
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I know it's ridiculously expensive at £45 a pop, but NARS is the king of blushers and this palette is just gorgeous. Combining a highlighter, the bestselling Deep Throat shade (a lovely daytime 'posh' blush), the legendary Laguna bronzer and not one but two colours from this year's sell-out Final Cut collection, it's an absolute bargain and utterly beautiful. A gorgeous, pretty, wearable palette that would look lovely on any dressing table.

Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Palette in Fallen Angel
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I am a neutral eyeshadow junkie and this year have fallen completely in lust with Charlotte Tilbury's eyeshadow quads. At the moment I only have Golden Goddess but there are at least three more on our list, and this Christmas special edition is one of them. The palette looks really sleek and has such easy to wear colours with lovely textures (if I can bring myself to use them and damage that lovely star detail!). Definitely something any beauty junkie would love to receive.

Zoeva Rose Gold Brush Set
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Brushes are something I very rarely buy for myself - I will always go for the lovely new piece of make-up over the practical tools - so to get a beautiful kit like this for Christmas would be absolutely lovely. Zoeva brushes have been getting a lot of love from bloggers and beauty editors this year and this kit has everything you need to create loads of different looks. Plus the rose gold detail looks so pretty!

Canon 700D DSLR Camera
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OK, this is ridiculously expensive and I certainly don't expect anyone to get me this, but a good camera is something I've been hankering after for months. This one has the advantage of being good for filming videos - something I've been wanting to get into for ages - as well as taking photos and is also very compact so easy to take out with you for blogging sessions. Probably one that will stay on the wishlist - or go on the save-up-for list - but if you're after an investment present and know some very generous gift-givers I'd definitely consider this.

Hotel Chocolat Caramel H-Box
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What, you thought it was going to all be beauty or blog stuff? No, not quite; I do want a bit of variety ;) Hotel Chocolat is one of my favourite places to stop off whenever I need a chocolate hit and am feeling flush, and their H-Boxes are a nice but not too expensive gift if you're in need of a present for the chocoholic in your life or even just as a fancy box of treats for any guests coming round. I love caramel chocolates so this would be top of my list but they come in loads of different varieties so there's sure to be one you like.

Costa snowman travel mug
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How adorable is this snowman travel mug?! As you might have seen Costa's Christmas cups are themed around festive characters, and this year you can buy the various designs as proper ceramic mugs to be used for your takeaway coffees and hot chocolates next winter (or all year round if you love Christmas as much as I do!). They also have Santa, a reindeer and an elf, but I'm particularly taken with this little snowman - his jaunty scarf and carrot nose are a lovely pop of colour on the white cup.

Cath Kidston bus print travel card holder
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Cath Kidston always have the most adorable prints and at the moment this bus pattern seems to be on everything they stock. However, I think it lends itself brilliantly to the travel items, particularly this travel card holder. As someone who gets the bus to and from work every day this is perfect for me - it looks really durable compared to the flimsy promotional card holders handed out in stations and would be really easy to spot in the depths of my bag. A great little stocking filler for the commuter in your life.

I could have gone on - there are so many other things I'd love to get (Naked palettes, MAC eyeshadows/lipsticks, a ridiculous amount of books, or just the entirety of Sali Hughes' Christmas gift guide) but I'll be happy with whatever I'm lucky enough to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

What's on your Christmas wishlist?

#thebigblogmasproject2014: The Long Winter

There are certain books I think lend themselves brilliantly to being read in certain seasons, and The Long Winter is definitely one of them. The sixth of Laura Ingalls Wilder's semi-autobiographical novels about growing up as a pioneer in the American Midwest during the mid- to late 19th century, it recounts the story of the severe winter of 1880-81 in South Dakota. I'd read the first two books in the series when I was younger and loved them, but hadn't come back to it until last year when I picked this up.

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The book opens with the Ingallses - Ma, Pa, Laura and her three sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace - on their homestead, with many signs pointing to the prospect of a particularly harsh winter such as thick walls on animal dens and a prophetic visit from an elderly Native American. As the area becomes increasingly battered by harsh blizzards, the family hunkers down in Pa's store in town, but before long the food and fuel are running out with no knowing how long they'll last...

What actually surprised me about The Long Winter is how utterly chilling it is - both in the sense of the cold weather and the . Now I like a good ghost story at Christmas - I re-read A Christmas Carol every year and The Turn of the Screw is next on my reading list - but there's something about it that's far more effective when the threat of death is ever-present and never-ending, and it's real to boot. There's a scene early in the book where a snowstorm hits the local school and Laura and her sister Carrie have to walk home, almost missing the last house in town and ending up lost for ever on the prairie. Far from the romanticised version of the pioneer lifestyle we're used to seeing, it actually shows the brutal hardship of the situation and the need to swallow one's pride and get by however you can.

But the book never descends into the unrelenting grimness it could so easily have done; there is (nearly) always music from Pa's fiddle and a sense of making the best of what you have and sticking together as a family and a community. Consequently, the end of the book, when the train carrying the family's Christmas presents and turkey dinner finally reaches the town that spring, is utterly and wonderfully uplifting. (For the people on the number 43 bus the day I finished it, yes I did have something in my eye.)

As always, it's the wonderful characters who carry the book forward for me. I know they are based on real people, but you feel so strongly connected to them - particularly Laura, even though it's not a first-person novel - and are aware of their flaws as well as their virtues. I also really enjoyed being introduced to new characters such as Laura's future husband Almanzo Wilder. It's lovely seeing the seeds of their relationship being sown as he agrees to share his wheat stockpile with Pa, helping the family to survive, and his heroism in going to find wheat 20 miles away through the snow which in turn improves Laura's opinion of him.

Overall, whilst this is definitely not a book to read in the cold - I recommend sitting in front of a blazing fire, or at the very least having the heating on - it does brilliantly capture what (for me) is the true spirit of Christmas: that it's not about celebrating

#thebigblogmasproject2014: Decoration Wishlist

Decorating the flat is one of my favourite things about Christmas. I've never been into matchy-matchy Christmas trees; they always look a bit too 'hotel lobby' for my liking. Instead, the tree of my dreams is one that has accumulated decades' worth of stuff. I'm slowly working on this but am only three years in so it's taking a while! I've already bought my decoration for this year (this adorable little Christmas postbox from Macy's when I was in New York) but here's what I'd buy for the tree - and the rest of the flat - if I was getting more...

Mickey and Minnie Mouse Open Bauble
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There are some brilliant Disney decorations around this year - I love this one of Lady and the Tramp - but the traditional vibe of this open bauble with Mickey and Minnie decorating the tree just pips it for me. The red and gold adds a lovely opulent feel and I love seeing Mickey and Minnie in their Christmas outfits; it brings back memories of a Christmas-themed Sing Along Songs video I had as a kid. And what better way to celebrate Christmas than decorating the tree?

Paperchase Deer Bauble
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Paperchase always have lovely colourful quirky decorations, but I also really like their more traditional decorations. This sweet little deer bauble has a lovely classic look that's set off really well by the candy-cane striped ribbon, and the beads in the bottom to look like snow is a lovely extra touch. If you're the old-school type this would make a great addition to your tree. Their box sets of mini baubles are always really good value too.

M&S Silver Sequin Bauble
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Because it's Christmas, and there's no such thing as too much glitter at Christmas. There are loads of these types of baubles around at the moment (Paperchase has lots) but I particularly like this one from M&S. Not only is it cheap as chips at £2 - and on 3 for 2! - but it also has a really classic yet contemporary look. M&S actually has some surprisingly good decorations; if you like your tree to look timeless I'd definitely recommend having a look in there.

Laura Ashley Rose and Pinecone Wreath
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Of course decorations aren't just for your tree. Sadly we don't have anywhere to put this unusual rose and pinecone wreath, but if we did I would definitely be hanging this on my door. It's got a really classic Americana feel about it - if you're like me and into all your classic movies at Christmas then this is the kind of thing you'd see in It's A Wonderful Life or Holiday Inn - but I love the mix of the bright red roses and berries alongside the rustic pinecones. A real statement piece if you like your decorations to be a bit different.

Diptyque Holiday Candle Set
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I love candles at Christmas - not only do they add a lovely glow to a room on cold dark evenings, the best ones also bring out the wonderful smells of Christmas. Diptyque are far and away the best for me in terms of throw and longevity, and this set of three is absolutely perfect. I'm particularly keen on the Resine scent which is apparently meant to smell like Christmas trees (the smell is one of the things I miss most about not having a real tree), but they all sound like beautiful fragrances. The colourful frosted glass would also look fantastic dotted around your home on shelves, windowsills or mantelpieces.

How do you like to decorate your home at Christmas?

October and November 2014 Empties

Empties are like buses for me - you wait ages for one and then three come along at once. October and November have been slightly bumper months for me in terms of using things up, which is both a good thing (as it means my stash is going down) and a bad thing (as it means this post will be very picture-heavy!). So without further ado, here's what I've used up in the last two months...


L'Oreal Paris Elnett Very Volume Hairspray
I always have a can or two of this around - it really is the best thing for keeping your hair in place. What with all the wet and windy weather we've had recently I've been using this a lot to make sure my hair looks good, especially my fringe as if I leave that alone it has an annoying tendency to split. It gives enough hold and a good boost of volume but doesn't have that horrible crispy feeling that a lot of other hairsprays do, which is a huge bonus for me, and the packaging is great - really distinctive yet classic. The only downside for me is the smell, which I find can be a bit irritating if you overdo it, but it disappears so quickly that I can overlook that. I have already repurchased another giant can of this and have a small can in my handbag so hopefully have enough to last me yet!

Lush New Shampoo Bar (not pictured but you can see it here)
This was an unintentional empty as I foolishly left the shampoo at the end of the bath with the shower, so over the course of a couple of days the water going into the pot dissolved the entire bar! I must admit I've got mixed feelings about this shampoo; this was my second one and initially I really liked it and felt that it was helping my hair grow as well as smelling like Christmas, but recently I've felt like it hasn't been getting my hair properly clean no matter how long I've rinsed it for. I'm not sure if I'd buy again as its main purpose was to help grow my hair for the wedding (which has been and gone now - more on that coming soon!) but I would buy a Lush shampoo bar again, if only to use up the various bits of conditioner I have hanging round...


Proactiv Solution Deep Cleansing Wash
I wrote about this in a previous empties post - which you can read here - and really don't have much to add. It's a creamy wash that you can use for face and body and contains tiny blue beads, which exfoliate your face but without feeling scratchy. I found this was really good at clearing up spots, though it takes a little longer to work on scars. However in recent weeks it has felt a little drying on my combination skin, which I think is due to the change in weather, so I'm going to try a few new products and see if those help.

Estee Lauder Clear Difference Advanced Blemish Serum
I've reviewed this product in full previously but I must sing its praises once again. It's really light, has a lovely fresh citrus scent, sinks in really easily and works absolute wonders at tackling spots. Yes it's expensive at £58 for 50ml but considering that a bottle of this used morning and night will last me around six months then I'd say it's well worth the investment. I do have another bottle of this in my stash but have a couple of serum samples from Birchboxes to use up first.

Pharmagel Beta-C Dual Action Moisturiser
This is sold as an anti-ageing moisturiser - and I will admit I have noticed it working on my not-so-fine lines - but it's also a really good spot treatment as it contains BHAs and vitamin C, which work to sweep away dead skin cells and brighten skin. If I haven't used this for a little while I can really see the difference in my skin as it looks a lot duller. The BHAs also mean it works as an emergency treatment for random dry patches (something I'm prone to due to eczema), but I wouldn't recommend it if your skin is dry all over. It's not cheap at £42 a pot but this has lasted me since May using it morning and night so I'm quite happy to invest in it for six months' worth of use, though I have a few samples to use up before I repurchase.

Body products

Vaseline Derma Beauty Compressed Anti-Perspirant Deodorant
Not the most glamorous product I know, but this is a new discovery for me and I really like it. It doesn't leave white marks (something which is surprisingly unusual in my experience), is very reasonably priced and smells nice in a powdery but not sickly way. It is definitely a product to be used sparingly though - having not used a spray deodorant for years and being paranoid about sweat I slightly overdid it with this can, and consequently it ran out really quickly. I'm on my second now, being much more restrained, and so far it's working well.


Korres Citrus Body Wash sample
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with citrus scents; when done right, they can be beautifully fresh and clean, but all too often they end up smelling of toilet cleaner. This, thankfully, is in the former category. It lathers up nicely and, whilst the scent isn't particularly strong, it does have that nice note of citrus sharpness so would be a good base shower gel, especially if you like strong perfume. It's not particularly moisturising though so if you get dry skin on your body you'll need a moisturiser afterwards (they do a matching body milk which is very nice). Korres products are a bit expensive than standard high street shower gels, but still affordable and contain no nasties so I'm quite happy to pay that bit extra for them.

Skin & Co Truffle Therapy Serum sample
I'll be honest: when I first got this product, I didn't like it as I felt it didn't really move around on my face very well when applying it. That said, once I started using it up properly, I actually started to quite like it; it smells OK in a slightly sweet floral way and actually seemed to sink in easier the more I used of it. I'm not sure it made a huge difference to my skin though so I probably won't be buying the full size.

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser
I feel like writing about this is a bit 'preaching to the converted' because every blogger and their dog seems to have tried this cleanser, but I do really like it. It's very rich and creamy yet doesn't give me breakouts (something overly rich products often can), has a nice herbal fragrance and works really well at removing make-up - I normally have to use micellar water to get my mascara off before cleansing but not with this stuff! I do have a couple of other cleansers to use up first though so it will be a while before I repurchase this.

So that's eight empties in October and November - not bad going! However with Christmas coming and my hope for a few new beauty products I suspect they might slow down again. I'm currently still aiming to use up lots of samples though so hopefully that will take the stash down a bit further.

What products have you used up this month?

#thebigblogmasproject2014 & #2014BloggerChallenge: Gift Guide for Women/Girls

It's day two of #thebigblogmasproject2014, and today it's a gift guide for the women and girls in your life. This is also a joint post with the #2014BloggerChallenge as this instalment's theme is a gift guide, so I thought I might as well double up and cover both topics!

I must admit that one thing I miss (although my bank balance doesn't) since my family started doing Secret Santa is the present shopping - I love taking that time to think of the perfect presents for people and then seeing their faces when they open them on Christmas morning. But putting together a gift guide like this allows me to do a little fantasy shopping, so here's what I'd buy if I was shopping for everyone...

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Mum: Chanel Chance perfume
This is my mum's favourite perfume so I had to go for this - but you could easily substitute it for any other fragrance your mum loves. It's described as 'A constellation of scents, warmed up by Absolute of Vanilla, where Absolute of Exotic Jasmine and Iris are more pronounced. A mysterious alchemy accentuated by the intensity of the White Musk note.' To me that sounds like a lovely creamy, almost warm floral - perfect for someone who likes flowery scents but maybe wants something warmer at this time of year.

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Gran: Accessorize iris pattern silk scarf
There's something really classic about a silk scarf that makes it a perfect gift for grans and nans, or also for mums. This one from Accessorize - who have loads of lovely silk and chiffon scarves in every colour you could wish for - has a gorgeous iris pattern, almost like an Impressionist painting, and would go with lots of different things whether that's pastels or black. A little bit of luxury that proves you don't have to break the bank to buy a beautiful gift.

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Eldest sister: Charlotte Tilbury Colour Chameleon in Golden Quartz
My eldest sister has asked for eyeshadow palettes in the past, but as a busy working mum she also tends to go for products that are quick and easy to apply - so these sticks from Charlotte Tilbury are a brilliant option. They come in loads of different colours for day and night wear and for different eye colours, but I don't think you should let that restrict you; if you like a colour and it suits you, wear it! I also like the fact that this is a really easy shade to dress up or down depending on what you're doing so would work for lots of different occasions.

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Middle sister: Tatty Devine horse necklace
This has been on my list of potential gifts for my horse-mad middle sister for some time now. I love the wooden-effect look of this little horse - it's so perfect for autumn - and the slightly childlike look. He's a bit like your childhood fantasy rocking horse come to life! Tatty Devine has loads of amazing quirky jewellery and no matter what your giftee's interests you're sure to find something there that they'll love. (As a side note, I have my middle sister in our Secret Santa but she's not getting this - sorry sis, your real present is still a secret for now!)

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Best friend: Paperchase cupcake notebook
My best friend C is currently in the process of writing her PhD proposal, so what better thing for a soon-to-be full-time student than some excellent stationery? Both of us are also massively obsessed with cake and tea and this bright blue cupcake notebook makes this a perfect gift - though you could take your pick from any of Paperchase's excellent stationery range. I'd also pair it with this quirky owl diary to help her keep on top of her deadlines in the coming year.

What's on your list for your female friends and relatives this Christmas

#thebigblogmasproject2014: What I Wear To Work - Autumn/Winter Edition

Some of you might have seen that quite a few bloggers are doing the #BigBlogmasProject, organised by the lovely Cole from Cole of the Ball, and I'm one of them :) It's a bit daunting taking on the challenge to blog every day, but I'm hoping I can keep it up and that it will help me get my blogging mojo back. The first post is a general winter post, but it still feels quite autumnal, so I'm easing myself in with an autumn/winter fashion post.

As regular readers may recall, earlier this year I wrote a post about what I was wearing to work during the summer heatwave, and because I got such a great response to it I thought it would be nice to write a follow-up post on what I've been wearing as the weather's got colder. I work in a fairly relaxed office so what I wear really depends on what I'm doing that day, the vibe I want to channel or simply what's clean and roughly goes together, but hopefully this will give you a flavour of what I go for in the changing seasons.

I'm afraid most of the stuff here is quite old - but hopefully it might give you some autumn/winter fashion inspiration! And has also made me realise the worrying amount of money I spent in Dorothy Perkins once upon a time...

Monday: Busy day in the office so I opted for a very simple outfit. I really like the look of a bright but plain top next to a patterned flared skirt - it's a combination I reach for a lot. This royal blue top and geometric print skirt are both from Dorothy Perkins.

Tuesday: We had a big event launching one of our major annual reports today, so I wanted something quite smart. This blue snake print dress from Dorothy Perkins is my go-to for these occasions - it's the combination of the fitted shape, demure long sleeves and soft jersey fabric. I call it my 'Kate Middleton dress' (though I suspect her version would cost a lot more!).

Wednesday: Another day, another bright top and printed skirt - again both from Dorothy Perkins. The skirt is a particular favourite of mine; I originally thought it was leopard print when I picked it up but it's actually snake, which I like as it's a bit different. The black piping detail makes it a bit smarter and I also love the fact it has pockets.

Thursday: One of our team members was leaving this week (sniff!), so we went out for a goodbye lunch for him and I wanted something a bit more casual but still smart. This dress is from a shop on Columbia Road called Queenie &Ted that specialise in customising clothes, layered over a long-sleeved white top from Dorothy Perkins. I love the usual embroidery detail on the waistband and the 70s-style floral print - it looks great with my Marks & Spencer knee-length flat boots.

Friday: A more casual outfit to finish off the week, with a bit of a nautical touch. The stripy top is from Primark and the skirt is from Joy - perfect for a relaxed Friday in the office and then a trip to the pub after work.

What do you wear to work in the autumn/winter?