The Alternative Christmas Gift Guide

10 ideas for when you’re absolutely stumped.

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Am I really going to be the person who sucks all the fun out of Cyber Monday and suggests that instead of indulging in mass consumerism we reel ourselves back in a bit? No, because that would make me a massive hypocrite seeing as I spent most of the weekend (in between painting my hallway – see Instagram) trawling ASOS and Amazon for some bargain Christmas Presents.  I LOVE Christmas shopping – but only when I know that I’ve found the perfect present for every single one of my favourite people. I don’t like guessing, and you’ll never catch me wandering down the 3 for 2 gift aisle – even as a last resort. For me, that’s where I draw the line – that is mindless consumerism, in my opinion anyway.  The truth is that sometimes the best things and gifts in life are free, and a thoughtful gesture is often far better than throwing cash at expensive clutter or resorting to “stuff” bought down the gift aisle under pressure.

So if you’re struggling to find that perfect gift for someone, or just fancy thinking a little bit outside the box this year, then have I got the gift-guide for you. 🙂

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Experiences

I think the older I get the less interested I become in “stuff” – and in giving “stuff” at Christmas. These days when someone asks me what I want for my birthday or for Christmas, I’m more likely to say, “Let’s go somewhere” or “Let’s do something”. So why not book some tickets for a gig or for a show (if you’re Cardiff-based then the Millenium Centre’s got one hell of a line-up for 2020, including Six, The Lion King and Book of Mormon), or book a flight and head off on an adventure to somewhere new or somewhere special.

Membership

Memberships come in all shapes and forms and make for brilliant gifts. The best thing about them is that they usually tend to run for a whole 12 months, so if your SO, Mother-in-Law or Bestie end up enjoying it and getting the most out of it, you can make it a yearly gift! If you’ve got someone who loves getting out in the fresh air or exploring old properties and manor houses then you can’t go wrong with a National Trust Membership. My in-laws gift themselves a Cineworld Members Card every year which allows them to unlimited access to what’s on in their local cinema. You could also gift someone a Netflix or Amazon Prime Membership, or even a membership to their local Museum, Gallery or Golf Club. The possibilities are literally endless.

DIY Foodie Gifts

Here’s where I come into my own, because every year – without fail – I give every member in family a pot of my Homemade Chilli and Red Pepper Jam. I made it one year for my Mother-In-Law and she absolutely loved it, and so slowly over the years I’ve had added requests for a jar or two. I make a massive batch every Christmas now – and I love it! It’s an easy gift, and it’s personal. And of course, there are plenty of other foodie gifts, from easy Chocolate Truffles and Christmas Biscuits, to Brownies and Welshcakes. You could even create your own infused Gin or Vodka.

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Kick a Bad Habit

Maybe you’ve got a bad habit that’s been annoying your SO for a long time, so then why not give them the gift of the promise to kick it for good? It could be something huge like vowing to give up smoking or drinking, or something a lot smaller like promising not to dump your clothes in a pile at the end of the bed every night.  Just don’t make it an empty promise, you’ve got to make good on it no matter what! 😉

Make a Donation

Some people just don’t want or need gifts – so why not put the money you’d usually spend on them to good use? Make a donation to their favourite charity in their name, or donate an advent calendar or tub of celebrations to a local food bank, or even buy a gift for someone in need. If you’re local, then I can’t not mention Hope Rescue for all the absolutely incredible work they do for stray and abandoned dogs. Every year they ask for donations of shoe boxes full of treats, toys and blankets for the dogs they look after.

Favours and IOUs

Are there a few things around the house that you’ve been putting off?  Maybe there’s some DIY or decorating that needs doing? So, why not get off your bum and get them done as a gift to the person who’s been nagging you about them!  Or, why not take over someone’s chores while they put their feet up?

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Learn Something New

Do you have someone on your Christmas List who’d like to learn something new? Maybe they’ve always fancied trying out Pilates, or learning French, or fancy taking up a new hobby like Photography. So, why not sign them up for a class in the new year?

Make it a Weekly Thing

Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is the gift of your time. I bet there are plenty of people on your list who’d love nothing more than to see more of you, or spend more quality time together. So, why not give it? Sign up for a class that you can both take together every week, or just make a plan to meet up once a week to go for coffee or brunch (…or gin?).

Magazine Subscription

This is such a fab gift if you’re stuck, especially for Mums, Sisters, BFFs. My in-laws got me a magazine subscription to Marie Claire a few years ago and it’s still one of the best presents I’ve ever had. I love reading magazines (even though Marie Claire’s retreated to the online world now *sigh*) and having one pop through my letter box every month is such a simple pleasure and a treat! Since then I’ve signed my Mum up for a subscription to Prima and she gets the same excitement seeing it on her doormat once a month. 🙂

Green Gifts

Personally, I love plants and flowers in all forms and I’d much rather get a bunch of hot pink roses than a shot in the dark gift every time. Plants are such easy gifts, as are seeds and grow your own kits. If you’re green fingered yourself, then why not give someone something you’ve grown yourself – or a cutting from your favourite plant?

Happy 2nd of December everyone! Have a lovely week! 🙂

Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2019

It’s beginning to look a lot like…
Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2019 - The Cardiff Cwtch

Happy Monday!  Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland opened up last week and Morgan’s Arcade is kitted out like Diagon Alley again, which can only mean one thing.  The C word (…no, not that one – behave, you!).  Dare I say it?  Christmas… is coming.  And before you panic and hurl your phone at me, let me just tell you; I’m nowhere near ready.  I promise.  My tree is still firmly tucked away in its box in the garage, I’ve yet to hear Mariah Carey wailing away over my car radio and it’s waaaaay too soon to go scrolling through the Christmas category on Netflix (for me, anyway…). But, the one Christmassy thing that is in full swing  over on my end is Christmas Shopping.  I mean, I’d love to be that person who has a brainwave in March and starts picking up presents as and when she sees them, but nope, the panic sets in at the end of October and sees me right through until the last present has been ticked off the list.

That being said, I do love shopping for presents – and Christmas Shopping is the one time that I’ll actually head out and do it rather than slob on the sofa and Amazon Prime it – just because, I absolutely adore Cardiff at Christmas time.  I love trotting up and down the high street to the tune of the Salvation Army and I love pottering around in the Arcades for those quirky, one off gifts that I simply can’t find online or elsewhere.  So, once a year I put up a Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide to shine a light on the amazing shopping Cardiff has to offer, but also the best pit-stops for a coffee (or a gin, let’s be honest) along the way.

This year, my guide’s going live just in time to tell you all about City of Arcades Day – which is happening on Saturday the 16th of November.  There’ll be lots going on in the seven arcades dotted across Cardiff City Centre, including live music and plenty of offers in store. If one of the shops on my list has something special going on, then I’ve jotted it down in red. 🙂

Home & Gifts

Illustrate (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Unique graphic prints, t-shirts and accessories.  My husband and I have a whole zoo-ful of Tobias’ Zentangle Animal Prints on our walls at home! Definitely worth checking out. Check out the online store here.

Oliver Bonas (The Hayes)

Perfect for: I think I’d quite happily set up camp and squat in any Oliver Bonas Store! It’s a trove-full of quirky homeware, books and gifts – but also beautiful fashion and accessories.

Flying Tiger (St Davids)

Perfect for: Quirky stationary and stocking fillers.  Tiger also always has the best (and cheapest!) party supplies and decorations.  When it comes to banners, baking accessories, candles, napkins and nick-nacks, Tiger is the place to go.

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Creative Cardiff (The Capitol)

Perfect for: Shop full of products and gifts run by local artists and creatives.

The Joke Shop (Duke Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Fancy Dress Costumes, practical jokes and stocking fillers a plenty.  Perfect if you’re planning on dressing up as Santa, or you’ve got pranks planned around the Christmas dinner table.

Scribbler (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Quirky Christmas cards, Secret Santa gifts and small stocking fillers.

Forbidden Planet (5, Duke Street)

Perfect for: Comic books, cult action figures and collectibles.  If you’ve got a Sheldon Cooper to buy for then you’ll already know about Forbidden Planet and are probably a frequent visitor.

The Pen and Paper (Royal Arcade – Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Pens and Paper!  One of the best places in Cardiff to go for ink, card, pens, notebooks, art supplies, calendars and diaries.

*City of Arcades Day: Block Printing Demo with Sarah Walker from 11.30am – 3pm.

Rules of Play (Castle Quarter Arcades)

Perfect for: Christmas isn’t Christmas without some kind of board game, right? Whether you’re a Cards Against Humanity fan or prefer to rinse the relatives at Monopoly then Rules of Play has got you covered.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% Off Modern Classics including Catan and Pandemic.

Castle Emporium (Womanby Street)

Perfect for: Market full of independent retailers selling clothing, jewellery, second hand books, artwork and skateboarding equipment.

Camera Centre UK (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Cameras, Lenses and Equipment for the budding photographer (or blogger) in your family.

*City of Arcades Day: Half price prints, exclusive deals on Sony Alpha cameras and lenses as well as free family portrait photography ALL DAY.

Buddug (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Beautiful Welsh themed gifts and jewellery.

*City of Arcades Day: Free Christmas Card and Mince Pie with every purchase.

Galactic Attic (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Vintage and retro toys, comic books and collectibles!

*City of Arcades Day: 15% off purchases all day, and a free photo with a Stormtrooper between 12pm to 2pm.

Shop Wales (Queens Arcade)

Perfect for: Welsh-themed gifts.

*City of Arcades Day: Free special edition Wales Toblerone with every purchase over £25.

The Welsh Shop (Castle Quarter Arcades)

Perfect for: Welsh-themed gifts and traditional, hand-crafted Love Spoons.

Beauty & Toiletries

Miss Patisserie (online and in Boots, St Davids)

Perfect for: Handmade Cosmetics, Bath Bombs, Candles. Tucked away in one of the Victorian Arcades (just off St John Street) Miss Patisserie is my go-to if I’ve got a pamper session planned – their bath balls are the bomb-diggity (much slower to fizzle out than, y’know, that *other* highstreet handmade cosmetics brand, and they create beautiful tie-dye swirls in the tub).  All their products are handmade, vegan and cruelty free and downright gorgeous.

Neal’s Yard Remedies (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Natural Remedies; I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Mama who isn’t a big fan of their soothing hand lotions.

*City of Arcades Day: Cuppa and a free 15-minute aromatherapy hand massage with free samples from the frankincense range.

Molton Brown (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Beautiful toiletries and perfumes (My Mum’s a massive fan – I don’t think she’d ever be caught dead with a plain ol’ Carex hand soap in her downstairs loo!).

*City of Arcades Day: Complimentary hand and arm massages, fragrance consultations and a free fragrance sample to take home.

Jo Malone (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Gorgeous high end candles, perfumes and toiletries.

L’Occitane (St Davids)

Perfect for: French toiletries – beautiful soaps, shower gels and hand creams.

Kiehls (St Davids)

Perfect for: Cult skincare products for men and women (I can’t rave more about their Midnight Recovery Oil).

Lush Shop and Spa (Queen Street)

Perfect for: Handmade cosmetics, bath bombs and toiletries. Definitely check out the upstairs spa (such a cosy space!) if you fancy treating your SO to a day of pampering!

Fashion

Most of the big names can be found dotted between Queen Street and The Hayes, with the majority tucked away in St David’s Arcade.

Hobos (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: One of the oldest shops in Cardiff for vintage and second-hand clothing and accessories.

Shop Rugby (Duke Street)

Perfect for: Rugby Shirts, kits and accessories – as well as a few Welsh and Rugby-themed gifts.

*City of Arcades Day: Spin the wheel, win a prize all day.

Diba (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Clothing and accessories made in Wales using only natural fabrics like silk, cotton, wool and banana leaf!

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

Jon Ian (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Classic Cardiff Store selling designer shoes and handbags.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

Sobeys Vintage (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Vintage clothing and accessories.

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all day.

White Stuff (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Cosy fashion (and a few homeware and gifts) – the perfect place to find a Christmas Jumper!

*City of Arcades Day: 15% off full price items.

Urban Outfitters (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Quirky fashion with a vintage feel, but their homeware and gift section is where you want to be this time of year…

Kiti Cymru (Pontcanna Mews)

Perfect for: Fashion boutique in Pontcanna with carefully curated fashion from brands such as Lily & Lionel, Tatty Devine and Traffic People.

Dot Clothing (Royal Arcade)

Perfect for: Small, niche designer women’s clothing brands.

*City of Arcades Day: Entry into a free raffle with every purchase.

31 The Store (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Independent menswear store in Cardiff with products exclusive to Wales.

Route One (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Street wear and Action Sports clothing.

Two Seasons (Queens Arcade)

Perfect for: Ski, skate and surf shop selling main brands of clothing and equipment for adults and kids.

Christmas Markets

Cardiff Indoor Market

Perfect for: Cardiff’s indoor market is over a hundred years old and still going strong.  It’s a great place to hit up if you need home hardware, specialist foodie gifts, pet supplies, sewing and crafty gifts and vinyl records.  It’s absolutely criminal to come away without buying a bag of ten Welsh Cakes from Bakestones. Also, they’ve got their Night Market this week on Thursday (14th) from 6 til late.

Cardiff Outdoor Christmas Market

Perfect for: Opening this week on the 14th of November and running all the way through until the 23rd of December, the Christmas Market is one of the best places to support independent Welsh Brands and pick up one of a kind gifts. Find a list of this year’s vendors here.

Cardiff Christmas Makers Market (Paget Rooms, Penarth)

Perfect for: (*16th and 17th of November only) Market packed full of stalls by local brands, crafters, makers and creatives. £1 entry – find out more information here.

Food & Drink

Wally’s Delicatessen and Kaffe Haus (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Foodie gift central.  Wally’s has its own unique aroma, you’ll smell the spices and cured meat long before you step inside.  It’s definitely the place to go if you’re looking for things to go into a Christmas hamper, as well as hot sauces, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, pannettone and Christmas pudding.  They’ve also got a coffee shop on the second floor.

*City of Arcades Day: Buy an open sandwich or platter from the Kaffehaus and get one half price. Sample Hensol Castle Distillery’s range of Crawshay’s Gins and Gin Liqueurs. Buy One Gin, Get One Liqueur Free

Wally’s Liquor Cellar (Castle Arcade – next to Gin and Juice)

Perfect for: Wines, drinks and spirits.  Perfect if you’re looking to gift some quirky drinks or liquors – including Welsh-brewed products – or stock up for New Year’s Eve!

*City of Arcades Day: 10% off all purchases of Cloven Hoof products.

Vom Fass (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Specialist Oils and Spirits in aesthetically pleasing and quirky jars and bottles.

Bean Freaks (St Mary’s Street)

Perfect for: Natural foods, remedies and beauty products.

*City of Arcades Day: Free Goody Bag with every purchase.

Simply V (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Vegan groceries, toiletries and clothing.

City of Arcades Day: Get 10% off all purchases except non-food items.

Madame Fromage

Perfect for:  Cheesy gifts, literally!  Specialty cheeses and hampers.  They also offer Cheese and Wine Tasting evenings from £25 a head which my Dad would be all over.

Bird and Blend (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for:  Quirky Loose Leaf Tea Blends and Mixology. It’s just moved in to the old spot next to Troutmark Books where the Harry Potter Store used to be; I popped in the other day to see what it was all about and was blown away by all the beautiful tea!

Fabulous Welshcakes (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for:  Beautifully made Welsh Cakes in lots of quirky flavours!

*City of Arcades Day: Limited edition salted caramel welsh cakes.

Books & Music

Spillers (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: LEGENDARY.  CDs and Vinyl.  The world’s oldest record shop and a Cardiff institution.  ‘Nuff said.

*City of Arcades Day: Live music and DJ sets from 5pm until late.

Cranes (High Street/Lower End of St Mary’s Street)

Perfect for: Gifts for musicians.  Cranes is the Mecca for Cardiff Musicians and the place to go to buy instruments and accessories.

Troutmark Books (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Lovely secondhand book store tucked away in Castle Arcade. Great place to pick up a secondhand gem! 🙂

Coffee Shops & Pitstops

Barker Tea House (High Street Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Free mini Bakestones Welsh Cake with any Large, Hot Drink.

Nata & Co (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Get 15% off all flavours.

Crumbs (Morgan Quarter)
The Plan (Morgan Quarter)
Llaeth a Siwgr (Yr Hen Llyfrgell)
Big Moose Coffee (Frederick Street)
Science Cream (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: 20% off Hot Drinks.

Arcade Vault Retro Gaming Cafe

*City of Arcades Day: Mario Kart 8 Charity Tournament.

Gin & Juice (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Special Show Case of Gins with recommended garnishes and tonics.

Uncommon Ground (Morgan Quarter)
Waterloo Tea (Wyndham Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Get 20% off gifted teapots and a free sample of loose-leaf tea with any tea that is bought to drink inside.

Hard Lines (Cardiff Indoor Market and Castle Emporium)
The New York Deli (High Street Arcade)
Coffee Barker (Castle Arcade)

*City of Arcades Day: Free mini Bakestones Welsh Cake with any Large, Hot Drink.

Happy Shopping! If you’ve got any Cardiff Christmas Shopping suggestions then I’d love to hear them – I’m always discovering new favourites! 🙂

*Furbo: The Treat Dispensing Dog Cam

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(*This post is sponsored by Furbo)

The absolute worst thing about having Bungle (besides when he wipes his butt on my lovely, white bed sheets…), is having to leave him!  He really is part of the family – he pretty much demands to be, it’s what Golden Retrievers are all about – and honestly I wouldn’t have him any other way and I’d take him everywhere with me if I could.  Sunny and I are really lucky that he’s never alone for too long, but then – y’know – sometimes, it happens.  As much as I’d like to wheel him around in the trolley while I do my weekly food shop (…he’d love that!), it just isn’t going to happen, but do you know what? He might as well be there with me because I never stop thinking about him and worrying that he’s okay at home on his own and isn’t wrecking the place while I’m out.

Enter the pet cam!  I used to think they were a bit of a gimmick until my parents got us a Vimtag camera for Christmas.  The idea is that you set it up in a room where you tend to leave your pet while you’re out, then basically link up to your phone via an app, and – via video link – it allows you check in on your pet while you’re out.  We were pretty much instant converts; we never have to worry about rushing back home, we just pop onto the app, make sure that Bungle’s behaving himself (…he’s usually just fast asleep!), and that gives us the option to stay out a little longer! So when Furbo got in touch and asked if Bungle would like to try out their pet cam, I wondered how it could possibly improve on the camera that we already had – what else could it possibly offer?

Well, in a word… TREATS!

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How it works…

One of the many things that sets Furbo aside from other dog cameras on the market is the fact that it allows you to toss treats!  Once you’ve set up the camera (which is super easy – just plug it into the wall, download the free, accompanying app and connect to it once via Bluetooth) you can check in on your pet at any time – day or night – and from anywhere in the world (provided you’re on wifi!).  You can talk to them through the video link (“Get off the sofa!”), hear them respond (“No, it’s comfy!”), record them, photograph them and even flick/swipe the screen to send a treat!  The Furbo will spit a couple of small treats out through the hole in its base, rewarding doggo for being “a very good boy” while you’re out and about doing your thing! 🙂

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The Good

Bark Alerts

As well as the ability to send treats, one of the best things about Furbo – and something that really sets it aside from other cameras – is the fact that the app will send an alert to your phone if it hears your dog barking.  Bungle only tends to bark when he’s frustrated or if someone comes to the door, so having a camera that listens out for that is awesome; if we get an alert, we know we need to check in pronto tonto.

Design

Another thing I really like about the Furbo as opposed to other cameras is its design – it actually looks good!  While our Vimtag camera looks a little bit like a 90s webcam, the Furbo is easy on the eyes by comparison.  It’s a little bit bigger, sure, (obviously it needs to be to hold a decent bank of treats), but sleeker, and with the trendy and kinda Scandi bambo lid it blends really well with the other furniture in our lounge.  The light on the front changes during different modes of operation – yellow when it’s on standby, blue when you’re using the app, and purple when it’s struggling to find a WIFI signal.

Treat Tossing

I mean, obviously, the main draw is the treat tossing function.  It’s great fun!  But what makes it even better is the fact that you can record your own message to accompany the treat toss – a “snack call” – so doggo knows he’s about to get a treat!

Super Wide Lens

One of the only things our Vimtag camera can do that Furbo can’t is the ability to move the camera via the app and follow Bungle’s movements around the room.  Furbo‘s lens is fixed, but, the good news is that it’s a wide-angle lens that has no trouble keeping an eye on the whole room. 🙂

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The Not so Good

The Noise

One of the only gripes I have about Furbo – and there aren’t many at all – is the noise the mechanism makes as it spits out a treat.  It’s a little bit noisy.  I mean, nothing to us humans, but by the way Bungle first reacted to it you’d think the sky was about to cave in!  He’s a slightly skittish dog anyway – he’s never liked sudden noises – and so it took him quite a while to get used to the sounds Furbo makes, even the snack call.  The good thing is that there are plenty of training videos and tips within the app that will help you properly introduce your pup to Furbo that’ll have them loving it in no time!

Depends on the Dog!

Here’s the stickler.  All dogs are completely different.  Some love watching the TV and others barely notice that it’s even there!  Bungle falls into the second category – he always has!  He’s never been bothered about the TV and has never reacted to Facetime or phone calls.  He’s a Golden Retriever with a very finely tuned nose; it’s part of the breed.  So while he’ll always appear behind me when I’m grating cheese on the other side of the house, he won’t react to me if I’m on a screen because he can’t smell me there.  The same applies to talking to him over the camera; he can hear me speaking to him through the Furbo, but won’t really recognise the sound as me because he can’t smell me.  So some of those features – as fantastic as they are – are a bit lost on him.  It’s just a lot of strange noise, and when we first set the camera up it tended to stress him out rather than comfort him.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that not all dogs are going to react to Furbo in the same way.  It depends on how they’re wired!  So if you’ve got a very skittish dog, then it might be worth looking at a more basic camera without all the bells and whistles.  You can always use the training videos of course, but it’s always going to be a bit of a gamble.

Aside from that, as pet cams go Furbo really is top of the pops.  Other than the treat tossing feature, the bark alerts alone are such a simple but really useful feature and it’s the best looking camera on the market by a long way. 🙂

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Big thanks to Karkalis Communications for sending over the Furbo!  Have a great week everyone! 🙂

(This is a sponsored post, you can read more about what that means right here.)

What’s in my Makeup Bag? The Winter Edition

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High five; we made it through January!  I’m so happy to see the back of it, and even though we’re celebrating the first day of February here in Cardiff with a fresh sheet of snow – it feels good knowing that we’re winging our way into Spring.  Soon – we’re not quite there yet – which means a few more weeks of dark mornings, dark circles and deathly pale skin, and that means a shakeup in the ol’ makeup bag.  It’s working so, so hard right now, let me tell you!

Just before Christmas I picked up a few new beauty bits and bobs from Boots and TK Maxx (if you’ve never raided their makeup section before, then oh boy, you’re in for a treat my friend) to see me through to Spring.

1. CYO “The Radiant One” Bronzing & Illuminating Compact in “Light”

Alas, my Florida tan is long gone and when I hit pan on my Body Shop Honey Bronzer I felt like it was time for a bit of a shake up.  I’ve got fair skin and honestly, I’m a bit of a Bronze-aphobe (is that a thing?).  Too much and I look like I’ve face-planted into a muddy puddle but at the same time, I do need something to warm up my pale skin.  I picked up the CYO Bronzing and Illuminating Compact on a bit of a whim when I stepped into Boots just after Christmas and absolutely fell in love with it.  It’s cheap – only a fiver – and the lighter compact is absolutely perfect for pale, cool-toned skin like mine.  The bronzer is subtle but buildable, while the added highlighter adds a really lovely glow.

2. Stila Stay All Day Foundation and Concealer in Light (3)

What a TK Maxx bargain this baby was!  I’m still a massive fan of the Bourjois Healthy Mix Foundation, but it’s a little dewy and so light and works best during spring and summer.  In the winter I need a bit more coverage, so I picked up this little bottle by Stila (since it was more than half price off) and it’s been evening up my blotchy – sometimes dry – winter skin.  It applies smoothly over blemishes and wrinkles, sticks with a matte finish (without drying things out) and really does stay all day.  Winner!

3. Lancôme Crayon Khol

An old favourite and the only eye pencil I use.  I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve got rolling around in my makeup bag that are literally just the nib.  I use the until they’re unusable – tight-lining, lid-lining, smudging – this baby copes with the lot and has never once irritated my eyes in the process.

Also, shout out to the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Liner – it’s been my go-to for years.  I picked up the version with the micro-point last time I repurchased – wondering whether it would make it any easier to create the cat-eye flick I go for day to day – but actually, I think I prefer the normal tip.

4. Stila Eyes Are the Windows Spirit Palette

Another TK Maxx steal – I couldn’t believe my luck!  I absolutely love this palette; it’s got a gorgeous range of neutral, cool-toned shades with buildable colour for looks that work both during the day and at night.

5. Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in “Pink in the Afternoon”

I’m so fussy when it comes to lipstick.  I like cool-toned pinks (are we seeing a trend here?), long-lasting, absolutely no shimmer and they need to be moisturising – I’ve never got on with MAC’s range because they leave my lips a flaky mess.  I was devastated when Revlon discontinued their Lip Butter range, but thankfully, the Super-Lustrous range is just as good.  Pink in the Afternoon is that perfect “your lips but better” shade that I reach for every day. 🙂

I’m actually on the hunt for a new mascara because my Bad Gal Bang’s just not banging anymore – what’s everyone loving right now? 🙂

*This post contains affiliate links. Read more about what that means here.

*How to Host a Banging Christmas Party in 10 Steps

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Can you believe that it’ll be Christmas Eve this time next week!?  Crazy!  How many Christmas Parties have you been to so far?  If you haven’t, then I’ll bet you’ve got one coming up this week.  Or are you hosting one yourself?  If so, then this post’s for you.  Hosting at Christmas is one of my favourite things to do (I love planning and organising around Christmas more than any other time of year), but it can also be really stressful (in fact, I wrote a whole post about it here).  So here’s my ten step guide to hosting a banging Christmas Party.  Cheers! 🙂

1. Invitations

Christmas is the busiest time of year for get-togethers and partying HARD.  Office parties, family dinners, drinks “and nibbles” with the neighbours, Black Friday Blowouts… So get that guest list written and those invites sent out as soon as you can to make sure that everyone on your guest list is wide open and able to come along.  It also gives them plenty of time to get those RSVPs in, so you can kick back and get down to planning the good stuff… (i.e. food and booze 😉 )

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2. Dress Code

When you’re writing out your invitations, make sure you let your guests know what they’re expected to wear.  Is it a super-casual friendmas with drinks and games?  Or are we talking bow ties and tiaras – or something in between?

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3. Parking, Logistics and Warning the Neighbours

Maybe this one ought to be done and dusted loooooong before you send out those invitations.  Hosting any party is tough; it’s easy enough to invite everyone around before considering how it’ll actually work.  Like, how will your guests get to your place?  If they’re driving, where can they park without pissing off the neighbours?  And speaking of the neighbours, will they mind you hosting a noisy Christmas Party (and do you care?)?  Which rooms are off limits?  Do you have enough space to host five people?  Ten people?  Your whole neigbourhood?  Where are all the coats and bags going to go?  Shoes – on or off?  Also, what’s your budget when it comes to food and drink?  Get the big questions answered and out of the way as soon as you can – it’ll save problems further down the line or worse, on the night. 🙂

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4.*Food

“Oh Baby, all I want for Christmas is fooooooooood!” Now let’s down to the good stuff!  Because let’s be honest, the best thing about Christmas is stuffing your face, innit?  Before you hit the supermarket, before you even get down to making a list (and checking it twice 😉 ) think about what kind of party you’re hosting because the kind of food you’re going to be serving will depend on that.  Are you planning on serving up a full Christmas Dinner complete with pigs in blankets and a flaming pud?  Are you putting on a “help yourself” buffet?  Or are you just serving up snacks?  Or, are you going to take the weight off and ask everyone to bring a dish (in which case you probably should mention that in your invites, right?)?

Personally, I love putting on a Christmas Buffet and pretty much do it every single year for my family on Boxing Day.  It’s easier than putting on a full Christmas Dinner, you can get it all ready before hand (instead of spending the whole party slaving away in the kitchen!), and everyone gets a little bit of what they fancy.  My go-to every Christmas for party food is *Marks and Spencer because they’re all so easy to prepare, taste amazing and there’s such a fab selection (even for vegans – with these vegan sliders). A festive scoffing sesh in my house just would not be complete without their pork belly squares, profiteroles and baked Camembert – which this year, I have to say is the best yet with its spicy and sweet chilli glaze (the only reason there’s no photo is because it got annihilated within seconds).  Yum!

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5. Party Games

It wouldn’t be a party without a little entertainment, right?  So have a think about how you’re going to keep the good times rollin’ in between catch-ups and conversations.  How about putting on a pub quiz Big Quiz of the Year style with questions based on things that have happened in the past twelve months?  What about a few drinking games to get the juices flowing?  Or go all out with a monster game of Cards Against Humanity. 🙂

6. Drinks

Once you’ve finished planning your shopping list, make a drinks list.  Check your drinks cabinet (i.e. the cupboard under the sink if you’re like me!) and see what’s in stock and what’s running out.  Put all the drinks and mixers somewhere easily accessible so your guests can help themselves throughout the party.  If you’re feeling fancy come up with a few festive cocktails in pitchers or create a suggested drinks menu! 🙂

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7. Deck the Halls

If you haven’t already got your Christmas Decorations up, now’s the time!  Consider which rooms you’re going to be using and get them looking festive with fairy lights and garlands.

8. Christmas Playlist

If you’re like me then you’ll already have one of these babies on your Spotify just ready and raring to go!  I don’t like to have a playlist that’s just chocka full of pure Christmas though – I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear The Pogues before banging your head against wall.  I’ve got all the usual numbers old and new, but I like to mix it up with some classics and a few hits from the past twelve months.  I also LOVE sneaking in a few Vitamin String Quartet covers.  If you’ve never looked them up on Spotify, its basically a group of LA-based musicians who work at recording new versions of well-known songs using a string quartet.  There’s something kind of festive about their music, and it’s fun watching people hear a song they recognise reworked in a totally different way.

9. Game Plan (timings etc)

I like coming up with a game plan before a party, especially when it comes to food.  I like to know exactly what time I need to put the oven on, put food in, take food out etc… Making a list helps me keep on top of things and saves a lot of stress on the day.  It’s also great if you’re co-hosting – that way you don’t have to keep touching base with each other, you can just check the game plan!

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10. *And if you’re going to a party…

Don’t forget to take a little something for your host!  It’s good manners and is always well appreciated.  Sure you could take a bottle of something, but how about spoiling them with an extra special box of chocolates?  This box of fancy chocs from Marks and Spencer not only looks gorgeous, but is an absolute treat.

Thanks to Marks and Spencer for the fabulous food and drink! Happy partying! 😉

*This post contains gifted items, read more about what that means here.