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Avoid: The most obscure gifts out there

I try to keep my blog a source of joy and inspiration, encouraging people to embrace gifting in all its shapes and forms, from budget presents under a fiver to high-end designer items. But I just have to share the other side of gifting with you – the greedy merchants from gift shops who want to flog horrendous stuff.

My local shopping centre has just rented an empty spot to a store called Petals: For Gift Lovers – promising, right? I walked straight in, curious and a bit excited to see what’s inside.

This truly was the first time I saw so much tacky stuff together in one space! Just take a look at these 🙂

Duo of drinking glasses: one for beer and one for wine. I suppose it’s meant to be a Valentine’s gift. Even as a prank this is seriously cringeworthy. Take the cheapest glasses you can find, put a rude sticker on top (don’t bother to make it straight) and voilà – ready to be sold to someone with obvious humour issues. “Grumpy old man”? “Miserable old woman”? Are they implying that the only way a couple can stay together is by drinking heavily?!

wine and beer glasses

Next up – tea towels with a kid’s drawing and a little note “Mums like drinking wine, it makes them smiley happy”. What?! Let me just get this straight – a poor kid supposedly lives with a very unhappy mother who is only ever jolly when she’s had a glass of Chardonnay? Better to call child protection services than to get this, in my opinion… Can you think of anyone you’d give this to?

drinking tea towels

If the lucky receiver of your gift happens not to like alcohol that much, there’s another option – a head massager. I thought these creepy things that look like an egg whisk disappeared from shop shelves years ago after a short craze. But no, owners of this store still sell them as gifts for stressed individuals. Honestly, unless it’s a spa trip, don’t bother solving anyone’s stress problems.

head massages aka egg whisk

Back to the food/drink theme – toothpick holders. Yep, TOOTHPICK HOLDERS. Fine, I can think of occasions when a toothpick is a good idea, but I seriously can’t think of one occasion where it would be appropriate to gift a box of toothpicks to someone. “Thoughtfully” available in red and blue (my guess would be “for girls” and “for boys”), I’m adding these to my list of the “top worst gifts”.

toothpicks in boy girl colours

Remember my post about stationery gifts and how to please those pen-loving friends? This shop has a solution too! And it’s personalised. Check it out – the attentive creators of these pens authoritatively state that guys named Adam are “reliable and positive” (OK, kind of works), and that Dorothys are “imaginative and dependable” (also quite complimentary).

pen adam

You wonder what happens if you carry a non-British name? Well, in this case you’re grouped by letter. And not only that, it’s a vocabulary exercise too, as apparently everyone whose names begin with K are “kind and knowledgeable”. I didn’t find a letter I, but I imagine it’d be something like “intelligent and intuitive”.

pen letter k

Anyhow, this level of creativity belongs in the same category as those astrological paperbacks that describe your character based on your name and Zodiac sign. In short: avoid at all costs.

Are you still with me? I’ve saved the best bit to the end. My favourite “worst” gift of all time – photo frames. If there was a stat out there, photo frames would probably take the top spot as the most re-gifted present in the world. In this shop, to make matters even worse, they morph into jewelled monsters – just look at the photo below. I don’t think any commentary is necessary.

crystal photo frame

I wonder now, what was the worst gift you’ve ever received? Who gave it you, on what occasion and most importantly, what did you do with it? Tweet me.

Stay tuned,

Ilona x


A great gift for all uni graduates

January/February is the time when final year students at universities start to seriously think about what to do when they’re “out”. It used to be so much more relaxed, but for the past couple of years the best grad schemes and interships have had very strict application deadlines early in the year. Which means right now is the time to sit down and figure out what’s next, in the “real world”.

I’d say if you have a friend or a relative who is about to graduate, this book can do a lot of good. I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg in 2013, a few weeks after it came out. I was just starting out in Marketing , and I needed something to reassure me that I didn’t have to get it right from Day 1 (the pressure many of us felt).

And it’s not just the lives of a few lucky readers this book has had impact on. Three years in, and there’s a global movement that changes company policies and inspires lawmakers across the world – just check out to see amazing women (and men) giving honest and encouraging advice about life and work.

I’ve always been a big believer that an inspiring and truthful story is one of the most powerful tools to change perceptions. In Lean In, Sheryl’s managed to convince the world that women aren’t here to FIGHT men for positions and power, which is what we’ve been told to believe in all those previous feminist books.

She simply suggested we stop panicking and questioning ourselves. Instead, we should not be ashamed to offer our unique skills and expertise to businesses we choose to work for. A simple thought, really, but it’s caused quite a stir. And all because Sheryl has refused to “act like a man” (which is absurd for a beautiful young woman). Quite the opposite, she’s taught the companies she worked for (currently she’s the COO at Facebook) to use her talents and not compare her to other senior male executives. For example, she’s been quite firm about her right to leave work on time to pick up her children from school.

But most importantly, she’s proven that being kind and compassionate doesn’t make you a weaker leader. Again, a pretty banal thought that’s been told a thousand times before, but somehow, before Sheryl, we never quite managed to believe this is true (the book/movie Devil Wears Prada certainly didn’t help, either).

Unlike the first edition, this special book for graduates has a few additional chapters on things like CV writing, negotiating your salary and finding good mentors early on, which is a fantastic source of real life truths that you can trust.

I’ve just given this book to a very dear friend of mine, and I truly believe that she’ll find it useful (and entertaining, at times).

Here’s my favourite bit:

“The most common metaphor for careers is a ladder, but this concept no longer applies to most workers.[…] The days of joining an organization or corporation and staying there to climb that one ladder are long gone.[…] Younger colleagues and students frequently ask me how I planned my path. When I tell them that I didn’t, they usually react with surprise followed by relief. They seem encouraged to know that careers do not need to be mapped out from the start.[…] I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today.”

So, there it is – don’t be afraid to take the job that you think is not “right”, whatever the reason you might have at the time. It doesn’t mean you’ll work there forever. Learn the skills that can be applied in any job, like collaboration and accountability, and try something different next.

Annoyingly, the book for graduates costs three times more than the “standard” one, which I think is appalling. I’ve included links to both, so you choose!

“Standard” edition can be found here (currently £6.85 for hardback)

Special “For graduates” edition is here (£17 for hardback)

Obviously, both are available in Kindle e-book format, but that is a lousy gift 🙂

Stay tuned,


“Tiny drone, giant power”? Agreed!

The description of this fun toy on the Red5 website is quite a statement – “TINY DRONE. GIANT POWER.”. For something costing under £30, that’s a lot attitude. But hey, it’s actually true, you can take my word for it.

During one of my latest gift hunts, I was seriously lacking inspiration (it happens to me ever so often) – “What do I get a 9-year old boy?!”. You see, I’m completely detached from their world of mobile games and swimming lessons, so I really struggle to relate. One good place that seems to always work for me is Selfridges on Oxford Street in London. There’s always something happening: new brands to discover, fancy sweets to taste and promising face creams to sample.

Resisting the temptation of their beauty hall, I headed straight downstairs to the Red5 stall, which claims to be “the ultimate gadget shop” (they really aren’t modest, are they!). Packed with quirky stuff, from Minion toys to army watches, there are tons of ideas for everyone who loves technology.

I almost got these “dancing water droplet” speakers, but as I was carrying this gift in my hand luggage (I was flying to Latvia the next day), I could not take the risk of being stopped at border control for having extra liquids. Shame, really, as the speakers are pretty cool: you plug these into your computer (they’re not wireless) and the water inside the speakers starts “dancing” to the rhythm of your music, all while flashing lights add the proper disco feel. All for £19.95. Not bad!

dancing speakers

So, after chatting to extremely helpful staff, I got a mini drone! It comes with a remote control, which allows you to fly this tiny thing around your flat in any direction. We created quite a mess in my nephew’s flat, as this is thing is VERY fast. It almost ended up flying into a fish tank at some point… The fact that it survived smashing into every surface of the house without a scratch was an achievement in its own right.

The drone got the whole family entertained for the duration of the evening, from the screaming mum trying to escape, to the cat that chased it without much success (It was all fun, nobody got hurt!).

A word of caution: they say on the pack that it’s for children 14+, so I somehow broke the law by getting it for a 9-year old, but he seemed totally capable, so I guess they’re just being cautious.

The drone comes in two colours: black and white. We had a very long debate at the store on which colour to go for, with female staff (and me) voting for white and all guys categorically saying “Black!”. I decided to trust the boys; after all, they know and love their gadgets.

Which colour do you like more?

drone in black

drone in white

Find this mini drone here, priced at £29.95 (currently on sale for £24.95).

Stay tuned,

Ilona x



Jewellery gifts: Who says pearls are old-fashioned?!

Pearls have a reputation for being old-fashioned (if not dated), with many magazines that target older women praising chunky pearl necklaces for their ability “to bring light to the face”  (is there any truth in this?).

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I came across trendy and inexpensive pearl jewellery from Jersey Pearl whilst gift hunting for my closest girlfriends.

Now, what do you need from a piece of jewellery to become a great gift?

First and foremost, it has to match the age of the receiver or be slightly younger in style. A perfect illustration would be Swarovski jewellery: quite acceptable for a 16-year old, but don’t attempt to give it to anyone past 30. It will look ridiculously cheap and out of place. Miranda Kerr can just about pull it off because of her dimples 🙂

Another factor is price,  which again is indirectly linked to age. A young woman wearing a massive diamond can be perceived as vulgar, whilst larger, more precious jewellery on a mature woman can tastefully show her status. I always think of it this way: if I lose something, would I be devastated? If the answer is yes, maybe it’s not something I should buy or wear just yet.

Finally, there should always be a good understanding of the occasions when a piece of jewellery can be worn. In most cases, it’s safer to go for daytime jewellery, simply because if you get something that requires a particular outfit or an event, the receiver might spend months waiting to wear it.

So, back to my pearls. This bracelet is unmistakably girly yet edgy, combining leather with a traditional pearl. Leather has been popular for quite some time, but now designers are keen to soften the perception that leather jewellery is only for rock chicks and Glastonbury festival goers.

I also like that it’s small enough to be worn with almost everything. And it’s refreshingly affordable for the quality and presentation (it comes in a lovely box with a special cleaning cloth).

Check out their site, the bracelet here is called Joli, priced at £49, and is available in a range of colours. Pick your favourite!

And here’s the wrapped gift:  the wrapping paper from Paperchase is already colourful, so I kept the bow very simple.

wrapped bracelet

Stay tuned,

llona x


How to choose a gift for stationery lovers

Maybe my view is slightly skewed (I work with a lot of creative people) but the world is full of stationery lovers. How do you know when someone is obsessed with stationery? Here are some definite signs:

  1. They collect every free pen at events, and then debate with you on its durability and quality of ink
  2. They have a secret stash of notepads, many unopened or with just a few pages written in them (just before the next “perfect” notepad arrives)
  3. They prefer handwritten diaries and planners over smartphone reminders
  4. And they subscribe to  Moleskine and Smythson sales alerts  🙂

(Please note: This description is full of love towards all my stationery-loving friends, so don’t take any offence if you score 4 out of 4!)

Anyway, I’m off topic again… Once you know you’re indeed dealing with a stationery fan, there are a few fairly simple rules you can follow to “delight and surprise”.

For example, try to go for trendy patterns versus plain colours (unless it’s a very expensive leather organiser). Stationery fashion rarely goes hand in hand with our “normal” human fashion. I guess that’s because stationery designers are proud to be different and are not afraid to be inspired by random things. It seems 2016 has started with an oriental twist, but the end of 2015 was full nostalgic patterns, like Disney cartoon sketches.

Don’t be afraid to go overboard with patterns – the more, the merrier. See how the notepad in my title photo almost blends with the wrapping paper? Most would say that’s too matchy-matchy, but a stationery lover will be eternally grateful you’ve taken the time to search for something so similar in style.

Another thing that works really well is anything that helps them become more organised. It’s actually a bit ironic, considering they have all the tools to be efficient with their time, but stationery lovers tend to be on the forgetful side. So such cute things like post it notes full of motivational quotes may just about allow them to remember to buy milk or show up for dinner on time 🙂

And finally, don’t forget the pen! They always need more pens, so why not add to their collection? As the receiver of this gift is a female student, who needs to save space in her handbag from important things like make up and chocolate (don’t judge, those things are essential!), I’ve chosen a mini pen that’s half the size compared to standard pens, but is still comfy enough to hold.

I got this lovely trio from Scribbler which is a fantastic place to buy all sorts of gifts.

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

P.S. One last tip: use a special tape for gift wrapping, your gifts will look much neater.  Don’t let the weird “satin finish” description put you off, all it means is that the tape “disappears” on any surface. It’s the best gift investment you can make at £2.50.


My favourite traditional Christmas decorations

Every year I stock up on small inexpensive gifts to give out to friends, colleagues and neighbours in the run up to Christmas. It saves a lot of time and effort compared to picking something urgently on the day, when you’re invited to a party and there are no decent shops nearby to buy a gift.

This year my theme is porcelain decorations, as they bring a bit of traditional Christmas spirit that plastic tree toys can never achieve.

Villeroy & Boch, a 260-year old German brand, does a stellar job at designing quality ceramic decorations at a reasonable price, so I thoroughly recommend you check out their website and pick a few items from their festive collections (it’s also about 30% off now!).

Just to get you going, here are a few of my favourites:

Cupcake tree decoration

cupcake decor

Star-shaped table lantern

candle light

Advent wreath candle holder

candle holder

Check out their Christmas shop for inspiration and gift ideas. They deliver pretty quickly, so you still have time before Christmas.

And don’t forget to gift wrap  – all Villeroy & Boch decorations come in sturdy boxes, so it’s easier to wrap.

wrapped gift

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

Giving money for Christmas: When and how to do it right

I do a similar post every Christmas, as this question keeps coming up in conversations I have with my friends and readers. First of all, let me demystify something: it’s perfectly normal to have people in your life you simply struggle to select a gift for. So don’t panic 🙂

With the rise of individual wish lists on websites like Amazon and Pinterest, it’s no wonder that many of us would actually prefer to get cash and spend it on something we truly want, instead of receiving an item we would bury at the bottom of our storage cupboard (or for more entrepreneurial spirits out there – sell of on Ebay).

Even Martha Stewart agrees in an interview on Bloomberg (the full article is here) that it’s better to give cash than a bad gift.

Here is my very quick guide to giving cash for Christmas:

Wife/ Girlfriend – Not a good idea. She’ll be upset that you didn’t listen to her hints about “those shoes I showed you on my iPad a few weeks back”. So if you really can’t think of anything better than money to give her, maybe you just don’t have that much in common… But that’s not my area of expertise 🙂

Husband/ Boyfriend – See above, not much of a difference. But he’ll be less vocal about it.

Mum/Dad and grandparents – Yes, but only if you give them something sentimental, as well.  You need to show that you truly value them, so money alone won’t be enough. For them, the thought counts more than a price tag.

Kids and teenagers – Yes, totally fine, but don’t patronise and let them spend it however they please. If it’s decent chunk of money, it will be their first adult experience of spending real cash on something substantial, so even if they get it wrong in your opinion, keep it to yourself 🙂

Brothers and sisters – Yes, especially if you are close (a good trick is to add a note that it’s your input into their fund for larger purchases like a car or a holiday); more distant relatives might feel offended.

Close friends – Yes, similarly to close siblings.

Colleagues – No, you share the same employer, so it’s a bit of a creepy money exchange. The only good way of doing it is donating money to their favourite charity.

Do you agree or disagree? Share you stories with me here or tweet me!

Stay tuned and Merry Christmas,

Ilona x