Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Our Mini-break to Cheshire

Earlier this month Aaron and I took a little trip to the Cheshire countryside for my birthday. It was so nice to get away and discover somewhere new - I took a few snaps so thought I would write a little blog to show you what we did.

We stayed at Carden Park hotel which had appealed to both of us since it has a golf course and (most importantly) a spa. It’s rare we’d go to a fancy hotel so this was a real treat; the grounds were beautiful even in cloudy, drizzly March so I can imagine it only gets better in summer. 
After checking in to our room and me doing an excited little jumping in the air dance, we headed down to the pool and did a few lengths. Just kidding, this is me –we sat in the warm jacuzzi and laid out on the ‘tepidarium’ beds. After that we tried out the crazy golf course where I lost in style, and then had a drink sinking back into a big squishy sofa in the hotel bar, before eating in the restaurant. I’m sorry to say that the service was unbelievably slow so if you’re considering a trip there, I’d book the breakfast buffet but go offsite for dinner!
The next day consisted of a morning in the spa where I had a lovely massage and facial, and was so relaxed I fell asleep (just hoping I didn’t snore). They use ESPA products which I’d never tried but will have to have a look into because they felt gorgeous. In the afternoon we ventured out in the rain to Chester where we found a cute little coffee shop called The Jaunty Goat, followed by a few hours chilling at the hotel before dinner at the local pub, The Cock O'Barton. I need to leave these guys a Trip Advisor review because the food and drink were seriously good. 
On my birthday itself, we checked out of Carden Park and headed to Chester zoo. Luckily the sun was out, and we had the best day wondering round – we saw a lot but I think my faves had to be the monkeys.
All in all, it was the perfect little UK staycation and I felt thoroughly spoilt. What are your tips for holidaying in the UK? I’d love to hear them!

If you're interested in visiting any of the places we went to, here are the links: 
Jaunty Goat coffee shop
Chester Zoo

Pin for later!


Sunday, 18 March 2018

What I've learnt at 28

Last week I turned a year older. It's been a funny old 12 months of ups and downs but I feel like each year comes with a few lessons, so here's 28 things I've learnt at 28. And here's to another year of life lessons, growing older and (hopefully) wiser!.

1. Yoga is incredible (apart from the time I got stuck and the teacher had to unfold me)
I started yoga in a bid to strengthen my back and it's definitely helped - if you haven't tried it I'd recommend it because that stretched out feeling is SO good.

2. More people than you know are struggling
It's so easy to see people's perfect Instagram lives and think everyone else has got it sorted, but in reality, more people than you know are having tough times. Everyone's just muddling along and doing the best they can.

3. I shouldn't take my back for granted
I'd always thought that back problems were a feature of getting old, not something that happened in your twenties. But passing out with back pain into the bath was kind of a low point of this last year. In a weird way, it's been a really positive thing, because it gave me the wake-up call to start taking more care of my body.

4. A whole lot about blogging
I started this blog about five or six years ago after graduating from uni but gradually got less and less motivated to write over the years. I made a new year's resolution to get back into it this year, bought a domain and a template, and did an e-course which gave me the kick-start I needed. I've got a lot to learn still but after writing one blog in the whole of last year, and this being the 18th of 2018, my new year's resolution is here to stay.

5. Not just a dog person
Anyone that knows me knows that I'm just a little bit obsessed with dogs. But this year, after hating cats as a child after a (v traumatic) scratch incident, I've made a cat friend. She belongs to a neighbour and regularly comes to the back garden for cuddles and I love her.

6. You can still make new friends
In the last year I've met some wonderful girls who've become great friends. It's such a lovely thought that this can still happen whatever age you are.

7. How to make eclairs
This year I decided I wanted to try baking some new things and this was one of them. See how I got on in my 2018 Bakes blog post

8. Living with a boy is pretty great
I didn't have too many worries on this front, but you're never quite sure how it's going to be. Awesome, it turns out.

9. I love buying furniture
I mean, I love buying a lot of things but this is a new discovery. This is the first year I've lived in an unfurnished house, and whilst it's taken a lot of patience, gradually buying news bits and pieces for the house has been so lovely. I LOVE Ikea.

10. That Costa and Nero are actually better than Starbucks
People have always told me this but I've been a Starbucks lover for years. After changing jobs and thereby coffee shops, I've realised the error of my ways.

11. How to draw on a tablet
I started doodling last year and it's gone from hand-drawn scribbles to colouring digitally on my iPad, it's now one of my favourite hobbies.

12. Being open can help other people
I've become increasingly open in the way I talk about mental health, because I suppose I'm more self-aware and more confident in myself than I ever used to be. But it never really occurred to me when I've been blabbering on about stuff that it could actually help other people too. This year I've had some of the loveliest messages and comments from friends who've told me about their own struggles, and it's the nicest feeling to have been able to help just a little bit by being open.

13. I shouldn't be a magpie about new social media
Vero who? I jumped on that bandwagon fast. Time to delete I think...

14. Working with guys is great
Throughout my working life so far, I've always worked almost entirely with women. But being on a team with two guys the last few months has been so refreshing. I honestly think the best possible work environment is a mix of the two.

15. That my parents aren't invincible
It kind of feels like your parents can do everything when you're growing up, but as they've gone through various health struggles over the last year, it's hit home that they're getting older. Whilst that's not a lesson I feel I particularly want, they way they stay so relentlessly positive and selfless definitely is.

16. More about what's important
The older I get, the more it sinks in that health and happiness are what's important than life - so much more than any job or material thing.

17. Meeting people from the Internet - not on a date - is a thing
Not going to lie, I've been on plenty of Internet dates in my time. But I don't think I'd ever before met up with people I'd met online - to be friends. I recently went for a drink with some girls from the blogging e-course I did, and it turns out this kind of non-date meet up is really fun.

18. I'm addicted to candles
So much so that it got to the point where Aaron banned me from buying any more.

19. Drawing is incredibly therapeutic 
Drawing has become a major de-stresser for me, the concentration I need for it stops me thinking about other things, so it's a good "mindfulness" tool.

20. It's possible to get a hangover whilst still on the night out
Yes, I now sometimes get a headache WHILST I'M OUT. Goodbye wine :'(

21. The tough times bring you closer
Aaron and I have both had some bad patches of stress in the last year, but as cheesy as it sounds, it really has brought us closer and I'm so grateful for his growing openness  to talk freely with me about mental health.

22. Wrinkles are a thing
Serious first world problem here, but I always thought there'd be a blissful period in my twenties post-spots but pre-wrinkles. It turns out you just get both at once.

23. How to become an urban moutaineer
Yep, that's right. When we went down to see my sister and her boyfriend in the summer, we "conquered the O2".

24. I'm getting fussier
I'm not really the kind of person who complains about bad service. I've been a waitress and a shop assistant in the past so I know how hard it is, and I still hate to ever say anything negative. But I've found myself getting more annoyed about when things aren't right and as I get older, I really want to try get the balance of being assertive but polite. Can I just say that people who are rude in restaurants are THE WORST PEOPLE. I don't ever want to become one of them.

25Bird poo brings you good luck?
Not sure if this is actually true but I'd never heard that one before, until a bird shat on my face in the summer. There's a first time for everything.

26. Instagram stories
Just a silly one here but you know, I don't think Instagram stories was a thing a year ago. I love messing about with text and photos, and seeing everyone else's little updates from their days.

27. You can adopt family
Maybe not just something from the last year, but with my own parents so far away, I've felt so grateful for Aaron's family adopting me into theirs. Not only do I have adopted parents but a grandma, a dog and a brother too!

28. Getting your own work printed is super exciting
One great thing from this year has been getting my drawings printed - it's such a good feeling to see them come to life!

What have you learnt in the last year? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

My Etsy Wishlist Finds: Spring 2018

We might have another lot of snow forecast this weekend (please no) but it's definitely getting lighter, flowers are blooming, and yesterday I felt actual sun on my face - hello spring. As ever, there's lots of gorgeous bits and bobs lining the virtual Etsy shelves, here's my round-up of favourites for the season:

1. 100% Recycled Gold Floral Magazine File Holder by Karenza & Co
2. Rainbow Cookie Mix by Jessica Bakes-Well
3. Lemon Notebook by Not Only Polka Dots
4. Concrete Cactus Holder by Bells and Whistles make 
5. Nice Biscuit Printed Cushion by Nikki McWilliams
6. Faux Pink Artificial Silk Roses by Tilly and Sage
7. Yellow Coat Crew Enamel Pin by Wren & Wilson
8. Michelle Obama Print by Roaring Softly
9. Chamomile & Blue Cornflower Bath Melts by Baileys Botanicals 


Sunday, 11 March 2018

My Positivity Diary (#1)

Happy Sunday! I hope you're all enjoying lovely, relaxing weekends. I've heard people say that noting down the positives in your life can really help you focus on them, so I'm going to start doing fortnightly posts with a round-up of ten positives each time. It's easy to get hung up on the negatives and I'm definitely guilty of that, but when I've thought about it, there's been a lot of positives over the last several days. I snapped this photo in our garden (/random bumpy concrete space outside) as it felt like a picture of hope when I saw these flowers breaking through.

1. The snow has melted

I don't know about you but I was so relieved when the snow finally melted. It's lovely walking around not slipping and sliding, and I've even spied some blue sky this week. As the days get lighter and warmer it always boosts my mood.

2. Running water

It's something we take for granted but the other day ours got turned off when a pipe burst. It really made me think about how privileged we are to just expect it every day, and we were extra grateful when it got turned back on!

3. The messages I got about my blog 

I was scared to publish the blog I wrote recently about anxiety, but I've had lots of lovely messages from people who've related to it and this evolving space to talk more about mental health means so much.

4. My illustration for Just a Card

Just a Card is an initiative run by volunteers to promote independent artists and makers, encouraging people to buy from them by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small, are vital to their survival. A while ago they asked if I'd do a little illustration for them, and this week they shared it on their Instagram, which felt very exciting! You can see it here if you fancy a nose.

5. After work drinks

My social anxiety has been pretty high recently, but when I was asked if I wanted to go for a drink after work on Friday, I decided to go for it. I hadn't been feeling great that day and was pretty desperate to get home, but I'm so glad I went because I actually had a really nice time. Hurray for pushing out of our comfort zones!

6. A long weekend

The weekends always seem to fly by so a four day one is very welcome, and I'm feeling very lucky that I get to spend it with my boyfriend relaxing and enjoying birthday treats.

7. Discovering Queer Eye for a Straight Guy

After reading Amy Elizabeth's great blog about this programme, last weekend when I wasn't feeling great I gave it a try. It seriously brightened my mood - it's the loveliest show and if you haven't already watched it, get on Netflix now! I completely binged so am now waiting eagerly for a second series.

8. A drawing for a friend

One of my friends is getting married next month and I'm so excited to see her tie the knot - my first Indian wedding too! She asked if I'd do some kind of artwork for her big day and gave me some ideas for things she wanted including. For a while I'd been mulling over how I was going to bring these different elements together, but I had a flash of inspiration last weekend and I'n really happy with how it's coming together now. Fingers crossed she likes the end result! 

9. Healthy bunnies

Most of you will know that I'm a crazy bunny lady, and just a little bit obsessed with my two mini lops, Mel and Sue. They had their annual jabs and a check up this week, and they're both in perfect health :)

10. Birthday post

I always get excited about snail mail but birthday post is even better! It always makes me happy when these envelopes come through the door and I'm saving them up ready for Tuesday.

What are the positives from your last couple of weeks? I'd love to know the good stuff you're focusing on!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

3 exfoliators to get you glowing

In my last blog, I wrote about anxiety, being in hibernation mode and not putting much effort into my appearance of late. One thing I have been looking after though is my skin, and it’s little self-care activities as simple as moisturising that really do help with my mood, even if just a little.

Whilst clothes-wise all I’ve wanted to do lately is layer up – even if that’s meant waddling round like a penguin – when it comes to my skin over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to layer down, if that’s an actual phrase.

Although I’ve heard for years that you should exfoliate your face, it’s not really something I’ve ever got into the habit of. I have a fairly good skin routine and use a muslin cloth to slough off my make up every day, so I figured that was pretty good exfoliation in itself. However, after getting inspired recently by various beauty articles and blogs, I’ve started using a few such products. As a beauty therapist recently pointed out to me, your skin can’t really absorb all the good stuff in your other products unless you’re exfoliating. The trick I’m told is just not to overdo it - once or twice a week should be plenty. So here are three products I’m enjoying at the moment:

1) The Body Shop – Drops of Light Pure Resurfacing Liquid Peel, £18 (145ml) 

This is a liquid exfoliator, so it’s a smooth gel until you start rubbing it into your face, when it starts to turn into a peel. My favourite thing about it is that it’s soo satisfying to literally peel off the dead skin and dirt, meaning hello brighter skin.

2) Liz Earle – Gentle Face Exfoliator, £12 (50ml)

This is a more traditional exfoliator, in the sense that you can feel the beads as soon as you squeeze the cream out of the tube. Like all of Liz Earle’s products, this one smells as fresh as a herb garden and it’s so creamy that it almost feels like a moisturiser - so when you wash it off, your skin not only feels extra clean but nice and soft too.

3) Lush – Chocolate Lip Scrub, £5.95 (20g)

I bought one of these gorgeous little sugary chocolate pots for a Secret Santa last year, and consequently decided I wouldn’t mind one myself. It smells (and tastes!) as delicious as you would expect, and it’s great for scrubbing off dead skin, ready for lip balm to do its stuff afterwards.

Have you tried any of these? What beauty products are you enjoying at the moment? I'd love to hear your tips! 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Anxiety - what I want you to know

I’ve always had a tendency to be a little anxious, but I wasn’t aware of it being a serious problem until my final year at uni, when after a period of feeling low, I came home from a night out and had a panic attack in the living room. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, as I gasped again and again for air, feeling the panic rise and rise as I struggled to breathe. It wasn’t to be the last panic attack I would have, as sometime soon after I found myself in a friend’s bedroom in Manchester getting ready for a night out and gasping for air once again. At least this time there were people around to help calm me down.

On both occasions I had had a few drinks, which of course can make anxiety worse, so for several months I stopped drinking alcohol and going out, in a bid to avoid the experience happening again. Yet one afternoon after a relaxed day in town, I was sat in my bedroom when it happened once again. My housemate at the time helped me to slow my breathing and get a handle on it, but it felt terrifying that I couldn’t prevent the experience by staying sober – I thought I’d gained at least some sort of control over it.

During that year, the sadness and anxiety I felt inside seemed to cripple me. I sought help and started taking medication as well as talking to someone, these things helped somewhat. I also resorted to some less healthy coping mechanisms. As the year progressed and deadlines loomed, I found it harder and harder to function. A growing social anxiety meant I started to miss seminars; I would sit at home in front of my laptop screen trying to write my final essays and feel panicked and hopeless. Thankfully, I had a kind and supportive tutor, a very caring church community, lots of prayer and the most wonderful friends who saw me through the pain of that year. If it wasn’t for these people I’m not sure I would’ve graduated.

After we finished, I was so exhausted from the year’s events that I decided to take a year out for me. I worked part time in a clothes shop, waitressed and did some language tutoring, whilst living with two great girls, and whilst financially it wasn’t ideal, it was the single best thing I could’ve done for my mental health. In fact, it was that year that I started this little blog of mine.

I’d like to say that now, five years on, life is peachy and none of the above feels familiar…a line graph would show my mental health going up in a perfect diagonal. But real life doesn’t follow a straight path, and whilst that line has generally gone in a positive direction, there have been plenty of ups and downs. To me, that’s no bad thing, to say that not once since 2012 have I felt as desperate and out of control as I did then is huge.

So why am I writing this blog?

Over the last couple of months or so, anxiety has reared its ugly head in my life with a vengeance. I’ve woken up feeling sick in the pit of my stomach, I’ve felt regularly on the verge of tears, simple tasks have felt overwhelming and social occasions too much. At times I’ve felt like the person staring back at me in the mirror isn’t me, as I’ve put less and less effort into my appearance. I’ve looked back at old photos wistfully, where I’d felt pretty and fun, I’ve wondered where that person has gone as I’ve burrowed down under a blanket for yet another night. I don’t pretend to have ever been a party girl – I’ve always been an introvert and liked my home comforts. But recently I can see the difference that some days, staying at home hasn’t felt like an option, but the only option. And the last week of snow hasn’t helped, as I’ve wanted more than ever to hibernate and retreat.

Thankfully, there are things in life that have stopped me doing that 24/7, because I have a job to go to, bunnies to feed and look after, and some very kind and caring people in my life.

So that’s where I’m at, and writing to you about it has felt fairly terrifying. But I’m conscious that a lot of people are feeling similar things. In recent conversations with different friends, more and more have bravely spoken to me about the anxiety they’ve struggled with or are struggling with, talked openly about the medication they’re taking, and shared their pain. More often than not you would never have guessed it, which I suppose is why they say don’t judge a book by its cover, because however ‘sorted’ someone might seem, we’re all dealing with stuff under the surface.

I wanted to write this blog partly to express my own feelings, but also to let you know that you don’t need to feel ashamed or alone if you’re struggling with your mental health. You are in fact the very opposite – braver and stronger than you know. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, just like there’s a spring at the end of this winter.

I thought I'd include the Samaritans phone number here; whatever you're going through you can call them for free on 116 123.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

What one book taught me about creativity

Last year I was introduced to the book "Big Magic - Creative Living Beyond Fear" and have found it to be so full of gems that I thought I would share some here.

It's sort of a cross between an autobiography and a self-help book where the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, uses stories from her life as a writer to share her thoughts and insights on creativity and the strange and mysterious nature of inspiration.

The book is split into five main sections, entitled “Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, and Trust” with a smaller section called “Divinity” at the end. Through each one, Gilbert explores different aspects of inspiration. I thought I’d focus here on a quote from each section of the book that really resonated with me.

“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”

Whether you’re writing a blog, drawing a picture, singing in front of someone, acting for an audience, cooking for guests – you name it, whatever form of creativity you’re putting effort into, it can be scary. Taking something of you and putting it out there can sometimes feel so terrifying that we back out of it altogether. Gilbert goes on to talk about tackling this fear, but it stood out to me that in fact, we should expect fear to come with creativity. And in understanding why, we can manage it better.

“Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.”

Some of Gilbert’s concepts are admittedly quite far out, but I like the way she explains things. She believes that ideas are living beings, which need humans to be open and willing to receive them. I found the notion that ideas don’t actually belong to us really refreshing, and that if we aren’t careful, spending too much time being distracted by other things can mean ideas pass us by.

“Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species.”

Creativity isn’t the preserve of a few, but as Gilbert says, the hallmark of being human. Though you might not always feel like it, you have incredible creative potential within you, we all do.

"People don’t have time to worry about what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, because they’re all caught up in their own dramas. People’s attention may be drawn to you for a moment (if you succeed or fail spectacularly and publicly, for instance), but that attention will soon enough revert right back to where it’s always been – on themselves."

Gilbert points out that whilst it might seem like a lonely realisation at first, the fact that people are generally focused on themselves and their own dramas is wonderfully freeing. We spend so much of our lives worrying about what other people think, when in fact they aren’t even looking.

“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred…What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

Possibly my favourite quote of the whole book. Our society puts so much emphasis on results – how many readers did you get, or how many people bought your work? At a really simple level, how many people liked your post on social media? These are all things that we can put too much focus on, especially when a lot of effort has gone into the work in question. But what Gilbert points out is that actually it’s not all about the end product or the results it gets – but what you gained from producing it. Using our minds to create truly does transform the way we think and the way we live.

All in all, Big Magic is a thoroughly good read and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for some inspiration. What books have inspired you lately?