Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Spooky Activities To Add To Your October Bucket List

I have always loved Halloween. As a kid, I would plan my costume way in advance and experiment with red lipstick and fake blood to make sure my look was just right. We would usually go Trick Or Treating around the neighbourhood and then spend the rest of the evening handing out sweets to the Trick Or Treaters who came to our door and gorging on them hard-earned goodies ourselves. As I have gotten older, my love for Halloween hasn't died down. Last year, eight months pregnant me took a train from London to Devon just to spend Halloween with my family. And this year, I want to go all out. I have mother and daughter costumes planned for Ava and I (maybe Isaac too if I can talk him into it) and I want to make this day really fun for us. So, I have been trawling the internet to find the most fun and spooky activities that the UK has to offer and I really haven't been disappointed (although I think I'd need more than a month to fit all the activities in).

Black Cat Trail at Bodiam Castle
When building Bodiam Castle in Sussex, the builders went to great lengths to incorporate all manner of things into the castle and its grounds in order to ward off evil. The ruins of the castle sit in the middle of a large moat and give off an eerie feeling of times gone by. This October, they are running a black cat trail around the grounds which is great for kids but also great for anyone wanting to stop for a minute and really look at their surroundings.

Dolaucothi Gold Mines
Can you imagine anything spookier than being deep in an abandoned gold mine in the dark? No, me neither. Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire are a great day out for all the family (although kids under 1M tall aren't allowed in the mines) and a real historical experience too. Definitely something near the top of my spooky bucket list.

Dunster Castle School of Magic
Dunster Castle in Somerset is somewhere I have been itching to visit for ages now and I am really running out of excuses. Dunster Castle is nestled on the top of a hill and has true Hogwarts vibes - something they are using to their advantage this Halloween with their School of Magic. This one is great for kids - you follow a trail, answer questions, and get admitted into the School of Magic if you get it all right. I mean, this is the closest thing to being accepted into Hogwarts as you can get so I am really here for it.

Wicklow's Gaol
Based in Ireland, this is a bit more of a spooky one for the adults. Wicklow Gaol is an abandoned prison turned tourist attraction and, after watching Orange Is The New Black, I am desperate to visit. They have original prisoner records and the guides will tell you what life was like living in this prison.

Jamaica Inn
This hotel and restaurant in Cornwall is probably best known for its paranormal activity. It featured in a Daphne Du Maurier novel about smugglers and that was just the start of the folklore that surrounds this place. Book a table and take in the slightly creepy atmosphere or, if you're feeling brave, book in for the night. If you do, you're really a braver person than I am.

Jack The Ripper Tour
Since we studied Jack The Ripper at school, I have been intrigued by the mystery surrounding this unknown serial killer. And taking a walk in his shoes through the streets of London is bound to get even the bravest person a little spooked. I have been on one of these tours myself and I can vouch for how they will have you looking over your shoulder as you hurry along the dark streets and through alleyways that Jack The Ripper himself once walked.

Wookey Hole
And finally, the place that I went last year and absolutely loved - Wookey Hole. Based in Somerset, Wookey Hole is a large network of caves that, according to folklore, once had a witch as resident. Murdered by the village priest, her ghost is said to still haunt these caves. Pretty spooky, right?

What are your spooky plans for this Halloween?


Thursday, 11 October 2018

My Top Tips For Building Your Confidence

As a teen, I was painfully shy. And, at the time, I never thought I would be able to overcome that. I thought I would be that shy my whole life. I used to panic about what career I would go into when I grew up because the thought of going to an office and talking to people everyday literally left me in cold sweats. Looking back, my shyness did really limit me. There are so many opportunities that I wish I had taken that I just didn't because I didn't have the confidence. The years I should have spent secretly drinking Tesco Value cider in the park and going to parties in outfit my parents definitely wouldn't approve of and kissing boys behind the bike shed were actually spent reading about other people doing those things. But it wasn't just the crazy, rebellious stage that I kinda wish I had embraced at the time. I wish I had made the most of other things too. Things like mountaineering trips abroad that my sixth form offered or just getting the train into London with my girls. I had so much freedom back then but I never really made the most of it as I was always so scared of mucking up and being laughed at. I remember feeling like the world was just waiting for me to do something embarrassing. So, I hid. And I regret it.

Flash forward a few years, and my life is completely different and I don't feel like that teenage girl anymore who was so scared of what everyone else might think of her. But getting to this stage wasn't easy. Growing your confidence isn't easy. And there are days when I still get those little pangs of panic again - that voice in my head that tells me that I can't manage to do something. But I have really come a long way.

Work on your self-esteem
For me, my confidence is really linked to my self-esteem. When I feel good about myself (be it how I look, what I'm wearing, or what I have achieved that day), I feel so much more confident. In the same way, days when I feel a bit down make me want to curl up in a ball under about 30 blankets with only my arm free to spoon ice cream into my mouth. So, if you are having more bad days than good then your confidence is likely to suffer. And there's no easy solution for that. Just try to remember that even the most confident, cool people who seem to be breezing through life also have bad days and blips in confidence.

Say yes more often
We have all heard of FOMO but I think, for shy people, we have the opposite fear. We love cancelling plans and our go-to response when invited anywhere is almost always no. But it was only in my second year of uni that I realised that I really had been missing out - and it sucked. I had just moved into a shared house with a group of people I didn't know. One evening, I got a text from one of the other girls inviting me out. I was already in bed watching TV and I was so tempted to say no but I pushed myself and said yes. And that was the start of an amazing friendship that lasted for the rest of my time at uni and is still going strong a year on. You don't know what great things are out there if you always say no so the best way to start building your confidence is to get out there more and experience different things.

I once read an article on how to gain confidence that recommended listening to people's conversations on public transport and imagining what your response would be to everything that say. I mean, this never really worked for me but it did give me amazing spy skills. One thing that did work for me though was working in people-facing jobs. As a teenager, I volunteered in nursing homes and charity shops and that started to bring my out of my shell. Since then, I have worked in many customer service roles and it really has helped. I mean, you have no choice but to talk to people when its your job. So, my bit of advice is to try to do something like that. Volunteer in a charity shop one afternoon a week. Join a language group. Do something where you have to meet different people and chat with them.

Celebrate little wins
Chances are, you won't read this post then suddenly transform into a social butterfly (I wish I had that kinda power, trust me) but you can start to make little changes. And, as you push yourself to try different things, you will have a few little wins. They can be as simple as asking what the waiter recommends in a restaurant or having a chat with the old lady next to you on the bus just because. Each little win is an achievement and a sign that you are moving in the right direction.

Stop searching for the answer
This last point kinda goes against the point of the post but, if you are anything like how I was, you have probably read about 100 different articles on confidence that haven't made a slight bit of difference to your life. That's because there is no magic cure unfortunately. It all comes from within you. That's the scary - but kinda amazing - thing. You are the one that can make this happen.

What are your top tips for building your confidence?

T-shirt: ASOS (here)
Jacket: Topshop (similar)
Scarf: Primark (similar)
Jeans: Primark (similar)

Friday, 5 October 2018

Places To Eat In Exeter: Sacred Grounds

On an average day, my insta feed probably contains at least 10 pictures of people sipping on colourful lattes and eating their weight in pancakes and waffles. And, in all honesty, pictures like these make me want to up sticks and move to South London asap so that I too can spend my days relaxing in a coffee shop with a book and rocking a fedora (without looking like I'm playing dress up in my dad's clothes). I mean, we never really had anywhere like that in Exeter. And lattes that were anything other than brown and from Starbucks seemed like a wild fantasy.

Until now.

I recently came across Sacred Grounds online and I would be lying if I said I didn't let out a bit of a squeal when I saw that 1) they were opening up in Exeter's McCoy's Arcade and 2) they do pink lattes and lush, plant-based food. Oh, and the whole place is mega instagrammable.

So, I made an excuse to head into Exeter with the baby and even timed her nap perfectly so that she slept all the way through my brunch. As it has only recently opened, the place was pretty busy but I gladly sat outside (not outside outside - just in the arcade). They had highchairs and little blocks for the kids to play with - I even saw other mums with babies which is a far cry from these kinda cafes I have been to before which were always more geared towards professionals rather than families. There was a great mixture of mums and business people in suits and a fair few students too.

The menu was short and simple. It had a few types of waffles and then some interesting Scandinavian items too. The drinks menu had all the classics but I was feeling adventurous (read: wanted that pic for the gram) so I went for the beetroot and orange latte. Admittedly, I really didn't have high expectations for the taste of this latte. I mean, it is made from beetroot. But it really wasn't that bad. It was smooth and really creamy (I think it was made with oat milk). It had a bit of an earthy taste but it wasn't horrible. A bit of an acquired taste maybe but nice for a drink made from beetroot.

Food-wise, I went for the sweet waffles. And they were so good. The waffles were topped with maple syrup, cinnamon roasted apple, whipped coconut, and frozen berries. I kinda wish I could eat this every morning - it was just that nice!

Overall, I think Sacred Grounds is the place that Exeter was crying out for. Plant-based goodies in a gorgeous café run by lovely, friendly people. And they appreciate pink coffees just as much as I do. What's not to love?


Sunday, 23 September 2018

Transitioning Into Autumn: What To Wear

It is no secret that I love autumn. The chilly weather is a great excuse to curl up on the sofa and binge-watch everything on Netflix (with a peppermint hot choc in hand, obvs) and the back-to-school vibes always make me feel nostalgic. It is a season of cosiness, candles, and a whole lot of chocolate. And, after a long, hot summer, it feels greatly needed.

However, my one qualm with autumn is the transition period and the whole what do I even put on my body today breakdowns that have taken over my mornings. The trouble I have is that I am a bit of magpie for anything knitted. Or mustard. Or just a coat in general tbh. So, I tend to dive straight in and layer up as soon as September rolls around. Which is great for the colder mornings but, by midday, I am cursing myself as I sweat like something from a cartoon. Literal puddles.

This year, I am trying to hold myself back a little bit. I am pushing myself to be slightly more sensible and utilise the items I have in my summer wardrobe but just give them a bit of an autumnal twist. So, I have put together a few hacks for turning your summer wardrobe into an autumn ready wardrobe.

Maxi dresses
In all honesty, I have always considered the maxi dress to be an exclusively summer piece but I have been playing around with the maxi dresses in my wardrobe lately and now I don't want to wear anything else all autumn. Maxi dresses are perfect because they cover you up but aren't too warm. I love pairing them with boots (I think knee high boots would look gorgeous with a maxi that has a slit in the side) and, my most recent revelation, putting a roll neck jumper underneath. This outfit was so warm and snug (albeit not very waterproof for the rainstorm that occurred half-way through snapping these pics) and I felt fierce in it.

Midi skirts
This is totally inspired by bloggers like Pint Sized Beauty and Hannah Gale who are the undisputed queens of the midi skirt trend. I love the look of a midi skirt paired with ankle boots and a slogan jumper. It just looks so cute and classic. And, I've found, having a little bit of leg out tends to balance out the unbearable heat of jumper-wearing.

In all honesty, I intended to buy a black baker boy hat to go with this look but I chickened out at the last minute because I thought I looked like a bus driver. But, yeah, accessories are the heroes of this season. A hat seems to instantly make a casual outfit 1000x more fashion, darling! in a matter of seconds. And let's not forget scarves. I love a good scarf (especially if it is big enough to double as a blanket/impromptu bib for baby) and recently picked up a bright pink one from Primarni which I intend to wear to death this season. Oh, and they keep you warm and stuff.

I'm gonna be open with you guys - I have ugly feet. I get them from my dad (sorry, dad!). So, summer isn't my friend. I despise sandals and how they make my little trotters look. So, autumn is always a bit of a relief after a long summer of having my feet on show. I absolutely love a heeled ankle boot and knee/thigh highs are the next thing I want to take on. Boots are an easy and effective way to change up your look for autumn without going all-out.

A vampy lip
On the days when I begrudgingly put on a dress or a tshirt and jeans because the weather is freakishly warm again, I cling on to a little bit of autumn with a dark lip. I love red and burgundy but I am venturing into browns (!) and slightly purple-ish colours. And, I have to say, it is majorly exciting to be able to put makeup on my face again without fearing it melting off.

Dress: Boohoo* (here)
Jumper: Primark (similar)
Boots: New Look (here)
Bag: F&F (similar)

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Our Weaning Journey

We first started Ava on 'real food' around 4 months. She had been exclusively formula fed since 3 months (after she out and out refused to latch on) and I wanted to test the waters. She would just have a spoonful or two of baby rice just to see if she liked it. She was kinda indifferent and most of it went down her chin anyway so I put the brakes on and said I will try again around 5 and a half months.

5 and a half months came and we gave her a little fruit puree from a jar. She was happily having one small meal a day (usually either fruit puree or baby rice) and I was feeling like Supermum. I thought I had cracked weaning (lol) and that is would all be plain sailing from there. Spoiler alert, it wasn't.

At that time, I started pureeing up some veg myself. Usually just things like sweet potato or carrots (one day I even used chickpeas like an absolute boss) and she still seemed quite keen on them. We started giving her a little more everyday and, by the time she hit 6 months, she was pretty much on 3 small meals a day.

But then something changed around 7 months. As we started to introduce lumps, she got more fussy. She started refusing the baby rice she usually had for breakfast. Almost everything I made her got thrown across the room in a tantrum. And all she would accept was either super smooth fruit puree from a jar or milk.

At 8 months, every meal felt like a battle. She would barely touch her breakfast and anything with lumps just gets spat straight back out. She fed herself things like strawberries and tomatoes but she just hated lumps. For some reason, she seemed desperate to continue being bottle fed and the tantrums subsided in seconds as soon as she saw a bottle moving her way.

This was really difficult because I didn't know where I was going wrong. I was trying to be inventive in the kitchen making things I thought she would like but she had just lost all interest in food. I continued giving her little bits and pieces to hold herself and chew on and this seemed to be the only way to get her to try anything.

Two months on and we're finally starting to get the change of feeding Ava. I have realised that she loves to feed herself and be independent. She does still eat smooth purees but she mainly likes to eat things like toast and chunks of fruit. I often give her a little taste of whatever I am eating just to see if she likes it which she really enjoys.

We also recently tried Babyled Spreads* and I really liked the concept of them. They send out jarred foods to put on toast or use as a dip. They provide great recipe and meal ideas which we have really gotten on well with. It is great to have some input of meals that suit Ava's needs and style of eating - it has really helped to liven up mealtime and explore different ideas.

I feel like a big part of weaning is just sussing it out as you go along. Some babies were just born to eat but others are a little pickier.

How have you found weaning?

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Learning To Switch Off As A Blogger

Back in 2013, I was just starting sixth form. I was set to study English Lit and Media Studies alongside German and Classics in the hope of progressing into fashion journalism. Around that time, I became interested in blogging because I had read in a magazine that it looks good on a CV if you are applying for a position at a magazine company. And Zoella was doing it so it must be cool, right? So, I opened up an account on Blogger, chose one of their templates, and got writing. My first post was a review of a bottle of Gucci Flora perfume I had been given for Christmas (you can read it here and lol at me). I was posting almost every day and I loved interacting with other bloggers. It was super informal. I'd snap outfit pics in my bedroom mirror and write up either a long, rambly post or just drop the links to the outfit below the pictures.

Fast forward to 2018 and things are very different. Long gone are the days of automated blog templates and blurry phone pics. Everything is so polished and some bloggers are even doing this as their full-time job. It is crazy to me that even my blog that I started on my parents' super slow PC sometimes makes a bit of money too. But, with that, comes a certain amount of pressure.

In all honesty, there are times when I feel a bit deflated about blogging. Don't get me wrong, I love this industry and most days I feel so pumped to get the camera out and snap away but occasionally, I can't seem to muster up that energy - but I kinda feel like I have to. Like the other day when I met up with my best friend from school. We went for lunch in a village restaurant and caught up on everything going on in our lives and then drove around looking at the views. It was so nice to have time away from a screen and part of me felt like I never wanted to use my phone again. But another part of me was reaching for the camera which is perpetually in my bag. Part of me felt like I couldn't eat a meal with snapping a pic or drive past a nice view without stopping to document it on insta stories.

The thing is with blogging these days is that it is so fast-moving. Trends come and go so quickly and the industry is super competitive. You feel like you have to be 'on' all the time and, when you're not emailing and editing and DMing and live tweeting, you are planning content in your mind. In order to grow your brand, you feel like you have to be constantly available and producing a large amount of high quality content. As much as I do love writing blog posts and reading what other people have written, I do sometimes want to throw my phone out of the window and just spend my days making jam and hiking in the hills.

I do want to succeed in this industry because this is what I love doing. But, at the same time, I struggle to be online as much as I feel like I have to be. I struggle to switch off and just relax like I used to. But I am trying to change that. I am making a conscious effort to take time away from it all. Some evenings, I will just put my phone in another room and unwind. I will actually watch TV without having one eye on my insta feed at the same time. And I will go for walks and keep my phone in my bag so I can have an uninterrupted conversation.

I keep putting so much pressure on myself to constantly create and improve that it is making me a little bit miserable. I started blogging as a passion and I think that I need to work on keeping that passion alive if I want to carry on doing this.

What do you think about the blogging industry today?

Jumper: New Look (similar)
Skirt: H&M (similar)
Boots: Primark (similar)
Bag: John Lewis (similar)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

How To Create Fashion Content Without A Photographer (Or Insta Husband)

Since this blog was born back in 2012, I have relied on my long-suffering husband Isaac to take all of my outfit pictures. And he's got pretty good at it. He knows the types of shots I like and he is very dedicated to getting a good picture. But, as I have gotten more into Insta, I have wanted to post more and more fashion content and I started feeling a little guilty passing him the camera every time we were together - especially as he is usually majorly tired from work. So, I had to find a few creative solutions in order to create the content that I wanted without the help of my insta husband (or a photographer that I definitely couldn't afford).

Invest in a tripod
I have owned a tripod for over a year but only just started using it for outfit pictures lately. The main reason for this is that it takes guts to go out there alone and shoot some pics with a tripod and I am mega shy. But I have managed to do it twice and I got some fairly good pics both times. My tricks were to go to slightly more secluded areas at quieter times - residential areas around midday are good options. And, if anyone walks past staring or asks what is going on, simply tell them you are doing a photography course - it works a treat!

Get creative at home
If you haven't quite mustered up the courage to get out with a tripod yet or simply would rather spend your hard-earned cash on other things (namely chips and lipsticks in my case) rather than kit, this could be a great option for you. Try balancing a camera on top of a table or cabinet for those candid, home-style shots.

Lay out your outfit on your bed, on the floor, or on a spare curtain you put on the floor to look like bedding and get snapping. Flatlays are great ways to show off your outfit without needing anyone's help or leaving the house - I mean, you don't even need to change out of your PJs for this one so it's a real winner. You can also include other things in the flatlay to introduce a theme to the pic (think pumpkins in autumn) and generally enhance the vibe you were going for with the look.

Focus on the detail
This is one of my current fave style of taking outfit pictures. Simply face the camera towards yourself and focus on one part of your outfit that you want to share (eg. the slogan on your t-shirt or a cute belt). This looks especially good if the background colour works well with the outfit snippet - think a pastel wall with a white t-shirt.

Use a mirror
This is a style of outfit picture that I don't think will ever go out of fashion. Simply take a picture of your reflection - how easy is that?! I especially love outfit pictures like this when the person is sat on the floor in front of a full length mirror and wearing quite an edgy outfit - it just works.

What are your top tips for taking outfit pics without a photographer?

Blazer: Primark (similar)
Jeans: Primark (similar)
Trainers: Nike (similar)
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