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)

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Why I Want To Take More Fashion Risks This Autumn

I have always been a pretty avid follower of fashion. From the days of checking out which scrunchies were in style in Mizz magazine to modern day where I spend way too much time stalking fashion bloggers on Insta, fashion has always been something that has peaked my interest. However, this interest hasn't always translated into me dressing well. I mean, I am a creature of habit - when I find a pair of jeans I like, I repurchase them for the next eight years (here's looking at you, black Primark jeans). When I find an outfit that I think works well, I wear variants of it until the day I die (and I'd probably be buried in it too). It's safe to say that my fashion choices are well within my comfort zone. They're not ugly or boring - just a bit samey and definitely not experimental or expressive. And the more I put on the same pair of black jeans and white t-shirt, the more I feel like I am missing out on the excitement of trying something new and exploring which looks really project who I am to the world. Other than my usual 'I'm a mum who likes to be comfy and I just really like jeans'.

So, lately I have been pushing myself a little bit to try something new everyday. I have been trying to step out of my comfort zone and liberate some of my clothes that I was too scared to wear from the depths of my wardrobe. I even bought a hat for the first time in my life. And I just feel more like me. I feel like the world is seeing the part of me that I haven't really shown before. The part of me that loves putting looks together and being a little bit extra. I feel like so much of our self-expression comes from what we choose to wear as it shows how we choose to present ourselves to the world and I don't think the slightly boring looks I was wearing before presented who I really am.

The thing is, I just didn't have the confidence before that I have now. I have done a lot of work on myself to get to this point where I can say that I don't really care if people think I look silly because this is what I want to wear. For the longest time, I would postpone outfits 'until I was skinny'. I had whole looks that I had mapped out for future size 8 me. Looking back, it seems crazy that I hid away in huge jumpers because I despised my body to that point but, a few years on, and I have worked hard to change my mentality and accept my body as is. I think that is partly where this shift has come from. I have made peace with myself and my appearance but I realised that I was still hiding away in the same clothes. And I knew this had to change.

I feel like this was the final hurdle I had to face. It is all well and good to think you look ok behind closed doors but actually standing up and letting the world see you rather than fading into the background is scary. There are days when I have a bit of a confidence wobble but, to be honest, it is also really liberating after years of feeling like I'm not cool enough or skinny enough to pull off certain looks to just walk into Topshop and buy what I like and actually wear it instead of putting it at the back of my wardrobe waiting for the day when I magically transform into a 5'9 model with a pixie cut and cheekbones that could cut a man.

So, this autumn marks a new chapter. I want to wear all the cute clothes that I love and not care if they are flattering or not. I want to wear hats and look like an extra from Oliver Twist just because I think they are cool. I want to be so far outside my comfort zone that I can't even find the way back.

Autumn is a great time to make a change. Not to reinvent yourself but to embrace further who you really are.

Dress: River Island (similar)
Black T-shirt: Primark (similar)
Belt: ASOS (similar)
Shoes: New Look (similar)

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Camping With A Baby: The Survival Guide

Despite the fact that we are now heading into pumpkin spice season and camping is probably the last thing you want to do as the nights get colder, today I am sharing my camping with a baby top tips. Now some people may think that I am crazy to even consider taking a ten month old baby camping - especially as she is struggling with teething and hasn't exactly got into a sleep schedule (see bags under eyes for reference). And, in all honesty, I was a bit worried. I thought a couple of nights away may ruin what routine we do have and other practicalities seemed a bit tricky to navigate - like making her formula or stopping her from screaming the campsite down and getting us chucked out. But I was also pretty excited to share this new adventure with her - especially as I have such fond memories of camping holidays as a kid. And, not to boast, but I think we nailed it. Thankfully, I had my parents on board to help me out (I even got a lie in one morning!) and Ava is usually quite easy going as long as she has food and attention (just like her mum) but I did learn a few things in the process too. And that's what I am sharing with you guys today!

Research the campsite
We chose Oakdown just outside of Sidmouth for our trip and it was the perfect choice for us. It had a lovely (clean!) shower block and a family bathroom right near our pitch and it even had a mini kitchen which had a freezer, sinks, and a microwave in. It also had a café (so coffee was always on hand) and a little shop in case you'd forgotten anything. Hell, they even served pizza in the evenings on site. This was great because it meant that we had all the amenities we needed and it made our stay so much easier. The fact that I could bathe Ava in an actual bath not have to navigate the whole 'pass the baby to me in the shower and then wash her and pass her back whilst I wash' fandango made everything so much easier. So, my top tip is to do your research. Read reviews of a site and see how family friendly it is. Look at the facilities they have onsite and also research how far it is from a town/Tesco Express in case you run out of formula.

Pack for all weathers
It may be the height of summer but as soon as you get the tent out, it's sod's law that the skies will turn grey and you will hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. I am so glad that I bought Ava a waterproof coat for this trip and didn't listen to the voice in my head saying 'she'll be in the pushchair with the raincover on anyway'. What I wish I had packed was also some little wellies for her and a lot more carrier bags to put the wet clothes into. Because boy did it rain. But also pack suncream and dresses because this is the UK and we can go from tropical heat to artic blizzard and back in the space of an hour.

Keep the baby active throughout the day
We were lucky with our location that we were quite close to Exmouth and thus quite close to The World Of Country Life where we spent a lot of time in soft plays and generally tiring the baby out. Keeping the child active throughout the day is majorly important because the new setting may make them less likely to settle in the night. After a full day of crawling around soft plays, Ava slept through the whole night on our first night in the tent and, I have to say, I was pretty impressed. I mean, I woke up hours before she did. If you don't want to pay for soft play, great alternatives are going to parks and running around after a ball or taking the baby swimming. Just get out and about is my advice.

Invest in a cool bag
Thankfully, my mum is a very organised person and carried a cool bag full of ice blocks so that I could keep Ava's open puree pouches cool throughout the day. I would say that this is really something you should consider investing in if you are going camping with a baby as anything like milk or puree is best kept cool and a cool bag is a great way to do that (even on the move!).

Wrap that baby up
Despite the fact that we went camping at the start of August, the nights were still absolutely freezing. To sleep, I put Ava in a vest, a long sleeve top, a cardigan, her sleeping bag, and under a blanket and she was just about warm enough sleeping beside me so that just shows how cold it was at she usually only wears her sleepsuit and sleeping bag to bed at home. So, pack a few extra warm layers for the baby and a couple of blankets (to account for any dropping blanket in mud disasters).

Pack lots of toys
As much as I wanted to have a few days away from Ava's singing plastic toys, I was actually happy that I packed them in the end because Ava got bored a lot quicker than she usually does at home and then started getting into everything that was in the tent. At one point she poured a pot of marshmallows onto the floor of the tent which, as you can probably imagine, became very sticky quickly and was like a siren call for wasps and ants. You need something to stop the baby from getting into mischief. Pack the plastic tat. You'll thank me later.

Have fun!
It may feel like two nights of hell whilst you're there but the memories of the baby screaming bloody murder when you try to take her paddling in the sea and how you had to use buckets to catch the rain that poured through the holes in the tent will last a lifetime.

Have you ever taken a baby camping?

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Friendship In Adulthood

I have never really been a social butterfly. In all honesty, I have spent most of my life much preferring having my head in a book than going to parties and surrounding myself with people. But I have always had a small circle of friends. Girls that I would spend hours on the phone with discussing every part of our lives, planning our futures, and mooning over the boys we fancied. As I got older, my circle of friends got smaller. With every year that went by, it seemed like I lost contact with another friend. What with working and partners and travelling and everything else that comes with being in your twenties, keeping childhood friendships alive became hard and some of the people I once called my best friends soon became people that I only heard from when they wished me happy birthday on Facebook once a year.

Friendship as an adult is difficult. You're no longer at school where you'd just befriend the person who was sat next you on the seating plan or the girl who likes the same scent of Charlie body spray. If you work, you often find that you have 'at work friends' but those friendships rarely leave the office. Or, if you are a stay at home parent, you find that friendships at parenting groups revolve around your kids but are never really friendships - just people you sit next to when you sing nursery rhymes and talk to about how much your baby sleeps. Our lives become much more compartmentalised and navigating friendship becomes a little bit more tricky. Searching for a friend that isn't just a work friend or just a mum friend but a true friend can sometimes feel like searching for a unicorn.

For me, I have very few friends. I am still in contact with some of the girls I grew up with and I absolutely love them but also there are some whose lives have taken a completely different direction to mine and I find that we struggled for things to talk about. And I think that is really the reality of holding onto childhood friendships into adulthood. We are all kinda struggling to make friends so we hold onto the people we know but often these aren't the people we would naturally gravitate towards now. That's not to say that I don't love these friends - I have a handful of friends that I still get on well with and have a laugh with but that can't always be said with every friendship. As you get older, I think you learn which friendships are worth the time and effort but you also see which friendships were more friendships of convenience rather than a true relationship.

But maybe that is what makes the friendships we form in adulthood more special. We all have so little time in our busy lives but we do make time for the people who are important to us. Rather than just befriending the person you were placed next to in class or the girl who also hates PE, you befriend someone because of who they are, what they believe, and how we feel when we are around them. As adults, we don't just make friends because we don't want to sit alone at lunch. We make friends because we believe these people can add something to our lives. Because we value them as people and like being around them.

But I think we also have to accept that friendship is different as an adult. Sometimes a friend needs to understand that being left on read doesn't mean we hate them - it just means we are mega busy (and the baby is probably trying to pull the TV onto herself or eat stands she has pulled off the carpet). Adult friendship is a bit less passionate than the friendships we had as teenagers where we'd stay up all night talking on the phone and vow to run away together and date popstars. As an adult, we just need a friend that we can go to coffee with and rant about life together and occasionally go out all night and pretend we're not exhausted by 11pm. Adult friendships call for more understanding. It doesn't mean these connections don't run as deep as the ones we had as teens but they are just different. Because life is different.

Personally, I am still trying to navigate these waters. I am trying to learn how to meet people who have similar interests to me but also how to be a better friend myself. I am pushing myself to find time for the people I value and to be less generous with my time with people who I don't feel good around. And I am learning to appreciate the small things that my friends do for me and how they make my life better.

Trousers: H&M (here)
Jumper: H&M (similar)
Shoes: New Look (similar)

What does friendship in adulthood mean to you?

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Things That I Have Learnt Since Becoming An Adult

Some days I wake up and feel like a complete boss. These days are tantrum free (referring both to me and the child), they contain relaxed coffees in Costa whilst the baby naps, and I may even make it to the gym. Other days, I just want to be 8 again and have my mum bring me soup whilst I curl up on the sofa watching Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow. Adulthood is weird. You are never really prepared for it. I mean, there's no manual on how to adult. You just wake up one morning and you're 22 living with your husband and your baby and these bills are arriving at your house in your name and if you don't pay your tax right then you land in jail. It's a pretty high risk thing just to bluff your way through but somehow I have bluffed my way through the last 4 years of living independently. And I have learnt a few things along the way.

Nobody cares as much as you think they care
When I was a teenager, I was convinced every person who passed me on the street had an opinion on me. They were internally assessing what I was wearing, how I had my hair, and whether the blue eyeshadow up to my eyebrows really suited me. Now I have come to realise that strangers do not care. I could go out with a thong on my head and only a handful of people would notice. People don't care if I wear shorts or if my eyebrows look more like distant cousins than sisters. People have their own lives and too little time to judge every person they meet.

Everything is expensive
Remember what being given £5 felt like as a kid? You felt like you could take over the world (and still have money left over for a Dip Dab). Now I leave the house and, ten minutes later, I've spent £30. And none of that is spent on anything as good as a Dip Dab.

Vegetables are incredible
Growing up, I imagined that adulthood would be amazing because you can eat what you want when you want. You could eat a whole chocolate cake for breakfast and no one would tell you off. I think my younger self would be very disappointed by my adult diet that consists mostly of brown bread, vegetables, and chapatis. But then child me didn't appreciate the deliciousness of garlic mushrooms. Or butternut squash with feta cheese. 

Nights in beat nights out every time
Picture the scene: you are lounged on the sofa, you are braless wearing your comfy Christmas PJs, you are fresh-faced with your hair scraped back. In front of you is a large Domino's pizza with garlic dip and the latest season of your favourite series is on TV. For me, this is way better than being out all night in painful heels necking Malibu and coke because I feel kinda awkward.

Boring is the new fun
I must admit, I have a favourite washing up liquid. And I love doing laundry (the smell of freshly washed clothes in like a drug to me). And sometimes, when I am 20 minutes deep into mum chat about sleeping routines and weaning, I flash back to the days when I was slightly interesting. Adulthood makes you kinda boring but at least you know which fabric softener smells the best.

I am a lot stronger than I thought
I wanted to end this on a high note and this is probably one of the best things that adulthood has taught me so far. When I was a teen, I doubted myself a lot but now, as an adult, I have a lot more confidence in myself. Although I do wing a lot of things, I trust in my abilities and I really feel like the sky is the limit. And that is definitely an awesome thing - albeit something I wish 15 year old Lauren had also known.

Outfit details:
Tshirt: Topshop (here)
Skirt: Topshop (here)
Lipstick: INC.redible (here)

What has adulthood taught you?

Monday, 20 August 2018

Tips For Embracing A More Vegan-Friendly Lifestyle*

When it comes to food, I'm not fussy. I will eat pretty much anything (especially if it is covered in chocolate or cheese). But that is also where the problem kinda lies. The thing is, I have started making a conscious effort lately to slowly reduce my meat intake (as well as dairy) because I don't feel hugely comfortable with the ethics of eating animal products. For me personally, meat has never been something that I ever gravitated towards so reducing that has come quite naturally. I found that I was just eating meat because it was there - not even because I really liked it. But other animal products are a little more tricky to cut out. But I have found a few great switches and little tricks for you Dairy Milk addicts out there. Although, I have to admit, going completely vegan may be a long way off for me (until they perfect vegan cheddar) but I am being more aware of what I am eating and trying to gravitate towards the vegan and vegetarian options as much as possible.

Meat alternatives
Back when I was a teenager, I was veggie for two years and, in that time, I must have eaten hundreds (if not thousands) of bean burgers. That is all there was back then. Very expensive bean burgers. But now there are so many options. My latest find has been Quorn scotch eggs (not strictly vegan but a step in the right direction) and they actually taste better than the meat version. There is no turning back for me now.

Baby steps
If you want to go vegan, you've got to be in it for the long haul but that means that you can slowly change your diet over time rather than cutting everything out immediately (which will only leave you craving the food you don't want to eat). It also means that you may not find a substitute for something you love and that is ok. For me, I can't find a good plant milk to go in tea so I just use cow's milk and continue testing new milk products that come out to try to find a substitute that works for me.

Take a vegan test
The company Health Labs run vegan tests where you can check for any nutrient deficiencies in your current diet and also for any allergies. If you are thinking of overhauling your diet, it may be best to first check what is good for you and what you need more of in your diet. Also you can get 25% off all vegan tests with the code EMERALD25.

Treat yourself
One thing that surprised me when I started to actually look closer at what I was eating was how many things I love are already vegan. Things like beans on toast and chip shop chips are vegan as well as Oreos and Doritos! It is surprising how many things are actually vegan that you eat everyday without thinking about it.

Do good in other ways
Of course, completely changing your diet isn't possible for everyone - be it because of lack of money and resources, health restrictions (including mental health), or anything else - it doesn't mean you can't live out a bit of the vegan spirit in your life. Try buying from charity shops, reducing plastic waste, shopping local, and donating to food banks. If you can't change your diet, you can still help change the world in other ways.

Would you ever go vegan?

Friday, 17 August 2018

Things I Wish I'd Been Told About The Newborn Stage

For us, the newborn stage was a complete blur filled with sleepless nights, many visitors, and absolute joy. In those three months, we went through the depths of almost every emotion. There were days where I would lie beside Ava as she slept and just marvel at her - I grew this tiny human! - and there were other days when we had slept about 2 hours that night and the house was a complete mess and my clothes were covered in baby sick and I'd just turn to my husband and say 'what have we done?!'. I say days but I probably went through those two emotions in the space of ten minutes. Or simultaneously. 

The thing is being a new parent to a newborn is pretty much three months of muddling through and winging it. After months of kicking back on maternity leave, it is a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly have this tiny human come into your life that needs feeding all the time and doesn't sleep. Midday baths and cankle massages that you bribed your partner into giving you are a thing of the past and you go into complete survival mode. But, the crazy thing is, you kinda miss it once its over. The sleepless nights are really a small price to pay for having a baby that wants to snuggle all the time and doesn't have any desire to cause themselves harm by putting their fingers in electric sockets.

So, I wanted to share the things that I wish I had been told during this time.

You got this
I feel like so much of being a new mum to a newborn is having people tell you how to do things but never reassuring you when you're doing something well. It is a minefield of comments about how breast is best and how co-sleeping is basically the devil and how you can only use one brand of fabric softener as the others will slowly poison your baby through their clothes and the whole world will probably die. New mums need to hear that they're doing a great job. Sure, give some polite advice but don't be too much - especially if it is something small and the baby is totally fine either way.

Mum groups aren't as scary as they seem
I spent most of the newborn stage on the sofa with the baby trying to get her to breastfeed and watching Orange Is The New Black. We occasionally went to Tesco but the trips were few and far between. But, when I did finally pluck up the courage to go to a mum group, I really liked it. I always thought there's no point taking the baby there as she won't be able to do anything but she liked seeing new faces and it definitely improved my mood a great deal.

Buy the damn Sleepyhead
I thought my baby would happily sleep in her moses basket. I was a fool. The baby only wanted me and I happily obliged - I mean, who wouldn't want to snuggle a baby 24/7? What followed was 5 months of co-sleeping and general clinginess and I regretted not finding a way to get her to settle without being held. That's when I knew I should have bought a Sleepyhead. They are basically a cushion that surrounds the baby and makes it all cosy and snuggly. To me, it was a colossal waste of money that I didn't need to spend. I was wrong. I wish I had invested in a Sleepyhead so that I could have a bit of time to myself when the baby napped and, most importantly, so that co-sleeping was a lot safer.

Call 111 if you think something is off
When your midwife is only available between 9-5 and you don't think your worry is serious enough to take the baby to A&E, it is easy to brush it off and tell yourself you're being paranoid. But you know your baby better than anyone so, if you have any worry, call 111. We used this number so much during the newborn stage for everything from worries about the baby not pooing to her crying more than usual. Every time, we were told that it is normal but I was always glad that I called up and spoke to a healthcare professional and checked.

You'll mostly just use sleepsuits and vests
When I was pregnant, I used to imagine all the cute outfits I would put the baby in. Little dresses and hairbands with bows on them - even little, tiny trainers! But I hardly used any of the cute clothes I had bought her. She lived in white vests and sleepsuits. When we went out, she would wear an all-in-one rain jacket. And we sometimes put her in cardigans too. That was it - I don't think she wore a dress for the entirety of her first three months. And she definitely didn't wear little trainers (much to my dismay).

Buy all the plastic-backed bibs you find
We found that plastic-backed bibs were so handy as the milk wasn't able to seep through the bib like it did with some of the fabric ones we had. We got ours in Primark and they are still going strong nine months on.

You don't need to 'snap back'
I wrote a whole post on the pressure to lose the baby weight a couple of months postpartum and I do still feel this pressure nine months on, in all honesty. Society expects new mums to get back into shape right away when really all we can do is feed our baby and eat whatever is passed to us/the Domino's man brings to our door. This whole culture of getting back to your pre-pregnancy size is silly - just relax and enjoy the time with your little one rather than worrying about diets.

Document everything
One thing I regret about the newborn stage is that I didn't document enough. I have hardly any pictures of me holding the baby (I would have especially loved more taken in the hospital) and I didn't fill out her baby book. I wish I had more to look back on - even if they're just blog posts. So, force people around you to take your picture and keep your baby book up to date - your future self will thank you.

What do you wish you had been told about the newborn stage?

Monday, 13 August 2018

Newcastle's Top Ten Best Kept Secrets*

One of my favourite parts of booking a trip is researching the place beforehand. I find myself scrolling through Instagram for hours on end trying to find the restaurants that serve the most delicious food, the most stunning locations that I just can't miss, and - of course - the secret places that only the locals know about. Before I know it, I have a list as long as my arm of brunch recommendations and famous pink walls that I need to have a picture taken in front of. But, this time, I decided I need some expert advice on what I need to see in Newcastle. So, the people at Last Night Of Freedom and I put our heads together to make this guide of the top ten best kept secrets of Newcastle (that I know you will love). 

The Old George – Newcastle's Most Haunted Pub
We start off this list in spooky fashion. Nestled behind the shops and bars of the Bigg Market sits the Old George Pub. The pub, which dates back to 1582, is reportedly the most haunted pub in Newcastle. Bar staff have reported feeling uneasy and being watched - especially whilst alone (not to scare you too much). The identity of the ghostly presence is open to debate, but within the “Charles I Room” there is a chair in which King Charles I sat during a visit to the city. Sightings of an outline of a grey figure have been reported, sitting in the chair, prompting ghostly fanatics to visit from far and wide. Enter if you dare!
The Curry Train – Passage to India
If you love Indian cuisine, but have exhausted the Toon’s regular restaurants – this one is for you. Meet under the big clock at Newcastle Central station at 6pm, and be transported to an elegant Indian wonderland via Passage to India. You will be escorted in authentic Raj-style from the station onto your train from Newcastle to Corbridge. You will then indulge in a delicious four course meal from The Valley restaurant. A truly fantastic experience not to be missed.
The Gin Lab @ Dacantus
Situated on the famous Grey Street, Dacantus is a gin lover’s paradise. Not only can you meet here to have yourself a G&T or two, you can also indulge in a tasting session in the gin lab from Sunday - Thursday. With a range of gins from around the world you will learn all there is to know about styles of gin, botanicals and tonics. Even getting to sample as you go.
The Secret Cocktail Den – The Viceroy
The exotic British outpost offers fantastic cocktails, using ingredients and recipes from colonial ports across the globe - from the Pusser's Gunpowder Proof Rum, to the Tokyo Plum Sour, to the Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila. With a den like location and vibe, this secret lair is not widely known about yet. But once you have been, you will be back for more.
On Top Of The World – Climb Grey’s Monument
It is a Grade I listed monument, a central meeting point, a metro stop and a guardian over the bar and eatery-lined Grey Street – but did you know that you can actually climb to the top of Grey’s Monument and experience the phenomenal panoramic views over Newcastle? On occasional dates throughout the year, a trained guide will accompany groups up the narrow, spiral staircase to the viewing balcony 40 metres above the majestic city centre. The views are remarkable and make you appreciate just how beautiful Newcastle really is.
The Prohibition Bar
A stone’s throw from the Tyne Bridge, a railway arch unit in Brandling Street has been transformed into the region’s first roaring 20s-30s Prohibition style bar. Visitors are transported to another world, with traditional cabaret, vaudeville and music-hall entertainment is recreated as they sup their moonshine. With a huge range of whiskies, bourbons, ryes, rums, gins, beers, lagers, stouts, porters, ales, IPAs, spirits and wines, it is a great place to start the night before heading into Newcastle.
A View From Above – The Sky Lounge @ Vermont Hotel
200 feet above the city lies the luxurious, opulent Sky Lounge. Boasting unrivalled, panoramic views of the city and the River Tyne, this exclusive hidden rooftop terrace, situated on top of the plush Vermont hotel, is typically only available for private events, functions and celebrations, but does open its doors to the public on occasions throughout the year. Keep your eyes open and you will see what we mean when you are taking in the sumptuous views.
High Pie Society
For just a pound you can join Newcastle’s mysterious High Pie Society. Each month, Pie Club meets in a secret location, which is revealed only 48 hours beforehand – and enjoy each other’s home baked creations, and a bit of good conversation. Not much is known about pie club, but rumour has it the first rule of pie club is do not talk about pie club.
Science Bar
Opposite Newcastle’s central station lies the quirky Science Bar and Lounge. Drinks come with a scientific twist which includes multi-coloured shots from test tubes in a rack and it boasts competitive drinks offers as well as Prosecco, which will set you back just £15 a bottle. Its charm lies within the laid back ambiance of the Science Bar, where images of Einstein and Hawking line the walls, and guests are welcome to doodle on the tables in chalk.
St. James’ Roof Tour
No list would be complete without mention of one of the cities focal points. Even if you are not a massive fan of Newcastle United, or football in that matter, St James’ guided rooftop tours are a little known wonder, offering fantastic bird’s eye views of the expansive stadium and hallowed turf. The Toon is peppered with famous landmarks such as the Tyne Bridge, Grey’s Monument and The Sage, which can all be seen from this panoramic hot spot. Truly breath-taking, it is one to cross of the bucket list for most Geordies.
To see what else Newcastle has to offer, check out Last Night Of Freedom's website.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Body Neutrality And What It Means To Me

From my preteen years onwards, my weight has always been a big deal for me. I have always looked at weight loss as the remedy for all the problems in my life. And the harder life got, the more restrictive my diets would become. I thought that being a size 8 would magically change everything and that I would be content. Spoiler alert: it didn't. Even as a size 8, I didn't feel small enough. I was still finding things about my body that I wanted to change. All in all, I was just as unhappy with my body as I was at a size 16.

That is when I found the body positivity movement. People like Body Posi Panda and Grace Victory were big inspirations to me. They taught me that I can be happy at any size and that I didn't need to keep chasing a smaller size because I am good enough as I am. I loved the confidence they had in their bodies and how at peace they seemed to be. I wanted that. I slowly stopped restricting myself - hell, I even started eating pizza again. But, as the weight crept back on, there was still this voice in my head telling me that I needed to lose it. That I wasn't attractive anymore - even that my husband wouldn't want me now that I am bigger.

But then I got pregnant and everything changed. My unborn baby became my main focus because what I ate affected her. I started eating when I was hungry and tried to stick to healthier choices for main meals. If I wanted chocolate, I ate chocolate. But I made sure I also ate fruit and veg. And, in that time, I stopped caring about how my body looked - it was growing a child so it was allowed to be big. And I felt so liberated by that. I loved eating what I wanted and not caring if my body looked good. This was the time that I felt at the most peace with myself.

But then postpartum negativity rolled up like an unwanted house guest. All I could hear was 'bounce back' and 'get your pre-pregnancy body back'. I found myself looking at pictures of Kate (the Kate and Wills one) just hours after giving birth then looking down at my own body and feeling hugely inadequate. That's when all the old emotions started to return. The peace I had in pregnancy started to ebb away and I was left with the same low self-esteem I had had for a long time.

That's where body neutrality comes in.

Body neutrality is pretty much a middle ground. A place between body negativity and body positivity for those who are still learning to accept themselves. I interpret it as a state of being where the size of your body is no longer a priority. It is for the people who are fed up of trying to be body positive and failing time and time again. And, for me, it is a way to harness some of that peace I felt during pregnancy. It is about accepting that, yes, some days you won't love how you look but that is acceptable because society has taught us that our bodies aren't good enough and it is ok to feel those emotions as long as you don't let them consume you.

It is a place to just step back and not let your body even be a thing anymore. It is letting go of this obsession with our bodies and just being.

Discovering this movement has been a bit of a revelation to me because it has taught me that my body and how it looks is such a miniscule thing that doesn't need as much thought as I had been giving it. It has taught me not to care as much about what people may think of how I look and, because of this, I have been wearing shorts for the first time in my adult life. I just picked up a pair of shorts and wore them because it was hot outside. It has just made me happier. There is no pressure to love myself unreservedly but also no focus on 'improving' myself either. It is just being and I love it.

If you want to read more about positivity, I found this awesome article on the Everyday Feminism website that goes into more detail.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Places To Eat In Exeter: Comptoir Libanais

Anyone who knows me can probably tell you that I am a major fan of Lebanese food. When I was at uni in Cardiff, I basically lived off the stuff. I would order lamb kofte and fattoush salad several times a week. I mean, I was seeing the delivery driver more often than my family at that point. So, you can imagine my sorrow when I graduated from uni and moved back to Devon only to discover that there was nowhere to get my weekly fix of delicious Lebanese goodness. But that all changed when I stumbled upon Comptoir Libanais in Guildhall, Exeter.

This was the kinda place that I had been searching for. The interior is so vibrant and exciting - it is like stepping into a Middle Eastern palace. The menu is full of all my favourites but also things that I have never even heard of. And it has fast become one of my favourite lunch stops in Exeter.

We first starting going to Comptoir Libanais about a year ago. I visited it first with my auntie and little sister - and my auntie and I absolutely adored it. I ordered lamb kofte and fattoush salad (the classic combo) and, if I remember rightly, my auntie ordered a tagine. They had a kid's menu but my sister is a bit more of a pizza and burgers fan so she didn't appreciate the deliciousness as much as we did (although she did have a gorgeous hot chocolate that made us both jealous). My only qualm was the drink that I ordered - it was a rose lemonade but it was just too exotic for my taste and, since then, I have only ordered orange juice. But I did round the meal off with a slice of orange blossom cake which was divine. It had the consistency of polenta cake which I love so it did very well in my books.

Then we didn't return for a few months as I went completely off anything that wasn't plain (pregnancy lols) but, when we did return, I decided to be adventurous. I was accompanied by my auntie, uncle, sister, and another sister (I have a wealth of sisters) and I was excited to share the delights of Lebanon with these Middle Eastern food virgins. This time, I ordered a tagine which was so gorgeous and it came with bread to dip in (yum). And, just like that, my love was rekindled.

A couple of weeks ago, we went back again. This time it was just me and my auntie (and the baby). I was tempted to stick to the usual of lamb kofte and fattoush salad but I pushed myself to try something new - and I am glad I did. I went for the spinach and feta fatayer (which was like a soft pastry filled with spinach and feta and topped with sesame seeds) and that came with a salad. My auntie ordered fattoush salad with falafel and we shared a bowl of rice too. And, I can tell you, all I ever want to eat from now on is fatayer - it was incredible!

But what warmed my heart even more than the lush food was the great service. Dining out with a baby can sometimes be a bit tricky but the staff made us feel so welcome. They fawned over Ava and she lapped up the attention. Her head was on a permanent swivel watching the waiting staff walk by smiling at her. And that just set me at ease so much because I knew we wouldn't be turfed out if she got a little noisy.

All in all, I would give Comptoir Libanais a 4.5/5
The 0.5 deduction was only due to the lack of drinks that were to my taste but everything else was absolutely perfect.

Want to read more from the Places To Eat series? Click the links below

Places To Eat In Exeter: Bella Italia
Places To Eat In Cardiff: Waterloo Tea
Places To Eat In Cardiff: Garlands
Places To Eat In Sidmouth: The Clocktower

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Top Tips For Travelling With A Baby

A couple of weeks ago, we took Ava on her first proper holiday. We chose to go to London then stop off at Cardiff on the way home as these are two places that we really love but are also fairly close to where we live. And, much to our surprise, it was pretty problem free. Admittedly, we did have a few little tantrums on the train when she got frustrated with being sat for so long but, other than that, she was perfect. I had been really worried that the journey and sleeping in a new place would mess with her routine but we managed to find a few creative solutions to cope with any difficulties that might arise. And that's what I am sharing with you lovely lot today.

Ready-made bottles and puree sachets
These are an absolute godsend when you are travelling as it means you don't have to pack a big container of formula nor do you have to faff around with jars (anyone else always lose the lids?). Ava absolutely loves the fruit puree sachets from Ella's Kitchen but Lidl also do some great own brand ones that are a much cheaper option. For the milk, we just packed one bottle already made up then two empty bottles that had been sterilised to pour the milk into. This saves the hassle of trying to rinse out bottles on the go as you already have a couple spare with you.

As much tummy time as possible
Ava loves being on the move in her pushchair but she can only stand it for a limited period of time (usually about 2 hours at the very most) before she starts to get fussy. So, tummy time is a real necessity for us. But, as you can probably imagine, this is near-on impossible on a moving train so we took turns holding her in our arms when she got restless then headed straight to a restaurant where she could sit in a highchair (just to break up the pushchair time for a bit). Then, when we got to the hotel, we put down a towel on the floor and just let her roll around for a while. We had brought a few toys with us but also wiped over the room menu and TV remote with sterilising wipes so she could look at them and explore the different textures.

Plan plan plan
We had this trip in mind for a few weeks before we went so that gave me ample time to plan. We knew we would be leaving home around 4pm and arriving in London at around 7pm so I managed to book super off-peak tickets which I would recommend doing as it gives you more flexibility in when you want to travel as you can catch any train outside of peak times. I also knew that Ava and I had an event in Farringdon the following morning around 9am so we chose to book a hotel near the location so that we could just walk to the event in the morning rather than catch the tube in rush hour. I would also advise checking if the train has accessible seating and reserving those seats (not all trains do). Basically, plan everything in detail and make sure you avoid rush hour if you are using public transport.

Attach everything to the pushchair/car seat/child
A big mistake we made was not attaching Ava's dummy to her with one of those cords. Over the two days we were away, we lost both of her dummies and, as you can imagine, it was a long journey home with a child that usually settles with her dummy. So, invest in one of those ties (make sure it is approved by the necessary safety boards else it can be dangerous). We bought this one from Mothercare and it has served us well so far.

What advice would you give to someone intending to travel with a baby?
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