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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