Sunday, 28 October 2018

How I Practice Self-Care On Bad Mental Health Days

Life can often feel like a lot. What with work, relationships, kids, studying, and our constant battle with the Instagram algorithm, it is easy to become overwhelmed. And very, very tired. There are days that feel magical and would definitely have a whimsical backtrack and sepia filter in the movie of your life then there are the days that you wish you could just press fast-forward on.

The truth is, lately I have been having a few more bad days. Days that I wish I could just stay in bed and not have to deal with anything. I try to remind myself that 'there won't be flowers without rain' but sometimes life can get you down and it can be difficult to pull yourself back up.

On these days, I find that I need to really strip everything back and start from zero. I have to press pause and just breathe for a minute. I have to feel what I feel and not try to run from my sadness because sadness is a valid and healthy emotion.

Grace Victory talks a lot about finding your inner child and learning to treat yourself how you would want people to have treated your child self and I feel like this is very relevant to my self-care process. When I am having a dark day, I think of my inner child. I make myself a bowl of soup and let myself watch The Simpsons for half the day like when I was 6 and had a cold. I turn off social media and just relax without the constant buzz of notifications. I go to Tesco and pick whatever sweets I want without looking at calories or thinking about how I will have to 'make up for it later'. These days, I put on whatever is comfy and I don't even look at my makeup bag. Basically, I relax. I stop adhering to the rules - the rules that tell us we have to constantly be productive and pretty and healthy and so many other things. I just be.

The thing is, self-care isn't what you see on Instagram. Self-care isn't just bath bombs and Ben & Jerry's. Self-care is understanding why you feel a certain way and accepting that emotion. Self-care isn't always easy or insta-worthy. It can often be hard work. It can be breaking bad habits and crying on the bathroom floor at 2am.

Self-care, for me, is taking a step back. It is letting emails sit in my inbox and not constantly reaching for my phone. Life in general is messy and busy but, in the hard times, it can feel unbearable. Those are the times when we have to stop trying to carry on keeping it together. Those are the times when we need to reach out and let people know we are struggling. During our day-to-day lives, we need to make time for ourselves doing the things we enjoy. We need to sit back and read a book and think only of what we're reading. We need to lose ourselves for a bit and be totally selfish. And, in the dark days, we need to invest almost all our time into self-preservation and self-care. We need to be regularly checking in on where our heads are at and be aware of our mental health. We need to make sure we don't forget about taking care of ourselves in the whirlwind of taking care of everyone else.

And there is a small comfort in knowing everyone has days when they struggle. Everyone wants to just snuggle up in bed all day and forget about the world and all the responsibilities we have. No one is happy all the time. And that fact has always made it a little easier for me to speak out to other people on the bad days because I know that my feelings aren't an anomaly.

My main advice would be to listen to yourself. Do what you need to get through the day. If that means you just survive rather than be mega productive, that's fine. Your body knows what it needs and if that is a day in bed with a pizza then do that.

How do you practice self-care on bad mental health days?

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Top 5 Things To Do In Edinburgh

The last time we visited Edinburgh, we said we never wanted to return. It was a freezing January and everything felt a little bit miserable. We didn't research Edinburgh at all before we visited and just spent the time wandering around aimlessly waiting for something interesting to emerge. The only good things I remember from that trip were the Ibis hotel breakfast and eating affogato at Howies Restaurant

So, when Isaac suggested we return there for a second time, I was slightly shocked. I mean, we didn't 
like it there, right? Why bother to return? Saying that, it didn't take much convincing to get me to go. Some may say that I am super open-minded and willing to give anywhere a second chance but really I was just pretty desperate for a holiday (and very low on Instagram content).

This time, I decided to go in 100% and spent quite a lot of time trawling through Instagram, blog posts, and travel sites looking for things for us to do whilst we were there. And I soon discovered where we went wrong last time. First of all, we didn't have an itinerary (or even the slightest clue of where anything was) which meant we spent most of the trip around the centre in the same shops every British high street has or in random parts of the city where nothing was happening. And we went there by train (starting and ending a trip with an eight hour train journey is not the one). 

I can happily report back that this trip was amazing and I liked Edinburgh so much that I could have easily spent a whole week there without running out things to do and see.

Howies restaurant
Let's start this post off with arguably our favourite thing about Edinburgh: the lush food at Howies Restaurant. All in all, we have now had three meals at Howies and each came to around £30 or just under for two courses for two people. Despite the low price, this place is as close to 'fine dining' as I have ever gotten. The food is all locally sourced and really embraces its Scottish roots. But if you think it's all haggis all day, you'd be wrong. They have something for everyone. Isaac absolutely adored their cullen skink (like a fish soup/stew/thing) and I was pretty sold on their desserts (their brownie is insane - it comes with coffee ice cream and rum syrup). Oh, and their coffee was the kinda coffee that makes you go wow ok when you drink it. Basically, everything is delicious, well-made, locally sourced, and not too pricey. I wish they opened one on my street.

Victoria Street and Grassmarket
I am really into Instagram at the moment so if you say 'multi-coloured street of dreams' to me, I will probably be on the bus there - tripod in hand - before you even get to finish your sentence. So, Victoria Street was literally heaven for me. Everywhere you look, there are cute cafes and boutique shops selling everything from gifts and trinkets to handmade suits. And this continues out into the wider area of Grassmarket. This area has such variety and we loved wandering along these streets in the evening especially as all the restaurants were bustling with people. Hands down, my favourite part of Edinburgh.

Royal Mile
This is probably one of the busier parts of Edinburgh - but I totally get why. The Royal Mile is full of beautiful buildings. Everywhere you look there is a church or historic building to explore/have a selfie in front of. But probably the best thing about the Royal Mile is the shopping. There are so many little shops full of locally made tartan, kilts, and cashmere (which I really didn't know was such a big thing in Edinburgh).

National portrait gallery
Ok, let me admit a little something here, I am not usually someone who is that keen on things like museums and galleries. I much prefer wandering around the streets and learning about the history of life in a particular area and the history of the local, everyday people rather than looking at the artwork and other items made by rich people and owned by rich people. But I really liked the National Portrait Gallery. I liked seeing different genres of art that they displayed (especially the less traditional and more abstract pieces) but also some real classics like 'Monarch of the Glen'. And they had a bunch of things on for kids too. Definitely worth a visit - even if you don't really like galleries.

Edinburgh castle
This is a bit of an obvious one but it is something we didn't do last time (mostly because we're a bit tight) and actually really enjoyed this time. The views, first of all, were amazing (despite the wind) and I loved how different this castle is to other castles I have visited before. This castle is more a military base rather than a royal dwelling which completely went against my expectations. They have Prisoner of War cells that date back hundreds of years and the original graffiti still remains on the walls. They also have solitary confinement cells for disobedient soldiers - this was super interesting for me as I am a bit of a prison history geek (niche, I know). But the best thing about Edinburgh Castle was the tour guide (closely followed by the gift shop and whiskey tasters). I regret that I didn't remember her name but she was amazing - so fun and engaging but also very knowledgeable about the castle and the history. Definitely try to get a walking guide around the castle over paying for a headset.

What is your favourite thing about Edinburgh?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Autumn Lookbook With Femme Luxe*

In case you guys didn't get the memo, I am a teensy bit autumn obsessed. Ok, maybe a bit more than obsessed. At this stage, my diet is basically just bonfire spiced hot chocolate, Halloween themed cakes, and literally anything that contains pumpkin. And the obsession doesn't end with my choice of snacks (read: all meals every day). It has taken over my wardrobe too.

As soon as September rolled in, I dived into a pile of knitwear and vowed not to emerge until it is at least 20 degrees again. Autumn fashion just encapsulates everything that I love. Jumpers, obviously, but also ankle boots and huge coats and hats that Cher herself would approve of. Also dark lipsticks (or is that just hot chocolate?) and the fact that you can wear a messy bun everyday and call it fashion. After months of it is so hot, what is the least amount of clothes I can wear without being arrested for public indecency? it is kinda nice to wake up in the morning and put some thought into my outfit.

The layered look

Yknow what has layers? Onions, ogres, and every outfit I wear in autumn. Cos ya girl gets cold very easily. Basically, if I ain't wearing a vest, I ain't fully dressed. Layering is the key to dressing like a chic fashionista that just stepped off the runway without freezing your bits off and it helps you to breathe a bit of life back into your summer pieces so it is cost-effective too. Win win, right?

So, when I saw this dress on Femme Luxe, I knew I needed to own it. It is a gorgeous autumnal colour and long enough that it covers your legs (for warmth and can hide the fact that you refuse to pick up a razor until at least April). And I really love it. I am not someone that usually loves bodycon anything but I will definitely be wearing this all season. And that means a lot because I really like jeans.

Dress: Femme Luxe
Jumper: Primark
Backpack: John Lewis
Boots: New Look

The summer trouser revival

Who said culottes are just for summer? I rock these babies year round! And with more emphasis being placed on slow fashion these days, taking a look into the Narnia-level depths of your wardrobe and seeing what you discover before hitting the shops is the way to go. And it leaves more money for the important things in life (like chips).

I love how this crop top looks with culottes. The top is quite fitted so the looseness of the trousers kinda balances everything out. And I just love swishing around singing Baggy Trousers whenever I put them on. But also feeling a bit chic in this 'Vogue' print crop top. Although, as I discovered, this outfit isn't very waterproof so bare that in mind.

Top: Femme Luxe
Trousers: New Look
Jacket: Topshop

I have gone a little accessories mad this season. I now own three different hats and enough scarfs to probably lasso the whole of Earth (if the occasion ever called for it). But I just love how the perfect accessory can take an outfit from meh to wow. And I feel like the scarf in this outfit kinda did that (at least, I hope cos a lot of people have seen me wearing this lol).

This Femme Luxe dress is gorgeous as it is. It is super thick and fits really nicely but I felt like it was calling out for an added bit of oomph. I love how the black goes so well with the bright pink - this dress really is the perfect base piece for any look. I mean, imagine it with a bright pink blazer. Or a check coat. The possibilities are endless (sorry, bank balance).

Dress: Femme Luxe
Scarf: Primark

You can find all these looks at Femme Luxe. They kindly sent me out these pieces (thanks, queens!) so be sure to check them out - your wardrobe will thank you.

Which trends are you loving this season?

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?

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