Sunday, 30 December 2018

Berlin Travel Guide

If you follow me on social media, you'd be hard pushed to have missed the fact that we recently went to Berlin. I mean, it is pretty much all I have been speaking about for the past week - but for good reason! Our trip to the German capital was probably one of my favourite parts of 2018 and I would encourage anyone I meet to consider taking a trip there too - especially if you can make it around Christmastime. It was fun, festive, and filled with food. What more can you ask for?

What to see
There is so much to do and see in Berlin that it can be a little overwhelming. Despite the fact that we were there for four days, we only covered a small percentage of the attractions that Berlin had to offer.

Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is a famous landmark and a very popular tourist attraction. All of the times that we passed by this place, it was filled with people taking pictures (hell, we even saw some cute pooches posing for a snap). But you can't do Berlin without checking this place out - if only for a pic for the gram.

Reichtag Building
The Reichtag Building is Germany's government building and it is basically a huge, glass dome that has a winding slope throughout the inside that brings you up to the top. You have to register and show your ID to book a slot to visit this attraction and then go through security before entering but it is definitely worth the hassle. It is completely free and you are also given a headset to hear the audio guide as you move around the building. Also the view over the city is beautiful once you get to the top. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
My great-grandmother was a Polish Jew and most of her family were killed by the Nazis so I felt obliged to pay my respects. The feeling of uneasiness as I walked through the memorial was almost tangible. But paying this memorial a visit is important. The Holocaust is part of German history and it is important that it is isn't forgotten - that the consequences of racism aren't forgotten.

Berlin Wall
We came across the Berlin wall kinda by accident. We went for an evening walk around our hotel and saw part of a wall with some words and pictures scrawled across it behind a mesh fence so I asked a passing couple and they told us that it was, in fact, part of the Berlin wall! They also told us that the main touristy parts of the wall were two trains away on the other side of the city so we made do with the wall we had. But, if you are invested in seeing all of the wall, then they have a few different parts in different locations across the city so make sure you do your research (or just accost an unsuspecting German couple).

Museum Island
Museum Island isn't situated far from the Brandenburg Gate and Reichtag Building and is deffo worth a visit. There are about 4 different museums (including one about the history of Islam which looked interesting) and the Berlin Dom (cathedral) is located right beside it too. I think it was 18 euros per person to access all the museums. We didn't pay it because we just didn't have enough time but, if you have a whole day, then this could be a good (warm, indoors) option.

Mall Of Berlin
Although we didn't have time for the museums, we did have time for this mega mall. It had all your usual faves but also loads of German brands too. And some awesome designer shops that I looked around like I could afford anything more than a pair of socks. They had a Lindt pop-up shop when we were there and Isaac bought me chocolate covered macadamia nuts so I have very fond memories of this place. And those chocco nuts. 

Where to eat
One of my favourite things about visiting new places is trying the local food - and Berlin didn't disappoint! By the end of the trip, my jeans were definitely feeling a bit tighter after all of that German food. Not that I am complaining!

After doing a little insta-research, I came across this donut company that have a few different locations across Berlin (we went to their little shop on Potsdamer Platz which was 5 minutes from our hotel) and instantly fell in love. All of their donuts are vegan and cost around 2-3 euros each. They have so many different flavours but I opted for the hibiscus one almost solely because it looked like a cartoon donut straight out of The Simpsons. And it was lush. And huge. I could have easily eaten about 5 of them.

This place was recommended to us by the hotel staff as a traditional German restaurant and I am glad that we visited it. Nestled down a back street with a black curtain covering the entrance, this restaurant has the feel of a traditional tavern or pub. They serve beer and non-alcoholic cask brews too and a small menu of traditional grub. I opted for the meatballs with bread and pickled gherkins whilst Isaac went for the pork schnitzel with potatoes. Both came with sauerkraut and mustard and were quite the experience. Isaac, a meat lover, wolfed his down and then came for mine. But, if like me, you aren't much of a meat lover, this may not be the place for a repeat visit besides for a large stein of beer and somewhere to practice your German on willing subjects.

Street food
Most of what we ate in Berlin was bought at the various Christmas markets or in little takeaways. Donner kebabs are big in Germany so we had to give those a go too. We ate everything from currywurst to pretzels as big as our heads. If you are travelling outside of the Christmas period, you may not find as many markets or street food venders as around Christmas time but I am sure there will always be a man at a stall trying to sell you sausages somewhere in Berlin so try to give those a go (I recommend the Krakauer).

Ok, this is a bit of a niche one but the McDonald's in Berlin are pretty fancy. They even have a McCafe section where they have things like caramel lattes and cream cakes - and their own line of pretty cute mugs and Maccys merch. We went to McDonald's a few times on our trip mostly for drinks (because we didn't want to pay 5 euros for a cup of tea at the market) and we were pretty impressed by the German Maccys experience. Guys, they even had Earl Grey tea! Their food menu was quite similar to the British menu apart from a few small differences like breaded shrimp, chicken wings, and a Pizza Big Mac which looked as good as it sounds. 

Getting around
Berlin is quite a vast city and, in order to see everything, you will probably need to use public transport at some stage. We invested in a two day 'hop on, hop off' city tour bus for a painful 26 euros each (or 22 euros each for one day) but it was kinda worth it as it takes you to all of the main hotspots across the whole city and stop at each stop every 15 minutes. Otherwise, you can try to navigate the routes yourself via public transport. You can get a day travel pass that can be used across all modes of transport (buses, trains, underground, overground) for 7 euros per person. The only trouble we had with this is that the buses can get pretty full so be prepared to stand/fight with strangers.

The language
My German is pretty serviceable whilst Isaac doesn't speak one word but we mostly didn't need anything other than English at all (although I pushed myself to speak German as much as possible). The only times that Isaac would have used German was when we arrived at Berlin airport and Isaac used the baby changing bathroom instead of the men's and got a mouthful from the cleaner and couldn't even defend himself as he didn't know what she was saying. I stood nearby giggling as I understood every word. Other than that, English and knowing how to ask if a person knows English (Sprechen Sie Englisch?) is all you really need. 

Have you ever visited Berlin?


Monday, 17 December 2018

An Ode To IRL Friends

For as long as I have been blogging, I have wanted to have 'blogger friends'. Yknow the type that you meet up with to shoot outfit pictures and get brunch and discuss 'how to beat the algorithm' Instagram strategies. I wanted that Louise and Zoe circa 2013 friendship. And I have made a few online friendships over the last few years that I do value very deeply - and, despite not actually meeting any of these people in person, I consider these online friends to be true friends.

But, when I was dreaming of meeting my blogging girl gang, I wasn't seeing the value of the friendships I already had. I didn't appreciate how awesome it is that the friends I have don't use social media all that much and how that keeps me so much more grounded. Meeting up with my IRL friends forces me to live in the moment more and not have to think of putting it on insta stories or getting that perfect outfit shot.

As much as I am so far from one of those people who complain about people using their phones in social situations - I mean, I basically live on Twitter - it is nice to have time away from it all without anyone just checking their emails. It is something of a revelation to go for a whole meal and not take a photo of anything or spend a whole day exploring a new town without taking a few snaps for Instagram. And I do get that worry that I will forget these times because I haven't documented them but I also know that I won't forget them because they are so much more special to me because they weren't lived looking at a screen or through a lens.

As a blogger, I feel like my world has become very much centred around the internet and being constantly available to reply to emails or DMs or comments or mentions is a big part of what it is to be a blogger. But, because this world is accessible 24 hours a day, it can be difficult to switch off. I find myself picking up my phone when I don't even need to and scouting for outfit picture locations when I am just going to buy some milk. I feel like I am always on. But my friends help me to get out of that routine. They give me a reason for not having to scroll through Instagram for another twenty minutes. And I have come to realise that I don't need to be on all the time. If I let a DM sit in my inbox for a day, the earth won't spontaneously combust and cause the whole of mankind to perish. People get it - they understand that even bloggers have lives outside of social media.

Of course, I would still have to be part of a blogger girl gang to go to Peggy Porschens with but I am also really appreciative of the friends I already have and what I have learnt from them. They're pretty fantastic.

Shirt: Primark (similar)
Skirt: Fashion Union (similar)
Coat: New Look (similar)
Boots: New Look (similar)

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Friday, 14 December 2018

What To Eat At Exeter Christmas Market

If there's one thing I love, it is a market. In any form. I love flea markets, farmers markets, and antique markets but my true passion is a Christmas market. Nothing can compete with a bustling Christmas market full of stalls of handmade goodies and food you have never heard of. The smell of caramelised nuts and the sound of Christmas songs is enough to make me feel giddy. Oh, and the churros! Those Spanish delights that you only seem to find at this time of year. Nothing makes me happier than wandering around looking at cute wooden figurines and paper light garlands whilst dipping my churros into a pot of melted chocolate.

So, naturally, I have visited Exeter Christmas Market multiple times since it opened in late November. And I am loving it. Exeter has really upped its game as a relatively new Christmas market destination. Me, Isaac, and Ava have been to the market most weekends so I want to give you a little insider's guide on which food stalls I think are the best (I would do a guide on all of the stalls but most of them rotate weekly).

Chubby Churros
What can I say? I am a loyalist - especially when it comes to anything deep-fried and covered in sugar. But these aren't your usual churros. Oh, no! These are chubby churros. They are a little more doughy and a bit more like long donuts and they are even more lush than normal churros. You can pick up a tray of them for £4 or pay an extra £1 for the melted chocolate dip (worth it). I would live off of these if I could.

German sausage
It wouldn't be a Christmas market without a good, old German sausage, would it? They sell three varieties - plain, spiced, or cut up and served in a sauce. We have tried all three and my favourite with definitely the spiced one. I smothered it in ketchup and mustard then scattered a few crispy fried onions on top. The other two options I could take or leave. Also I wasn't a huge fan of the one in sauce but Isaac loved it so it is a bit of a mixed bag.

Camper Coffee
Camper Coffee is a bit of a big thing around here so, ofc, they have a huge truck right in front of the cathedral selling all of your faves. I would recommend anything and everything by this coffee company but, for me, a hot choc always wins.

Chocolate marshmallows
These are another market classic - the chocolate covered marshmallow. I have tried a few of them in my time but I still have many to tick off of my chocolate-related bucket list. We had one covered in nuts last time we were there which was nice but I have my sights set on the mint chocolate one next. And for £1 each, it really is a slippery slope.

Gyros pitta
Ok, I haven't actually tried this yet but I did queue for 20 mins to be told that it would be a 15 minute wait last time (it was a very busy Saturday afternoon) so that kinda counts - and deffo doesn't put me off. A gyros pitta is kebab meat with sauce, salad, and chips in a pitta bread (yeah, basically just a kebab tbh) but it looks so heavenly and I need to bag one before the market packs up in a week or two.

And I have so much that I still want to try. There is gourmet macaroni cheese (um yes!?!), whoopie pies, and I haven't even started on the mulled wine yet! My list is pretty extensive and it is a hard job testing all these goodies - but someone has to do it, right?

Have you visited any Christmas markets yet?

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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

How To Overcome Writer's Block As A Blogger

I have hit a bit of a wall this last week. Writer's block or blogger's block or whatever you wanna call it. I just can't seem to get my words out. I have so many pictures sat in my files ready to be shared but the words to go with them have been lost somewhere.

The thing is, it was never like this at the start. I would write every single night and always have something to say. Whether it was gushing over a new trend or sharing probably a little too much info about my relationship, the posts went up like clockwork. Then I think I started overthinking it all and suddenly I didn't know what to say anymore. And the more I tried to push myself to write, the less I was able to. But, at the same time, I didn't want to take a break through fear that I would never write again. What if I just have nothing to say ever again? What if my well of inspiration has dried up forever?

And that is what this week has been like. I have felt hugely uninspired. I haven't travelled anywhere interesting or even had an opinion that I deemed worthy of sharing. Sure, I have had a few half-baked ideas but nothing to make an entire blog post out of. I have spent this week opening my laptop, writing a title and a paragraph, then closing my laptop again.

And I feel like this is kinda borne out of the pressure I put on myself. I always want to write something super interesting and ground-breaking and hilarious accompanied by editorial level pictures. I may not always achieve that but that is the aim behind almost every post I create. And that shit is kinda exhausting. I see myself becoming too much of a perfectionist about the content that I produce and share and it is draining the joy out of writing.

I want to have fun with this blog and not care too much about page views or the fact that I haven't been chosen for certain campaigns and realise that yes, I have worn that coat 3 times already on the blog but no one really cares. I want to give myself more creative freedom here rather than leaving posts in my drafts for months on ends because they weren't quite riveting enough for me to click publish on them.

I want to let loose and really enjoy sharing my thoughts here again. However mundane they may be. And I also want to give myself more breaks so that when I do come to write, I write about things that I am passionate about and I share content that I am proud of - not because it meets my high expectations of what kinda content I should be producing but because I have enjoyed the whole process.

Trousers: Nasty Gal (here)
Jumper: Primark (similar)
Necklace: Voice International (here)*
Belt: Primark (similar)
Jacket: Topshop (similar)

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Sunday, 9 December 2018

All The Christmassy Things I Want To Do This December

I have always been one of those people who are really into Christmas. Everything about it is just so magical - towns and cities transforming into winter wonderlands, the abundance of gingerbread, the old films that make you feel all cosy inside, and - most importantly - the amount of stuffing and sausage balls you are encouraged to eat. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year and, with Ava being a big girl of one now, I am excited to share this holiday with her since last year she was only a month old and couldn't really get into the Christmas spirit. So, I have put together a bit of a festive bucket list of all the things I want us to do over the next month and I will hopefully be able to share us ticking them off with you guys.

Go to all the Christmas markets
Back when I was 16, I travelled to Cologne with my auntie for a few days of festive fun and my favourite bit of the whole trip was definitely the Christmas markets. I loved all the handmade nick-nacks and the big gingerbread hearts with 'ich leibe Koeln' scrawled across them. It felt so Christmassy and so unlike anything I had experienced here (I mean, church fetes can't really compete with that). Since then, Christmas markets have become a huge thing here in the UK and I am so much for it. I love how it gives small businesses a platform to sell to more people and, not gonna lie, I love how churros have become synonymous with the whole UK Christmas market experience. This year, I want to explore more Christmas markets. And maybe Ava could even try her first churro.

Buy Christmas presents from small businesses
As per usual, I am on a budget but I want to try my very best to buy at least a few things from local businesses - even if it is just a card. And I think presents from these kinda shops are so much nicer to receive too as the things you find tend to be a little more unusual and interesting than your run-of-the-mill Lynx Africa gift set. So, if you are able, jump onto Etsy or pop into that little gift shop in town and check out what they have to offer. And, if you are stuck for ideas, check out my independent business gift guide (cheeky little plug).

Bake festive snacks
After a good few months without a working oven, we finally got it fixed! Well, Isaac pushed a button inside the oven and now we just cautiously cook stuff and hope it won't explode. But one good thing about having an oven - however much of a health hazard it may be - is that I can finally get back again! And my list of goodies I am planning to make is pretty extensive. Right at the top, we have mince pies. But we also have a few wildcards like chocolate orange cookie bars and whoopie pies. Watch this space, pals.

Establish some Christmas traditions 
Isaac isn't a huge fan of Christmas so the buck really falls to me to create some family traditions (other than talking about how capitalism is destroying the world - Isaac has that one well and truly covered). I am thinking of getting Ava and I matching Christmas PJs, putting up decorations together, and maybe even hosting a huge Christmas Eve feast. Either way, I want to truly embrace the Christmas spirit - especially as this is Ava's first Christmas that she can be truly involved.

Drink all of the festive drinks
Now I am not the kinda girl who gets excited over a glass of sherry or an espresso martini but what does get my heart racing is a fancy hot choc. Especially when it comes with cream, marshmallows, and even a candy cane. Costa's orange hot choc is the current front-runner but I may have to test a few more - just, yknow, for market research and that.

Put together stockings for Ava and Isaac
I have such fond memories of waking up at like 3am on Christmas morning, shaking my brother awake, then running into my parent's room - stocking in hand - to unwrap the goodies I had been given. I loved all the little gifts - but maybe not the one tangerine that was always at the bottom of the stocking - and I want to carry this on for Isaac and Ava. Yes, Isaac is a grown man but he needs all the festive joy he can get. And Ava will likely just try to eat all the wrapping paper but is it really Christmas without one family member sicking up a gift bow?

What does your December to-do list look like?

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Thursday, 6 December 2018

My 24 Hour Labour Story

Since Ava turned one a couple of weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about how she came into the world. It feels like an entire lifetime ago that I was pregnant with Ava - I can hardly even imagine what having a bump feels like anymore. I mean, pregnancy is so strange. It is like your body is normal then suddenly you are carrying a whole other person inside you then you just go back to normal again. Some days I do kinda miss feeling the little kicks inside my belly but I have loved watching Ava grow this last year even more.

Anyway, let me set the scene for you guys. Isaac and I had just moved to South London from Devon and Isaac was working a lot to meet the crazy London rent. I mean, he sometimes would come in at 1am and be back out the door at 5am. And my heavily pregnant self just spent my days chilling eating chocolate, watching vlogs, and having a lot of baths. But I was still pretty active up until the end. I would often walk from Blackheath down to Greenwich and wander around the market and enjoy seeing the kids riding their bikes through Greenwich Park. But around 37 weeks, I didn't want to leave the house as much and I felt my body telling me to take it a bit easier. So I did. And I was certain that I would be giving birth soon.

It was on Saturday 5th Novemeber that I started to think the baby could actually be arriving soon. I had been having cramps all day - especially in my lower back - but I had made plans with Isaac to go to a fireworks display that evening so I pushed through with the help of my good friend paracetomol. Putting the visions of me giving birth in the middle of a field surrounded by people to the back of my mind, I actually had a great evening.

The cramps continued for the next couple of days so I stayed in the house - in the bath - and rested up (and ate a whole lot of chocolate). On the Tuesday, the pain intensified - it felt more like contractions. I had barely slept at all that night because of a few things. The pain, of course, but also the pressure from where the baby had moved down and from the acid reflux I had been having for about a week now. So, I got up (read: sat up in bed and switched on my laptop) around 5am when Isaac left for work. Thankfully, Isaac was back home around 2pm but it felt like a long old while that he was gone. I had been in and out of sleep for most of the day but I could barely walk without getting bursts of pain in my lower back. By the time he was home, the contractions were about 30-40 minutes apart and they stayed like that for most of the evening. Under the advice of the midwife, we stayed home and waited. Well, up until 11pm when my waters broke (although my husband was adamant that I had just peed myself smh) so we collected a few of the last minute things together and made our way to the bus. Thankfully, as we were living in London, we didn't have to wait long for a bus and arrived at Lewisham Hospital around 11:30pm (although early labour and bumpy bus journeys aren't a combo I would recommend to anyone).

When we arrived, they checked me over and found that I wasn't dilated at all. They were debating telling me to come back later but, as my waters had broken and my contractions were every 15 minutes, they decided I might as well stay. We were put on a ward and had a bed that was sectioned off by a curtain with all the other women waiting to be far enough along to go into the actual birth unit. I didn't like being in this shared ward. I wanted to have my own, private space. Especially as the contractions got more intense, I felt uncomfortable shouting out in pain with other people around hearing me. I was worried of scaring the poor, possibly teenage girl who was on the other side of the curtain and definitely wasn't as far along as I was - or maybe she just handled pain a lot better.

The night and following day are bleary in my memory. I remember being in and out of consciousness. And, when I was awake, I was huffing enough gas and air to tranquilise a horse - and even dragging the gas cannister around the ward with me when they instructed me to get moving to help encourage the labour. I remember Isaac eating every meal they brought me and feeling sick at the smell of food. I vaguely remember someone sitting and praying with us whilst I screamed every swear word known to man. And apparently I called my mum at 2am telling her the baby was coming - little did I know the baby wasn't coming for a good 10 hours.

I remained here until 5pm the following day. Midwives had come and gone but, as my waters were broken, they couldn't check how dilated I was very often in case of infection. But, by 5pm, I felt like I had to start pushing. Everyone was telling me that my baby would be here soon. I was carted off to the labour ward and they told me that I was 3cm dilated. The midwives were super supportive but they said I wouldn't be able to have a water birth which I had considered as they needed to monitor the baby's heart beat since she hadn't grown for a fair while. I was strapped up on the baby heart monitor machine and they said I needed to wake up a bit so they confiscated my beloved gas and air.

The next 6 hours were filled with pushing. Even towards the end, my contractions weren't coming as quickly as they needed to be. They put drips in my arms and kept telling me to push. I pushed but the baby just wasn't coming out. I could feel that everyone was starting to panic. If I reached 24 hours of dry labour, they would have to give me an emergency caesarean. I didn't want a caesarean as I knew Isaac would have to return to work as soon as possible and it would leave me physically unable to care for the baby as much as I would need to. At about 11pm, the doctor came in. The pain was indescribable but I still managed to stand and walk a couple of steps to try to get her moving down. We tried all different positions but the doctor decided that the end of the bed had to be taken off, my feet were put high in stirrups, and he injected my hoo-ha. I think it was general anaesthetic. He coached me how to push and Lord knows I push every part of my body in a mad frenzy to get this baby out. I thought my eyes would pop out, I was pushing so hard. As he reached for the scissors to try to manually extract this baby with some scary instruments, I pushed so hard that I thought every blood vessel in my body would simultaneously explode. The head was out. Thank the Lord above, the head was out. Another push and she was with us. Ava was born. At 11:58pm on 8th November 2017 weighing 5lb 4oz. Her first sight was her father. They passed her to my arms and I remember poking her little chubby cheeks and feeling so relieved that we had both made it through.

My next feeling was hunger. My husband had been trying to feed me throughout the labour which made me feel sick each time. But now I was desperate for food and drink. The midwife brought me toast which I lay there munching as I cuddled my new bubba (christening her in crumbs - sorry, Ava!). I was just so happy that it was over and grateful to everyone who had been involved. The midwives were amazing and gave me so much support - and a little tough love when it was needed. And my husband had been by my side the whole time. I was really grateful for that.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

Christmas Gift Guide: Independent Business Edition

When it comes to buying presents, I usually go where I can find the best deals. Whether that is 3 for 2 in Boots or 20% off on ASOS, I love a bargain. And who can blame me? Christmas can be super expensive and, like most stay-at-home-mums with a minimum wage part-time job, I am on a budget. But this year, I have decided that I want to make a conscious effort to support more local and independent businesses. With all the information surfacing about the effect of fast fashion, it is easy to imagine how much waste Christmas produces too. So, I decided to stop buying an excessive amount of gifts and just give each person one nice, thoughtful gift which they will hopefully cherish a lot more than another Lynx Africa set. 

I may have already bought one of these bottles as a gift for someone but I am very tempted to also pick one up for myself (they do an adorable cherry print one!). But these bottles are great. They keep your water cold for 24 hours or hot for 12 hours and they are so much better for the environment than purchasing plastic bottles every time you get thirsty - they are way cuter than plastic bottles too.

Ella Masters Studio
I feel like almost every British blogger follows Ella Masters and, like me, probably spends way too much time scrolling through her shop wanting to buy everything on there. She recently painted a postcard every day for a year and is now selling a select few - and I just want them all tbh. I love the motivational quote postcards she creates but also her portraits are amazing. She also does pet portraits which is pretty much what every dog mum wants in their life.

Rather excitingly, I am actually an ambassador for this awesome company but it deffo would have made the list even if I wasn't. Voice International is made up of a team of Ugandan women who make beautiful, high quality jewellery. They use materials local to them such as ankole which is an animal byproduct and turn it into beautiful necklaces, earrings, and rings. I love this company because it champions female talent.

Creighton's Chocolaterie is a UK-based, all-female brand that I discovered in my local gift shop - Boka. I fell in love with their fun packaging and even more fun flavours. They have all the Christmas bases covered too. You can get a trifle flavoured chocolate bar (you're already sold, right?) and even a boozy Christmas cake one. They also do vegan chocolate boxes for you saintly people who are looking to make it to the top of the Nice List this year. 

This is another brand I discovered in Boka and fell in love with. They make all sorts of interesting things including glittery socks, velvet makeup bags, and little fabric brooches and pins. Is there anything more extra (or festive) than glittery socks with a big butterfly pinned to it? I need that level of fancy in my life.

So, I had to round this post up with possibly the best gift you could give someone this year - a chocolate covered marshmallow lolly the size of your head. I actually got this as a gift a few years back and I am still thinking about it to this day - it was just that delicious. So, do the right thing and over your friends one of these bad boys and become everyone's favourite person ever.

I hope this post got you in the festive spirit and, if not, reread this and take a shot every time I say 'independent business'. You will very quickly be filled with a great deal of festive cheer.

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