Thursday, 27 March 2014

Lush Face Masks: BB Seaweed v. Oatifix

Yes, I know what you're thinking...another Lush post. But what can I say? I'm a huge fan of their products and I feel there's always something to write about. This is no exception.

I love a good face-mask - they go perfectly with bubble baths, a good read and maybe a cheeky cup of tea (read chocolate biscuit). The ones from Lush just always look divine and almost good enough to eat, so when I picked up Rub Rub Rub I just had to find out more about which mask was best for my skin. 

I was looking for something that would care for my skin, which regularly becomes dry (making any foundation or BB cream hideously flaky) and sometimes blemished. However, I also wanted to be relaxed and pampered. Taking care of your skin should come hand in hand with taking care of your well-being, so naturally I wanted something calming which also smelt delectable.

After a quick browse at the products available, and a chat with one of their lovely employees about what I wanted, I was given two samples to take home and try out.  I thought that this was fantastic - the chance to try before you buy is something which really appeals to me about Lush, as I like to know I'm investing in the right product for me! I always want to make sure I'm buying something which will do me some good.

I was handed two incredibly cute and tiny tubs of face mask, told to store them in the fridge and then come back after I used them. I don't know about you, but isn't everything so much more exciting in miniature?

When I arrived home, I popped them straight into the fridge and waited for the perfect moment to try them out.




I was given a sample of BB Seaweed and Oatifix. I couldn't wait to compare them!

Let the anti-blemish, skin-soothing battle commence.





BB Seaweed

The first mask I tried was BB Seaweed. Made from fresh seaweed, aloe vera, ground almonds, and rose absolute, this mask was born to sooth the skin and to sooth your soul. The moisturising properties of the olive oil and rose absolute guaranteed to soften my dry skin, especially in the T Zone, and the seaweed (harvested locally, no less!) is filled with minerals and vitamins to improve your skin in general. Millet is added to exfoliate, meaning that all of that moisturising can really be felt without the mask's smooth consistency being compromised.

I'll admit, the name didn't fill me with excitement - it's not as tempting as the chocolate face mask, and seaweed is never the first thing you want to touch or smell. However, this really does go to show that you should never judge a beauty product by it's cover (and by that I mean its name and ingredients).

I slathered this all over my face, sank into a warm bubble bath and let it do its work. It was heaven - it smelt gorgeous and was incredibly relaxing - not at all 'seaweedy' as its name might suggest. It was smooth and easy to apply, and dried nicely so that you could tell it was working. My skin afterwards felt amazing too and for the whole week I really felt a difference in my skin. I had no irritation or inflamation and was thoroughly impressed. I instantly wished I had a bigger pot - which is always a good sign!





Oatifix 

I wasn't as apprehensive to try Oatifix  - I'm much more accustomed to oats than seaweed, I think! But after falling in love with BB Seaweed I had very high hopes, and ignored the fact that I felt like I would be rubbing my breakfast all over my face.

Oatifix is a little less exotic; it seemed much more traditional and down to earth - similar to one of those DIY mask recipes you can find on Pinterest. Its main ingredients are bananas, Fair Trade vanilla pods, ground almonds, oatmeal and illipe butter, and it smells quite sweet and a little less strong than BB Seaweed. It did, I admit, smell quite tasty! This is more of an exfoliating mask, which I knew would combat my flaky skin. It wasn't as thick as BB Seaweed, being mainly made up of oaty goodness which seemed to be a little more clumpy.

Unfortunately I chose to try this out when I had a cold; I smoothed it onto my skin and felt in horror that my nose and upper lip were burning. It took a moment to realise that I wasn't allergic, but that I shouldn't have put it on raw, cold-affected skin. Perhaps something to bear in mind in the future! However, again I felt relaxed, and my skin was very happy with the result. It was a bit messier to apply and wash off though, as it was lumpier and therefore a little more prone to just dropping off. It really reminded me of a homemade mask - which is, essentially, what Lush masks are! 


So what's the verdict?

Well, both were lovely. Both times my skin felt smooth, soft and pampered; application was simple (aside from Oatifix's tendency to fall off!) and I really enjoyed using both of them. You certainly don't need to use a lot- these tiny pots covered my face, and they were about the size of a fifty-pence, so when you buy a full pot I can imagine it lasts a long time! Oatifix is a little thinner than BB Seaweed and so the two dry very differently.

I have to admit, however, for me the winner is BB Seaweed. Sorry Oatifix, but you were a little too 'normal' and messy for me. If you like simplicity, and want your skin thoroughly exfoliated, Oatifix is for you. It's a very 'raw' mask and you can tell it's very natural. However, BB Seaweed was something I could not have made in my kitchen. When I visit a restaurant, I always order something I wouldn't make at home, and that's the same with beauty products. BB Seaweed was a little more indulgent. I also have to say that it really, really relaxed me...to the point where I nearly fell asleep in the bath! I was looking for something therapeutic, which could calm my nerves and make me feel better, and BB Seaweed did just that. After using it, I was literally glowing.

I think next time I am in Lush I will be buying a full-sized pot of BB Seaweed to get me through stressful days and to keep my skin looking youthful, glowing and soothed.

I really recommend asking for as much advice as possible if you're not sure what to buy in Lush. Their staff are incredibly helpful and friendly and you'll nearly always come away with something new and delicious which actually works.

Are you a fan of Lush face-masks? What's your favourite?


Jo
xxx
 




Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Sunny Sunday Brunch - Jacobs & Field, Oxford

Sunday Brunch has to be one of my favourite things to do. The thought of taking some time out, relishing the start of the end of the weekend, enjoying a nice cup of tea or a sweet frothy coffee and eating food which is maybe a little more indulgent than usual is just bliss for me. At this time of year, with the sunshine rising earlier and earlier and the sky as blue as can be, scarred only with the wisps of an airplane trail...what more could you ask for?

After our busy Saturday absorbing all there is to see in Oxford, C and I made our way along to Jacobs & Field in Headington to ease ourselves into the Sunday. The sun was already warm, the daffodils were out in full force, and the stone cottages made the morning as gorgeous as can be.

Jacobs & Field is a deli, grocery and coffee house all rolled into one, exuding homely comforts and freshness. It stands on the spot of  The Market Garden, established in 1880, and has seemingly maintained its friendly, welcoming and earthy nature for years and years. It was even voted Best Deli in the South East in 2011.




We grabbed the last table in the tiny courtyard outside, and only took seconds to decide that a classic fry up and cup of tea would be our cure for the tiredness (which had nothing to do with the cocktails we had consumed the night before...honest!).

Jacobs & Field also sell groceries, and the interior of the cafe-come-store is adorned with natural decor and fresh homemade goodies. I had to avoid temptation to postpone my brunch for a spot of shopping, but my stomach had other ideas! With local places such as this I am often wary of being noticed as a 'stranger', not a regular customer. However, I felt very, very welcome and placed my order with ease. The staff were incredibly lovely too.

And the food? Well, the tea was delicious. They served Teapigs teabags, which tasted incredible - and the milk came in teeny tiny milk bottles which were just adorable. The fry up was delicious - the baked beans were clearly home-made and tasted ten times better than the canned variety; the eggs were soft and buttery and everything tasted so fresh. Sometimes a simple fry up can be the best way to start your day, or indeed end your weekend. It's even better when it's not loaded with grease!






Normally I'm a fan of Eggs Benedict, or pancakes, but that morning I wanted no fuss or frills; just good, honest, natural food, and that's what I got. I am so grateful to C for taking me to Jacobs & Field. We left feeling sun-kissed and satisfied, ready to embrace the day. If you're in the area, I can't recommend this place enough (and will be insistent on returning upon my next trip to Oxford!).

Not many things make me happier than brunch with my nearest and dearest, and surely I'm not the only one.

Do you love Sunday Brunch as much as I do?



Jo
xxx
 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Gazing up at Dreaming Spires


I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, 
the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people 
to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera. 
- William Butler Yeats




Last weekend, the weather was warm, the sky was a perfect blue, and I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful buildings I'd ever seen. Immersed in culture, history and academia, I spent two days taking it all in and enjoying the company of one of my closest friends, who I hadn't seen in six months.

I had never been to Oxford but, having been to Cambridge a few times, I was naturally keen to compare these two historic cities. I travelled up from work on Friday evening, and within hours I was with my friend C, and we had already ventured out to the local pub for a glass of Rose...and so the amusement began.

It was a weekend of laughter, food and exploration. Though C had lived in the city for a while now, she still had not experienced it's full cultural potential. So on our first day, after a delicious pub lunch at The Turf Tavern, we went on a free walking tour of the city run by Footprints Tours. I'd been on a tour with them before in Cambridge and loved it, so I couldn't wait to find out more about Oxford in the same way.

Our tour guide, Katie, was fantastic; engaging, passionate, friendly and her knowledge was phenomenal. The tour was as good as I'd hoped it would be (and I thoroughly recommend the company!)

We gazed up at the stonework, the Latin carved into the walls and the intricate architecture. Katie spoke of the enormous libraries, the ritualistic nature of the graduation ceremonies, each of the renowned colleges, and the distasteful and secretive Bullingdon club. We admired the Bridge of Sighs, peeked at the set for a scene in Harry Potter, and made our disgust known when hearing about the late introduction of women into many of the colleges.








I was drawn in with the stories of the city's links with literature; J R R Tolkein, C S Lewis and Lewis Carroll had all been inspired by the city and those residing in it; it truly is a place of grandeur, magic and creativity. The spires which feature in so many tales; the halls which make up the set for Harry Potter; the lamp post which is oh-so-similar to the one found in the forests of Narnia...it was all so magical and surreal, like the pages of a book coming to life. I was in my element.








By the end of the tour I felt satiated with history, facts and respect for the city; and so we retired into a little cafe called The Buttery, on Broad Street, where I indulged in delicious carrot cake and a cup of tea - naturally. It was much needed after two hours of walking!

I recently read a post by Katie (a different Katie, not our tour guide!) on her blog Scarphelia about the appreciation of circumstance.  She talks about the nature of a spontaneous adventure, and how we should make the most of our circumstances. In her eyes, living so close to Europe, with so many countries just a short flight or drive away, we Brits should be making the most of it. It resonated me; why would we not want to take advantage of this? Indeed, the post gave me a huge need to explore, and I've been dreaming of a trip to Europe ever since.

But it got me thinking...there are so many wonderful places here in our little country, often just a hop, skip and a train journey away. Maybe it isn't as sunny, or exotic, or foreign as travelling to Florence or Bern or Budapest...but with so many beautiful sights literally on our doorstep, there's nothing to stop us from spending a short weekend somewhere new, discovering more about our country, and making the most of our rich culture, heritage and breath-taking sights. You don't have to travel hundreds of miles and spend money on flights to have your breath taken away. It's all right here.






 

It's important that we take the chance to see all of these sights; to hear about the history, about the lives of those who made the world what it is today, and to soak up the atmosphere before things change all over again. Our little country is so varied, and it's so much easier to experience for some of us who just don't have much time or money on our hands. A short weekend away to visit a friend can be all you need to see and experience something new.

I can't tell you how in awe I was of Oxford. I truly fell in love with its beautiful winding streets, its connection with literature and its impressively rich academic past. For me, somewhat of an academic at heart, it was a haven. I could have spent hours sitting and watching people pass by, the dreaming spires reaching towards heaven in a way the thoughts of the greats have for hundreds of years.

Jo
xxx
 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Happiness Is...#7

Today is the  International Day of Happiness, and what better way to mark the occasion than with one of my little appreciation posts, looking over the small things which have made me happy over the last week (or so).

As some of you may know, I'm a big advocate for making the most out of life as much as you can. Of course it's hard when you're going through a tough time, or not feeling particularly positive, but focusing on something which made you smile can really make a difference to your day! This is why I write these regular posts - to remind myself and my readers that small things can make a big difference, and to ensure that you have as many of these moments as possible.

What's been making me happy recently?




I took some time out of my lunch hour last week to attend a careers panel for the creative industries, focusing on writing, journalism and publishing. It was a fantastic couple of hours, and really inspired me. Although I am employed at the moment, I feel I should always be pushing myself to experience as much as possible within my job, and as a recent graduate it's great to open my eyes to everything that's out there! I never know what I might find. I'm thinking a lot about my future at the moment and it does worry me sometimes, but panels like this which all the fear away and really make you feel that you can achieve anything you want to.

I stopped for a cheeky white wine spritzer after work with a friend last week - my days are becoming quite monotonous, so it was great to change it up, have a chat and relax for five minutes. Nothing like a mid-week treat, especially in one of my favourite restaurants.

Spring has well and truly sprung, and one of the best things about this time of year are the flowers and, in particular, daffodils. I almost find them more cheerful than sunflowers, and they really brighten my day and remind me of my childhood, when I used to pick them from our garden and pop them around the house. They're everywhere at the moment, and I just can't resist taking photos of them.

I went to Oxford last weekend (I'll be posting a few more posts on this soon!) and it was absolutely beautiful. Not only did I get to spend a few days with one of my closest friends, but I learned so much about the history and architecture of the city. It is truly beautiful, and a very special city. I hope to go back there again.

Whilst in Oxford, I ate. A lot. And as many of you may know, food makes me happy! On the Sunday we went for a delicious, completely home-made brunch, followed by an indulgent cream tea at Patisserie Valerie. As I said, I'll be writing more in this later, but this really is an example of how good food and good company really put a smile on my face.

Happy International Day of Happiness everyone. What's been making you happy recently? Share with me in the comments - or send links to similar posts you've written! I'd love to read them.


Jo
xxx
 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Cream Tea in the Orchard

Imagine finding a little peaceful nook in amongst the busy modern life, where you can sit back surrounded by trees covered in blossom, read a book, sip on cordials and indulge in a cream tea with sweet jams and thick Cornish clotted cream. The deckchair you are sitting in creaks as you lean back, the dark green fabric moulding itself to your shape and allowing you to completely relax your body for once. Happy children play in the grass, friends chat and take photos around you, and you close your eyes and feel the early spring breeze sweep over your skin.



This is how I spent one Saturday afternoon this March, a couple of weeks ago.

After a lazy start to my weekend in Cambridge, we decided to embrace the warmer weather and to go for a walk to a small place recommended by a friend. It was a gorgeous day, and as we made our way through the city of Cambridge and along the river, I took in the spectacular architecture of the buildings, watching locals and tourists punting on the water. We wandered along small quaint country lanes and past the cutest cottages, until we found ourselves in fields, dodging the odd family dog and balancing along cattle grids. The air smelt fresh, the sunshine dispersed with cooling winds, and I felt peaceful, happy that spring had finally come and enjoying the freedom of the weekend.




We eventually found ourselves in a small place called Grantchester, at a place called The Orchard.

The Orchard is a famous little haven just outside of the city of Cambridge, well known amongst residents and the student population. Its website describes it as a 'corner of England where time stands still' and that is exactly what it is. You walk through a small gate to find a secluded area away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. A small cluster of buildings are situated at the edge of a little orchard where dark green deckchairs are scattered beneath the branches. Families, friends and lovers sip on tea, refresh themselves with cordials and indulge in delicious sandwiches and cakes, all in the same spot where numerous men and women of fame and fortune have relaxed before them over the decades.

The Orchard has, in fact, been host to many famous faces over the years. A  tea house unwittingly created in 1897, it attracted many literary greats after Richard Brooke wrote a poem about it, as one of his favourite places. Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes all sat beneath the branches of the orchard and, in more modern times, John Cleese, Stephen Fry and Stephen Hawking have all taken tea in that very same spot.

I couldn't imagine a better location for afternoon tea, especially for an ex-English student!

We settled down with our giant fruit scones, Cornish clotted cream and adorable pots of jam into the deckchairs beneath wiry, wizened fruit trees. It was busy, but not so we were unable to find a space, and the garden area was full of life. The cream tea itself was delicious - nothing beats fresh cream and jam, and I washed mine down with a delightful raspberry lemonade. It was just what I needed after a long walk in the spring sunshine!




In that moment in the orchard, with the first spring air and life all around me, I felt genuinely happy and at peace with the world.

If you want to find out a little more about The Orchard at Grantchester, you can find it all on their website. There is so much more to their history, and I urge you to take a look and read all about the great story behind its humble beginnings.

If you're ever in the area, or are having a weekend in Cambridge, I urge you to take a moment to walk to The Orchard and enjoy a break in a true English paradise. It's the perfect place to take some time out, spend a moment with a loved one, or even take a second to be by yourself.

It's official, spring is here!

What have you been enjoying most about spring's arrival?

Jo
xxx
 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Making Sorted's Chicken & Chorizo Pie

I've been a big fan of Sorted ever since my second year at university.

Their inspiring, innovative and delicious recipes are always a sure-fire win with me, and I've made a few of their dishes over the last few years. My favourites include their Jambalaya (I really, really recommend you try it!) and Stroganoff, which I made for my whole house in my Third Year of university. I even interviewed them for my university student magazine, which went down a storm!  However, since I started following their work, they've gone from strength to strength and there are so many meals, desserts and treats I have yet to try. My 'to cook' list is growing quickly.

I'm not the most confident of cooks, but I find their recipes easy to follow and really inspiring - the think I love the most is that they focus on fresh ingredients - no ready-made sauces or packet mixes here! It's the perfect way to earn how to cook.

So, naturally, when I was looking for a meal to cook on Valentine's Day last month, I headed over to their website and trawled through their recipes, suppressing my own hunger and trying to find the perfect meal. Could I master Moroccan chicken? Singapore Noodles? Or perhaps a classic Beef Bourginon?

Then I saw it. It was simple, sounded delicious, and would test my skills a little. It also combined one of my favourite foods with my boyfriend's favourite ingredients - what could be better?

If I had to pick one last meal before I died, the likelihood would be that I would choose pie. Pie has always been one of my ultimate comfort foods, sweet or savoury. In a similar vein, my boyfriend can't resist a bit of chorizo, especially since our trip to Spain a  few years back... so when I saw the recipe for Chicken and Chorizo Puff Pasty Pie, I knew I had found The One.




This is the final result...but I want to share my experience of cooking my first ever savoury pie!

I just had to share this recipe with you all; I won't be posting it on here, as it's not mine and I want Sorted to get all the credit. You can find the recipe over on Sorted's website here.

I found the recipe really, really easy to follow. I got myself organised; chopping all the ingredients up so that all I had to do was follow the rest of the recipe with ease - something I recommend doing if, like me, you're a fan of getting organised and you're a novice chef!




I found all the ingredients easy to find, and loved the fact that I had left-over leeks and runner beans which I added to meals later in the week - it's a great way of changing routine.

The recipe, after my preparation, was all very straightforward, and I didn't have any mix-ups or problems. Since there were only two of us, I guessed the quantities to make a slightly smaller pie; this still left us with leftovers, however, which my housemates enjoyed immensely!




I also loved the fact that there was no shame in using pre-made pastry. Puff pastry is a pain to make and I've only just mastered simple pastry, so this shortcut made it even more simple and has reassured me that making a pie really isn't as scary as it seems. All you need is a filling, and a roll of pastry to place carefully over the top.




Pies allow for a little decoration too, so I loved making my pie relevant to Valentine's Day, adding little hearts and cute twists to provide the finishing touches. The key is in presentation, and as a perfectionist and a creative soul I like my food to at least look great, even if I'm not confident on the taste.




One thing I will say is be careful about where you put the pie in the oven. The pastry rose so much that it hit the next 'level' of the oven and I had to move it down - just leave plenty of space for it to rise and puff up!

Once it had cooked, the pie came out beautifully golden, soft and rich. The flavours went so well together, and I just couldn't get over how good it tasted! I would never have put leeks and runner beans with chorizo, but everything combined so well and it was incredibly moreish. I would have happily ordered it at a restaurant - but thanks to Sorted, I was able to make it on my own! My boyfriend loved it too, and I now plan to make it again for my family when I visit home over Easter. I may even put a twist on the ingredients, trying out different combinations. I am sure this would make a fantastic chicken and mushroom pie, or even turkey and bacon.







Let me know if you end up making this; I'd love to know how you got on. I cannot recommend this recipe enough! 

Jo
xxx
 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bangers at Bill's, Cambridge

I've been eyeing up the menu at Bill's for weeks. Their delicious-looking breakfasts and diving main courses are plastered all over Instagram accounts and twitter feeds, and their praises sung on many of my favourite blogs. So when I was in Cambridge last weekend, where else could I go for dinner?

After a wonderful day of walking around in the spring sunshine, beneath blossom-coated trees and among the daffodils (a la Wordsworth, naturally) I found myself heading towards Bill's in Cambridge, my stomach rumbling and ready to be treated to a delicious dinner.

We stepped inside and were shown to our seats after a mere five minutes wait; excellent for early on a Saturday evening!




The restaurant was quirky and exciting, and had a fantastic atmosphere which immediately made me feel as though I was in for an excellent evening. I fell in love with it instantly; the walls were lined with chalkboards covered in recipes, brightly coloured jars of jam and marmalade, and a delightful array of groceries which I just couldn't keep my eyes off, including some lovely looking french cordials and amaretto biscuits. It was bustling, busy and vibrant, and I felt incredibly welcome and very, very happy.




It didn't take long for me to decide my meal of choice. Usually, I spend forever poring over the menu, tempted by the many options catching my eye. However, as soon as I was handed the Specials menu, my eyes rested on one dish, and I settled there and then:

Bill's Bangers 'n' Mash, char-grilled Cumberland sausages with 
a goats' cheese mash, onion gravy and crispy onion rings.

Now, who on earth could resist that?! I'm not normally one for opting for a meat dish, and I don't eat a lot of pork, but this absolutely screamed comfort food. If any of you reading this know me well, you will know I can't resist mashed potato... and when paired with goats' cheese? Well...my mouth is watering again at the thought!

I also ordered a glass of house white (I'm not picky with wines, and the house wine sounded fruity, which is just what I like) and settled back to enjoy the atmosphere. My boyfriend ordered their 'Sugar and Spice' marinated half chicken, which also sounded divine (and was my back-up option) and we also asked for a bowl of olives. The menu was extensive and unique, and there was something for everyone - I could imagine that this would be a great place to come with a big group of friends!

Bill's offer a range of groceries, which all look delicious, and hark back to its humble beginnings as a grocery store. You're able to order your shopping while you eat too, with a small leaflet allowing you to select your choices; a member of staff will collect your order form and gather your groceries while you eat, delivering them to you at the end and the cost is just added to your bill. I thought this was a brilliant idea and had to stop myself from ordering the entire wall next to our table - maybe next time!




Unfortunately, our olives never arrived... but the main meals were served very quickly and we had no time to mourn our loss! Thankfully, the waitress was very kind, apologised for her mistake, and deducted it from our bill. These things happen, and I was too excited about my main meal that I didn't mind at all! There was no fuss, and we barely had to wait anyway.

Now, I warn you...the photos don't make it look especially appetising, but I really have to say that this was one of the best, most indulgent servings of Bangers and Mash I've ever had. I could have eaten it twice, or thrice over!




Trust me, it looked even better in real life and tasted like heaven.

I am not the biggest fan of sausages, but these were incredibly tasty and of a high quality - no nasty bits of gristle or fat, with a fantastic herby taste. The mashed potato was absolute heaven. I would never have thought to put goats' cheese in mash, with a little bit of leek, but it worked so well and I will definitely be trying it myself! 

I also had it on good authority that the 'Sweet and Spicy' chicken was delicious too, as were the sweet potato fries which accompanied it. Ok, I'll admit, I had to have a little taste - but I wasn't going to say no! The chicken was dreamy - not dry at all, and succulent with excellent taste.

Our meals finished, we declined the pudding menu, finished our wine, and (after paying the bill of course!)  headed out into a fresh spring evening to walk home with a tub of frozen yoghurt from a new frozen yoghurt shop called Chill.





I've given up chocolate for lent, so I chose cherry yoghurt topped with honeycomb and raspberries. It was tasty, but I don't think it was worth the £4 I ended up paying - still, it satisfied my sweet tooth! I think, however, I'll be sticking to Snog or Pinkberry.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day, and I'm currently counting down the days / weeks / months until I can head back for one of Bill's breakfasts. I can definitely see why it's so popular! Fortunately Bill's are all over the place, especially in London, and restaurants are always being opened in new locations.

You can find menus, locations and grocery items on Bill's website HERE.

Jo
xxx
 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Happiness is...#6

Life seems to be running away with me at the moment; I spend my days at work, weekends on trains visiting loved ones and evenings are spent at the gym, food shopping or catching up with friends (it's a bit of a problem when you live at least an hour away from most of your friends and family!) So I just haven't had a chance to let it all sink in, let alone write some posts about it! But I promise to get back to normal soon. After all, I'd rather take my time and write better content than just churn out any old rubbish just to hit self-made deadlines. Quality over quantity, right?

Anyway, I'm going to have a quick look at what's been making me happy over the last fortnight. It's another way of making sure that I realise life is wonderful, especially when I am having a bad day or two. Noticing the little things which make you smile is just another way to look after your wellbeing, and to keep you happy - no matter how simple or silly!

So, what's been bringing a smile to my face recently?


I decided to treat myself to a couple of spring items to jazz up my wardrobe. I bought a midi navy blue skirt and a very pretty burgundy oriental kimono shrug, as well as a pair of gorgeous heeled sandals, all from Primark. I can't wait to wear them all in warmer weather!

Have you tried the Love Bar Latte from Pret a Manger recently? It's basically a caramel coffee biscuit in a mug, and tastes as good as it sounds. I enjoyed mine during a little coffee break while shopping with my housemate. Delicious.

I enjoyed a blissful bright pink bath and face-mask one evening last week. It might sound simple but it's a proven favourite with fellow bloggers!

It was obviously Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) last week too, and I indulged in two topping flavours; blueberries and strawberries with melted dark chocolate, and (of course!) lemon and sugar! I ate four in total but I did have to stop myself. I'm thinking that pancakes are too good to be eaten annually...am I right?

I started reading Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project and absolutely love it so far. Watch out for a review on here once I'm finished.

Spring sprung suddenly this weekend, and I was able to fully appreciate it when I was in Cambridge; there were blossom and daffodils everywhere, and I even enjoyed a cream tea in an orchard. I'll be blogging about this soon too!

What's been making you happy recently?


Jo
xxx
 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Falling in Love with Yourself - Blogger's Advice

In my last post on this subject, I opened up about the importance of giving yourself a little TLC; being kinder to yourself, and focusing on your own wellbeing. This post is a little simpler, but I think a little advice goes a long way, so I hope you enjoy it!

In this fast-paced, frantic life it is becoming more and more important to make time to indulge in making yourself happy, even if it means just taking five minutes out of your day to focus on what you want, rather than aiming to please everybody else. Being a little selfish (and notice I say a little) isn't always such a bad thing.


This got me thinking - how do other bloggers make sure they are looking after themselves properly? How do they comfort themselves, relax, and make sure that they are mentally and physically relaxed? In a world seemingly revolving around beauty products, skincare, candles and retail therapy, surely these creative souls have a few tricks up their sleeves.



I asked a few of my favourite bloggers this question:


And this is how they responded:


'I like a hot bath, with a fancy (overpriced) bath-bomb, a couple of candles, and a favourite YouTuber on my iPad, with an added face mask and hair mask. I follow this with a manicure and a fresh fake tan! If you look good, it helps you to feel good too!'


'Every Thursday I have a pamper evening and each month I make sure I treat myself to something new, either clothes or something for the house!'




'Eating fresh food, going for walks, drinking more water, soaking in the bath, listening to music and reading a book!'


'Disney playlists, catching up on my favourite blogs, herbal tea, knitting, using the sewing machine and listening to folk music!'


'I scrapbook, listen to London Grammar, turn off my phone, paint...maybe just being true to what I stand for and who I am.'


'I think it's important to set realistic goals for yourself and celebrate any achievement, now matter how small. Eat well and allow yourself time to rest and sleep without worry; you'll benefit from the TLC. Meditation can help before bed, and I always feel revitalised after a pamper session, a hot bath can mend a broken heart!'


'I make sure I spend time each day cuddling my cat, Darcy. Although it doesn't feel good at the time, I also try and bike daily; I feel good for it afterwards! I also make sure I spend time doing nothing with my fiancee, and reward myself with my favourite TV shows!'


'On a Thursday after work I have a long bath and read a book or magazine. Sometimes I'll use a bath bomb and I'll always want to fall asleep in the bath! After that I'll put on a face mask and paint my nails. It's become a bit of a routine!'


'I think making sure I have some me-time works really well - chilling out in a hot bath with a face mask on!'


'My boyfriend gave me the tip of always setting aside an hour a day of 'me time' doing something that I enjoy, this is normally scrolling through my favourite blogs or reading with a cup of tea.

I do think that waking up in the morning the right way is also really important. I've challenged myself to not check my phone/emails as soon as I wake up and instead to do a spot of yoga and practicing of mindfulness; which involves setting myself goals for the day and acknowledging what I want to achieve and also what I'm thankful for.

I think that in order to look after yourself you must start from within, and everything else will fall into place!'



Hopefully this advice will give you new ideas for relaxing and having some time to yourself; whether you're enjoying a face mask in a hot bath (a very popular choice!) or dancing erratically to the soundtrack from  Frozen. Just make sure that you fall in love with yourself first.

If you want to find out more about the lovely bloggers featured in this post, their images are all linked to their blogs. Happy reading!

What do you do to show yourself some love?



Jo
xxx
 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

REVIEW: 'The Silver Linings Playbook' by Matthew Quick

When The Silver Linings Playbook was released in the cinema, I was keen to see it. As usual, however, time ran away with me, funds ran dry, and I never managed to go. Then the DVD went into my basket on Amazon, waiting to be bought. But, yet again, funds were low and I never got round to ordering it.

Then I received the book by Matthew Quick for my birthday in November, as a gift from my sister, who knows me so well! I couldn't wait to get my teeth into it, and vowed not to watch the film until I had read the book - as usual, the thought that adaptations of books into films are somewhat disappointing lingered in my mind.



So, for those of you unfamiliar with the story, let me introduce it to you.

Pat Peoples is from New Jersey, and worked as a History Teacher whilst living with his wife Nicki ... until he suffered severe brain trauma, and spent years in hospital in recovery. It seems that Pat also suffers from Bipolar Disorder, and so this novel is a keen insight into the world of Mental Health.

The novel follows Pat's struggle with the changes in his life since the incident. As the book continues, we learn more and more about what happened to Pat, his past, and the people around him. Because of this,everything starts to fall into place, and as observers of Pat's life we begin to see the reasons for his often absurd actions.

Pat believes in silver linings; in all things bad being followed by something worthwhile, and that if he lives life right by exercising regularly, and reading the right books, God will reward him with what he wants. I'm a firm believer in not giving away anything in my book reviews, so I won't say much more! But his life, in his mind, is a film; and this, for me, is what made the book so special.

Not only is it a candid insight into the mind of someone struggling with severe mental health problems, but the concept that life is like a film stuck with me long after turning the final page. The imagery used in the film, and the structure of the plot, make the book itself very filmic - it seems that Pat's views are not just embedded within the plot, but are within the form the plot itself.

It's something I've often thought about - the idea of leading your life as a film. I mean in a sense that, when you re-live moments or think back on your behaviour, you can view it as you would on the big screen; to ensure that everything you do would be worthy of a soundtrack, a red carpet, and maybe even an Oscar. This doesn't mean every moment has to be outstanding, dramatic, or momentous. But for you, it needs to be memorable. Unfortunately for Pat, this means a guaranteed happy ending just the way he wants it - but we all know life isn't always like that.

The Silver Linings Pat discovers are not always what you think they will be - they're not always obvious, and they may not occur when you expect them to. But they are, in the end, always there.

The book completely drew me in, leaving me wanting more. Having managed to avoid any 'spoilers' before reading, I was shocked at some of the revelations that emerged as the story went on. It was intriguing, since so many secrets were kept. We were able to react along with Pat when revelations were made. I loved this book, and will definitely be reading it again - I am also looking forward to watching the film, as I can't wait to see what they change, what they leave a lone, and how they portray the unique characters.

I thoroughly recommend reading this book. If you see it in a bookshop, grab it, sit down and immerse yourself. You won't regret it. I'm aware this review isn't the most in depth, revealing, or eloquent, but it's one of my favourite books, and I just can't do it justice.

Have you ever read Silver Linings? Let me know what you thought in the comments.




Jo
xxx
 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lush Cosmetics: 'Veganese' Conditioner

After waxing lyrical to my Mum about my recent Lush purchase, Rub Rub Rub, I went home last weekend (for a little break) to a Lush bag sitting on my bed.

Inside was a tiny bottle of Lush's 'Veganese' Conditioner - a little treat and my first hair-care product from the company! I was so touched and couldn't wait to try it out, as I'm still utterly head-over-heels for anything Lush related (can you tell?)

'Veganese' is a lightweight conditioner which is designed to nourish hair 'without weighing it down'. It's not a heavy, overly creamy conditioner or an intensive mask, but instead nourishes hair, gives it shine and makes it healthy without coating it in too much product. It's ingredients include lavender, rosemary, seaweed and lemon - not scents I would usually put together, but this little bottle smells heavenly - fresh, clean and soothing.




With its promise of lightweight shine and a soothed scalp, I was instantly sold. I have struggled with a sensitive scalp from a young age, and it flares up with anxiety or poor maintenance, so this sounded like just what it needed. Sensitive scalp shampoos can be too medicinal for my liking, and despite my religious use of Neutrogena's T Gel when I have my 'episodes', sometimes it just feels like it doesn't do anything to soothe my poor head.

On my first morning back at home, after waking up to glorious sunshine after a night's sleep which you only ever get in your own bed,  I jumped in the shower, got lathered up, and reached for this little pot of goodness.

The first thing that struck me was how runny it was. This is due to my previous point about it being lightweight and not overwhelmingly thick. It surprised me, and I felt the need to put on more than I probably needed. I'm so used to thick conditioners! Now that's I've used it once I'll be able to judge the quantity I should be using a little easier.

Despite it's runny consistency, it felt rich in its own right. I smoothed it over my hair, working it between strands with my finger tips and left it for a few minutes as I washed myself.  It was very easy to wash out (as I expected) and I could instantly feel that my hair was softer and easier to manage - it didn't feel like I had any leftover product in there. I think this may be the best conditioner to use if you're trying to reduce the product build-up in your hair, or you want to give your scalp a detox without compromising on shine and nourishment!

It was a joy to blow dry after using 'Veganese', and after using some of Liz Earle's Nourishing Hair Oil on my damp hair before styling, it felt incredibly soft, healthy and looked very shiny. Granted, this was helped by the hair oil,  but the two combined  worked well and now my hair feels soft and weightless. It just goes to prove that natural ingredients can work like a dream!

I'm really looking forward to  integrating it into my hair-care routine. I used it again a few days later without extra product and my hair still felt soft and easy to manage, so it seems perfect for regular use - perhaps a must-have for those who wash their hair really regularly. It states that it is kind, gentle and simple to use, and my hair and scalp definitely seem to agree!

Do you use any of Lush's haircare products? Which are your favourite?



Jo
xxx
 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

January and February Favourites

Ok, I'll admit it; the last two months have run away with me. I've been a bad, inconsistent blogger and I never got round to writing a January Favourites post. I know, I know - terrible stuff. But this does mean you get a double dose of favourites in a combined January and February Favourites post! What fun!

So what have I been loving over the last two months?



Soap & Glory Thick & Fast Mascara

I bought this in a Soap & Glory eye set in the January Sales and have been using it every single day since. Whilst I don't think it's my favourite mascara of all time (I think I'll be trying a new one soon so any recommendations are welcome!) it does a great job and my lashes do look thick, dark and pretty good after using it! There have been no major issues with this one, and I like it a lot so I'd recommend it if you're looking to try something new. One of my favourite recent makeup purchases, for sure. Soap & Glory haven't let me down yet!

Disaronno Amaretto

This is a bit of a different one. Anyone who knows me will also know I'm not a huge drinker. I rarely drink, and when I do I like my alcohol sweet. This has been my go-to drink for a few years now, and it has become a tradition for my friend C and I to drink this whenever we go to the pub together! I love it - it has an almond-y taste, quite like marzipan, and I normally have it with coke or cranberry juice. It also goes very well in cocktails - my housemate introduced me to Amaretto Sours which are divine! I was given this bottle as a Christmas present and have only used it once so far so this will last me a long time! It's just a nice, adult treat - of course, not one for those under 18!

For the record, I feel like I should just state that I do not endorse underage drinking or excessive drinking and all alcohol should be consumed in moderation!

Nakd snacks

If you haven't discovered these already, you have to try them! Nakd produce healthy, raw snacks for those of us with a horrendous sweet tooth. It's a great way to get nutrients into your diet and to get an energy kick without devouring processed, sugary and unhealthy treats! Their bars are dairy, gluten and wheat free and contain only natural ingredients. Their infused raisins are pretty amazing too! My favourite bars include Pecan Pie, Gingerbread and Banana Bread flavour, and their Cola infused raisins are a great natural alternative to Haribo Cola Bottles! I cannot get enough of them.A great way to still enjoy sweet snacks when you're keeping healthy. I know a few supermarkets stock them in their health aisles, along with GF and Lactose free products.

Yankee Candle in Vanilla Chai

I've already raved about this candle before so I'll keep this short and sweet - it's amazing, sweet and spicy and the scent lingers in my room for days. Heaven. I've been burning this nearly every day!

Paul Smith Floral 

This was the first perfume I ever owned and it's still a favourite. Floral  contains a mixture of floral scents  mixed with zesty, fruity notes to create a really fresh, sweet perfume - perfect for day and night. It's not sickly but is a scent which instantly perks you up and brightens your day and, dare I say it, is perfect for spring! It contains fragrances including orange, grapefruit, ginger, magnolia and orchid and I find it irresistible. It's been a staple on my dressing table for years and I was recently given another bottle as a gift because you can't always find it in shops - it seems to be occasionally elusive! I really recommend this if you're looking for a new perfume. I've been wearing it every day for weeks now.

Lush's Rub Rub Rub

I'll keep this short and sweet too, since I've already reviewed this. It's my favourite body scrub, smells scrumptious and makes my skin feel wonderful. Can't say a bad word about it! A bi-weekly essential. 

Schwarzkopf Got2B Oil-licious Tame & Shine Styling Oil

This is my latest haircare addition and it's fast become one of my must-haves. There are SO many hair oils out there and I never know what to buy when I go looking for one - however this was cheap at the time (I got it for £3!) and I wanted to try a new brand - something that hadn't been over-reviewed online. I've got to say I'm not a fan of the name - it's almost a little childish for my taste and anything with numbers instead of letters turns me off (is that just me? It makes me cringe!) , but I'm glad I didn't let that stop me from buying it. I use if after I wash my hair when it's still damp and my hair feels so so soft and shiny once blow-dried! My hair becomes manageable and silky without looking greasy. This product has Argan oil in it too, so you know it will work. One to check out if you're looking for a new nourishing treatment. I might even review it in full on here, if you're interested.

 Music

I've been using the online playlist site 8Tracks for months, after I discovered it while I was working on my dissertation. Since then I've been using it to discover new music and I've had THIS playlist on loop for weeks now. Sure, it's a bit of a sickly title, but there are some really good tracks on it and it's a great soundtrack for blogging. I am a particular fan of a Carla Bruni and Beach House track, but there are too many to choose from. The site is a great way to discover new music so I really recommend checking it out.

Film & Television

I watched Tangled for the first time two weeks ago and adored it! I'm going to see Frozen today too so I'm hoping it's equally as good. I have also been loving the return of My Mad Fat Diary on E4 and First Dates on Channel 4, which are two programmes I'll never miss. My Mad Fat Diary is so much better than the adverts let on - it's really tackles issues about mental health in an easy-to-understand but often hard-hitting way. Plus, the nineties music throughout each episode is amazing.  It's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, and I love to watch it on a Monday night with my housemate and a hot cup of decaf tea.


So there you go! I'm looking forward to seeing what I discover in March.

Let me know what you've been loving in the comments below, or if you like any of my favourites too.



Jo
xxx