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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, and consuming with a conscience

December 27, 2017

Looking Back on 2017

(Image: David Youll Photography)

Come on now gang, you knew a post like this was coming. Last year, I shared numerous "favourite" posts covering my top picks of my lifestyle, personal style, and photography posts from 2O16 and it was really nice to reflect on what I had enjoyed sharing with you and what I was proud of either content-wise or photography/editing-wise. But this year I thought I'd change tact as Northern Blood has gone through a lot of change since this time last year.

I've really enjoyed some of my content this year and feel extremely happy and proud with some posts I've published. I feel like my blog hasn't necessarily changed direction, but it's become more true to me in some ways - I've always enjoyed beauty, fashion, and lifestyle -general blogs and knew I wanted to be involved in those topics when writing my own blog, but I also felt there was something missing. I'm still not entirely sure what that "missing" thing could be categorised as, but I'm pleased as punch to publish more personal posts about anything and everything from feminism, to body positivity, to discussing anxiety... It all feels like a truer, more well-rounded reflection of me and that can never be a bad thing. Blogging is very much a hobby for me and I've found discussing these more "touchy" topics has helped keep that hobby and interest alive.

With that being said, I did take a wee break from blogging from September-November - why? Well, I just didn't know what direction I wanted everything to go in. Everything was starting to feel stale or forced and that's why I took a step back to assess how I was blogging and why it just wasn't floating my boat anymore. I realised having a strict schedule to stick to was good for my organisational side, but was damaging my creativity. It was leaving me publishing content that wasn't particularly well thought-out or even that fun to write and that needed to change. I needed to get the passion injected back into my writing. After a break, a blog makeover, and some time to consider what I wanted to write, I came back in mid November, full of fresh new ideas and ready to get back at it. But for now, here's some of my favourite posts I've written throughout 2O17 that are favourites either because of the response and engagement I've received from you lovely lot, because I mustered up and uncovered a mix of emotions writing them, or simply just because I can look back on them now and still stand by my words and feel pleased with what I wrote. There's a total mixed bag:

Real Talk: Let's Stop Body Shaming
One of my first Real Talk posts of 2O17 was about body shaming. This is still something I feel many of us are fighting against in a variety of ways and it seems we're all going through a long ol' slug to be more inclusive and loving of everyone and how they look. This post was a biggie for me to write because I often feel as a slim young white female, my voice isn't as valid as others on this topic however, that doesn't mean I don't share many good values when it comes to body positivity and acceptance and that's where I wanted to share my own experiences and thoughts and help educate myself first and foremost.

Save the Bees
This post was the first kind of inkling I had that I wanted to start talking more about the environment or being eco-friendly and sustainable on NB. Bees are one of my favourite animals and you guys they are so so important in our world. I really enjoyed writing this one as it felt like such a "true to me" topic and was also incredibly fun to further research as I of course, wanted to educate myself as much as I can in order to put together a hopefully coherent post!

A Coffee Date with 16-Year-Old Me
A post that was incredibly fun to write and even more bloody nostalgic was this one covering what I would say to 16 year old me. Being 26 now, I feel like a hell of a lot has changed in me and my outlook on many many things and it was just nice to sit down and genuinely consider what I would say to shy and timid 16 year old Amyleigh if given the chance. It was an awfully fun one to write but it also was a bit emotional and really humbling to analyse how much I've grown as a person and how much more secure I am in myself now.

Saying Goodbye to Fast Fashion
Something else I've been pretty proud of this year is curbing my spending on fast fashion. I realised I spent a lot of my free time scrolling endlessly on fashion sites, buying lots of clothes I didn't need or then even end up wearing, and it just wasn't fulfilling. Before anyone blasts me, I'm not saying you cannot enjoy those things, I just realised for me personally I was using shopping to try and fill a void and it wasn't working. So I curbed my fast fashion spending, pledging to buy only second hand or vintage if I wanted a new item (unless I actually couldn't find what I needed and it was something I needed in a certain time frame). I'm pleased to say I'm still very much working on this and have cut out *so much* spending. Researching the harm fast fashion has on the planet and our people also made me want to switch to slow fashion living and I cannot see me turning back in future.

Me and My Other Interests: Graphic Novels
Very much a slow burner of a series, my Me & My Other Interests posts have given me the opportunity to include various things I like that don't always necessarily tie in with my other content. One such post I really enjoyed sharing was the one covering my love for graphic novels and comics. Although graphic novels sometimes feature in my book review posts, I've never really had the chance to go in to detail properly as to why I love comics/graphic novels so much. This just gave me an outlet to passionately share my love for them and why my favourites are some of my favourites.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Living with Anxiety
Mental health is something I tried to talk about much more in 2O17 as it's something that effects most people on some sort of level and I think the best way to help each other is to openly talk about our experiences as it can be supportive and help people try ideas and coping strategies that they may never have thought of and it also can just be a comfort to know others are going through the same things. Therefore when it was Mental Health Awareness Week, I shared what it's like having my anxiety - particularly my social anxiety - and how it can be difficult to juggle it with maintaining healthy relationships/friendships/work life etc.. It was very refreshing to write and felt like a weight off my shoulders.

The Novice Guide to Going Cruelty Free
Another big change I made this year was switching to cruelty free for my makeup/skincare/haircare/home cleaning products. This was something I had wanted to do for a long time but struggled with kickstarting the transition as I felt people would judge me as I still eat meat. Fast forward to now though and I'm so pleased I finally made the jump as I feel it reflects my ethics so much more and I'm so much more reserved with my spending. I pay more attention to whether I want or need a product, I pay attention to it's packaging and whether or not it can be recycled, and I just feel I'm doing my small part of looking after things that I think are important. Writing this novice guide gave me a chance to share with you all the hard parts about changing to cruelty free lifestyles within the beauty realm in particular, and hopefully helped motivate or inspire some of you to either make the same transition or at least research it further.

Sometimes it's Hard to be a Woman
This post was one of those ones when I felt all fired up about the topic and knew I wanted to share my thoughts and frustrations but didn't really know how to go about it. So I pretty much ended up just writing for hours, posting it straight away, and then sat back and was relieved to see some of you share my frustrations and wanted to talk about it too. I will always be proud to say I'm feminist and I've realised that I've shied away from saying it in the past purely because I've been worried about everyone assuming that I mean I'm a man-hating angry feminist and whilst that may be true sometimes, for the most part, I'm just frustrated with the shitty deal women tend to get in society. This post let me vent and voice those rambles in a not so coherent but very "having a very heavy chat with your pal in a coffee shop for hours" vibe and I'm not totally against that.

* * * * *
I don't know if it's big headed to say, but I feel that I could share a few more posts in more depth that I'm pleased to have created and shared with you all, but I'll just list some honourable mentions here too so this post a) doesn't go on for days and b) I can still fit my own head through the door:
Me and My Other Interests: Art - Another chance to share an interest that I hold so close to my heart
Buffalo Soldier - The one & only fashion post to make "the favourite posts" cut.
Real Talk: Please Date Yourself - Discussing something that I think is very important and all of us (including myself) need to do more & more
"Have You Tried Doing Yoga? - My first (and probably only) "fitness" post to just spread the word about how fab I think yoga can be
Real Talk: Let's Talk About Sex, Baby - Another "Real Talk" post that I was a proud wee feminist lady to write and ramble about
Real Talk: Sexual Assault & Harassment - I guess I just really liked the "Real Talk" posts this year, but this one in particular helped me connect with so many individuals via Twitter & email that I couldn't not include it. It's also an incredibly important topic
* * * * *

Looking back on my 2O17 is actually unfathomable for me in many ways. When I think back to this time last year, I was absolutely hating the profession I had worked so hard to get into and was on the verge of seeking help for depression brought on by it. I wasn't enjoying my job, so much so, that on this exact day a year ago, it genuinely crossed my mind more than a few times to just barricade myself at my mam's house and refuse to go back down south to my home and to my life because I wanted to avoid work at all costs. Now sat here on the tail end of 2O17, I've switched jobs (which was a terrifying move to make) and I couldn't possibly enjoy my current job any more than I do. December marks 10 months for me in this role and whilst that's not particularly long, it's been the best 10 months I've ever experienced when it comes to the past 10 years I've been employed.

Also you know, huge sidenote, but I kinda bought a house? I know I know, no one is more shocked about it than me (still) as it's something growing up that I never really cared about. Since the age of 11 I've lived in rented properties and coming from a very working class background, buying houses just isn't a norm I've been surrounded by. So it's still very surreal and I don't honestly think it's sunk in yet as I still kind of don't feel like it's mine? I guess maybe one day when everything is decorated and looking its best, the penny might finally drop, but for now, for now I'm still in awe at my own grown-up-ness this year.

My relationships have also developed since this time last year and some of them are for the better and some of them are for the worst. I've realised that living so far away from my family is actually heartbreaking at times and it's made me wonder how I'm going to cope the older and older I get, knowing that my family aren't right around the corner when I need them. This has meant when I visit home, I have been doing my upmost to ensure I have *the best* time with every family member. Whether it's going out and doing something fun like going bowling with my mam and brother or doing something others would see as mundane such as spending a few extra hours at my grandma's house to sit and drink tea and gossip about her cat lady neighbour, I'm putting so much more effort into it all and I want that to be a constant improvement in 2O18 too.

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December 23, 2017

Noughty: The Natural, CF, Vegan Haircare

Hey friends! As I've just recently finished all the products I've been trying out on my hair, I thought it was high-time to mention this great brand who I would definitely recommend to anyone who needs some cruelty free brands to try out and/or a brand who are completely vegan. Noughty are a haircare brand that I'll be honest, I had completely overlooked before I made the switch to cruelty free beauty. Once I made that initial switch, I realised that most drugstore affordable brands in the haircare realm are unfortunately not CF so I needed to desperately try some new brands to find something suitable for my hair. If you've been a NB reader for a while you will know that my hair is a nightmare. It's really thin, fine, poker straight, and can get incredibly greasy very quickly due to its thinness and fly-aways. Therefore when I need to try new haircare, it's very easy for me to make snap decisions on whether or not I will like products and Noughty was an instant hit.

Just to give you a little background on Noughty, they're certainly a company after my own heart. They believe in using natural ingredients and keeping nasty chemicals such as parabens, silicones, and sulphates out of their products which is a breath of fresh air as these are usually regular ingredients many of us overlook that are used in many many brands' products. All of their haircare ranges are 97% natural and it reflects in their products in the best way - they don't have unnecessary colourants or fragrances, but instead focus on the product actually doing the job of keeping your hair in top condition.

After umming and awhing about which range to try from Noughty, I finally settled on the "Rise and Shine" range which is designed for normal to dry hair. Although my hair gets oily very quickly, it also can feel dry and damaged as I have to wash it and heat style it every day as well as dye it black every 6 weeks so I put it through quite a lot. So the "Rise and Shine" range seemed like a great option for me as I always pride myself on keeping my dark hair shiny and not dull. Both the shampoo and conditioner contain goody ingredients such as rosemary leaf oil, patchouli oil, jojoba oil for sheen, and blue mallow flower for smoothing and nourishing and the conditioner also contains some extra goodness in the form of olive oil, shea butter, and coconut oil (which I've always been a fan of for many many reasons).

I found the Noughty shampoo to be really refreshing to use as it didn't feel like it stripped the hair as much as previous, non-natural, non-CF shampoos made my hair feel. You won't get that artificial squeaky clean feeling, but that means the ingredients are cleaning the hair in a more pure and natural way. The shampoo has no artificial colour and is a clear gel formula which has a gentle pleasant fragrance that isn't at all overpowering. It lathers really nicely and definitely leaves the hair feeling clean and not heavy at all despite the lovely oil ingredients - which I was so pleasantly surprised by! As for the conditioner, this is also a super lovely product. The conditioner again shares the same nice soft scent and is a typical colourless white creamy formula. I tend to use a lot of conditioner and thankfully, this one never leaves my hair feeling weighed down but it does manage my fly aways and static hair and makes my hair much easier to style. One of the things I love about these products is the fact that they leave my hair feeling clean but also what I imagine "second day hair" feels like when it comes to styling it as I honestly notice a difference in the longevity of my curls when I've used these products in my morning routine. The shampoo and conditioner both retail for £6.99 for 25Oml. The packaging is sleek and cute and I'm a huge fan of the simple squeezy tube style as you feel like you get all of the product out!

Another product I knew I had to try was the leave-in conditioner from the "Intensive Care" range. This range is designed for dry, frizzy, and damaged hair and whilst mine doesn't fall into that character too much, leave-in conditioner is a product I like to indulge in now and again to try and prevent split ends and help heal any heat damage on the ends of my hair. This product contains (surprise surprise) more good stuff ranging from sunflower seed extract, to shea butter, to argan oil. It has a nice subtle scent just like the "Rise and Shine" range and is a really easy product to use. If I'm giving my hair some TLC, I will towel dry my hair slightly then add a small amount of this to the ends of my hair only. I'll be honest and say that a couple of times I've gotten a bit happy with this product and applied too much and too far up the lengths of my hair and it will make your hair greasy and heavy, but that's something any good leave-in conditioner will do if you're a muppet like me and use too much. As I tend to only use this product once a week, the 15Oml tube which costs £6.99 lasts forever and is a joy to use every time. I've noticed a considerable difference over the last couple of months of how healthy the ends of my hair are looking now so I just know this will be a continuous repurchase for sure.

If you're considering trying Noughty hair products, Superdrug quite often have good 3 for 2 style deals on various ranges from the brand but Noughty's own website is also an absolute gem - free delivery on any orders over £1O and they do great discounts for bundles of certain products too. If you want to buy from a range that are not only considerate of animals, but are paving the way to natural, kind, vegan haircare that is gentle on your hair, you must give Noughty a go! Next on my hit-list to try from the brand is their "Detoxv Dynamo" shampoo that detoxifies the hair of product build up and smells of peppermint so you just *know* I'm going to love it and "Care Taker" range for those days when my scalp is sensitive and needs some loving.

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December 17, 2017

Sustainable Sundays: Easy Eco-Friendly Changes

Hello again wonderful folk! Today I thought I'd throw together another little Sustainable Sundays post for you all as it's still something I'm stumbling through myself but, I'm feeling more and more passionate about it as time goes on. So today I thought I'd share some little changes and tips that I've been making or doing myself lately that help me feel better about my contribution to our environment.

Sustainability seems to be having its moment in the spotlight recently and seems to be a popular hot-topic. Whilst it might just be a "phase" that might eventually swim by, for the moment I'm happy to see so many people actively trying to improve their local areas, their own waste and pollution, and also making healthier choices when it comes to consumerism. My last Sustainable Sunday post discussed some ways in which you can switch out the dreaded material plastic so you can feel content and comfortable in your minimal use of it as it has such a negative impact on our planet so in-keeping with that idea, here's some small ways we can be more eco-friendly in our everyday lives.

Go paperless. Check your bills, bank, doctor, dentist... If you can switch to online reports etc. then do it. I've recently checked through and changed everything I can to be emails, texts, or phone calls. I've also made a conscious effort to go through my emails and fast fashion that I used to sign up to for regular information on their new releases etc. (such as ASOS and H&M) and revoked receiving newsletters and catalogues to just try to minimise the amount of pointless paper that comes through my letterbox.

Walk whenever you can. This next one is pretty simple too but obviously depends on accessibility, but walking everywhere not only keeps you fit and healthy but also helps you stop contributing to pollution. I don't own a car and therefore get public transport everywhere that is a little too far afield to walk to and whilst public transport can be expensive, unreliable, and crowded, it also helps me feel a little better about my contribution to pollution. Carpooling and using park and ride options are also great ways to minimise how much pollution you're pumping out of your daily commute.

Be aware of your carbon footprint. Linked of course to what I've just said, being aware of your carbon footprint can really help you make more environmentally friendly decisions in day to day life. You can use carbon footprint calculators to get a rough estimate of how big your footprint is and it includes not only pollution from transport, but also from your home (if you use gas, electric, wood etc.), and your lifestyle purchases covering everything from clothing & textiles, to sports, to food & drink. Monitoring this may seem boring to some people but I was curious to find out mine and now I'm interested to see if I can minimise it within the next 12 months. Being aware and actively trying to improve your carbon footprint means you are helping minimise your contribution to climate change. Climate change/global warming is very much a real threat to our planet and is seeing a long term shift in our weather patterns which in turn will greatly effect our environment, or ecology, and us as human society as it will have a knock-on effect on things such as farming, flooding, storms, even arguably mental health issues such as seasonal depression.

Use less aerosol sprays. This one is something I personally struggle with but I'm trying my best to change. It's a common misconception that aerosol sprays harm the Ozone layer due to the chemical gasses used in them (CFCs) however, the majority of these being used in such items were eradicated back in the 7Os. Nowadays 9O% of aerosols no longer use these gasses in their products which is a great shift in society, and they now instead use "propellants" such as nitrous-oxide to help the product propel from its canister which do not deplete the Ozone layer. Whilst we're no longer effecting the Ozone layer with our aerosols, we are still effecting the world we live in with them at ground level. The "ground level" Ozone is greatly impacted by aerosols and their compressed gasses as they are creating smog which can induce conditions such as asthma in our environment. An easy way to try and minimise your consumption of such products is to find alternatives. Instead of using a spray deodorant or moisturiser, buy a roll-on or a pump dispenser version. If you're buying a product for a specific job (such as a canned spray paint for furniture) try to estimate the amount you need instead of buying the largest available size "just in case". And air freshener? Get rid of it. Burn a candle or simply open your windows for instant freshness! Aerosol use also contributes to your carbon footprint so this one small change can do so much good.

Eat less meat. If you've been a reader of NB for some time, you may have seen me mention my diet and how I eat meat when discussing switching to cruelty free beauty. I mentioned that I am a meat eater and can't see that changing anytime soon however I did want to start making more of a conscious effort to eat less meat. Whilst I enjoy eating meat and the freedom it brings of not having to be picky about where I go out to eat etc., I know that the meat industry is extremely unpleasant and is trying to sustain a demand it cannot live up to. Not only is the meat industry itself strained, but the pressure on farming and the rigorous use of farmland to produce enough grain etc. to feed the animals in said meat industry is also a stress that cannot be maintained. We are causing more and more deforestation not just to meet our demands for goods such as paper and wood, but also to create pastured land for animals to graze who will then be turned into food themselves. That's not the mention how much the whole process of obtaining meat from the animal effects the environment. I'm not going to sit here and get preachy about it as I am still very much a carnivore so I think it would be false for me to say certain things, but I can't advocate eating less meat enough. I now typically eat it maybe once or twice a week tops and opt for veggie or faux meat options now instead. Although I know I'm still consuming dairy and that is an area I also want to improve, I'm taking it all in my stride and feel that I'm making good decisions as I go along.

Buy vegan/faux leather and suede goods. Kind of linked to my quick ramble about the meat industry, the supply & demand for leather and suede goods is as high as ever and puts a strain on our planet. There's a constant argument about whether or not vegan/faux leather goods are better than real leather when it comes down to environmental impact, and all in all? I think vegan/faux wins hands down. Both realms of leather of course have some sort of negative impact on the environment in it's production, but animal leather has many negatives attached to it which I think influences my decision to shop faux. Not only is it an animal cruelty argument, but animal leather is sometimes sought after from exotic animals and often animals are killed for the leather rather than it being a by-product of the meat industry like many people assume. As leather isn't something that needs to be kept refrigerated etc., it is of course a product which is produced readily for its convenience. The problem with that though is it has a great environmental impact when it goes through it's stages of tanning and preparation for sale. The chemical concoction often used for leather tanning has been proven to have all sorts of negative effects on humans exposed to it. The waste it produces is also often left untreated and dumped into rivers in the east (where most leather goods are mass produced) which of course also puts people's lives at risk. Of course vegan/faux leather goods production emits pollution etc. but depending on its country of origin when made, it may be produced in a factory who agree to low emissions and who are working towards more environmentally-friendly methods of production. If you're purchasing PU faux leather, you are making the best decision out of a bad lot but steer clear of PVC - it has been labelled by Greenpeace as the "single most environmentally damaging type of plastic"!

Buy local food produce! A nice simple change most people can make is buying things such as meat, fruit, and vegetables from local suppliers in your hometowns. The best thing about shopping locally is that it is not only helping local small businesses stay afloat in a world where big corporations are taking over, but you have more insight into where your food has come from. Shopping locally at a butchers or green grocers means that you're supporting that particular shop but also the suppliers who deal with them. Local produce for small independent stores is less likely to have gone through a cocktail of pesticides in it's growth and production, and also can usually has more eco-friendly packaging as most green grocers especially will sell fruit and veg loose and not packaged up in plastic, not to mention they're often incredibly affordable and easily rival big supermarket prices. A win all round.

Buy from ethical and sustainable clothing brands. I think this one is one of the most tricky to do and it's purely down to the time consuming research and cost. Fast high street fashion is so popular because it can meet the demands of the forever changing trends and the large population of consumers, but it is also mass produced, often skirting around ethical means and treatment of workers etc. Back in May I did a big ol' post talking all about why I was opting out of the fast fashion world and in that post I discussed at length the impact it all can have on our lovely planet. I get around fast fashion 99% of the time by buying secondhand online and scouring charity shops, but for those of you with a bigger budget or those of you who want to buy items that are brand new, ethical and sustainable, brands do exist and mean you are buying from brands who have good intentions from the get-go and aim to maintain those ethical promises throughout production and sale. Most fast fashion is unfortunately dumped in landfill too, so another fantastic small contribution to a good and healthy world is by donating your old unwanted items to charity shops, homeless shelters etc. By donating items, you are keeping them in circulation and use and preventing them from damaging the planet further as waste. If you are buying from the big-name fashion retailers and brands, Measure Up are a great site for seeing how all of them measure up against each other on their ethical codes, living wages, and more. Sites such as ASOS also have have "eco-edits" which means you can still shop from the online high street, but weed out any non-sustainable or organic brands and only buy into those who meet the ASOS eco-edit standards.

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December 10, 2017

Self Care Sundays

Once the weekends roll around it is more than a fair statement to make to say that I am feeling goddamn tired. My hair, my skin, my muscles... It all just looks like it could do with some TLC and that's not to mention my mind needing a bit of a timeout too. That's why every Sunday I like to have a "self care" day and do all the things I just don't have the time to do as much during the week. The majority of these things consist of additional steps in my beauty regime that my busy work schedule just doesn't cater for and the odd treat in the form of other miscellaneous things. So although it's not Sunday today, it is Hump Day which can be a pretty shitty day for us all, so what better time to share some simple tricks I do to make myself feel chilled, zen, and ready to take on the next working week with a spring in my step despite that Sunday evening dread.

Get that skin a-glowing. First on my hit-list is always to try and revive and rejuvenate my tired skin. Whilst in the shower, I will use an all-over body scrub to exfoliate my body, a face scrub to brighten up my tired face, and even a hair scrub to give my hair some much needed TLC too. Once I've scrubbed away any dead skin cells, I am 1Oo% *that gal* who shaves everything. There's no better feeling than shaving and then getting into fresh bed sheets (we'll get on to that later). My next step after my usual shower routine resumes is to apply a face mask and to also pamper that post-shave skin. I have extremely sensitive skin and no matter what, shaving is always a bit of an irritation so in attempt to minimise this, there's a few products I always reach for. First up I apply the Kerah Lane Razor Bump & Ingrown Hair Formula to wet skin and basically apply it everywhere. Although this very natural product is targeted at razor rash and ingrown hairs, it's also great for acne so I will not just apply it to where I have shaved, but also to my back, shoulders, chest etc. I always make sure to apply it to my underarms too because I suffer badly with ingrown hairs and you guys, I can't stress enough just how much of a difference this product makes to those issues.

Once I'm suitably stinking of aloe vera goodness, I tend to do a full body moisturise using a soothing or gentle body cream. I'm usually someone who can't stand the feeling of heavy creams on my skin but it always sinks so well into the skin after exfoliating that it just makes sense to do this step. I either like to use the Dr. Bronner's Lavender Coconut Organic Hand & Body Lotion which soothes and nourishes the skin, or I reach for Lush's Charity Pot cream if my skin is feeling particularly dry or dehydrated. As soon as I've smothered myself in cream I return to my face masks to choose which one I'm going to give a whirl that day. I'll be honest and say there's usually two I tend to switch between on Sundays and both are purifying and pore tightening to try and get my skin looking as clear as possible before the stress of the week upsets my acne again.

Ain't no Goldilocks but I do try. Earlier I mentioned a hair scrub and this has been a new step for me recently but my goodness I love it. The Body Shop's Fuji Tea Refreshing &Purifying Hair Scrub is a fab little pamper product for really giving the hair a deep cleanse. I work it into the scalp and it feels calming, soothing, but also clarifying. It gets rid of product build up and any potential dry flakes and just generally leaves my scalp feeling pampered which let's be honest, many of us overlook pampering our scalps right? Once I've used this, I will shampoo my hair like normal and then apply a hair mask instead of my usual conditioner. This mask will either be the latest shop-bought one I'm enjoying or a concoction of coconut oil and rosehip oil. It really all depends on my energy levels as the coconut/rosehip oil takes an age to wash out so I always see how I feel on the morning!

I spend a lot of time on them so I should look after them. People are probably going to say there's no need to share this much information in this post because feet are a bit gross, but I want to tell you how I try my hardest to look after my tootsies. I've never liked feet however I've always thought my feet were okay and not too hideous so I like to try and keep them that way. As I am forever the girl with blisters etc. it's hard to do that, but I am always on a mission to keep them soft and in good condition as I do a lot of walking and it takes its toll on my poor feet. So to do this, I always use The Body Shop's Peppermint Foot Scrub to soften up the feet and give them an all-over gentle exfoliation. I then use a foot file on the heels of my feet as this tends to be where my skin suffers the most from dryness and texture, then I smother them in The Body Shop's Peppermint Intensive Cooling Foot Rescue cream and put a pair of socks straight on to let them feel like they're getting a spa treatment at home. I repeat the cream step before bed too and sleep whilst the cream soaks into the skin to ensure my feet are staying as soft and as supple as possible.

Those cuticles need some care. When I was younger, I used to spend hours on my nails and would do lots of nail art and designs but now? I can't think of anything more tedious. Therefore what I like to do instead now is keep my nails short, apply a colour that I will wear for a week and that's that. So Sunday is always my day of choice for a fresh coat of paint as it means they're looking nice and tidy for the start of my working week. I will take care of my cuticles and nail beds with some coconut oil and just massage it in for at least half an hour whilst I catch up on TV or watch a film. I then will do the typical base coat, colour, then top coat and that's about it. Taking time out to do your nails can be so frustrating as it limits you to what you can do so I actually quite like it for that as it forces me to sit down with a cup of tea and just chill out for a little while.

Conditioned everything else, so now it's time to condition the mind. Even though I love my job, the Sunday evening dread still gets me and I can sometimes feel incredibly anxious at the thought of returning to work the next day. So a couple of ways I try to get around this are just simple "time out" activities but still things I really enjoy. I like to do yoga - particularly if I've fallen off the fitness routine wagon during the week and need to get back on it - or some other workout before bed to try and not only calm my mind but to also tire myself out for a good night's sleep. If I'm not feeling the fitness thang or I did it earlier in the day, I turn to colouring books and listening to music, painting or drawing for a little while, catching up on blog posts that I might have missed, or watching a documentary. I'm trying my best lately to not be on social media just before bed - especially on Sundays - because it keeps my brain too wired and I struggle with sleeping enough as it is. So these activities help me escape for a while but also help keep my brain active in a productive way that is then easier to shut down when it's time to nod off. My final little "pamper" thing for my self-care Sundays is making sure I have fresh sheets on my bed and most recently, making sure my pillow is coated in a fine mist of This Works Pillow Spray. I think pillow sprays are very much a princess product, but if Sunday nights don't call for that, then what does?

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December 08, 2017

Real Talk: Sexual Assault & Harassment

This post has been a long time coming and it is going to be long, a ramble, a rant, and a collaboration. A few months ago now I mentioned writing about this over Twitter and asked if any one who had unfortunately experienced any sort of sexual assault or harassment would be willing to share their stories and thoughts on the whole thing so that this post wouldn't just turn into a "story time and angry rant by Amyleigh" kind of post (at least not solely one of those anyway). Thankfully, you guys were fantastic and opened up to me about your experiences and situations and I honestly cannot thank those who did share with me enough. Shout out to you all for being incredibly brave, strong, and helpful. Thank you so much. It seemed more relevant than ever to post this now as there has recently been a huge discussion on sexual assault - particularly in the realm of Hollywood - and it seems to have stimulated discussion about how difficult it is to report, be taken seriously, and what the consequences and repercussions are for all those involved.

The discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault is nothing new and seems to be almost stalemate in it's ingredients. It often unfortunately involves more victims than you'd first care to think and many more individuals who seem to advocate such instances with their choice of words or opinion. Back in 2O16, a study showed that 64-68% of women (depending what source you read) reported being sexually harassed at some point in their lives and this was across a wide band of ages. I would be willing to argue that it is in fact a greater percentage than that but lets not quarrel over numbers - that still leaves over half of the UK female population alone saying they've been a victim of this. This isn't even including anyone who identifies as another gender and the study oddly didn't even consider to question men about their experiences too. The reason I believe that the statistic is probably in fact higher in truth is because I think a major problem with harassment and assault is that there's still not enough education about it.

Step back to the 197Os and if you were a hardworking office assistant, you were expected along with your paycheck to receive pats on your backside from your boss and wear heels, skirts, and stockings so as to look "presentable". Of course I'm generalising here however, it's no exaggeration that misogyny was ever present back then as it is now. Nowadays we see women fighting back more with their voice and thankfully, we also see many more men feeling confident and supported enough to speak out about it too, but why are we still having to fight it? I think it has so much to do with the lack of education around the subject. I can remember watching a brilliant TV show that detailed sexual activity to young students and they were free to discuss each scenario and whilst that was great to see, it was also harrowing to see just how many of them thought drunk girls were "asking for it" and "no answer doesn't mean 'no' really". Seeing young people convince others in their cohort that actually if you went to a party then sat on a bed with a guy as a young girl, and you passed out, you'd already given him the green light to do what he wanted to you was not only disappointing but terrifying. It made me and no doubt many other viewers wonder just how many individuals think that way and is that the reason it is still such a prevalent issue in contemporary society?

From speaking to you lovely folk on Twitter, it was interesting that everyone who opened up identified as female and that for most of us, our experiences were not singular, one time events. Interesting may have been the wrong word to use there, but it did make me ponder if it was a statistical thing, just that more women and girls had happened to see my tweet and/or wanted to respond, or if there was any other reasons. Speculation does not always serve us well but it's worth mentioning here so I can be transparent about the sources I'm collectively talking about in this post.

Another reason I'm mentioning the fact that my "sources" were all individuals who identify as female is because I want to talk briefly about the stigma around men and sexual assault allegations. Just as an example, the actor Terry Crews came under rapid fire on various social media platforms and on the internet in general from thousands of people who relayed that disgustingly misguided comment "man up" to him when he bravely shared his sexual assault story. It was as if due to his stature, his personality, or even just the fact that he's a man, his story wasn't relevant or serious. It wasn't accepted. If that is the attitude many men experience when they come forward, when they shine the spotlight on this topic which is unfortunately as prevalent as ever in an effort to host solidarity or bring about much-needed change, is it any wonder that male victims can become quiet during these discussions?

Every claim and instance of sexual assault or harassment is as valid as the next. I had a big ol' rant recently about a comment Angela Lansbury said and my general point was that no victim is ever responsible (in any measure) for any assault or harassment they have received. I don't care if you wear absolutely no clothes, run naked down the street screaming and shouting - you are not remotely responsible for someone touching you. I argued with so many people over the Angela Lansbury "female victims are partly responsible" comment because I feverishly believe that any sexual attention of any description (whether it's a verbal comment or the act of sex), it must be invited by the individuals involved. Any parties involved must be on the same page, inviting each other in, comfortable with the sexual interaction and thus consensual.

Something that I think we need to crack down on (as if many people haven't been trying to do this already for *years*) is cat calling. Cat calling is weirdly accepted in the UK in the sense that people tell you to just get over it or to not take it to heart so much, but how is that solving the problem? It's not. It's constructing it as a social norm and something that isn't ideal, but we just need to accept. This seems to filter into social media and the internet in general too. I recently had a rant (once again, hello, I swear I'm a nice patient and calm person in real life) about the way many heterosexual men act on social media and how many of them wouldn't dream of being so forward or grotesque with their words in real life yet, they're happy to do it virtually. The idea of someone sending someone else a message on a dating app for example, not getting a response/not getting a response they wanted/not getting a response within the time frame they've decided applies, and then sending an abusive or defensive message again to that person sounds ridiculous right? Yet it seems to happen on a very regular basis. This virtual cat calling/abuse needs to be quashed and if you've got any ideas on how we cut it out, I'm all ears!

Something that I really wanted to touch on in this ramble of a post was the fact that almost all of the women and girls I spoke to about sexual assault and harassment shared that it happened to them on a night out or at a gig. Gang, I cannot stress how infuriated I get about sexual assault at gigs and nights out. When people are enjoying themselves, spending money on creating a memory that they'll remember fondly then someone can ruin it within a matter of a few seconds. My first true experience of sexual assault was at a gig. I was 14, seeing Trivium at the Newcastle Academy. I went with one other female friend and we bumped into a "friend" of hers and his friend. You can imagine how this story goes. My friend and her "friend" were ahead of me, working their way through the crowd to get a good spot near the front, I had the friend of the "friend" trailing behind me, trying his best to make small talk in a crowded gig where I couldn't hear and quite frankly, couldn't have given less of a shit about being polite to. Apparently me pointing at my ears and shouting "I can't hear you?!" then frantically pointing at the stage in an attempt to translate "dude, I've saved up weeks and weeks of dinner money from school to see these guys so can you chill?", was an open invitation to touch me. Standing gigs are crowded. People push through the crowd and you can get pretty cramped. But a hand down the front of your jeans and hands all over your breasts is not someone trying to "get by".

To all the ladies who emailed me, DM'd me, and just generally told me your experiences - I'm so sorry you had to endure such an assault. I'm so sorry that when you were out enjoying yourself listening to live music or dancing away in a club that someone took it upon themselves to force themselves on to you. There's some fantastic movements out there like Girls Against who are fighting against sexual assault at gigs for all genders. It needs to be taken more seriously and it needs to be tackled. Thankfully, there are also amazing people in the music industry that won't stand for this at their shows. The wonderful Sam Carter from Architects recently interrupted their set to call-out a male fan he saw grabbing a female fan's breast. *That* is a step in the right direction for fighting against sexual assault at gigs and he's paving the way.

Festivals have seen an increase is assault and rape instances too and it's so disheartening to see and hear about it happening as not only do the individuals responsible not see it as an issue in many instances, others in the general public normalise it too. Sexual assault or harassment of any kind can be scarring and can impact victims on many different levels. Society has taught me to keep my head down, hold my breath and look away if a white van drives past because the inhabitants will 9/10 shout something sexual or abusive out of the window. Society has taught me that having my bra straps visible as a teenager in school that I could be "a distraction" for male staff. Society has taught me if I have a grown man in a bar put his hand up my dress that I should just "move away from him" if I ask a member of security for assistance. Society has taught me all of these things that are categorically wrong, but it has also taught me that there's many of us out there and whilst the number of us who have been victims is overwhelming, it is somewhat oddly comforting to know that there's a lot of people to talk to out there who have shared similar experiences. #metoo applies to too many people, but I'm increasingly pleased to see how many people are talking about it and demanding change.

If you need support for sexual assault, rape, or abuse, here are places to start:
- Victim Support
- Safeline
- NHS Choices
- Rape Crisis
- Mind
- The Survivors Trust

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December 02, 2017

Looking After Winter Skin

When it comes to skincare and since switching to cruelty free beauty, I have to be entirely honest and I don't do too much changing and experimenting. As I've struggled with my skin since my teen years and have had to deal with acne, oily skin, and dry patches as well as extremely sensitive skin at times, I feel I've experienced the full plethora of skin conditions to try and tame and comfort. When it comes to the colder months though, I always seem to find myself in the predicament that my usual routine doesn't quite cut it as my skin still produces excess oils, but I have much more noticeable dry patches to contend with too. My skin gets extra sore and sensitive around my nose and chin, and basically the whole skincare routine turns into an absolute shambles.

Therefore each winter I find myself experimenting with different lotions and potions to try and keep both the dry and oily skin at bay whilst also keeping my acne, sensitivity, and dullness under control too. This year is the first year I feel like I'm on top of my A-game and it is all thanks to some new products I've added into my routine that are working some magic for me. So you guys know the score - I needed to inform you all!

The first thing I can't stress enough is exfoliation. Exfoliators aren't my favourite product as I often find its difficult to get one that's a happy medium between ripping your skin off, doing more damage than good and doing absolutely nothing. My go-to for a long while now has been the Superdrug Naturally Radiant Brightening Micro Polish. This is a gentle exfoliator but definitely gets the job done. The whole Naturally Radiant range houses some of my absolute favourites so it's no surprise that my second recommendation is the Hot Cloth Cleanser. This cleanser does a similar job to the coveted Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish but at a steal of the price. I love both products equally but I'm just falling for the Superdrug offering more at the moment. I like to use this in the evenings as second cleanse as the muslin cloth does a great job at gently exfoliating if I need it and the cleanser itself leaves the skin incredibly soft and feeling conditioned and hydrated - just want you need in the cold.

A mask that I need to mention here is the new Jam Revitalising Mask from Superdrug's new Vitamin C range. This range instantly caught my eye as I'm a lover of the Vitamin C range from The Body Shop so I instantly had high expectations and the products I've tried so far have not disappointed. This brand Superdrug Revitalising Jam Mask (sorry - it's not even on the site yet!) is a gloopy sticky mess to work with but it's well worth the mess. The mask contains sugar and orange peel which when washed off, do a great job at gently exfoliating the skin. Whilst wearing the mask itself, it won't dry down at all but it does calm angry skin and also leaves the skin baby-soft. One thing to note is that the orange scent is very overpowering in this product and the scent hangs around for the duration you have the mask on your face, but as I said, the negatives are far out-weighed by the positives.

The next thing I like to do is make sure my undereyes are hydrated and moisturised as much as possible. Although I've generally got oily skin, my undereyes can get incredibly tired and dry during the colder months so I like to reach for something that packs a punch. For me, that product is The Ordinary Skincare's Caffeine Solution 5% with EGCG. This product is a serum not a cream but has honestly been the most hydrating product I've ever used my undereye area. It helps my eyes look awake and fresh whilst also stamping out any flaky skin which I commonly got before. I use this morning and night and little goes a long way so it's great value for money.

As for facial serums and moisturisers, I have very much been a moisturisers and SPF only type of girl for a long time. I tried using serums in the past and honestly felt that the majority I tried either broke me out or sat on top of the skin so they created even more of an oil slick for me to contend with. Now that I haven't been wearing foundation for a long while, I realised that actually, I should probably be using a serum to ensure that I have that extra layer of protection from the elements - again, particularly during colder months. So in steps my absolute favourite recent find - the Superdrug Vitamin C Revitalising Serum. Again, apologies but this seems to be only available in store at the moment but if you can get to a local store - then you bet your backside you should go to pick this up. Oily girls - sweet jeez, give this stuff a try. I find this product sits so well under all my other products such as my primer, concealer etc. and does a great job of minimising the pores around my nose. The serum can be mixed into other products and has a lovely refreshing zesty orange scent which is a great wake up and pick-me-up on winter mornings. Since introducing it into my routine, I've also noticed that my base products last longer through long working days and it helps keep my shine at bay a little longer too. As for my dry skin patches, it does a great job of minimising those too so it's a good product all round.

The Body Shop Seaweed Oil Control Lotion with SPF 15 is my usual everyday choice for moisturiser, but recently I have found myself reaching more and more for the Superdrug Naturally Radiant Day Cream for Normal/Combination Skin (I told you I liked this range a lot). This moisturiser does exactly what it says on the tin and brightens the skin but also deeply moisturises it and is gentle on my sensitive skin. I find to be slightly more hydrating on dry areas than my The Body Shop option as of course, this product isn't targeted at oily skin, and it also has SPF in it so that element is not lost. SPF is so important in the colder months too as many people often overlook it but the sun can still harm the skin when it's cold out so look after that skin!

My last little saving grace for my skin is always my The Body Shop Vitamin C or Vitamin E Face Mists. I typically use the Vitamin C one all year round as I find it refreshing and it sets my makeup really well to make it look as natural as possible but as I do get extra dryness during winter, I end up reaching for the Vitamin E one more. The Vitamin C range at The Body Shop is just like the new one from Superdrug and both do wonders for keeping skin looking fresh and healthy, but the Vitamin E Face Mist just goes that extra mile for moisture. I typically use either spray just before I go in with my eyebrow products/my mascara. I spray it all over my entire face generously and leave to dry for a few minutes. I like to have matte powder due to my oily skin, but I also don't like looking flat-faced and these sprays prevent that from happening. Vitamin E is a great spray for sensitive skin too as it has no harsh perfumes or scents and just gives you that extra layer of protection when you finish your routine.

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November 29, 2017

How to Stay Creative When You're "Too Busy"

First off, that's bullshit. If you're already thinking, "steady on Amy, a hello and an introduction would be nice first", then I apologise but come on now, we're never "too busy" for things. I catch myself constantly saying I'm *so busy* when in reality I actually have plenty of free time, I just plan and utilise it badly. This is something I've been working on and one of the things I've been making a major conscious effort to make time for is creative outlets. Growing up I was 1Oo% *that kid* who was constantly drawing, rubbing crayons over textures in the garden, or even making little movies with my camcorder and Disney Princess dolls in my bedroom. I was always bursting with creative energy but unfortunately, fast forward to adulthood when the peppering of responsibilities starts to flow thick and fast and surprise surprise, that creative bright burning flame became subdued and almost burned out time and time again.

Now that I've settled into a job that gives me more freedom with my personal life, I've been trying to ignite that creative passion again and feed the low-light ember so that it starts to burn bright once more. It's tough to have hobbies that can become time consuming as an adult as you cannot prioritise them no matter how many positivity promoters say you need to focus on what you enjoy. Sometimes it's just not plausible and your passions have to take a backseat to make way for the things that pay the bills and help you sleep at night. I used to think that there was no balance between exploring creativity and living care-freely and also being sensible and work-focused but actually? You can totally strike a balance and there's *always* enough time to do something a little creative, you just need to know where to look for that hidden 15 minutes of opportunity.

Use a bullet journal. Okay okay so, when bullet journals first swept in like a crazed frenzy, I just didn't see the point. To me, it was an excuse to make pretty lists but that was it - you were making pretty daily lists that you would use for a single day then never use again so why go to that effort? I recently started one and boy oh boy was I wrong. Having a bullet journal means that even if I am super busy or if I'm super tired it doesn't matter - I can still be creative for a few minutes every evening as I track changes and things that I'm doing. Everyone creates a trial and error style that will adapt to their needs when it comes to bujos, but I'm really liking the journey so far. It gives me the opportunity to make daily lists (which I sadly love), do little daily doodles to keep my artistic juices flowing, and helps me get more organised so I can actually dedicate more time to being creative. If you haven't bought into the hype yet, I can honestly say it's worth it and I am a big ol' bujo convert.

Sketch once a day - no matter how minute. I know not everyone enjoys drawing or thinks they're good at it, but if it is something you quite like doing, try to draw every single day to keep up momentum and that passion alive. I'm my own worst critic and constantly criticise my artistic abilities, but I do love to draw and paint so even doodling for a minute on my commute to work or in my bullet journal each day helps me feel like I'm practicing and nurturing a talent that needs a little TLC now and again.

Keep written notes on your phone. If art is definitely not your thing but you have a penchant for words then write! I once started writing a fantasy fiction novel and tossed it by the wayside because I thought it was no good, but recently I've picked up the writing bug again but in the form of poetry. Poetry that has no rhyme but a whole lot of reason has become incredibly popular over the last couple of years and I'm all for it. I'm hoping to one day feel brave enough and confident enough with some of my poems to get up on a stage and read them out at some open mic night or slam poetry show, but for now I'm content that I'm just collecting my thoughts somewhere. Although I tend to like doing physical tangible copies of creative things, my poetry is all in the notes section of my phone. Most of my urge to write poetry comes at the least convenient times to rummage around for pen and paper, so I collate my thoughts in the notes on my phone on the go. I'm now transferring some of them to my bullet journal for extra safe keeping, but never see your phone as a distraction as it can actually be a very handy creative tool.

Set aside time to nurture your creative spark. Obviously this will depend on what creative outlet you're enjoying or practicing, but making a conscious effort to dedicate time to it is key to not fall into the "I'm just too busy" trap. I now write in my bullet journal that I need to practice ukulele on a daily basis so I can hold myself accountable when I don't live up to my own expectations. Having a visual cue that details how often I practice has spurred me on to make sure I practice often so I don't look like a failure to myself. I've bullied myself into making time for it essentially but it's certainly worked. Even if it's just a spare 15 minutes whilst I wait for dinner to cook or those 1O minutes I've got running spare in the morning rush to get ready because I got ready just that little bit quicker, spending them wisely really helps you feel accomplished.

Use your lunch break effectively. This again is dependent on the individual and the creative process/outlet you're part of, but if you can use your lunch break at work to nurture your talent and hobbies further then that's a quick and easy fix. If you are a busy bee, sometimes your lunch break is the only opportunity you get to just take stock for 5 minutes and relax. If you can squeeze creativity into that time and it won't feel like a chore, I couldn't recommend it enough as I've found it can also boost my mood for the rest of my shift.

Make mundane activities more enjoyable and creative. This isn't necessarily a creative outlet like others I've suggested, but let your creativity overflow into aspects of your life so you don't feel like it's a chore. If you usually find cooking boring or just a necessity, spice it up by trying a new *out there* recipe and see how that goes down. During your commute to work or walk/drive to do the grocery shopping, see if there's places you can stop and snap some photographs to use any which way later in life. Having a bullet journal helped make list making and organisation more interesting and creative for me, but there's many other ways you can make things more enjoyable in your day to day life. If you're planning to redecorate, why not try DIY with some furniture instead of buying it all ready done for you? Put your stamp on things. If you're staring blankly at your wardrobe in prep for getting ready for work, try a new outfit combo out of your comfort zone and play dress up to see if that sparks some inspiration. The possibilities are all there, you just have to grab at them!

Sometimes we all get stuck in a rut with ourselves and our actions and it's easy to slip into an auto-pilot lifestyle, particularly the older you get once you settle into a home, job, relationship etc. It's easy to slip into this but it's also just as simple to step a foot out of line and switch it all up too. We all have become so focused on success, making ends meet, and just generally looking after ourselves financially, but often that is not what feeds the hunger of creativity for us and makes us feel whole. If you're still feeling unmotivated to nurture that little inner creative you're housing in your soul, here's a few more things you could try to see if they stimulate you further:

- Keep a diary. They're not just for emotional-rollercoaster teens!
- Vegging out in front of the TV is fine, but stimulate the mind! Watch a documentary on a creative outlet that interests you or watch something about a topic you don't know a lot about. Education and feeding a thirst for knowledge can work wonders.
- Try gardening.
- Download apps that could make you feel creative. I like using photo editing apps for Instagram as much as the next person, but I also like listening to podcasts and Audible when I need an injection of inspiration, and less obvious apps such as Mushroom Book when I want to heighten my knowledge and look at lovely nature artwork.
- Experiment with your wardrobe.
- Join a new class at the gym.
- Head to an evening class at your local college or school.
- Try knitting or sewing.
- Scrolling doesn't need to be seen as a negative thing. YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram can all be very influential for creativity.
- If you're a blogger then honey, you're already doing great. Blogging is incredibly creative in many different ways.

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November 26, 2017

Sustainable Sundays: Switch Out Plastic

Happy Sunday folks - I hope you're all relaxing and taking Sunday in a slow and steady stride (as the restful day is intended). I wanted to start a new instalment on the blog but I was kind of struggling with how to categorise it but I think I've finally cracked it. Sustainability is something I've touched on briefly in previous posts in the realm of fast vs slow fashion for example, but other than that, I haven't talked about it in any further detail. It's a current trend wave that's washing through the millennial crowd and whilst it may just be a trend and eventually pass society by, right now I think it should be celebrated and advocated a great deal.

Sustainability encompasses things which I used to greatly overlook as a carefree teen who didn't hold a lot of remorse or thought about my place on this planet and the impact I might have. Whilst minute and not really noticeable in the grand scheme of things, I've started to realise more and more that I want to live my life knowing that I'm doing good in the world - however small or insignificant my actions may seem - and I want to feel that I've contributed in a positive way. I want to feel like this rollercoaster gift of life we get was well spent, doing spontaneous and adventurous things, but also things that are beneficial to this amazing planet we all get to call home. Whilst there's plenty of things us humans do in our day to day lives that damage and harm our environment, there's also a whole host of things we can do that won't damage mother earth and will in actual fact, help nurture and care for it as thanks for putting us up for our life spans.

Therefore, I wanted to kind of collate these little changes that I've started to make in the hopes that I can advocate these changes to some of you, friends. I feel that many of us are becoming more conscious consumers and starting to truly be aware and mindful of our waste, or demands, or dietary habits etc. and all the effects they have "in the bigger picture" and that isn't something that should be sniffed at. Any little changes can be positive changes so I thought the best thing to talk about first - as it's something we can all take part in to some degree - is saying no to plastic and how you can live a more plastic-free life.

Every year, approximately 3Oo million tons of plastic is produced with an estimated 5O% of that being single use to feed our ever-growing disposable lifestyles. 8 million tonnes of this ends up in our oceans and is responsible for the deaths of one million sea birds and 1Oo,Ooo marine mammal deaths every year. It is estimated that by 2O5O, the amount of plastic waste floating on our ocean surfaces will tally up to a greater number than all the fish who call those oceans home. We currently only repurpose or recover five percent of the plastic we use meaning we're not effectively recycling it or making sure it's not causing harm to the environment (bearing in mind it can take up to 1Ooo years for plastic to degrade and plastic is found in every sea turtles stomach and in a growing number of fish and birds tummies too!). It's something I've really started to care about over the past year and whilst I know many individuals would say "well what difference would it make if I made lifestyle changes in the grand scheme of things?", I believe every small change is a step in the right direction. So here's some small, easy ways you can help reduce your disposable, single use plastic pollution and help out our green world maintain it's clean green glory and make it a happy home we inhabit with other species:

Don't use single-use plastic for drinks. I like going out and grabbing a hot cup of something at a coffee shop as much as the next girl, but there's *so* many ways to can make each trip kinder for the environment. Think about your trip to Starbucks or Costa etc. - you will get a cardboard cup (which has a thin inner lining of plastic which is only currently recycled in a couple of places across the UK), a plastic cap for the cup, or a plastic cup with a plastic straw for those chilled beverages. Everything is plastic. I myself never used to even think about how wasteful I was being every time I tossed an empty cup into the bin but now I shudder at the thought. So many independent and chain coffee stops have travel/reusable cup options that not only are better for the environment, they can be kind to your wallet too. If you want to be even kinder to the environment, companies like Bamboo Coffee Cup use a natural and organic bamboo to create their reusable coffee cups but they also create the with low CO2 emissions to be even kinder to the enivronment. Many coffee houses/cafés provide discounts or loyalty points for those who use reusable cups and also guys - straws aren't a necessity for many of us so ditch them! You can buy metal straws just like these for pretty cheap, they can be washed and reused and kept in your bag for any drinking emergencies. Plus, if you pop them in your fridge they're great on hot days too!

The same rules apply for bottled water. Of course I'm not suggesting that if you're thirsty and you're out and about that you shouldn't buy water if you need it, but try to remember to take along a reusable/refillable bottle again. There's so many options out there for reusable water bottles and you can actually find some that are super aesthetically pleasing too. Again, this helps minimise your single-use plastic pollution drastically and most refill bottles are better at keeping your fluids cool and refreshing due to their insulation. If you do buy a plastic bottle, simply reuse it as often as you can so you can cut down your waste that way too. Brands such as Jerry are great options for a reliable reusable that will last for years as 1Oo% of their proceeds fund clean water projects around the world.

Opt for a bamboo toothbrush. This is relatively new territory for me, but switching to using a bamboo toothbrush means you're not buying disposable plastic every other month when you replace your toothbrush. I used to use an electric toothbrush but I realised I was still causing plastic pollution when I threw away old brush heads. Bamboo toothbrushes are made of yep, you guessed it - bamboo, so they're much more eco-friendly and can be recycled once finished with. They're more than affordable, often retailing for the same or even cheaper than the plastic versions, so it just makes sense y'know?

Plastic bags are the devil. You might say I'm being dramatic, but I stand by my point. I've caught myself swearing out loud at myself in the queue in Aldi as it's suddenly dawned on me that I forgot to bring my reusable shopping bags with me as it has meant I had to pay for plastic ones. There was a big movement in promoting the reuse of plastic bags and whilst stores still advocate that, they also offer a wide range of alternatives that are made from woven fabrics that are biodegradable and will also last you a lot longer too as they're more robust. Most of the UK big supermarket chains and stores such as Superdrug and Boots also offer the opportunity to take in your own plastic bags from them that may no longer be functional (holes in them, the handles have snapped etc.) and you can trade them for a free new bag. Whilst that still means you're using plastic, it will significantly decrease they amount of single-use plastic you're consuming and mean you're giving it a longer shelf life which helps. I've gotten into the habit now of always keeping some sort of fabric tote tucked away in my bag when I leave the house just in case I need it later and it's saved me a bunch. Doing this also helps you save your pennies because 5p might not seem like a lot each time, but I bet you those 5p's quickly add up if you're purchasing a bag in every store you visit on every trip!

Who even needs cutlery anyway? If you're out somewhere buying street food or ordering food to go, plastic cutlery is readily an option to accompany whatever you're eating. Most of the time it's unavoidable as salads in plastic pots with have plastic fold up forks lurking around in there somewhere too. However, being aware of this and making smart choices to shop in places that use wooden cutlery that can be recycled or simply carrying your own can make this an easy step to accomplish on minimising your plastic pollution. Of course there's going to be times when you're eating something that needs cutlery and you might just have to suck it up and use some plastic utensils, but if you keep something in your bag that can simply be wiped clean and popped back in there after use, you can cut down that waste so easily and you don't really need to even think about it. If you want to go all-out kind to the environment, our good friend bamboo is the way to go. Bamboo cutlery sets are well worth investing in and usually cost under £5. Bargain. They are incredibly lightweight so fit into bags and can be easily forgotten about.

If you can buy loose - buy loose! So I kind of started to mention the packaging food tends to come in earlier and I honestly think this is one of the biggest struggles of all. As an advocate of a more plastic-free movement, I envy the YouTubers and bloggers over in The States who have wholefood "fill your own container" style stores as they can dramatically decrease the amount of plastic they're buying in that way whereas it's not so easy here in the UK. However, if you have the opportunity to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a local green grocers where they are loose and packaging free for example, you can minimise how much throw-away plastic you consume tenfold. I'm fully aware that at times, buying loose foods and foods with alternative packaging to plastic can have a higher price point and may not be as convenient, but I personally feel the little extra effort or the extra spend is worth it to know that I've cut out a great deal of waste in my purchases.

Trying to go plastic-free is not an easy journey and you guys, I've got a long way to go myself. There's still things I buy such as certain foods and skincare items that come in plastic packaging and I just can find alternatives that suit me but I'm constantly on the lookout for them. Being aware of the effect plastic is having on our planet and taking steps towards helping minimise it is admirable and it fills my heart with joy to see so many people making a conscious effort to consume less plastic in their day to day lives and make small changes to their lifestyles that will benefit the planet in the long run. It's a cheesy thing to say, but we truly do have only one planet to call home so shouldn't we be trying our best to look after it and keep it happy and clean?

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November 21, 2017

Searching for a Good Nights Sleep

The older I get, the more I seem to either be talking about sleep or crying into my pillow over the lack of it. As a teen, I could quite happily survive on an average of around 4 hours a night and go to college full time, work 2O hour weeks at my part time job, and socialise in all of my free time. Now? Now I get incredibly anxious if I'm not in bed, ready to sleep by 1Opm (11pm if it's not a school night. Rock and roll is not dead in my household). As I've gotten older, I've grew to truly appreciate a good night's sleep and how a good bedtime routine can be invaluable to not only making sure I get some solid hours each night, but also how good it can be for my mental health and overall health in general. Since moving house and moving from a very quiet area to living on an extremely busy main road that is also near a train station and an airport (I fucking know), I have tried and tested what feels like everything to try and ensure I get some good sleep that is not disrupted and is a healthy amount.

Sleep is so important and I feel we all start to truly understand that in our twenties. It's as if our bodies play catch up and tell us to calm down a bit and suddenly PJs and a snuggle in bed at 8pm on a Saturday night can become more desirable than queuing up outside a bar to buy shots. It can reduce your stress levels, it can make you feel less anxious, and it can certainly improve my mood. Good sleep stops me being short tempered, helps me retain information better and not be so scatter-brained (although I think that's my default setting no matter what), and having a better sleeping pattern has dramatically decreased how often I become sick or ill. It can be healing both physically and mentally but it can also be incredibly hard to grasp and maintain. I don't think anyone has the answer for how to have the perfect night's sleep night after night, but there's definitely a few things to try to see what works for you.

One of the first things I had to get over was the fact that I hated sleeping for a long time. Why I hear you ask? I felt like I was missing out. I had this odd obsession when I was teen with the fact that I felt like I wasn't living my life to the fullest if I "wasted" time sleeping. Obviously my logic was flawed as I was always running on minimum energy and probably would have benefited in many situations if I'd have clocked more hours in the night before, but I just couldn't do it. My essentially 4 hour cat naps every night sustained my needs so I thought that was just fine. Now I realise I need so much more than that and always make sure I'm in bed at a good time. If I'm not in bed by 1Opm on weekdays I feel antsy and start worrying that I won't get enough sleep and boom: suddenly I can't sleep because I've woken up my brain and fired off these worried thoughts. I find I still apologise to friends constantly for going to bed "early" but actually? I'm not sorry. It helps me keep my shit together so I work well at work and can function properly. No apologies needed.

Get rid of any and all screens
So besides worrying myself, there's a few other things I try to avoid to ensure I'm actually ready for bed when that 1Opm rolls around. Firstly staring at screens will without a doubt make it harder for you to switch off and slumber. I got into a bad habit of just endlessly scrolling through Twitter, Instagram etc. in bed and a) it wasn't actually stimulating or interesting and b) it made it *so* difficult to switch off and go to sleep. I now try to avoid my phone and if I do need to use it, I will always put it into night mode so the screen is dimmer. I also turn the brightness right down on my laptop if I'm using it past 9pm and never do any blogging/admin work in bed before I plan to sleep anymore. If you're a restless sleeper and often wake up at intervals during the night, I can't stress enough how much you should not use your phone. I fully understand the utter frustration when you just can't sleep and that the temptation to tweet "can't fucking sleep *insert all the sad face emojis*" is there, but just don't do it. It makes the brain too active and you've got no chance of drifting off to dreamland.

Bed is for sleep - not hanging out
Another "rule of thumb" I've adopted is that bed is for sleep - not hanging out. This was difficult when I used to live in a studio flat as my bed unfortunately also doubled up as my sofa and my dining table because I just didn't have any other space to utilise but, if you have the luxury of your bedroom being a separate room, only use your bed when needed for sleep (or sex you know, whatever). Now that I live in a house, I don't have lazy mornings in bed. Sure, I might wake up early and lie there for half an hour at the weekends because I can, but I always get up as quick as possible, make the bed, then don't return to it until I'm going to bed the next night. This helps me trick my brain so that it only associates bed with rest and sleep rather than snacks and back to back binge watching of my favourite TV shows.

Don't go to bed in a bad mood
Something I've noticed more recently too is making sure I don't go to bed in a bad mood. If I've had an argument with someone or a stressful day, I can always guarantee that my night's sleep that night will be broken and I won't really feel rested the next morning. Therefore, I always try to go to bed in at least an "okay" mood. I know this is obviously easier said than done as sometimes bad moods and vibes just can't be avoided, but if you can do something to either distract yourself or improve your mood - do it. Yoga can always help me feel either energised when I need a boost or calm when I need to rest so I rely on that. Others might find meditation helpful, masturbation, listening to calm music, podcasts, or reading. Whatever it is, include it in your bedtime routine and I would be willing to bet money that you will see an overall improvement.

Calming the mind like this helps create that routine and expectation for bed that will work towards tricking the brain and preparing it the same way each evening. Having a routine can sometimes mean you can cruise along on auto-pilot and what better way to go to bed? Cruising through your bedtime routine means you don't need to think too much and you're not swarmed with thoughts or concerns. Make sure your bag is packed for the next morning, check your weather app and plan your work outfit... All these little prep things that can make your mornings more smooth sailing can also improve your sleep.

Temperature, Lighting and Scent
A couple of other things that I've noticed can help improve my sleep are little environmental things that can make a huge difference. Temperature, lighting, and scent can all effect your sleep and although they might seem subtle, they can influence how deep and well you sleep. Make sure your bedroom and the bed itself is a comfortable temperature for you. This can be tricky when it's hot and sticky in the summer and freezing cold in winter, but use a fan and a hot water bottle if and when needed and you might reap the benefits. I used to *always* read in bed for an hour or so before going to sleep and this used to see me have a pretty well rested night so it's something I'm trying to get back into. Something worth noting here though is making sure you've got suitable lighting. At the moment, I only have the bright "big" main light in my bedroom and it's too harsh - it leaves me feeling wide awake as soon as I shut it off. Soft lighting that doesn't make you strain your eyes but keeps you in a comfortable lazy state can be a big help for prepping you for sleep time. And lastly - scent? Again, it can impact you big time. Strong smells, particularly those you don't find pleasant or even those you find too pleasant can be distracting and keep your brain active. Pillow sprays and scents like lavender and chamomile are popular for getting a good night's sleep so test and try what subtle scents you could have active in your bedroom that will help your brain think "I can smell sleep".

Be mindful of your diet
Lastly, one area I struggle with constantly but I'm trying to actively change is my diet. We all know eating healthy in general is good for you and that's a no-brainer, but being wary of your diet or eating/drinking habits before bed is really important too. I love me a good cup of tea or seven throughout the day but I make sure I never drink a cup of regular, caffeinated tea after 8pm. That's still probably too late in the day and probably still effects my sleep, but it makes me feel in control of that aspect of my bedtime routine and makes me feel like I'm making a conscious effort to better it. I'm a serial snacker too and try my best to keep sugary snacks to a minimum and again, to a curfew. I can demolish a whole share bar of chocolate as quick as the next person, but those quick sugary releases of energy are going to happen right before bed if you're eating late and that'll ruin your hard work before you've even tried to get settled into a comfy position. Steering clear of caffeine and sugar particularly right before bed can be a big help. If you seek a hot drink because its comforting for going to bed, try things like hot milk, Ovaltine, or a herbal tea as there's many brands out there that have bedtime/nighttime ranges or simple chamomile can help.

Making positive small changes to your bedtime routine can really help you get your head down and feel rejuvenated the next day but there certainly isn't a one size fits all approach to it. What might work for some people might do absolutely nothing for others and not to mention that many of us have mental health, physical ailments, and sleeping disorders which can all greatly impact sleep too. I'm still battling through this mindfield of restless broken sleep and sometimes rely on herbal sleeping remedies and tablets to help me when I really need it. Having a solid routine and sticking to it no matter what is definitely improving my sleeping and how awake and alert I am the next day which is great to see, but if you're on this journey and search for good sleep yourself, keep note of your sleeping pattern - when it's good and bad - or use a sleeping tracker app to see if there's anything in particular influencing you.

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