Category: Off-Topic

Reading in Heels – April Box Review

I’ve regularly talked about my love for letters, so it’s no surprise that I love a subscription box. I’ve never quite found the right “fit” for me though.

My first subscription box was “Gin Explorer”, a gin subscription box that was sent out by the same people as those behind the “Gin Festival”. I loved this, but quickly realised that four 50ml Gins a month was hard to keep up with. I have a reasonably large collection of gin anyway as well as not being a huge drinker. This left me in a space where I had enough gin to swim in! Gin Explorer actually stopped a year ago now, which was a blessing in disguise for me. I didn’t want to cancel through fear of missing out on the “Perfect Gin”, but I knew it was getting too much.

When it ended, there was a gaping hole. I needed that little treat through the post every month. I tried out Birchbox, the Look Fantastic Beauty Box and Glossy Box. Again, none of these ever really grabbed me. I liked the packaging more than the contents! I’m not mad keen on beauty products. My “going out” make up is exactly the same as my work look!

Then just a month or two back, I saw on Instagram, “Reading in Heels”. Now this sounded RIGHT up my street. I’ve found myself reading less and less in our era of Netflix and social media. Maybe this was the thing to get me back into reading!

I subscribed on the 4th March – so I had to wait until the beginning of April for my first box. And I couldn’t wait! They promise that you will not receive a book that’s a chick lit or a crime novel.

After a slight delay due to the 1st of the month falling over the Easter bank holiday, my box arrived and it didn’t disappoint!

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So what’s in the box?

The first thing I found was a guide to what’s in the box. This covered a bit about the different products, plus instructions on how to win your next box (post on social media!) and the hashtag for that month’s box. There was also a postcard asking me some questions about the book which served as a mini review card. This was SUCH a nice touch!

I’d not even into the contents and so far, so good! Once, I opened the tissue wrapping, here’s what I found:

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There’s not much to say about the raspberry marshmallow bar. That got devoured whilst I perused the rest of the contents! It tasted really good and I’ve since found them in Starbucks (and may or may not have purchased one). I’d highly recommend if you want a sweet treat that’s a little lighter.

Next up is the tea. The tea comes from “Lola’s Apothecary”. It just sounds cute doesn’t it?This one was called Clementine Calamity and is billed as a “relaxing wellness tea.” Now if you know me well, you’ll know that any kind of herbal or fruit tea is right up my street. Whilst I love a regular brew, it gives me the worst stomach cramps, so I tend to avoid them. I can’t say it particularly calmed me, or relaxed me. But I drank it with a book in hand which usually means I’m feeling pretty chilled out anyway. It tasted really good – if you like a tea that packs a fruity punch, this one is definitely for you.

So onto the fragrances. These Miller Harris fragrance samples are both lovely, but I definitely have a preference for “Rose Silence” over “Tender”. Tender is a unisex, oriental floral fragrance, whereas Rose Silence is also a unisex scent but has more floral tones.

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The last “treat” before I get on to what this whole box was about, was the face masks, from Opitat. Both are sustainable, vegan and organic. You know the “buzz” words. Today I have finally gotten around to trying out the marshmallow root, english hemp and activated charcoal one. These facemasks are a powder which you have to mix with water to form a paste. I definitely made this more watery than paste like. There was no real instructions though around quantities of water. I added about 10ml in the bottom of a cup, when really it probably only called for a drop or two. The smell is lovely, and I did somehow manage to get it on. You only need to leave it on for ten minutes (so brilliant for impatient souls like me). Watch this space for whether it was worth the effort. Initial reaction suggests it was, but we’ll see how my face feels tomorrow!

Finally, the book. This is not a book I would have picked up in the shop. “The Party” by Elizabeth Day is a book that kept me in suspense. It was one of the quickest reads for me in a while as it kept me on the edge of my seat!

The book centres around Martin and Ben, two best friends. One is from a privileged background whilst the other is not. We first meet Martin as he is being questioned by police following events at a party. We later go on to meet his wife, Lucy. As the tale unfolds, we find out exactly what happened at this party, with lots of reminiscing on Martin and Lucy’s part. We learn how Martin’s friendship with Ben began and then evolved to what it is now, along with what lead to the events at the party. It’s a compelling read and I did not see the twist coming (although that doesn’t say much – the only thing I can predict happening, is the events in Coronation Street and that’s never exactly subtle is it?!)

I gave the book 3.5 stars. I was most disappointed that I didn’t really “connect” with any of the characters and I didn’t feel as though I got “closure” from the book. Something in the ending was missing for me. Having said that, I would consider it a recommended read and have already passed my copy on.

I’ve already received this month’s Reading in Heels, and I will definitely review that once I’ve made it through the contents!

Overall, I highly recommend this box to any book worm 🙂

If you fancy it yourself, Just stick “Reading in Heels UK” into Google – you’ll find them!

8 years ago, I moved.

Today marks eight years since I took the massive step from living with my Mum and Dad in Essex, to starting out alone in Wigan, just outside of Manchester.

At 23 years old, I knew everything and nothing. I never anticipated that my brother and sister would also stretch their wings and fly so far from the nest (sister in New Zealand, brother in Andover). I never anticipated that as I got older, Mum and Dad would too, and I’d start to worry. I never expected to be facing my current challenges.

These things overcome me at the strangest times, but I wouldn’t change my decision in a month of Sunday’s. I’ve very much found my happy place!

I am a planner. I am the maker of lists. But you can make all the plans and lists you want – some things are just out of your control. None of that matters though anymore. Whatever happens you just crack on and do it. And who knows, the life that you end up with could be better than you could ever plan. Moving up North is the best thing that I ever did. I can’t see me ever regretting my choice.

In Essex, I was unhappy. I had few friends. I’d had shit boyfriends. Unbeknown to me, when I made my decision I would have been made redundant from my job if I’d stuck around.

Having the opportunity to start again in the way that I did was just what I needed, and I really believe it all happens for a reason.

I now have the most incredible bunch of girls around me, I have great work colleagues and I have an awesome boyfriend with the most lovely family. I’m still in the same job, in which I’ve grown and developed. The vast majority of the time I thoroughly enjoy it as well, which isn’t something I take for granted.

Dear Northern folk. Thanks for having me!

Why you need a Pen Pal

I’ve previously written about my love for letters, and also about my group on Facebook, The Snail Mail Project.

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It’s slowly growing momentum, we’re now up to 47 members, who are all sending gorgeous happy mail to one another. It really makes me happy to see so many people making friends across the world and receiving beautiful mail through the post!
Anyway, I was talking to one of the members of the group a week or so ago who inspired me to write a series of blogs on the subject, and I felt that a good starting point was “why you need a pen pal!” It’s such a dying art form these days, writing letters. It’s not common for people to put pen to paper in the digital age. So why do it?

Stationary.

If you’re a stationary fiend, just like I am with my mountains of journals, writing letters is an excuse to lay your hands on more beautiful paper. And there’s some stunning writing sets out there. Paperchase is my “go-to” but you can get plenty of beautiful sets from Amazon, TK Maxx and beyond!

Time away from screens.

In a day where we are glued to the screens of laptops, TV’s, phones and tablets, there’s something really relaxing about switching all that stuff off, and it being just you, a piece of paper and a pen. I feel like I’m living right in the present, and being absolutely mindful when I’m writing a letter.

You make a new friend.

How much fun is it getting to know someone new? Through the joy of both sending someone a letter and receiving one back, you also get to know a whole new person! You may even find that it opens opportunities to go and visit a new part of the country, or even the world.
It doesn’t just have to be words on a piece of paper

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You can get really creative with the letter. You can make it look beautiful. You can personalise it. You can even include a gift! If you want to keep it to the price of a stamp, different tea bags can be good (who doesn’t love a good brew whilst they either read a letter, or write back?). Post cards with inspirational words on might be included or photos of your favourite things, places or people, which can help to paint the picture of your life.

Local delicacy’s can be included too, although this might increase the cost of sending a little. This brings me nicely on to…

It’s cheap!

Sure, postage stamps aren’t as cheap as they used to be (I remember getting a 2nd class stamp for about 18p with my first pen pal as a child), but the price is still totally affordable. The only thing you need to be rich in, is time.

Personal

It’s difficult to be impersonal in a letter. When writing by hand, you’re more likely to write informally in comparison to typing. We type emails out at work all day long, so putting pen to paper breaks us from our usual habits. We pour a bit of a soul into the written word in comparison to when we express ourselves electronically.

You can keep them

I’ve not saved a text message since the guy I fancied sent me one that gave me butterflies when I was about 15. Text messages are so transactional I don’t want to keep them anyway. But letters. Someone has put their time, thought and effort into that. Even if I wanted to, I can’t put handwritten letters in the bin. I still have letters that I shared with my friends when I was a teenager, and that attachment to a letter hasn’t changed at all.

If you write a letter, you’ll probably get one back!

And it will be a lovely suprise when it arrives. It will make your day. And guess what?

You get to make someone else’s day!

What better feeling than knowing that you have been the part of the day that made someone smile. They may have had a rubbish day at work (or they may have had a brilliant one), but coming home to your letter, might just be the thing that makes it.

Find you tribe. Love them hard.

Over the years I’ve had some phenomenal friends. I’ve also had some pretty rubbish ones. I’ve told you about my soul sister, Lucy, before. Now I want to tell you about my girls, in the spirit of International Women’s Day. Because they all lift me up and make me a better me and they are remarkable women.

When I moved up North, whilst I knew I didn’t know anybody, I never really appreciated how hard it would be to make friends. I made friendships at work but they were friendships of convenience. I met people who were so welcoming and introduced me to their friends. But they’d all be friends for years and it’s tough to forge a friendship with people who have such a long existing bond. However hard they try to make you feel welcome, you’ll probably still feel an outsider. I made some great friends “for now”, but we drifted apart as our lives drifted on. Then I made some friends where the friendship became too intense. With the demands of my job and having to travel all over the UK for work, it’s difficult for me to have friendships where you’re constantly in contact. Once I’d met Dave, juggling friends, work and him became too much, and my friendships suffered as a consequence.

High maintenance friendships are not my thing. I don’t mind not seeing my friends for a few weeks and then having LOADS to talk about when we do see each other.

Jayne is my longest standing Northern friend and we met via Twitter. Back in 2012, she asked if anyone wanted to go to the “Guide Dog Convention” with her, or maybe I asked it (it’s not really a convention but it’s what I now fondly refer to it as! It’s actually an open day at the Guide Dog Centre in Atherton, where I used to live). Whichever way it happened, one of us responded to the other and off we went. And our friendship has blossomed ever since!

Jayne and I at Gin Festival 2017

Jayne is ace. She’s a single mum to 13 year old Olivia, and I cannot even begin to imagine how tough that must be. On top of that she’s a Nurse. And Wonderwoman. Ok, I made that last bit up but she may as well be. She’s run a marathon, something I can only ever wish to do, and she’s the most kind hearted soul I’ve ever met.

I met Clare through Jayne for the first time in 2014, at the Magic Weekend. For those unfamiliar, it’s a weekend where all the rugby teams in Super League play a match at the same venue, over two days. It’s a fab day out and you get to meet loads of ace people (and some not so ace. I once met this Leeds fan that latched herself onto me all day and she was just awful!)

I already followed Clare on Twitter but didn’t really have much to do with her. I was intimidated by her perfect eyeliner and opinions. I’m pretty sure she thought I was just like them idiots from TOWIE. We spoke a bit that day, but I was there with Dave and his family so spent most of my time with them. She wasn’t as scary as I first thought though, but beyond that, nothing really changed in our interactions with one another.

That was until November, Clare messaged Jayne asking if she and I wanted to go to the Gin Festival in March. My response was along the lines of “yeah, why not. I don’t like gin but I’m up for a day out!” By this point, much as I loved Dave, I wanted and probably needed a solid group of female friends. I envied people who had such a close circle of friends.

Gin Festival, which I’ll tell you about in another blog very soon, was the day I met Clare’s sister, Louise. Louise is my inspiration. She was recovering from a brain tumour at the time and seemed to me quite shy. But all I could see was this unbelievable survivor. Louise is one of my most favourite people ever. She just doesn’t care. She doesn’t care what people think. Nothing seems to phase her. She’s forever tagging me in memes on Facebook and Instagram that are along the lines of that message. It’s slowly sinking in!

Jayne, Lou, Clare and Me at our first Gin Festival in 2015

We had a fab day at the Gin Festival and I felt that I’d found some friends, as well as a new found love for gin. In 2016, we went again although this time, Clare’s friend Jaye came with us, as well as Louise’s best friend, Helen. They joined us on what was soon to become our annual outing.

On the 24th September 2016, we went to a beer and prosecco festival in our home town of Wigan. The reason this date sticks in my mind so much is that it was the day before my 30th birthday, which was coincidence rather than a planned celebration for my birthday. We were having a brilliant time, and by this point, a friendship had really started to form, but we didn’t really see much of each other outside of gin related activities. I don’t think that we had dome anything but get drunk together! I even referred to them all as my “gin girls!” On this day, Yamit was to become one further “gin girl”. A little bit tipsy from all the prosecco (I was turning 30! I could do what I wanted!) I proclaimed my love to all of them and told them that even though I’d considered them the girls I drank gin with, I felt that they were my real friends. They were so much more than just company for the gin festival.

I’d found “my girls”.

Helen, Lou, Jayne, Clare and Me – Wigan Beer Festival

I don’t know if the others felt it, but my drunken statement seemed to shift something in our friendship at that point. Clare and I in particular have grown really close, and I’d definitely say that she’s my closest friend these days. I sometimes liken my friendship with her, to like what blokes have. You know, where they hurl abuse at each other all the time?

I mean, the day I went blind, I text her telling her “I’m not being melodramatic or anything, but I’m going blind in my left eye.” She responded in the way that only she could, with “too much w*nking.” She did eventually follow it up with “are you ok?”

Friends like her are exactly what I need in my life, especially right now. She posted on her instagram today, saying that I always have a smile on my face, no matter how tough life gets. But it’s my girls, and in particular her, that help that. They don’t let me feel sorry for myself. And despite all the good natured abuse, I know that they care.. We all do.

As a bunch of girls group of women, we’re diverse, but we’re also so similar. We have so much going on in our lives that we don’t have lots of time for each other, but that works for us. We respect that. We all enjoy working and have careers that keep us busy. Jayne and Louise are both bringing up their own two amazing women as well. The one thing I do know though, is that if I called any of them needing their support they would be their instantly, without question.

Me, Yamit, Clare, Lou and Helen at Lou’s 30th

It may have taken me 30 years to find them (which was the best birthday present ever by the way!), but finding friends like these was well worth the wait, and I honestly can’t see them ever NOT being around.

Find your tribe. Love them hard.

Five Minutes in the Morning

A few months ago I was in Sainsbury’s and picked up a book. It’s called “Five Minutes in the Morning – A Focus Journal”.

It’s usually priced at £10 but I was chuffed that it was only £4 (oh the joy of the January sale!)

The idea is, you take five minutes in the morning (duh!) to take stock of the day. Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Set some intentions for the day.

I’ve not used it really – it’s such a beautiful book, that I didn’t really want to write in it. I do like “workbook” style things though. I like having something to do.

Now even though this is designed for in the morning, I think I can get so much from this at any time of day.

So this evening I completed the first activity.

An exercise to start writing.

I was tasked with spending five minutes just writing about how I would introduce myself to somebody, and here’s what I wrote:

Hi, I’m Joanna, but most people call me Jo. Except Dave. He calls me Joey. Dave is my other half and he very much completes me. We’ve been together for five years and have a little boxer doggy called Poppy who’s three.

In my spare time I enjoy reading and writing (I have a blog), and going to the gym. I’m a bit of a fadder, but that just means that I never get too bored!

In my spare time, I work for a big energy company in learning and development. I’ve done it for 13 years and genuinely love it!

I’m originally from Essex, but moved to Wigan 8 years ago, which is the best thing I’ve ever done.

I love letters and I currently have six pen pals, and the list is growing.”

I reflected on what I’d written. I feel it’s a fair insight into me but I’m also shocked by what I’d missed out. My love for gin, herbal tea and coffee is missing. Happily, I don’t let my recent diagnosis define me; I felt no need to mention that in my introduction.

After my first experience with this book, I’m definitely going to start using it more. If you’re interested, I managed to get another couple of them on Amazon for £4 – they’re easy to get your hands on. I gifted one to Kate as she shares a love for writing and I got the feeling she’d enjoy using a similar kind of book.

I think it’ll be really nice to dip in and out of occasionally, and give me a little pre-blog warm up or inspiration!

Have a go at this activity yourself – I’d love to read your five minute introductions.

We’re all equal, just some more than others

Feminism has become such a dirty word.

There. I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for equality. I don’t want to (and shouldn’t!) earn less than Joe Bloggs for doing the same job, just because I’m Joanna Blogs.

Emiline Pankhurst died for me to vote. And for that I will always be grateful, and will NEVER waste my vote.

It’s absolutely correct that I have that right, just as it’s right that we are starting to see so many more improvements in parental rights for men.

The thing is, modern day Feminism has just become ridiculous really hasn’t it?

If Feminism really is what it’s become, then I most definitely am not one.

Feminism seems to have become about “man hating” and being “Independent Women”. I’m all for independence, but the reality will remain, I’m not independent of Dave. Nor do I really have the desire to be. We both bring different things to the table and a lot of those things do sit in stereotypical male and female roles. And I’m 100% ok with that.

Equality for me and Dave, is standing side by side. Making each other a better version of themselves. None of this “behind every great man there’s an even greater woman” or vice versa rubbish. There’s no hierarchy. We compliment one another. We support each other.

But it works both ways. Behind me, there is not greater “him”. But we do make each other greater.

This blog has probably been on the cards for me for a while, but I was tipped over the edge this week by an article Dave shared on Facebook. Linda Reynolds, a Senator in Australia seems to think it’s a good idea for women to be pitched against men to test their physical abilities. And we’re talking here at a professional level, in the NRL (Australia’s pro Rugby League competition). This is such a physical sport and surely that will only end in tears?

Equality is for women to have their own league, that is held in the same esteem as men, with the same funds put into it. Equality is not mixing genders in a sport where men and women have different physical abilities, however you look at it, whether you like it or not.

Common sense has apparently gone out the window when it comes to Feminism. Apparently it is ok for women to kick up such a stink that we’re coming to a point, where I feel that men have less right than women in some cases. We can’t have Feminism just when it suits us.

It is irrelevant whether you are a man or a woman, gay or straight, or indeed black or white. We should all be treated with the same respect that we all deserve. Whether that is down to our pay, our opinions, sporting ability, performance or otherwise.

I’m not sure it should even be about Feminism anymore, but simply about Equality. But perhaps we need to re-evaluate what that really means, because it seems to me that the pendulum is swinging too far the other way.

No! You’ll mess up my macros!

I uttered these words from my lips about a year ago, to a colleague who asked if they could have one of my rice cakes.

A rice cake.

It’s only now I can see how ridiculous I sounded.

I’ve spent the best part of 10 years on a diet. Never the same one for too long, but I’ve tried Slimming World, Calorie Counting and Macro Tracking. I tried 5:2 for a bit (but VERY quickly lost the plot with it). I’ve tried intermittent fasting and let’s not forget my time on The Body Coach where I got so swept up in Joe Wick’s curly hair I didn’t have a clue who I was anymore.

I’d successfully lost somewhere in the region of 5 stone. The trouble was, it was the same stone going on and off constantly.

The day I got told that I “might” have MS, a switch went inside me. I couldn’t go on like this anymore. Two weeks from my 31st birthday I decided that enough was enough and diets couldn’t rule my life anymore. I was done with constantly using food to reward and punish myself.

On 25th September, my 31st birthday, Mel Wells started her Self Love week. I hadn’t heard of Mel before. (Or maybe I had – she played Loretta McQueen in Hollyoaks), but I fell in love with her, and her wonderful tribe quickly. Everything she stood for and advocated throughout that week was everything that I needed at this moment in my life.

By the end of the week, I’d resolved to join her academy. In doing so, I’ve now successfully ditched the diet mindset that I’ve spent my last ten years obsessed with (and constantly being made to feel like a failure from). The trouble is, up until roughly a week ago, I was very much living from a place of abundance. Like, eat all the food Jo, because you can!!!!!!

It’s liberating to not feel bad for eating so-called “banned” or “bad” foods, and I’ve got carried away with that. I’ve probably put somewhere between half a stone and a stone on. And now I’m ready. I’m ready to start eating intuitively, and not be bound to a diet. I’m ready to start eating whatever food makes me feel good (by which I mean, not eating all the chocolate because whilst it feels good to not punish myself, it doesn’t stop me feeling shitty and sick! But also still eating the chocolate because I love a good Bounty!)

I’ve gone from obsessing about food to going to a place where I truly enjoy my food. I made this realisation yesterday whilst I was sat eating a salad at a little coffee shop Dave and I had gone to for lunch. I’d opted for tuna salad, and I found myself thinking about how the tuna tasted. Not like how I was used to. In fact I even thought it was salmon for a short time, until I realised the tuna was probably just out of a tin in oil rather than one in brine or spring water as I was used to. It was bloody delicious!

I’m only at the start of this journey, but I’ve realised that baby steps are ok, as long as I’m going in the right direction.

No – I won’t be getting results as quickly as people doing all my previously mentioned diets, but my results are no longer about the number on the scale. They’re about happiness and treating myself right.

I’m enjoying this journey and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I’ve come in another 6 months.

And I won’t get funny about people eating my rice cakes ever again. In fact, eat them all. They taste like cardboard anyway.