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Thursday 31 December 2015

My year in photos

One of the best experiences of my life. Watching the sunset at the tip of Borneo.

On reflection, this year has been one of the best of my life: I hadn't even realised how much I'd done until now. I've made new friends, started a new job, found new hobbies and gone on an adventure. I'm so lucky to have experienced so many new things, and I can't wait to see what next year brings! 

Warning: photo-heavy post! Here are the best moments of my year :)

January - the family looking smart at a cousin's wedding :)

March - My amazing french exchange partner Adélaïde came to stay for a few days. Tu me manques!

April - one of my favourite photos I've taken this year. Cherry blossoms in the back garden :)

April - at Camp Sharkie (for more information about 'Sharkies' see my previous post here). I spent 4 days at Center Parcs with the best bunch of people. Lodge 150 had a go at decoupage :)

Camp Sharkie - the best community. Ever.

May - another night with some beautiful people. A wonderful member of the Black Milk community organised a birthday party for a number of us whose birthday fell on the same week (mine is the 11th!)

May - HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR! I had already been, but I was eager to go again so I went with my sister to celebrate our birthday. It was just as good the second time :)

May - the cutest alpacas ever at the Royal Bath and West show.

July - the start of my flexibility journey. Yeah, I couldn't touch my toes.

14th of July - the best day all year. My mum was declared officially free of cancer.

July - completing the Shaun the Sheep trail in Bristol on a beautiful day.

August - got a brilliant view of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta from our window.

August - watching the sunset from above the clouds in El Teide National Park, Tenerife.

Tenerife - a close encounter with short fin pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins. It was incredible to see them in their natural habitat!

September - yay for progress!

October - I went to visit a wonderful friend in Canterbury for her birthday. We took a day trip to Whitstable, and I fell in love with how quaint it was.

October - matching with Issy. The most beautiful person inside and out <3

November - Borneo. Witnessing a herd of Pygmy elephants in a palm oil plantation. One of the most surreal moments of my life.

Borneo - the cutest baby Orangutans playing together at a rehabilitation centre.

Borneo - I loved my first experience of snorkelling. Not a bad view either.

December - at the Black Milk UK Christmas party. Every single person there was fantastic <3

The Christmas party - I <3 them!

I hope you've all had a great 2015! Either way, I hope 2016 is even better :)

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Tuesday 29 December 2015

My Resolutions for 2016

This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for me, but I'm pleased to be able to say that I'm now the happiest I've been in a long time. There's always room for improvement though, so here are the things I'm going to try to focus my efforts on next year.

1. Be in the moment more often
Recently it's really dawned on me how much time I waste burying myself away from reality, whether that's on my phone, my laptop, behind a camera or in a book. Time slips by, and before you know it you've missed what's right in front of you. There's so much to be seen, if only we make the effort to look for it. Next year I'm going to make a conscious effort to spend time in my surroundings with no distractions.

2. Appreciate those around me
This year involved quite a few hospital visits for my family. Luckily everyone has made it through relatively unscathed, but it did remind me that people won't be here forever. I'm so lucky to have been born into a family that supports me, and to have met some of the best people who I can now call friends. Next year I'm going to spend as much time as possible with them and let them know that they're loved.

3. Make more time for things that I enjoy
This is partly related to number one. I spend so much time doing nothing of substance, that I run out of time to actually *do* things. This year I've been lucky enough to find a few new hobbies, and I'd love to dedicate more time to them. If I really put my mind to it I'm sure I'll make progress that I'm proud of.

4. Carry on with my fitness journey
Related to number 3! I've been lucky enough to find exercise classes that don't feel like a chore. It's an amazing thing to feel yourself getting stronger and fitter when all you've done is enjoy yourself. A particular goal for this is to be able to hold a handstand for a minute - I'd love to be able to hand balance, and have recently started handstand classes to help me achieve my goal.

5. Be more spontaneous
I've always been a "sensible" person, and my anxiety has meant that I find it hard to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I think my recent trip to Borneo was the first semi-spontaneous (booked a few months in advance) thing I've ever done, and that was incredible. So next year, if I want to go to visit a friend halfway across the country, I'm going to do it. If I want to see a film but have no-one to go with, I'll go by myself. Time is precious, and I need to start using it more efficiently instead of wasting time waiting.

6. Blog more!
Quite a few of my posts this year have started with a variation of 'Sorry I've been away for a while. I'm back now and I'm intending to blog more'. That's something I'm not proud of as I started this blog as a way of being creative and pursuing my passions for writing and photography. I feel like once I get back into the process I'll be okay. Creativity breeds, so I'm hoping that if I manage to keep it up for a little while my blogging funk will be back :)

For the past few years I've not been in the right mindset to be able to plan ahead. Now I'm feeling better, and I've decided that 2016 will be the year to live, not just be alive. I hope you're all as excited about a fresh start as I am! What are your resolutions for next year? :)

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Saturday 26 September 2015

Ten things that I live for

In the 21st century people put a lot of weight on the happiness derived materialistically. Some people even measure their happiness by how many pairs of shoes they own, or how nice their car is. I'd like to say that this doesn't apply to me, but it's so ingrained within society that I don't believe anyone is immune to it. However, the past few weeks have been amazing for one particular reason - my friends. I realised that there are more fundamental reasons for our happiness, and we all need to become more aware of these. Once we're aware we can embrace them, and increase our happiness without hurting our bank account! Here are ten things that make me happier than anything else.

1. Finding beauty in unexpected places.
2. Realising that I have more in common with someone than I first thought.
3. Making other people happy.
4. Being around people that radiate joy.
5. Being able to support those that need me most.
6. Achieving my goals.
7. Finding someone that I connect with instantly.
8. Doing something outside of my comfort zone.
9. Moments when I realise that there's nowhere else in the World I'd rather be.
10. Being happy with who I am.

I found writing this list really therapeutic, so why not give it a go? It confirmed to me that the best things in life really are free.

What do you live for?

Monday 24 August 2015

A blogger's guide to Canva

Have you heard of Canva before? It's a blogger's dream. For a long time Photoshop was the dedicated blogger's go-to tool for improving the appearance of their work, but now there's a new kid in town. I've only been using Canva for a few weeks, but it's completely blown me away. It allows me to create images that look as though I have way more artistic talent than I actually possess. And this really pleases the artist within me - I can finally start pushing myself to create the images I picture in my head.
Here's the low-down if you're interested in finding out more.
So, what is Canva?
Canva, simply put, is a website found here. But more than that, it's a tool. It offers free and paid picture elements, and guides you through graphic design to allow you to create more exciting images than you ever have before.

What can I do on Canva?
Pretty much anything you'd ever want to do to edit an image. There's the standard options that everyone is familiar with - crop, sharpen, change the contrast, add a filter (I actually really love Canva's filters, and often use those instead of Instagram's now). What makes Canva different are the premade layouts - these are complete designs that include an edited image, picture elements and text. These serve as an easy starting point if you're lacking inspiration for an image, as any single element of these can be edited as you choose. Quite often I will browse the layouts for a font or filter I like the look of and then apply these to my own images. What's even better is that Canva provides these layouts for images with different dimensions - there are some for Social Media (square), posters, blog headers etc. Canva's picture elements allow you to add another dimension to your designs. It really is a great stepping stone into graphic design, and a brilliant tool for even the most experienced designers.
Are there any restrictions?
Yes. Canva has its own Terms of Use (found here), which explain the legal side of things. To summarise, once you create an image on Canva with one of their paid-for elements (made obvious by the watermark displayed on them until you pay for them when downloading the image), you have 24 hours to edit the design. Otherwise you have to buy the elements again. This is called the One Time Use Licence Agreement, and it's how Canva can offer these elements for only $1 a time. The contributors are guaranteed a dollar every time their design is used, as opposed to just $1 per user. I don't know about you, but this strikes me as entirely reasonable. Once you've paid for your design you're permitted to use this just about anywhere - on social media, promotional material, even book covers. Prohibited uses are mainly the common sense type things, such as distributing the stock media, saving the stock media for later use in a different design or using the media in defamatory materials.
But I don't have an artistic bone in my body - is Canva for me?
Yes, absolutely! It's free to create an account, so please give it a go and be amazed at what you can create :)

Have you discovered Canva yet?

Tuesday 18 August 2015

5 simple photography tips for beginners

So, a small disclaimer to begin. I certainly don't consider myself to be an expert (I've only been using a DSLR in any capacity for less than a year), but these are the techniques that I've found have most improved my photography so far. I hope that they can help a few of you!

Rule of thirds
This is a composition technique used to help make a photograph more interesting (also a useful guideline when you can't decide how to take a picture!). In a nutshell, the idea is to place the subject of the photo (what you want the viewer to be focussing on) at the intersection between a third of the way across the horizontal, and a third of the way down the vertical. So, in your mind, split the photo into three across and three down (alternatively most cameras have a setting to add these grid lines to your screen). Wherever any of these lines cross (four different positions) is where you should aim to place your subject. Obviously this won't apply for things shots like portraits where you don't particularly want someone's head stuck in a corner!

Think about colour
Using contrasting colours or similar colours can lead to two very different images stylistically. Obviously this isn't something you can always control, but for photos where you can determine the composition this is definitely something to consider. Do you want the viewers' eyes to be drawn instantly to a particular subject? Maybe consider using contrasting colours in this case. If you'd rather the focus was the entire composition then colours that harmonise might work best.

Consider lighting 
If you want to take photos of things on the floor (or looking down onto any other horizontal surface) then it's probably best to take these when the sun is highest in the sky, otherwise you'll get elongated shadows, which will detract from the subjects. It's tempting to take shots of things on your window sill as that's where most of the light is. But that can often lead to problems due to the sheer amount of light coming through the window behind. The subject will appear dark, and maybe out of focus due to the contrast. Take photos close to a window, but on a surface where you can photograph it at right angles to the window (as equally you don't want to be between the window and the subject or you'll block all the light!)

Use manual focus to be more precise
If you're struggling to focus at the correct depth using your DSLR on auto focus then switch to manual focus. You can then fine tune the focus to precisely where you want it. It took me ages to move away from auto settings, but manual really isn't that scary once you get used to it! I also love using manual focus to take out of focus photos, particularly with string lights! They create a cool bokeh effect :)

Take practice shots
A pretty obvious one, but the advantage of most modern cameras is that you don't have to worry about the cost of film or how long it'll take to develop. I often take anywhere up to 50 photos for each blog post to test out angles, lighting and composition (I figure my family have just accepted the fact that it sounds like I'm conducting a full-blown photo shoot in my room). Don't be afraid to keep snapping, moving and rearranging until you take something you're 100% happy with.

Do you have any other tips that you picked up on when you were just starting out? :)

Sunday 16 August 2015

Review: Fashion Icon by Barry M

(had to up the contrast a little bit, just so you could see how awesome this actually looks IRL)

There aren't many nail varnishes that I fall head over heels for (demonstrated by my way-too-large varnish collection), but this is one of them. I can't say I'm a major fan of glitter nail varnishes - they can be a bit too dramatic for me. But this varnish is more like a shimmer: very fine glitter that isn't super obvious until the sun hits it just right. Then you'll be transfixed. The colours in this are amazing. The shimmer is amazing. The formula is great and really long lasting. And it looks just like a galaxy. What more could you want from a nail varnish?

Fashion Icon is part of the Glitterati collection from Barry M and is available at Boots and Superdrug for £3.99.

Have you fallen in love with a nail varnish recently? :)

Thursday 13 August 2015

Storing memories

I've wanted to start a diary for ages, but never had the motivation. I guess it's weird for a blogger to say, but I felt like I wasn't creative enough. How could I find enough in a day to write about? Then I thought: why not make it more structured? I have no problem answering questions, so maybe I could answer the same questions every day which will hopefully encapsulate all of the information that I would have shared in the more traditional manner.

So far this is really working. I've kept a diary for over a week, which is my longest streak ever! Impressive, I know ;) But I really don't see me losing motivation any time soon. When I think about writing my entry for the day I don't sigh with frustration. I know exactly what I'll be writing about and it takes me less than ten minutes. My entries are concise but comprehensive and I think they'll be great to look back on.

Below are the questions I've been using so far (flexible every day, obviously!):
- What did you do today?
- What are you most proud of?
- Who/what made you happy?
- What are you looking forward to?
- Overwhelming emotions
- Picture of the day (printed using my Polaroid Zip, reviewed here)
- I also draw a little picture to represent the day's weather!

Those are the standard questions I tend towards. Others that I've thought of are:
- My aim for tomorrow is...
- Today I learnt...
- I'm currently reading...
- Yesterday I dreamt...

How many of you keep a diary and how do you find motivation? :)

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Topshop and Urban Outfitters Haul

So someone let me loose in a shopping centre with a debit card again. I was also feeling a bit down on this particular day. DANGEROUS COINCIDENCE OF EVENTS. Anyway, since I spent more money than I should have, I thought my haul was worth sharing with you all. Luckily my brain didn't lose itself completely, and I did only buy things that I really loved, so I'm happy to recommend the following to you all :)

Elephant mug with added tea bag storage head bit... - £12 from UO (link)
This was one of those standard, unplanned 'no way I need it, but I must have it' purchases (actually that's probably a running theme for this entire blog post... *ahem*). In fact, when I bought it I didn't even like tea. But who can resist that face and stumpy legs and novel head storage? Yeah okay, I admit I'm an easy sell. I do really love elephants though (I also own a grey elephant lamp from UO) and I have since found a tea that I like, so I think I'll use this a lot. So spontaneous purchases do sometimes work out! *bank account cries*

Sleeveless tailored jacket - £45 from Topshop (link)
I fell in love with this sleeveless jacket as soon as I saw it, which was a surprise to me as I'd never lusted after one, and I don't own anything remotely similar. I'm sure I've seen some fashionable bloggers in these, so maybe my brain convinced me that I could be one of them. Anyway, this jacket is a pale dusty pink (they also had black, grey and navy I think), which actually doesn't look so bad against my ridiculously pale skin. It's a neutral colour so will go with most of my wardrobe. And it can be worn with a vest top during summer or layered for the winter. I think I'm going to get a lot use out of this, and I think it would be the perfect addition to any capsule style wardrobe due to its versatility. Helpfully for me, these are also available in the petite section (full length picture to follow when I can be bothered to use the tripod!) One drawback though, which I didn't notice until after purchase: dry clean only *shakes fist*

3D Ear Mouse Socks (am I the only one who thought they were cats?) - £3.50 from Topshop
Ahhh aren't these just the cutest? No, I have no excuse for buying them. But yes, I did take Topshop up on their offer of 3 pairs of socks for £8. So that makes it alright, right?
Other things that are pictured, but not mentioned:

Calm by Michael Acton Smith  - £9.99 from UO (not online)
(This was actually a gift from my sister - thanks Jess!)
This book is pretty amazing, As a short summary (before I review it in more depth soon), I'll use part of the blurb from the back. 'Using a mixture of creative prompts, activities, instructions and inspiration, Calm will open your eyes to the pleasure and richness of your everyday life.' The inside of this book is so pretty and interesting. So much detail! I can't wait to get started filling it in and gaining inspiration from it.

You Only Live Once by Lonely Planet - £22.99 from UO (not online)
I suffer from wanderlust. Almost every single day of my life I'm daydreaming about where I want to travel. So far I've not really been to any exotic destinations (my parents are the Florida and France type), but I hope to change that soon. In preparation I picked up this book which seems to contain information about anything you could ever need to know before you travel. Places to visit which are off the beaten track, local restaurants that people won't have heard of. I feel like I have all the knowledge of all the well-travelled people in the World crammed into one book and that makes me so excited!

Morrocan Tin Candle - £22 from UO (link)
To be honest, I was hoping Urban Outfitters would help me out here by describing the scent of this. I've really struggled to think of a way to describe it (with my failure of a sense of smell, which doesn't help) but have drawn a blank. I can't work out what combination of scents they've included, but it works. Fresh and fruity is how I'd describe it. I think *maybe* it's mainly passionfruit? Don't hold me to that though!

Modal Blend Ribbed Ankle Socks - £3.50 from Topshop (link)

White Lace Trim Ankle Socks - £3.50 from Topshop (link)

Have you had any successful hauls recently? :)

Sunday 9 August 2015

Review: Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer

Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer

I'm back! Hopefully for good this time as my creative juices (eww, sounds kinda gross. Sorry!) are back in full flow. I'm so excited to get back into this and share things that I love, think and do with you guys! 

I expect a lot of you will have already heard of the Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer (sold on Amazon here). I can't remember where I first saw it, but I do remember falling in love straight away. As someone who really enjoys taking photos but then never actually displays them anywhere, I thought the whole idea sounded perfect. Take a photo and you can have it stuck on your wall within a few minutes. Immediacy is the lazy man's friend. NO MORE EXCUSES.

The Zip is my first foray into the World of Polaroid and I have not been disappointed. The printer looks really smart and has the cute Polaroid rainbow stripes that make it instantly recognisable. Using the Polaroid Zip app (which annoyingly you have to use) you can 'quick print' (print the photo as is), 'edit print' or even use 'Secret view' to add secret messages in the form of codes so that only the intended recipient can read it. Then out comes (slowly, but not too slowly) a perfectly formed miniature of your photography. The quality isn't fantastic up close, but when you're dealing with a 2  by 3 inch photo this isn't such a big deal. 

The printer works using 'Zink' ('Zero Ink') technology. The scientist in me was intrigued. It basically means that the printer heats up the photo paper which turns the molecules embedded in the special Zink paper different colours depending on the temperature of the plate inside. This is both fascinating and practical, meaning you can carry your Zink printer around without having to worry about ink spillages.

Overall I love this little device and I'm sure I'll be getting plenty of use out of it. Due to the ease of use and the low cost of replacement paper I've even started printing a photo of the day, which I hope will be a great thing to look back on when I'm older :) I've listed some more pros and cons (in my opinion!) below:

- Not *too* expensive
- Comes in four fancy colours (black, blue, pink, white)
- Looks smart
- Prints take about 7 seconds
- No ink or toner refills to worry about
- The Zink paper has a sticky back so you can stick your photos anywhere
- The app is relatively easy to use
- Paper refills aren't too expensive when bought in bulk (I bought 70 sheets at once)

- You have to download the Polaroid Zip app
- You can only use one size paper, so photos have to be standard dimensions. Although I guess you could always cut the paper to fit
- I've had some problems printing high quality photos straight from my DSLR. In order to get them to print I have to pass them through some editing software and re-save. It's fine because that doesn't lower the quality of the final print (it wouldn't have been able to print it higher quality anyway) but it does add an extra step
- Sometimes the printer gets a little bit confused and displays an error message, but I've not found anything that hasn't been solved by the ole 'turn it off and back on again'

I think that's it! I would highly recommend the Polaroid Zip to anyone who loves photography and instant gratification. After the initial purchase it's cheap to run, low maintenance and just fun. 

Do you have a mobile printer? What do you think?
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Friday 15 May 2015

My struggle with mental illness

It doesn’t take a genius to notice that my blog has taken a back seat for a very long time. As an explanation, and as I feel passionate about the subject, I thought I’d make a return to blogging with a post which I hope will be insightful and educational.

This week is mental health awareness week. And for as long as I can remember, but particularly for the past few months, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. Although 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness every year there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding it, and it’s almost impossible for someone who’s never experienced it to understand. It’s not easy to spot a sufferer. They learn to put on a different face, and attempt to get on with life as normal. But it’s difficult. I thought I’d try to share my experience by talking about the things I feel, and things I say, on a daily basis.

Everyone feels fear every now and then. Feeling anxious before something challenging can be a good thing because adrenaline is released which can improve your performance. But my fear is daily, and irrational. Imagine waking up every morning feeling terrified. Your chest is tight and you struggle to breathe.  You try to calm yourself by thinking rationally. “But I’m only going to work, like I do five days a week.” But the irrational, anxious part of your brain wins. You have to force yourself out of bed. Going to work feels like climbing a mountain.

Even though you try your hardest to live life normally, sometimes you let your illness win. You have to take a break from battling your mind and have to turn down invitations just to take some time to yourself. And you feel so guilty. You feel weak. You don't have a limb hanging off so why can't you do normal things? Everyone else manages to go out with their friends. They don’t have to keep thinking of new excuses.

Even though the almost permanent sense of fear is terrible, the moments when you feel nothing can seem worse. Humans as a species are constantly evaluating their choices and lifestyle. You want to create a life which makes you happy. Living with depression takes that opportunity from you. You don’t know what will make you happy because you don’t feel emotions. You flip through scenarios in your head but it doesn't help. You’re just trapped in this state of nothingness and feel empty.

This is easy to understand, but very frustrating. You use all of your energy getting out of bed and through the working hours. By the time you get home you just want to sleep. Knowing that you have to repeat it all the following day makes everything so much harder.

Mental illness often brings with it low self-esteem. Everything becomes your fault, and you become withdrawn. No-one would want to be friends with you anyway because you’re a horrible person, and people are better off not knowing you.

When your emotions are dulled days begin to blur. Months have passed before you know it. And then you start to wonder whether you'll ever be better. You've already lost months to this illness and there's no sign of things improving. You try to hang onto the fact that there's still plenty of time for improvement, but sometimes you lose sight of it.

I don’t think people realise that, along with mental pain, physical pain can be a side effect of mental illness. Stomach cramps and chest pains aren’t uncommon.

As well as affecting how you feel, I've noticed that I've made small changes to how I act. In particular I find myself repeating the same phrases.

Things I’ll say:

This is a side effect of guilt and feeling worthless. Everything is your fault and you make sure that you own up to it (mostly unnecessarily) as often as possible.

“I’m fine”
This is due to the stigma. You’re not often showing any outward signs of suffering, so you keep it to yourself. There’s no point in giving away your secret when a large proportion of people wouldn't know how to deal with a conversation about mental illness. 

“I’m just tired”
When everything becomes overwhelming this is the go-to excuse. It doesn't often provoke a follow-up conversation, and so it’s a quick way of diverting attention away from yourself.

“I don’t know”
This is the result of those feelings of nothingness. When you can’t latch onto emotions you’re unable to formulate an answer to a lot of questions. People ask you what’s wrong or if you want to do something in particular and you’re unable to tell them.

Living with a mental illness is relentless and frustrating. It often feels like all of the best emotions have been taken away from you by an ominous being that is determined that you'll never feel happy again. But of course this isn't true. For most people, treatment and support will go a long way to getting them back on track,

What I hope people to take away from this post is an open mind and a willingness to understand. The more people who are willing to learn about mental illness, the less the stigma surrounding it will be. And always remember to be kind. Because for all you know, the next person you meet might be fighting a daily battle with their own mind.
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P.S. The amazing images used in this blog post are all courtesy of Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half. For a more in depth idea of what it's like to live with depression please visit her website here.

Allie Brosh / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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