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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, searching for pure happiness & joy

February 17, 2018

Book Club No.13

Hello fellow bookworms - it's been a hot minute since my last book review post and I'm trying my best to start 2O18 off with good intentions and those good intentions involve at least one book club post a month (so so far, so good!). This time around there is a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction, true crime and total fantasy, but there's a steady theme of macabre running throughout and would you ever expect anything less from my inner goth now? You'll be pleased to know that each of these books are getting a good review off the bat I can tell you that much - I've enjoyed reading them all, for entirely different reasons, so let's get into it:

Talking with Psychopaths and Savages by Christopher Berry-Dee
The first book to talk about is something I picked up over the Christmas period. If you guys love true crime and you live in the UK and have a The Works store nearby, regularly check it because they always have hidden gems in there when it comes to this subject matter. I picked this book up as I instantly recognised the author's name as someone who knows *a lot* about true crime. Christopher Berry-Dee is criminologist and author behind many popular true crime books including Talking with Serial Killers and Dead Man Talking as well as a face who regularly gets involved in crime documentaries and TV shows.

Talking with Psychopaths and Savages takes on a slightly different spin to Berry-Dee's other books on serial killers/murderers as although it does give chapter by chapter accounts of particular individuals, it's more about the collective idea of what makes someone a psychopath and what makes someone a savage and the difference between the two. Berry-Dee details throughout the book the idea that some individuals have a lot of the "psychopathic" traits and thus are psychopaths by definition whereas other individuals - the likes of Oscar Pistorius for example - are savages as they killed but didn't go on a murder spree. It's a really interesting concept and the fact that he keeps going back to it throughout the book is very well executed and makes you feel like you truly understand what the author is trying to explain. The case studies switch from chapter to chapter from psychopath-based to savage-focused and begin to focus on an individual person or case so you fully grasp what the author means. It was interesting to not just read about "the classic" serial killers if you like and actually read about a whole host of different criminals and the lengths a criminologist has to go to try to get answers.

One thing I really liked about this book was it's easy reading. Berry-Dee has a great way of writing in a friendly manner as if it's just a friend telling you about their job down the pub - it's got a personal feel and he lets his humour, sarcasm, and sheer disbelief in some cases shine through and I think that gives it a believable edge. Some true crime authors keep it very strictly fact-based which of course, isn't a bad thing, but I quite like to see an author get riled up and say they were disgusted with an individual they met if they actually were. A couple of minor things I struggled with with this book though was the editing and the self-promotion. I tend to be a big fiction lover and don't read anywhere near as much non-fiction so I don't know if this is commonplace, but Berry-Dee name drops himself or his other texts repeatedly throughout this work. I'm all for self-promotion (I mean come on I'm a blogger), but sometimes it's unnecessarily mentioned and frequent enough that it distracted me from enjoying the book. As I mentioned, the editing got me a little too as there are a few mistakes throughout the book and although that's bound to happen to so many books, I thought it was often enough to again, distract me from enjoying reading it. Overall I'd highly recommend this book though if you like true crime but want to read something a little different that isn't just focused on the "big name" serial killers like many other texts are. You can pick up Talking with Psychopaths and Savages for £7.99 here.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Ahh, Neil Gaiman. I feel that anyone who is a fan of fiction will have read any number of Gaiman's books at some point but I always seem to discover more and more that I haven't actually read by him and The Graveyard Book is one of them. Now, you all have to bear with me when I try to give you some insight into the plot of this story because as with most Gaiman books, it is weird, wonderful, and dazzlingly complex to explain.

Generally speaking, the story opens with a man called Jack who breaks into a family home owned by the Dorian's. He is intent on murdering the family and manages to do so but one family member unknowingly escapes. A little boy, a toddler who climbed out of his crib, escapes and wanders to the local graveyard where he is discovered by a variety of local haunts. These ghosts discuss what to do with the human child but when they see the murderer Jack approaching the graveyard, they decide it's best to keep him there to ensure his safety. Once the ghosts realise the boy doesn't have any parents and no longer has a home, two of them volunteer to become his grave parents and the little boy is christened Nobody Owens (Bod for short). The story then follows Bod growing up in the graveyard. He interacts with a variety of ghostly neighbours in his community from all walks of life and also speaks to the groundskeeper Silas regularly as the only other human who knows he is living there. Silas brings him food, colouring books, and even a teacher from out of the graveyard to make sure Bod still lives a life like a normal boy as he grows up.

Saying anything more will not only ruin the story but will also be incredibly difficult to explain as it's a very twisted and very fantasty-heavy book that you simply have to read to fully understand. I really really enjoyed reading The Graveyard Book. Gaiman has a knack for describing things in such detailing without over telling you what things look or sound or smell like but, it creates enough of a vivid image in your mind. The story is so unique and there's twists and turns that anyone would find interesting and not see coming. The juxtaposition between Bod trying to lead a normal, young boy, life with all the supernatural wonder of the graveyard, the inhabitants, and his growing abilities to do things like become invisible and control people's dreams is what makes it such a gripping story. Gaiman gives each character such perfect personalities that are all so unique it keeps you glued to the pages throughout as you really can't predict what's going to happen next as the story is so far-fetched but in the best possible way. If you're a fan of young adult fiction or you just like fiction you can totally get lost in, you simply have to pick up The Graveyard Book for as little as £6.49.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry
Remember back near the start of this post when I was raving about how great The Works is for finding hidden gems? Yeah, you guessed it - I picked up Helter Skelter in there too. Helter Skelter is the 1974 true crime work of Bugliosi and Gentry which went on to be the best selling true crime book in history. If you're not familiar with the title, Helter Skelter is based on Charles Manson and the wider "Manson Family" as "Helter Skelter" was the apocalyptic race war Manson was obsessed with and believed would happen (and it is also a song by The Beatles from their album White Album which again, Manson was particularly obsessed with). Bugliosi served as the prosecutor for the trial of Manson and the other "family" members and therefore recounts the trials, the investigation leading up to Manson arrest and everything in between.

I always feel like a lot of people don't like to talk about or read up on Manson anymore as it's almost as if he's "too popular" (a bit like Bundy and Dahmer) or he's not a "true killer" as the Manson history and story is more about his ability to control and manipulate others rather than him going out and murdering people. However, I still find everything surrounding the man, the murders, and the "Manson Family" quite fascinating and as he only died last November 19th 2O17 and there has been a lot of discussion in the media since about how his body should be handled etc., it made reading this all the more relevant for me in a way. Sharon Tate (one of the murder victims by the Manson Family), is also one of my favourite actresses so having the ability to look more into her death and essentially research further via this text was also something I enjoyed getting my head around.

The book is incredibly well written and provides the cold hard facts in a very easy to follow manner. Not only is it easy to follow, it again provides that personal insight and opinion from the author Bugliosi much like the aforementioned Berry-Dee does in his work. Having this impartial recount of the Manson murders with a slight drip drop of opinion splashed amongst the pages here and there makes it a great page turner. Being a true crime fan, this book provides such an insight to the whole concept of the cult and lead up to the murders and the arrests that I feel no other book I've read on Manson or documentary I've watched manages to do. Helter Skelter influenced two TV movies to be made with the same title and was also an influence for the idea behind The Strangers film, too. The book is incredibly gripping and does give you chills reading it as it helps you begin to try and get inside the mind of Charles Manson - a very troubled, complex, and sometimes downright bizarre mind that I think managed to baffle and confuse professionals for years and years after his arrest. Pick up Helter Skelter for around £8.Oo here.

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February 13, 2018

Real Talk: You are Enough

Happy Galentine's Day and (almost) Valentine's Day to all you lovely folk - whether you think it's a day to spoil a loved one or you think it's a big ol' con, Valentine's Day rolls around every year and gets more or less the same general mixed reaction. For me this year, I've taken a step back and been thinking about myself (how self-centred I know). So many of us are quick to shower others with love, gifts, and general niceties but we tend to forget about the person that should be most important to ourselves: your "me myself and I". The whole focus on Valentine's Day can leave some of us feeling a little bit down as we compare our relationships to others or feel a negative pressure because we're single and I think it's so disheartening to think that anyone sees a holiday based around love (no matter what your stance on the corporate consumer side of it is, it is still focused on love!) as something to actively dislike and feel negatively about. That's why today I wanted to talk a little bit about self-love, why Valentine's Day is as a good time as any to practice it, and why you should see yourself and your worth as enough without the impact or inclusion of others.

When I say "the impact or inclusion of others", I'm talking about that validation we seek from outside sources. I'm 1Oo% guilty of this all of the time as I try to please others or do things against my better judgement to keep or make others happy and when I take a step back from that, I often realise that in turn it's not making me as satisfied as I thought and/or it's actually heading towards a calamity of negativity at lightning speed. In trying to make others cheerful and content constantly you almost create this "fake happy" feeling for yourself that yeah, you feel great about initially, but in the long run you realise it's just surface happiness and it hasn't managed to work it's way down deeper into your soil as it didn't come from a genuine, self-secured place in the first instance. Being happy and confident in yourself and practicing self-love often has this bizarre connotation of vanity and selfishness as if your moral compass has gone haywire but in reality, self-love should be a practice more people participate in to try and feel more content and joyful within themselves. Although I don't agree that you have to love yourself for others to love you, being somewhat happy with aspects of you - however many or minute those "things" are - help create foundations within yourself that cannot be knocked down by others; they can stand the test of time as their only potential enemy is yourself and your own criticism. Self-love isn't easy as many of us have insecurities, mental health, and just sheer stubbornness to fight against, but hopefully I can provide a few simple everyday practices that might make you sit back and think "you know what, I am enough. I can create my own happiness":

Thinking Self-Love
As I just mentioned, it can be pretty difficult at times to be a self-loving individual, but there's a few small ways to do it, even when you're not feeling up to it! Often complimenting yourself in any sort of way - particularly if you're feeling insecure or vulnerable at the time - can feel like a chore and completely impossible to carry out. Meditating can help or even just switching off from social media for 15-3O minutes to do it with intent can help. A way I've started to do this to ensure that I'm at least dedicating time to thinking self-love is by looking after myself with intent. Whether it's giving myself a pep talk in the mirror as I do my makeup in the mornings, or if it's a *proper chat* with myself, it all helps. Thinking self-love with intent means you're focusing your energy and thoughts on bettering yourself and a great way to do it is to do something intently - for me that's skincare. I find actually taking time to properly look after my skin instead of doing it in a rush just before bed really helps boost my self-love. Little things like taking just a couple of minutes to work in some hand cream into my hands whilst thanking them in my mind for well, basically being handy (see what I did there) and for all of the introductory handshakes they've provided and the creativity they unleash now and again can really help. Pampering my feet now and again and thanking them in my mind for all the places they've taken me, for keeping me active and therefore nourishing my soul and body both inside and out is another example. It might sound silly to some of you, but being that kind and thoughtful, towards yourself, can be such a mood changer in the best possible way. Thinking self-love may be cheesy, but it gives you an opportunity to get a little more spiritual with yourself, be mindful and therefore ultimately more comfortable in your own skin, as well as just a great excuse to tell yourself you're fab and doing a top job at existing.

Doing Self-Love
Okay so being your own cheerleader internally is great but letting that shine through into actual activities can take it to a whole new level. Whilst I think self-love can be things like self-care beauty regimes, keeping fit and healthy with exercise, a good diet, or treating yourself now and again, it can be even simpler than that. One great way of doing self-love and actually demonstrating self-love through an action is to write. that. shit. down. If you're someone who bullet journals, why not do a positivity page that is full of all your strengths, the things you like about yourself, and the things you want to improve? Although this is an external thing to do - just like the previously mentioned self-care things - it can help you internally be more optimistic and positive and that will in turn help make self-love that much easier. Something else that can really help with self-love is organisation. Whether it's making sure you regularly make healthcare/dental/beauty & hair appointments or just live by the "tidy house tidy mind" mantra, it can all help creating an appealing environment and life to be in and thus make you feel more content with yourself as a person.

Absorbing & Projecting Self-Love
Whilst becoming more organised with certain aspects of your life, another way to really encourage that self-love is making sure you are truly absorbing it and then dishing it back out around you. So far I've mentioned a lot of things that are very *me* based - things that are for the self because of course, your self is central to self-love. I've talked about being confident to date yourself no matter your relationship status before and I still believe being comfortable and happy within yourself, without the need of validation from others is central to being happy. With that being said though, it would be silly and inaccurate to suggest that self-love is not impacted at all by those around you. By practicing self-love and becoming more mindful, you can ensure that you're projecting that love back out into the world. Surrounding yourself with positivity can be contagious and part of self-love is finding the courage to keep that happy community around you and cutting out anything that is toxic. Whether it's a relationship, friendships, your job, an environment, or even just bad habits you've gotten into lately, switching it all up can help free up your mind, help you see more clearly and give you the desire and motivation to improve those areas you're not so satisfied with. Whilst I'll say it again, I don't think you need to love yourself to receive love from another, it certainly does help and having your own validation and love is undoubtedly noticeable and palpable for those around you.

Feeling Self-Love
You can never expect to feel compassion and happiness for yourself if you can't accept the bad that comes along with the good. Whilst I'm sitting here preaching to you all to look after yourselves, to put on your sassy pants and be completely happy with everything you have to offer the world, there are of course the negative niggles that come along with it all. This is where many of us fall down and crumble under the apprehension or the pessimistic voices we all have and usually, they manifest themselves in reminding you of something bad you did once and therefore, you're undeserving of your own self-love and worth. Trust me gang, I've been there and got many a-t-shirt, but you've got to battle it. I'm not suggesting you turn a blind eye to it though no; quite the opposite as it goes. Welcome in those negative thoughts but in a constructive way. Almost think of that particular incident your mind is reminding you of as book, a story. It's something you're looking in on from an impartial point of view. Think of when you give friends or family members advice and you might play devil's advocate and suggest different outcomes etc. - do that for yourself but in a more streamline way. Look back and access that particular incident and don't see it as a mistake but instead, try to work out what learning curve the universe was trying to throw at you and what you could do differently next time if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. You can't change the past no matter how many of us dwell on it so the only positive and logical way to deal with it is to use it to strengthen future you. Use it to form a wiser, more self-secure, self-confident, happy, and content you.

I'd be a massive hypocrite if I sat here and acted like I do all of this on a regular basis because ho ho, I certainly do not. But the last few months have really taught me and shown me that you've got to be your own best friend and whilst that is often easier said than done, it's something worth working on because guess what? You are enough. In fact, you're more than enough. You deserve to live this life with a full heart above all else and the only way to keep that ticker stocked up is to ensure at the base of it, it's at least got you drip feeding into it little and often, throughout your day to day life, to make sure you feel loved and ready to take on whatever life throws at you (even this dreaded Valentine's public celebration).

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January 28, 2018

Me & My Other Interests: Serial Killers I'd Have A Cuppa With (Part 1)

Let's kick off 2O18 properly with something I've wanted to blog about for a long long time. If you've been a reader of NB for a while now, you may be familiar with my sporadic "Me & My Other Interests" series which covers all aspects of yep, you guessed it, my interests that don't make a common appearance here on the blog. One thing I wanted to include in this series originally was my interest in criminal psychology and in particular, serial killers. Since I was young, I've had a big fascination with true crime, forensics, and certainly the psychological studies on serial killers as it's so against the societal norm, it's fascinating to try to understand if nature or nurture (or a blend of both) are to blame for their actions. Now, you may have noted I used the term "fascinated" twice there and there's a reason for this. As a teen I used to (very foolishly) refer to my interest in this topic as "I love serial killers". As you can see, there's so many reasons that's not okay to say and as there are actually people out there who *do* feel that way towards serial killers, I've educated myself over the years to not say something so misguided and to ensure I am not associated with such people. I think it's important to note here that although I find the whole topic incredibly interesting, especially to discuss with others who also find it interesting, romanticising serial killers or true crimes I find very distasteful and that is not what this post is about. With that in mind, please do take it with a pinch of salt that this topic is part of this series, but I simply did not know where else to place it!

So, I've said "serial killers I'd have a cuppa with" and I definitely mean that. The first time I saw The Silence of the Lambs, I was convinced I would grow up to be a criminal psychologist and work with those who were seen as "no help/life imprisonment for their crimes" individuals. The idea of being able to speak to such people and try to analyse and understand their actions, motivations, and why they do what they do was such an interesting concept. I can now say I'm pleased I didn't go into that line of work as I honestly don't think my mental health could cut it but, I still find it incredibly gripping to read, research, and learn about. Serial killers in particular captivate me because it goes against every moral social fibre in our day to day lives. They're very much on the fringe of what is accepted by society and I'm always intrigued to know just what it is that made that particular person think what they think and then actually take that a step further and act upon it. Some serial killers have awful upbringings and back stories which are blamed in part, some don't, some have patterns and strict "tell tale" signs that it is their crime, and others just seem to have no rhyme or reason to their chosen victims or their murders. So in this post, I thought I would briefly talk about the individuals who I'd be most interested to talk to for a variety of reasons. Whether it's because of their motives, their intelligence, or their backstory, there's some criminals out there and throughout history that I would like to have a conversation with and just ask "why?".

Dennis Rader - the BTK Killer/Strangler
Dennis Rader is an interesting character for a number of reasons for me. He operated between 1974-1991 and confessed to having murdered 1O people in Kansas during this time. His nickname he penned for himself stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill" and this was included in letters he left in public places such as public libraries or letters he sent directly to various local media outlets and the authorities. These correspondences were referred to as "chapters" by Rader as he was creating the "BTK Story". Rader is one of those killers who lived a double life - he was a church goer, a boy scout troop leader, and a happy husband and loving father so when he pleaded guilty to the murders in 2Oo5, many people in his local community were completely stunned.

I find Rader interesting because for the most part, he seemed to have a good upbringing but it has been sourced that he dabbled in hanging animals when he was younger (and animal killings seem to be "a sign" for authorities when it comes to serial killers backstories). He seemed to be able to function well in society and keep up appearances but he's also interesting as it is evident that he wanted to be caught. Not only did he taunt the authorities and media by leaving evidence behind such as letters and semen at some crime scenes, he then sent letters including victim and crime scene pictures and a word puzzle to the police and media again in 2Oo4; the 3Oth anniversary of the Otero Family deaths (Rader's first 4 victims which he strangled in their home for the 15 year old son to come home from school to find). When speaking to the police, he asked if his location could be traced if he corresponded with them using a floppy disk and the police told him "no" but of course, they were lying. He was arrested in 2Oo5 after the authorities traced the floppy disk use back to Rader's local church's computer. He is serving 1O life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. Rader is also said to have mentioned "Factor X" in his correspondences with authorities and claimed that other killers he had evidently romanticised (such as Bundy, Jack the Ripper, Son of Sam etc.) also shared this Factor X. In 2Oo7, Rader tried to explain that Factor X was essentially a demon which sometimes took on the appearance of a frog or a traditional-looking demon that controlled his impulse to kill and thus, he blamed Factor X for his behaviour. Obviously this creates more psychological depth to this egotistical killer which is further interesting in his case.

Herman Webster Mudgett - H.H. Holmes
A con artist, a bigamist, and a serial killer, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes certainly made a name for himself in the criminal field in the 19th Century. Often dubbed the American Ripper and one of America's first serial killers, H.H. Holmes confessed to 27 murders but could only be pinned for 9 as some individuals he had claimed to have killed were still alive. It has been rumoured since his killing days that Holmes is actually responsible for up to 2Oo deaths but this has never been confirmed and after changing his statement upon the gallows and claiming to have only ever killed 2 people, it is difficult to truly know what crimes Holmes committed. A medical university graduate, Holmes crimes really came into play when he moved to Chicago and started working in a pharmacy which he later took over. As a uni student, Holmes would steal cadavers, disfigure them, then claim they were individuals who were involved in accidents to claim health insurance. Once he owned the pharmacy business, he started the construction of a three-story building nearby which was later dubbed "Murder Castle".

This "Murder Castle" was Holme's home which he opened and showcased as a hotel. It has been said that he never shared the full blueprints of the hotel layout to builders and contractors as doors leading to brick walls, windowless rooms, and human size chutes which lead to two furnaces in the basement would have obviously raised some alarm bells. It is believed that Holmes would torture and murder his "guests" and he was also known for having a number of fiancés that suddenly would disappear and therefore many believe he murdered them, too. After the local World's Fair in Chicago and after being wanted for arson, Holmes left Chicago and gained an accomplice called Benjamin Pietzel. Pietzel and Holmes schemed to fake Pietzel's death to claim $1O,Ooo insurance to split between Pietzel's wife and Holmes. Holmes instead knocked Pietzel unconscious with chloroform and set his body on fire. When he was eventually arrested for this crime in 1895, the authorities realised the other crimes he had committed over the years in Chicago. He was hanged in 1896 for Pietzel's murder and plead that he had only murdered 2 people. During a time of "yellow journalism" when everything was over-exaggerated to create hysteria, I think it'd be fascinating to actually speak to H.H. Holmes to find out what actually happened and to ask about the "Murder Castle".

Theodore Robert Bundy - Ted Bundy
I feel that writing a post such as this, without mentioning this man, would be a mistake. That's not to romanticise the man or his crimes (because I think more than enough people do that already), but as he is often the inspiration behind many films, books, and contemporary killers, not to mention often believed to be the person responsible for the phrase and label "serial killer" being used for specific criminals, Ted Bundy is a notorious name in the serial killing game. A serial murderer, rapist, and necrophiliac, Ted Bundy has become a well-known name and face who after a decade of denying his crimes, eventually admitted to killing 36 women over several US states roughly between 1974 and 1978. It is believed by many that this victim count actually exceeds 1Oo but the exact number of deaths he is responsible for will never be known.

Ted Bundy is often considered a "typical" serial killer case when looking at his backstory and upbringing. He was an illegitimate child which his grandparents adopted as their own and Bundy was told that his mother was actually his sister thus to not bring shame on the family. He was an intelligent child but showed disturbing signs from an early age as people such as his Aunt claimed he was fascinated with knives from as young as three thought nothing of peeping through people's windows and stealing. In interviews with Bundy in his later years, he spoke highly of his grandfather and felt he could relate to the man well but he was known for beating Bundy's grandmother, raising his voice often, swinging neighbourhood cats around by their tails, and throwing one of his children down the stairs. Bundy also seemingly lied about his social life as a teen in interviews as a convicted adult as he claimed he didn't have any friends and didn't understand social interactions which led to friendships but high school classmates claimed Bundy was relatively well-known and well liked throughout the school.

One of the reasons I would like to speak to Bundy is because he became so prolific, it was as if he was a celebrity. Often described as incredibly charismatic and attractive - even by victims - Bundy played on this in many ways from luring victims to his car to beat them and later murder them, to acting as his own defense lawyer in court. He seemed incredibly full of himself for lack of a better phrase and seems quite arrogant and self-assured in any court case/interview footage I've watched. He is very much the traditional essence of a serial killer in the fact that he had a modus operandi (tell-tale signs or specific things he performed in carrying out his crimes) and victims often seemed to fit in a certain box of being a young white woman, often a student, and quite often with long dark hair. Professionals often associate Bundy's break up with his college girlfriend as a pinnacle moment in his life which caused the decent into his murders and the hold he seemed to have over women right up until his death is bizarre. It is evident that he had a distaste for women and no respect for them, but he cleverly engineered his behaviour to demonstrate an interest in them to gain what he wanted from his victims.

I could discuss here for days and days the interesting links in his murders, the psychological profiling and analysing he underwent to try to understand his pathology and so on, but we really would be here for days. One thing I personally find interesting about Bundy is the fact that he shared that he always needed to be "extremely drunk" when seeking a victim and carrying out his heinous acts. He claimed this was to sedate his dominant personality so it could not influence his entity which I think suggests that there was a part of him who knew he was doing wrong and was trying to fight back. Of course he was an absolute monster of a man and no psychological realisations about him can falter that, but his crimes, his brazen lying, and his escapes from prison all portrays a manipulative man who had a lot going on in his mind.

If you want to read more on Bundy's crimes and pathology, this wiki page is a good place to start.

Before this post becomes some sort of novel, I will cut it short here and a part 2 will be heading to NB shortly. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I truly believe that true crime - particularly involving serial killers and sadistic murderers - should never be romanticised, but it can be an incredibly thought-provoking topic and needs to be discussed. Of course true crime history is looked back on in the realms of criminology and psychology to learn and educate for the the future, but true crime also fills that void for many people as it's out of societal norm and is so out of the ordinary for many individuals that you can't help but find yourself engrossed in a documentary or a book detailing what happened and the backstories to these criminals. I don't know what that says about us as human beings so I'm not going to dwell on it too much, but I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of a different segment on NB and you're looking forward to part 2!

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January 16, 2018

Go Outside

Hello friends, I hope you read this and feel inspired, but I just wanted to share with you all how important it is to go outside. Now, before I inevitably tumble into one of my long rambles, I am not suggesting for one minute that going outside is easy. It's a matter of accessibility, physical and mental health, and sometimes just sheer bravery, confidence, and motivation. I think it's fair to say that the majority of us have been there - been in that rut where we've gotten stuck in a constant loop with the cabin fever so it's more like cabin comfort and it's been a struggle to break the routine. It can feel impossible to break the habit of staying in but oh the euphoria some of us can feel once we've stepped outside and into a safe space that makes us feel something I just don't think any words in the English language can quite cover.

Although it's not easy for all and it's not even an option for some, many of us don't have a valid reason for not getting outside and that's what I hope to help change - even if just one of you try to get out a little more. Nature is an absolutely beautiful thing. When I'm saying we should all get out more, we should be taking in what's around us. It's very easy to feel contained and comfortable within the confines of our urban centres but when we branch out that little bit - whether it's just wandering through a lush open park or getting out into the wilderness and mountains - we feel simply euphoric no matter how much you may not like camping or the outdoors! Being around nature, the trees, plants, open water... all of it can be so positive for mental health, for helping you just generally feel happier, and it's certainly good for getting rid of stress. The air is cleaner for our lungs, we can leave feeling inspired, and my goodness - it's just beautiful, right? So here's my quick run-down on why we should get out and about more this year and make 2O18 the year for going outside.

Give your mental health a good boost
As I mentioned, going outside can be really difficult for many individuals, but I've found it a huge help with my mental health when I've needed a pick-me-up. Whilst I'm very much a homebody and an introvert who likes to keep themselves to themselves most of the time, going out can be a godsend and that switch in scenery that I desperately need. When I'm stuck in a rut and find myself struggling with my fatigue or motivation and happiness, I tend to declare myself housebound and won't really leave the house for anything. I've seen myself not step foot out of my home for 4 days at time and even when I haven't had any food in the house, I've just ordered takeaway to avoid leaving the house. As you can imagine that sort of environment only helps breed more anxiousness and negative feelings for me so when I do pluck up the courage to step out the door or the cabin fever just gets too much, the relief of that fresh air hitting my face is so refreshing.

*(Images: Near Dark Photography)*
Outfit Details: Asos Mens Beanie, Vintage Coat, H&M Jeans, UK Glamorous via Topshop Fringe Bag (old), Doc Marten Boots

Feel fit, healthy, and content on the outside too
So going outside may help your mental health, but it's also no surprise that it can help your physical health, too. I'm not the biggest health buff - only choosing to dabble in yoga here and there - but just going out and walking is something I can get behind. Regularly going out and walking in nature, whether it's in the woods, along the beach, or just laps in the local park, it can make you feel so much fitter and healthier and always makes me feel like I've spent my time well. Breathing in fresh clean air can instantly impact your mood and give you a bounce in your step. Being consistent with trekking outdoors can also help you set goals that can be challenging but definitely achievable. Think about how far you might have walked lately on an outing and promise yourself you're going to walk for longer/further/faster next time. Just because you're enjoying something doesn't mean you can't let it be a benefit to other areas of your life so if exercise is something that doesn't appeal to you or you simply don't think you're capable, just try letting your feet guide you and reap the benefits it has on your physical body.

Nothing can rival it's beauty
The biggest argument anyone will ever present to you for convincing you to go outside is the sheer beauty of it all. As I said earlier, urban centres are lovely for a variety of reasons, but nothing beats stepping out into those lesser populated, more scenic places. The views can be amazing, the smells cannot be rivalled, and you have every chance of seeing wildlife in their natural habitats and that should be a reason enough to get out there! If you're an avid photographer of any description or you just simply like to explore and soak up all views and experiences "in the moment", wandering around in nature is bound to tick so many boxes for so many people. If you're someone who likes to have a bit more energy to their adventures, there's great apps that you can download that do things like tell you what mushroom you've discovered growing when you're out and about, what birds you've spotted flying overhead, or simple challenges for you to try and complete whilst you're out like spotting a rainbow! If you're someone like me though and want to just enjoy what's going on around you and maybe snap a photo or 5O, there's absolutely nothing wrong with just letting your feet guide you, getting (sensibly) lost and just observing your surroundings. Mother Nature is such a beautiful gift we have that I can even begin to describe with enough justification, so don't let it pass you by in this ever-changing world of ours.

It can always make a great date
The last little point is just something silly but I feel a lot of people often overlook because of it's simplicity. Having a date out in nature is so good. If you're thinking "I really want to have a nice time that's a little different, something that can be extremely fun and let us pull our hair down, and doesn't need to cost a thing" then nature has totally got your back. Pack yourself a lunch in a backpack, take a thermos flask of a warm drink, a bottle of water to share, and a blanket if you plan to plonk yourselves down at a beach to watch the evening sunset, and you're all ready to go! If you drive, why not drive out to the woods, sit on the bonnet of the car at night and look at the stars? Once you get out of the built up city areas, the skies become much clearer due to less pollution and you can see *so* much so much more clearly too.

I feel odd almost trying to sell the idea of going outside to you all because it's something so simple but for that reason I think we all need to remind ourselves to do it - myself included. I think being out amongst the trees, the sea, and the clear sky can really help us remember how beautiful it is and assist us in becoming more humble. Getting outside in nature reminds me to be more proactive with my life choices such as how much plastic I consume as it just makes me think about how the pollution I and millions and billions of others is effecting this natural beauty and it helps me connect to it - it helps me make positive changes in my life. If that isn't a good enough reason to go outside, then I don't know what is.

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January 11, 2018

Reasons to Thrift & Shop Second-hand Fashion

Hey gang, today I thought I'd share something with you that I've mentioned more than a few times over on NB before but never really done a "guide" so to speak. There's no real "perfected" way to shop - obviously, shopping is very much an individual activity and although we all tend to go about it in a similar manner (going in stores or browsing online) we all have our preferences as to how we conduct it and what we're searching for. Now I know what you're thinking - why on earth are you suggesting "a guide" for something so mundane, Amyleigh? And well, it's quite simple really. Since saying goodbye to fast fashion for 99% of my wardrobe, I've realised that second-hand shopping and thrifting can be be daunting for many people. There's a lot of things that can put people off shopping second-hand (some excuses I've heard questions the quality as the items are not new, the cleanliness of items, and also just the discomfort of wearing something someone else once owned) but honestly? I think shopping second-hand is so incredibly worth it and I feel that everyone would benefit from buying second-hand, even if it's only occasional items.

I absolutely love shopping but it's something I've become really conscious of over the past year as I've realised that it can be an indulgence that isn't beneficial. Particularly buying into fast fashion, I've researched more and more about the harm and damage it can cause to the environment, those who are already working for not a lot of money and in poor conditions to create fast fashion items, and also just simply the impact it has on my bank balance! This isn't a post to make anyone feel guilty about shopping in the fast fashion world, but I can hopefully prove to any sceptics that second-hand can be just as good - if not way better and why.

- There's always more chance of finding a unique piece. We've all been there. We've bought something we really love from Primark, Zara, some of us even something from Gucci, then within a matter of days you've bumped into everyone and their nan wearing the same item and you can't help but feel a bit awkward about it. Buying things second-hand, especially rutting around in charity shops/thrift stores, gives you an almost guaranteed opportunity of finding a unique item. You can always find something that is "in style" or "on trend" because fashion has a good routine of coming back around so just keep your eyes peeled and do some digging and you'll be finding one-of-a-kind pieces or at least pieces everyone else isn't wearing in no time!

- Often tailored goods fit so much better & are truer to true size. How many times have you bought a particular inch waist and leg in a pair of trousers from a high street store and they haven't fit despite the measurements being your exact body measurements or somewhat worse, you buy the same style trouser again in a different colour for example and the size is completely different? This seems to be a big fault with a lot of fast fashion stores and brands and it can be incredibly frustrating buying say a size 25" waist from ASOS and then a 29" from H&M (I'm not even exaggerating this is usually what happens for me). One thing I've found with every vintage piece I've bought is that each piece of tailoring fits like a glove. Particularly when it comes to trousers, whatever waist and leg length they're advertised/sold as is exactly right and fits perfectly true to size. This makes your silhouette look fab and means you're more likely to fall in love with an item because what's better than when it fits your right in all the right places?

- If designer stuff is your bag, charity shops should be your best friend. You guys. If you're someone who is always trying to track down a bargain, particularly when it involves designer clothing or accessories, if you're not scouting out your local charity shops or second-hand selling apps then you're doing this kind of shopping all wrong. It's quite commonplace to find designer bags, coats, and jackets etc. in charity shops and as it's a charity shop, you can betcha that the price is minute compared to that item's original RRP. A great thing about getting designer items second-hand is not only is the price a fraction of what it once was, but 9/10 the original owner of the item has taken good care of it because it was so expensive on it's first purchase.

- Second-hand shopping stops you from buying just for the sake of it. A black hole I used to find myself fall into almost every time I used to buy fast fashion was the sheer amount of items I would pick up. Buying online meant I could spend hours browsing, filling a virtual basket that somehow distorts the reality of how much you're needlessly spending/buying and browsing physically in store was no better. When looking in charity/vintage shops it's much easier to stay out of the neverending black hole. I find as the contents of charity shops are more hit and miss upon each visit, you don't naturally pick up as many items that catch your eye and therefore you save a lot of your money which is never a bad thing.

- There's more opportunity for personal style. Kind of linked to my first point, second-hand shopping gives you the opportunity to play around more with your personal style. Not only can you find some more unique pieces, but charity shop prices often mean you have more of a chance to buy items you're unsure of but kind of like and the repercussions of buying such items isn't drastic. I know most high street stores allow you to return items free of charge, but buying second-hand usually means you've paid either towards a charity or an individual person and they receive the benefit of that, and if you then don't like an item, you can pass it on. Charity shops have such an eclectic range of clothing that it's great to stumble across and item that is really out of your comfort zone yet you're still incredibly drawn to because for the sake of usually £5 or less, you can try out that item and see if you can make it work.

- It is cheaper & more ethical on your wallet. I've kind of already mentioned this in my previous point, but charity shops, second-hand apps, and vintage stores can be *so* much kinder on your wallet. Usually charity shops are incredibly reasonably priced and apps can often give you the opportunity to haggle with sellers. It's also a cheaper burden on your conscience if you're conscious of fast fashion, ethics behind consumerism shopping, and the pollution clothing causes for the planet.

- You never know what to expect so it's EXCITING. One of the best thing about shopping second-hand is that even if you're looking for something in particular, you can still be totally surprised by what you find. Charity shop stock always changes and doesn't necessarily follow the trends so you can find a wide range of items. I've already mentioned finding unique pieces, but the experience is more fun too. You have to actively search for things in a mountain of stuff you're not interested in or that's not to your taste and I don't think you get that same excited, accomplished feeling you do when you shop in your typical high street stores.

- You can still pinpoint particular things you're searching for. So although you never know what you might find, and it might be more difficult to find what you want because the stock is always changing and doesn't have a particular trend or style, you *can* still find what you want. I find shopping second-hand helps me really narrow down my search as I pinpoint what I'm lacking in my wardrobe and can focus on finding that. This is great especially for apps as you can search just as you would on lots of high street store sites!

- It's helping the planet and other people by recycling or donating. If you're a big fan of Blue Planet, you may have seen David Attenborough highlighting the major problems plastic is causing the oceans and earth in general, but clothing is the second biggest cause of pollution. Buying second hand means you're not consuming new pieces, you're giving clothing new life and keeping it out of landfill. This is incredibly good for the environment and keeps clothing in circulation for longer. Not only are you helping keep items out of landfill by buying second-hand, you're helping out people! Charity shops are just that - they're there first and foremost to help charities. A wide variety of types of charities exist and the donations they receive from charity shop earnings really helps them all out. If you're buying on apps such as Depop too, you're just helping others get by and if that means others are benefiting from your spending, and those benefiting are not big corporations, then that's always a good thing!

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January 08, 2018

Revisiting Pilgrim 55: CF & Organic Skincare

If you've been a reader of NB for some time, you might remember a post right back in July last year where I introduced my love for the brand, Pilgrim 55. Pilgrim 55 are a great independent small brand based in my home city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. They're big believers in skincare being made from good, clean, natural ingredients and not testing those ingredients or the finished skincare products on animals. Pilgrim 55 approached me last year to try out some of their products and I really really liked them. As their products are so natural, they're incredibly gentle on the skin but still get results. In my last post, I fell in love with their cucumber cleanser and their charcoal and liquorice scrub mask and still regularly use both in my weekly skincare routine so when Pilgrim 55 offered me the chance to try out some more products, I could not pass up the opportunity!

Some products I was really interested in trying out was stuff from their stem cell range (which helps with anti-ageing), the green tea mask (also for anti-ageing - can you see a theme developing), and they were super generous to also through in their caffeine rich moisturiser (also for anti-ageing - I think they're trying to tell me something). I've been trying out each product for a couple of consecutive months now and thought it was high-time to share my thoughts on them.

Green Tea Anti-Ageing Clay Face Mask* | £18.99-£29.99, 6Oml-12Oml
This product is something I was desperate to try from Pilgrim 55. Green Tea skincare products are some of my favourite to use and can be so good for the skin. It can detoxify the skin by drawing out impurities and can improve skin elasticity. This particular mask promises to keep skin glowing and healthy and includes other natural ingredients as apple, watermelon, and cucumber which are all gentle on the skin. This mask is nice and cooling to apply onto the skin and smells lovely - Pilgrim 55's products almost have a signature gentle scent, and this mask is no exception. It applies nice and thickly to the face and doesn't completely dry down like other clay masks. The great thing about this though is that it doesn't feel tight on the skin once it has done this but still leaves my skin feeling soft, supple, and my pores are noticeably smaller. With prolonged use, I've noticed that my skin has indeed got a natural healthy "from within" glow that it was lacking before. I really like to use this mask when my skin needs a detox - especially when I've been somewhere with lots of pollution or I've been putting my skin through the ringer with makeup, not drinking enough water etc. as I can always see an immediate improvement once I was it off.

Caffeine Rich Super Anti-Ageing Moisturiser* | £18.99-£29.99, 6Oml-12Oml
The caffeine rich moisturiser was something that intrigued me because of it's ingredients. If you're someone who wants to start using good anti-ageing products and/or need to tackle your normal to dry skin, definitely give this cream a go. This is the first moisturiser I've used in a long time that feels incredibly luxurious and smooths onto the skin effortlessly and is very silky to the touch. I'm a big fan of the The Ordinary Caffeine 5% Solution for my undereye care day and night, so was looking forward to trying another caffeine-rich product. As you can imagine, caffeine in skincare is great for firming up fine lines and wrinkles and anti-oxidise your skin. It does this by boosting the blood flow around the skin and stimulates cell renewal to help tone up the skin. This moisturiser includes coffee extract as it's main ingredient, but it also includes good stuff like pumpkin seed extract, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. Although I really liked using this cream and it has been a lifesaver in the cold weather (it instantly gets rid of any dry patches I have overnight), it is better suited to those on the drier side so I've donated it to my mama and she loves it. She uses it day and night and feels like it's giving her skin a new lease of life and keeping her skin from looking dry.

Stem Cell Active Face Mask* | £2O.o4-£35.O4, 6Oml-12Oml
Next up on the anti-ageing wagon of goodness is the Stem Cell Active Mask. This face mask is great for all skin types and aims to rejuvenate and regenerate skin cells to combat ageing. This mask is jam-packed with hibiscus flower powder which often gets referred to as the "botox plant" in skincare due to it's ability to promote elasticity and eradicating lines and wrinkles. Grapeseed extract is also a main ingredient in this mask which helps boost collagen production, further helping in the anti-age fight. I really like this mask. This one has certainly been a go to for when it's been particularly cold outside and my skin feels like it needs a bit of additional TLC as it's incredibly moisturising and leaves my skin feeling like it's had a big ol' drink. I really like to use this mask in targeted areas too - such as my forehead and laughing lines - as it noticeably improves the appearance of the lines in these areas. It may sound ridiculous to some at the age of 26 to be really paranoid about the fine lines on your forehead, but this mask helps me feel better about them as they look filled in and so smooth. Another great thing about this mask is that you only need to leave it on the skin for as little as 5 minutes to see a difference and that is a huge bonus for if you just want a quick pick-me-up.

Stem Cell Facial Serum | £24.99-£41.99, 6Oml-12Oml
The last product to mention is the Stem Cell Serum which is great for so many different skin needs. Whether your skin is combo, normal, tired or dull, this serum will help you out and make some improvements. This serum includes a whole host of fruit extracts and aloe vera gel making it a smooth and easy serum to use and apply. Just like the face mask counterpart, the Stem Cell Serum also includes the hibiscus flower powder to help promote elasticity and keep your skin looking glowing and healthy and targets wrinkles and cell growth. The gel itself is opaque and has a gentle scent and is best applied just as the site suggests - to a warm damp face. I tend to use the Stem Cell Face Mask first then wash it off gently with a muslin cloth. Once I've wiped away the mask, I then apply this serum to my still cloth-damp face and neck. A little goes a long way and I like to smooth it all over the areas I need it before getting tapping the product into the skin to try and increase blood flow and ensure the product is sinking into the skin as deeply as possible. Using this serum right after the mask continuously at least twice a week has seen a great improvement in my "glow" and also the lines on my forehead. I imagine further use and more rigorous use would greatly benefit anyone in the fight against ageing!

All in all, Pilgrim 55 have certainly impressed me again. The products are wonderful from this company and they're a company who really deserve support, promotion, and your hard-earned pennies. In the contemporary beauty world, it's difficult to find genuinely good-at-heart brands as it's a world filled with consumerism and a lack of positive ethics, but Pilgrim 55 go against the grain in that respect. I really admire the fact that this brand no only promote the use of natural ingredients (no nasties such as parabens, sulfates etc. are used in any of Pilgrim 55's products) and committing to cruelty-free testing, they also are consistently working towards being environmentally and socially responsible by supporting communities and pledging to become carbon neutral, too. I can't rave about these guys enough so if you're looking for some good honest skincare, they've got you.

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