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January 21, 2019

Book Club No.18

Hello book worms! Apparently it's been a while since the last Book Club post and really that's down to a bit of a hectic Christmas and also me being a bit rubbish when it comes to reading, to be honest. But since Christmas time, I've definitely fanned my reading flame once again and if you follow me over on Goodreads, you may have seen some of the delights I've been sinking my teeth into since October time. So here's three of my recent reads that I want to give you the low-down on - some good, some not so good!

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
First up let's talk about one of my favourite animated films and where it originally comes from. When you hear "Howl's Moving Castle" most people automatically think of the Studio Ghibli powerhouse of a movie (which is one of my favourite Ghibli films if I had to choose!) and believe it not, it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered it was in fact originally a book by Diana Wynne Jones - a UK based author. There are actually 3 books to the Howl's Moving Castle series but it's no surprise that the first book is the main influence for the film version so many people know and love.

So let's talk plot. The book focuses on a character called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is the eldest of 3 daughters who live with their step-mother after their father passed away. She sees herself as the 'boring' one as she's the eldest and doesn't feel that she has some grand plan for her future and that fate has sealed her life with some pretty shoddy luck whilst her younger sisters seem to be making headway in life. On a pretty average day working in the hat shop owned by her father and now step-mother, Sophie is put under a horrible curse by the Witch of the Waste which transforms Sophie into an old lady with the aches, pains, and immobility of being elderly to boot. The only way she can break the spell is to seek the assistance of the Wizard Howl who lives in a castle that moves around high up in the hills in the countryside surrounding her hometown. The story follows Sophie's journey to meeting Howl, making a deal with a fire demon, working with wizards and finding out secrets about Howl and truths about herself that she never expected to uncover. The story overall is great. As I was a reader who was already fully aware and expectant of the story I had seen in the movie, I was so pleasantly surprised with the book.

As you'd expect, the movie elaborates on some parts and completely bypasses others. For instance, a big part of the books narrative is that Howl is actually a sorcerer from Wales, Britain, and that he in fact has family back in Wales. Jones was whisked away to Wales when she was just 5 years old when WWII was declared and thus I imagine this played a part in the development of this part of the story. If you've watched the Ghibli movie, you'd know fine well that Wales isn't really a focus at all so those extra twists and turns in the story were certainly welcomed. I still felt the fantasy and adventure throughout the plot just as much as the film; rooting for Sophie but also at times feeling annoyed with how stubborn and sarcastic she could be about everything. I particularly enjoyed how well you got to know many of the characters and their personalities, particularly Sophie's sisters as they are seem to be just 'add-on' characters in the movie adaptation. My one disappoint in the book was that I felt that the ending was much more abrupt than I could have anticipated - it seemed like the last chapter rushed to tie up loose ends and whilst I am sure the next two books in the series create even more adventure and excitement to suck the reader in, the quick ending that suddenly resulted in romance was a bit lack lustre for me after such a page-turning read all those chapters before it. You can pick up a copy of Howl's Moving Castle for less than £5 here!

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan
If you've been a reader of my Book Club posts for some time, you may well remember just how much I raved about the first book in this series, A Place Called Perfect, back in September 2017 (go and read that post for a little more insight into what the series is about!). Like many people who praised that first book, I was ecstatic to see the second book released late last year and knew I'd have to read it as soon as possible. The Trouble with Perfect picks up right where A Place Called Perfect left off - with the townsfolk rebuilding the town and making it a safe haven for all. The creepy macabre eye plants that were just a centre-piece in the first book are firmly cemented in equal importance in this second story and we once again follow Violet and Boy on an adventure to fight evil. It all starts with eye plants going missing - with Perfect/Town now use as their security system to keep everyone safe - and suspicions are raised about Boy not being as good as he seems. Once Violet begins to investigate further because she just can't accept the idea of her best friend doing anything bad, she unravels much more than she could have ever expected and it's down to her and her friends to save the townspeople once again.

This second book was just as much of an easy reading page turner as the first. I warmed to Violet so much more this time around and found that I was desperate to know how the story was going to develop every time I picked it up. I loved the fact that a diverse range of characters are included in this one too, giving a platform for more timid or quiet characters that doesn't usually happen in YA fiction. Like many people though, I did find the story predictable and I knew what the major twists were well before they were revealed in the plot. I've put this down to an adult mind reading a book targeted at 13-year-old's however, and at no point would I say that it's a reflection of poor writing on Duggan's part as I still thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover. If anything, knowing exactly what was going to unfold made me feel almost more submersed in the story as I was keen for each big reveal to happen so I could see how all the main characters would react. A little like Howl's Moving Castle though, I found the ending felt a little bit rushed as suddenly there was a lot of action and a major plot point (or at least something I considered major) happened towards the end and it was almost glossed over. This could just be down to the "a few months later..." style writing towards the end but, the incident in question deserved so much more page time in my opinion as it could have really tugged on the heartstrings. I hope by the way the book ended that Duggan will release a third and final one to make it a fantastic trilogy, but if you haven't read this yet, you really need to get your hands on it. Pick up The Trouble with Perfect for £5.37 here.

The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb & Allison Mann*
It's been a wee while since some non-fiction graced a Book Club post, but a recent read of mine in that category was The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann. I was kindly sent this book to review honestly and after reading the synopsis, I was so intrigued to find out more. So, this intriguing "plot". The Girls Are Gone focuses on a trial court case from 2013 revolving around the Rucki family in the States. After father David Rucki and mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki agreed to get divorced to try to back out of some money issues they couldn't resolve, their family situation snowballs into a lot of involvement with the social services and their 5 children, investigations into allegations towards the father David Rucki made by the children, and eventually the full investigation of 2 of the 5 children disappearing and David Rucki's efforts to discover where his two daughters had disappeared to. The whole book is full of transcripts from the court dates, information from the professionals involved in the whole case, and Brodkorb and Mann researched and collated information on the case and family involved for over 2 years so it's a very well prepared true crime book.

But now, I have to point out the flaws. Something I noticed straight off the bat with the writing style is that Brodkob and Mann don't come across as very impartial. Although as a reader of the case it's undeniable how much Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was at fault at many points of the case development, David Rucki is painted as a saint to the point where it made me suspicious as a reader that actually he couldn't possibly have been that innocent/faultless given the situations he would have found himself in. The bias aside, the writing also totally lost me as a reader partway through. The case itself was very interesting and gripping from the start - as someone who had previously not heard of the case, I was hooked as soon as the details of the divorce were revealed in the first two pages because as I mentioned earlier, everything just snowballs dramatically from there on. But. But this interest just can't be maintained. As the book crams in *so* many transcripts from the court, you kind of get lost in legal language and it just gets monotonous to read. More direct words from the children of the Rucki family themselves would have really elevated the whole book but I suspect this wasn't an option for the authors to obtain and execute. If you're a fan of true crime and want to read something a little different to your typical serial killer/murderers books, maybe give this one a go but, if legal babble and day by day accounts of a case aren't your cup of tea, you won't enjoy this one. The Girls Are Gone is available here.

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January 10, 2019

2019: The Year of No Goals or Resolutions

Surprised to see the "2019 Goals" post hasn't popped up here yet? I know, me too. But there just isn't going to be one this year in fact, there's going to be no goal setting for me this year and I've got just one small reason why.

At the end of each year, I always enjoy reflecting on that past year and all the things it has taught me, the growth I've made, analysing the decisions and choices I made (the good and the bad) and 2018 was no different. What is different this time around however is that I've got no strong desire to set out goals for myself for this year. I don't have any enthusiasm for goal-setting for this 2019. This is probably coming across as negative but, I'm actually seeing this complete change of heart as a huge positive and just another change in my personality/wants etc. that is happening as I grow as a person. I usually enjoy goal-setting at the start of each year and whilst I will always say I don't create strict resolutions because I often find them completely unattainable and destined for failure, smaller more manageable goals have always been something I've liked to put in place to start the year off with motivation and something to set my sights on. This year I've had no willingness to even set the smallest of goals though and some thoughts and some people have a part to play in that.

Over the festive period, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn't seen for over 10 years. It was surreal but lovely to have a catch up and know that despite changes like growing up and you know, being adults now, not a lot had changed at the same time. When I was asked what I was up to now and how life was treating me, I joked about how although my life is fantastic, I hadn't quite ticked off everything from 16 year old Amy's expectations list that I thought I would have accomplished by 25. You know, the whole being secure in your career in terms of knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life, being married, and having kids - those things that I certainly haven't "ticked off" yet. Although of course I am happy and secure in my life as it stands right now, my friend simply said "why would you put that sort of pressure on yourself though? Just enjoy things for what they are" and honestly? That's a simple yet profoundly wise comment that I've definitely taken with me now.

I've always enjoyed goals as I've always felt they give me something to work towards and they keep me on track however, if I think about many of my 2018 Goals and review them now, I actually feel kind of disappointed to see that most of them have dwindled, my enthusiasm for some of them have dropped or completely disappeared, and some of them simply never made it out the starting gate. I've realised that the "goals" I have been putting in place - even those smaller, seemingly less significant ones - have been creating almost a tunnel vision for my motivation and enthusiasm which often results in suffocating both instead rather than seeing any form of success formulate. I want to take a step back this year and take things as they come and just truly enjoy what comes. I tend to be someone who has to plan. I have to plan each and every detail so I feel comfortable and confident with what will happen, but this is turning out to be more detrimental than constructive. I want to get back to just enjoying life and not worrying about ticking things off.

Will I still make endless to-do lists that make me feel like a girl who has her day-to-day life and shit together? Abso-blummin'-loutely. I'm a planner and an organiser and those are things that actually help me short term but that one little comment that was said in such a throwaway conversation has made me rethink how I direct my energy in long term aspects of my life and has made me want to slip on some more carefree shoes that will find joy in simpler, easy breezy things that organically come into my life. I want to feel the surprise and wonder that life has to offer and not worry if I haven't worked out for 2 weeks - who actually gives a shit? I want to not give a left nut if I haven't created art in 2 months because it should be a fun pastime, not a chore just to validate my "goals" that literally no one is holding me to. Do I want to spend time dwelling on something so mundane that is a past decision I made that can't be erased? No. There's nothing constructive to come of it! Although analysing things like that can lead to growth and change for my future self, I am the sort of anxious mind that will wake up randomly at 3am in 5 months time still wondering why I did or didn't do *the thing* and beat myself up about it. My one goal this year is to not do that. My one goal is to just like myself. Like my life. Like my decisions, my faults, my development and growth, my moments and all that that encompasses.

There's no pressure on myself to say that in 11 months time, I hope I'm writing here that it was a good change to make; that it's had the desired effect and I feel fulfilled from it. Because why put that additional pressure on something that could just be pure? I'm just going to take you, 2019, as you come and I look forward to seeing what you bring to the table to play.

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January 06, 2019

Sustainable Sundays: Zero Waste Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

Hello fellow eco-warriors, it's been a hot minute since the last Sustainable Sunday post and after taking to Twitter a while ago and asking what you guys wanted to see, you guys asked for some DIY cleaning recipes that would be natural, eco-friendly, and reducing your waste/plastic pollution. I realised before I could even start a post including my recipes, I needed to give you guys a bit more of a rundown of the sort of ingredients/products you need to prep yourself for making these super easy, affordable and effective recipes because although they include simple products you can find mostly in your local supermarket, I also appreciate the fact that my "kit" might include things you usually don't buy. Therefore in this post, I'm going to give you a comprehensive list of the products/ingredients you need and why. Initially I was going to share this "kit list" with the recipes themselves, but I quickly realised I can ramble for days about mundane things such as white vinegar (who knew?!) so breaking this down into parts seemed best so I don't lose half of you to sleep!

When you buy cleaning products in stores, you firstly need to think about the ingredients for a minute because realistically you're paying sometimes a lot of dollar for water. Most spray-style cleaning products have water as their number one ingredient so that alone should make you think "why am I paying £4 for this when I could make it at home?!" y'know? I'm not going to get preachy in this post because that's the last thing anyone wants to read (including me,) but one more thing I will say is that some ingredients in cleaning products have been linked to respiratory issues too and thus, making your own at home from natural safe ingredients should in turn also benefit your health. I know I can't be the only one who's had a coughing fit when they're sterilising the bathroom and the strong chemical smells have got in your lungs. Just think if it's having that effect on you as you clean out your bathtub, what effect is it going to have on the ocean and wildlife once you've washed it all down the plughole? Not a good one, I suspect. They also come in plastic bottles which aren't always fully recyclable - if they're recyclable at all - so there's that aspect too that was weighing heavy on my conscious.

So, before I start turning into one of those "think about the turtles!!" extremists, let me give you a quick run-down on what you need in your homemade/zero waste kit and why. There are very few products/ingredients you need to make your own natural cleaning recipes as the idea is they're fuss-free, effective, and as natural as possible and thus don't need lots of ingredients. They're also extremely affordable and can be bought in bulk to minimise waste. Some of these products/ingredients I am going to mention unfortunately come in plastic packaging a lot of the time, but to get around this slightly to be more zero waste and eco-friendly, I will buy big so I'm buying less plastic in the long run. For instance, if I'm buying white vinegar, I typically bulk order a massive jerry can-style plastic bottle of it online so that it can sit in the cleaning cupboard for ages but also means it a) was super affordable per ml and b) is less single-use plastic being used. So here's the bare basics you need:

White Vinegar or Castile Soap
Both products are great for cleaning in their own right but you don't necessarily need both. I typically have both to hand because I use castile soap to make handwash, washing up liquid, and to clean my makeup brushes with, but as a "starter pack" you definitely only need one product. If I had to choose between the two, I would say white vinegar is the best option as it's the most affordable out of the two and it is *so good* for getting a streak-free finish on surfaces such as glass or mirrors. It is also fantastic to use on limescale or watermarks so it is a must for shower/bathroom cleaning products. If you want to try out castile soap too however, I cannot recommend that product enough too. I typically buy Dr. Bronner's Castile Liquid Soap in a bulk size to minimise the plastic waste and it can be used for so many things. As I mentioned earlier, I predominantly use this product for washing my makeup brushes (I've had some of my brushes for probably too long - 4 or 5 years - and this stuff keeps them in great condition with no shedding etc.), but it can also be used in household cleaning products, as a floor cleaner, as a laundry detergent, to clean your dishes, as a shampoo and body wash - the possibilities are endless! If you're trying to make a minimal and zero waste change in your life, definitely check out this product. One thing to bear in mind when using these products is that it is definitely best to choose between them, rather than mixing them together. It is possible to use both at once, but mixing these base cleaning agents can often result in the final mixture curdling and therefore making it difficult to use as a spray cleaner across surfaces.

Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda
Not just great for making bread and biscuits, but bicarbonate of soda will cut through and lift grime and dirt with ease and is great for using all over the home whether it's in your sinks, ovens, on textile stains etc. It's also extremely affordable, accessible and again, can be bought in bulk/in a larger quantity to cut down on single-use waste. Bicarbonate of soda is such a great multi-purpose product and can clean anything from a makeup stain on your pillow to your washing machine drawer build up, to grease in your oven or unblocking your plughole.

Essential Oils
One of the main concerns I think people have with natural homemade cleaners is the smell of vinegar lingering and this is where essential oils step in. Not only are they great for cleaning for a number of factors, they are fantastic for your mood too. Essential oils have be coveted for years as they can be purifying for the skin, the air, your surfaces, the mind... all sorts! It's important to check which oils you're using and ensuring you're using therapeutic grade essential oils (e.g. essential oils that are not cut with other oils and don't contain pesticides) where possible as these are the most effective essential oils to use for the purpose of cleaning. When it comes to choosing scents, don't rush out and buy excessive amounts of different oils because that defeats the point of a more minimal/zero waste cleaning kit but, it is important to think about what scents you like and dislike as your home will be infused with what you use, particularly if you clean very regularly.

Whilst choosing which oils you use based on scent is a given as it's what you might enjoy, there are some I will always recommend in any homemade cleaning kit because they are usually universally liked but also have amazing properties, especially when it comes to cleaning. My top picks for cleaning kits are also scents/options that are easily accessible and most popular online, in stores like Holland & Barrett, and even often sold in sets in places like TK Maxx for discounted prices:
- Lavender: anti-microbial, calming and relaxing, can relieve anxiety, panic attacks, and irritability
- Lemon: disinfectant, purifies the body, air and surfaces, uplifting and mood boosting (as is all other citrus essential oils), and is effective cutting through grease
- Eucalyptus: anti-bacterial, relieves stress or sadness, and can promote concentration and memory
- Lemongrass: anti-bacterial, can alleviate jet lag and fatigue, an create a sense of calmness and clarity
- Peppermint: anti-bacterial, can help with fatigue and encourage clear acute thinking
- Tea Tree: purifying (which is why it's in so much skincare), gets rid of watermarks (good on shower glass), and can calm stress

If you are a first-time buyer/user of essential oils, it is not vital that you buy every single one of those mentioned above, but instead choose maybe two maximum that you like the scent of or think would be the most effective/beneficial for your home. If you're a seasoned essential oils pro however, conjuring up your own blends can be a fab way to have your fingers in multiple pies and reap the benefits of many oils at once. One of my favourite blends is cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and tangerine or orange as combined they are good for supporting your immune system against environmental and seasonal bacteria threats as well as fighting mould and mildew, disinfecting surfaces, and purifying the air.

Glass Bottles and Spray Tops
Storing your homemade cleaners is easy and a glass bottle will do the trick! If you don't want to or can't afford to buy some new ones outright, try repurposing some you may already have (think from bottled water/drinks) or even reuse plastic ones initially. Reuse the spray tops from old cleaning products too and just cut the stalk/straw inside down to size to fit your new bottle. Most spray tops fit most other bottles universally so you should be able to truly DIY the whole container yourself from what you might have lying around the house already. Over time it is vital you replace plastic cleaning bottles though when using cleaning products that include essential oils. Essential oils can disrupt plastic and even stainless steel packaging long term which kind of counteracts our mission to have gentle, safe, and non-toxic cleaners, so try to replace what you can, when you can!

Lemons Lemons Lemons
One ingredient that I will always recommend - even more so than essential oils (don't tell anyone I said that), is fresh lemons. Lemon juice is very acidic and is therefore great for removing stains but also disinfecting. Used alongside other ingredients I've mentioned such as white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, lemon can help counteract the odour of vinegar when cleaning but also assist with fighting grease and grime in all areas of your home when cleaning. Lemon juice can also be used alone to clean different things if you're finding it hard to stomach cleaning with vinegar. As they are a fresh produce, they're really affordable and accessible and can just become part of your weekly/monthly food shop if they're not part of it already! The whole citrus family can be beneficial for cleaning actually so if you prefer the scent of orange or lime more, I've got a little secret for you. Fill a jar/container with white vinegar and the rind/skin of a whole lemon/lime/orange. Screw a lid on it and allow it to infuse for around 1 week and then you can say goodbye to the white vinegar scent. It will completely minimise the smell and make your vinegar even more fitting for using around the home!

Filtered Water
If you're thinking "wow, what a snowflake step to include - filtered water, really Amy?!" just hear me out for a minute as there's a reason I've specifically said "filtered" water. As I mentioned earlier, most household cleaners bought off the shelves include water as the main ingredient and it should be no surprise that it will be a main contributor to your DIY cleaning products too. However, if there are any salts, fluorides etc. in the water when you add it to your concoctions, it can prevent the overall cleaner being streak-free on your surfaces so if you can filter it, just to make your life easier and to keep your house sparkling, I'd highly recommend the additional step! Of course, I wouldn't suggest going out and buying a filter jug etc. just for this reason as it's an easy step to get around (it'll just take a little more elbow grease if the water in your local area is particularly hard etc.) but if you happen to have a water filter already at home, definitely use it!

Olive Oil
The last product I want to mention that again, most of you will already have in your kitchen cupboards, is olive oil. Although this product is not as universal as the others mentioned in terms of how you can use it for cleaning around the house, it's still worth having to hand especially if you have any wooden surfaces. Olive oil is fantastic for polishing surfaces as it lifts grease/dirt/grime/dust etc. and breaks it up easily. You can then always go in with a multi-purpose/surface cleaner once you've used it if you're worried about oil residue, but generally speaking, this will polish up wood better than most other targeted products.

Now that I've shared with you all the sort of products you need in your cleaning kit in order to make your own products, I hope you can see that it really isn't daunting, remotely scientific, and will be ridiculously simple to create your own combinations at home. I will be sharing my basic cleaning recipes on the blog really soon so please keep an eye out for that post! If you guys want to see any more after that, please let me know and I can give you some more tips, tricks, and easy recipes to follow to keep your home toxic free but squeaky clean.

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December 30, 2018

Getting Clutter-Free for 2019

Heading into a new year is always a good excuse to wipe the slate clean and start afresh in my opinion. So many people are made fun of as each year comes to a close for having plans, resolutions, promises they want to keep for themselves but is there any harm in them? If people use the start of a new year happening as an excuse to give themself a kick up the butt in some shape or form, I will be the last person to shoot down that kind of positivity. I like to set myself some goals each year that I know are attainable (and a couple that are designed to make me push myself out of my comfort zone) but I've realised over the last couple of years that it's really quite hard to just wake up in this fresh mindset, ready to face all of these new challenges you have set for yourself. That's why this year I'm doing a few things to shut down 2018 and bring it to a healthy, obvious close in the hopes that I can move forward with more clarity and certainty.

I don't believe having this sort of attitude requires too much from an individual, but by already doing some of these things, I feel like I am preparing myself for the future in a good way and starting things off on the right foot - it's helping me provide the best environment possible to reap the best benefit as possible. I've just got my fingers and toes crossed that I can keep this motivation up! So here's some of the small last-minute changes I am making to my life and world around me in order to start January 2019 in the best light (and simply some other suggestions that might suit some more common NY resolutions!):

Sort out your bookcase. If your household is anything like mine, your bookshelves will be bursting at the seams with a wide variety of literature that doesn't always get the attention it all deserves. Bookcases seem to have a knack for collecting clutter because we tend to place things there then forget about them so I'm making an effort to tidy them up heading into the first week of January. I know for a fact our bookshelves have doubles of some books and there's things there that I don't even care about owning anymore therefore, having a declutter and knowing I can donate some nice books to my local charity shops is a positive way to head into the new year.

Sort out your spice rack.... and your kitchen cupboards in general. Another place that hordes clutter for me is our kitchen. There's lots of tins, jars, half-opened items etc. that seem to linger in the kitchen for months on end and it brings that positive environment rating down. Something I am doing as the year draws to a close and the new year starts is using up this clutter in new recipes which means not only are food items not being wasted, but I'm testing and trying new recipes, cuisines, and meals I otherwise wouldn't have experienced or researched for. The big major tidy-up in this area for me is the spice cupboard. I am very much a spices and herbs kinda gal when it comes to cooking so it should be no surprise that one whole cupboard is dedicated to just these ingredients alone, but when your 5ft 2 on a tall day, you can imagine the dilemma I have trying to find anything in there without everything coming crashing down around me. Having a system, some organisers, and just a general clear out of this space is going to vastly improve my kitchen and minimise clutter!

Get rid of food that might hinder you. Before anyone berates me, I am very firmly situated in the camp "eat what you want and do what makes you happy" but I know for many people heading into the New Year, a goal of weight loss or gain, fitness, health etc. is often on the cards so setting yourself up for the start of the year the right way is the best way to kickstart it all. After Christmas my house tends to have a lot of junk lingering around in the form of chocolate, excess booze, savoury snacks... you get the jist. By donating anything to food banks, neighbours, the local church, or simply using it up before 2019 rolls around can be helpful for those of you who might have goals in mind which rely in some part on your eating/drinking habits. Particularly those of you who are trying Veganuary this January (well done to *any* and all of you who are trying this - I really wanted to this year but can't due to some health reasons!), ensuring your kitchen cupboards and fridges are only stocked full of vegan foods etc. can make the transition easier as there's less temptation and less opportunity for you to be swayed by other items.

Get ready to donate! I mentioned donating food earlier if you can, but something I think people wildly overlook after the Christmas period is donating unwanted Christmas gifts. Now, that's not me saying that anyone is ungrateful, but receiving gifts that you know you are not going to use or don't suit you, aren't your cup of tea etc. is commonplace during Christmas and seeing those things just cluttering up your home and gathering dust when someone else may absolutely *love* them is reason enough in my book to get donating. It's never too soon to donated unwanted gifts and of course, your local high street charity shops will take more things gladly. However, also investigate things like your local homeless shelters, women's shelters and children's hospitals in case they are in need of anything. Items like clothing and accessories are easily managed and moved onto loving homes but organisations such as Toiletries Amnesty help share unwanted toiletries and cosmetics with those who may need them most. Even if you've opened something and tested it out or you're sat there with 8 Lynx Africa gift sets and at your whits end, places such as Toiletries Amnesty can take it all off your hands and help you put it to good use elsewhere.

Get back on that capsule wardrobe wagon. Back in September, I pledged to minimise my spending habits when it came to fashion once again and revisited the idea of sustaining a capsule wardrobe. I honestly believe that even if you're not interested in a minimal lifestyle, having a basic capsule wardrobe to build on can be extremely beneficial - even if you find it difficult to stick to like me! I find I give myself a hard reset with my wardrobe at certain points throughout the year and always follow my capsule wardrobe rules to achieve this. Having a big clear out can be very cleansing for the soul and the act of organising this part of my life always impacts me positively which has a ripple effect into other areas of my life. Get organising, get donating, and get bettering yourself via a clean and tidy wardrobe and I promise you'll see some benefits.

Hit that budgeting and/or planning hard. Something I'm very keen to do from the get-go this year is plan plan plan. I'm quite an organised person generally anyway, but when I can efficiently plan things out, I always feel so much more collected and also more confident with what's going on in my life and managing any hurdles that may come my way. One thing I always struggle with however is budgeting and thus, this is one of my big focuses and motivators this year. I find I can budget really well when I know I have something particular to save towards and whilst I know I have some big things planned this coming year that definitely need some savings behind them, creating smaller, more monthly budgeting goals is also going to help me keep that focus. I've already pledged to only buy a small number of fashion items that I need this year and not to buy anything else other than the items of that very concise list. Another way I'm aiming to budget is to plan and prep meals thoroughly so I can try to minimise expensive meals - both in and out the house - to see how much of a difference this makes. Planning can often get a bad rep as people see it as "boring" and try to take the mick out of those who do it but when you see just how much you can achieve with a little bit of organisation to back you up, it should only ever boost you and your life in a good way - ignore the Negative Nigels!

Shut down any and all negative relationships. Lastly, something I wanted to touch on is something I have thought I needed to do in the past but never did, only for things to blow up in my face further down the line anyway. Decluttering your life doesn't need to include just physical objects or materialistic things, it can also relate to any relationships you have. These can be with family members, friends, partners... if you're not happy parties on both sides of the fence, then it may be time to step back and ask yourself why and also question whether things can improve or not. I'm not suggesting here that if you're going through any sort of difficulties with a loved one right now that you just completely stop speaking to them - that's often not the right course of action for anyone and doesn't always result in the right response. However, if you feel a relationship of any sort has run it's course, it's feeling like a lot of effort (and not the good kind), or it's simply turning toxic, don't bring that bad energy into your new year that you're shaping with so much promise. Relationships of all types can be tricky to manage and sustain but those that are genuine and reciprocated can get through a lot. Those in which an individual (which could be them or you) is toxic where it is effecting the happiness of either party or the relationship as a whole may not be the best idea to drag into your new year which could hold so much for you. Cutting ties isn't a sign of weakness or heartlessness, but this sense of "decluttering" could be so rewarding for you.

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December 27, 2018

Looking Back on 2018

2018 - what a year it's been huh? I feel like I can speak for most of us and say that it's been one hell of year; one which has been pretty negative and that just seems to be a general consensus. I don't know why that seems to be the case, but it seems this year has been hard for many of us - myself included - for a number of reasons and most of seem happy to say goodbye to it ASAP so we can move onto new ventures and hopefully more positive things. In terms of NB, blogging has been a huge positive for me this year as I've not put pressure on myself to post regularly, to post things I don't want to etc. and that has definitely helped in the overall quality of my posts and how pleased I am of the content I've put together. My photography has improved over the past 12 months, my writing is something I take more time with to ensure it's as true to me as possible and comes across as passionate and thoughtful, and my interests are shared more openly across this safe space because if blogging isn't for your own benefit, then is it really worth it?

As this awful year draws to a close, I thought I'd compile some of my favourite posts I've written during 2018 to prove to myself that not every aspect of the year has been negative or bad and that actually? Northern Blood can be a gem sometimes and I'm very proud of the work I produce with this wee hobby of mine:

Me & My Other Interests: Serial Killers I'd have a Cuppa With
Back in 2016, I started a series discussing all of my different interests that I may have not spoken about on the blog before but for some reason, this year I didn't really write many of this kind of post - except these ones about serial killers. I've always had a strong interest in serial killers and true crime but I've always felt like it didn't "fit in" with my blog content. It took until 2018 for me to realise that that's ridiculous and I can post about whatever I want on this wee blog and so, I did. After writing the first post I quickly realised that I could write essay after essay about various different serial killers I've shown an interest in researching and knowing more about over the years so Part Two and Part Three were born out of this "hobby". I had *so* much fun collecting information for these posts and writing them (and loved the fact that you guys enjoyed reading them so much too!).

Sustainable Sundays: Making an Eco-Friendly Home
2018 saw a continuation of the sustainability posts here on NB. Becoming more eco-friendly, ethical, sustainable etc. has been a huge passion of mine and I've definitely been learning and growing more and more in these realms over the last few months and documented this along the way. One post in particular that I enjoyed writing (and photographing) was some tips on how to have a more eco-friendly home that might not be initially obvious to anyone making a more conscious effort/switch to be more sustainable. Finding ways to make it easy for myself and others to make better decisions which have a better, more positive impact on our planet will always be something I enjoy publishing on this blog.

Astrology for Beginners - a Little Guide
One hobby/interest of mine that I talk about a lot over on my Instagram stories is astrology and horoscopes/birth charts but for some reason, I had never really discussed here on NB. So I threw together this introductory post into the world of astrology and what it all means, how it can be used, and why I have such an intense fascination with it all. I am 100% *that guy* who asks new people I meet what their sign is and boy oh boy, does it get some reactions. But, I absolutely adore exploring people's personalities and traits based on their signs and simply wanted to share the love in a fool-proof way. I also really loved the photos from this crisp and clear post!

Go Outside
Another big passion of mine is nature. I adore being in the great outdoors whether it takes the form of the woods, the seashore, the mountains - I love it all and honestly believe it is a form of medication, spirituality, and more. Nature is incredibly important to me and often, like so many of us, I can take it for granted or simply overlook how wonderful it is. Discussing how beautiful nature is and all of what it has to offer for us all was a nice breath of fresh air on my blog and I look forward to bringing more nature into my blog in 2019.

Sustainable Sundays: Stop Suppressing Sustainablity
Another Sustainable Sundays post I have to mention in this round-up is a bit of a rant I had. Sustainability definitely had it's moment in the spotlight in 2018 and I hope it continues well into future years, but it's not necessarily an easy decision and lifestyle for people to fully delve into as it can be expensive, reliant on external factors, and expectant of good health/dedication amongst many other things. Having an outlet to talk about the stigmas of sustainability and the struggles it can produce was healthy for me because I feel that it's very easy to promote such a clean and kind lifestyle but as someone who actively encourages such a lifestyle, I see myself as being extremely responsible to also be completely transparent so sharing the negatives of sustainability is also important, y'know?

Real Talk: It's just Nipples
Although I didn't post many Real Talk posts this year, I did post on topics I had a lot of feelings on and therefore I'm quite proud of. One of those topics was the oppression we are still facing with "Free the Nipple". I, as much as the next person, don't see the issue with nipples, regardless of the gender attached to them and find that the rules and regulations of the autonomy of our bodies - in both real life and virtually online - is sad to still see in 2018. I can only hope it carries on changing in 2019 and we see more and more freedom, but having a good ol' rant about those changes I would like to see happening was very therapeutic.

How to be a Fashion Revolutionary & Ask #whomademyclothes
Back in April, it was Fashion Revolution Week and people were asking #whomademyclothes. I think FRW is extremely necessary as I'm a firm believer that fast fashion brands, particularly those big names on the highstreet, should be held accountable for how their products are made and sourced and should be completely transparent. It's important for people to know where their clothing, shoes, accessories etc. come from, who made them, and in what environment. By asking these brands #whomademyclothes, they can see how interested people are in ethical work environments, equal pay and rights etc. and that many feel more strongly about these things than they do about the latest fashion trends. So if you are someone who wants to know more, this might be the post for you.

Reasons to Thrift & Shop Second Hand
Following the clothing theme, another post I loved preparing and posting was the reasons why you should thrift/shop second hand more because boy oh boy, do I love a good charity shop rummage. Being someone who has been consciously avoiding fast fashion for the past year and a half, writing this post was so much fun because it gave me a chance to share the love and explain just how beneficial secondhand shopping can be on the environment, for charity, and even on your bank balance!

Real Talk: You are Enough
The last post I wanted to mention is the only other Real Talk post I published this year. Self love is something I always struggle with - I'm very good at convincing others that they are worthy of all the love in the world (especially their own) but not so good at practicing what I preach. It was very calming to compile this post and just completely write from the heart and convince myself that I'm worth some self love. I'm going to make sure I read it when I feel I need a pick-me-up and ensure I practice little forms of self love whenever I can.
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I'm excited to see what 2019 brings for me in terms of Northern Blood, my life generally, my career, and family. 2018 has certainly been a hard one and there's many things that happened and many feelings that were expressed that I am more than happy to be saying goodbye to and hoping that I won't ever see again. But now that I'm heading into 2019, I'm *so much* happier than I'd ever thought I could be - within myself and also with decisions/plans I am making - but I'm also much more optimistic. It's easy to slip into a nostalgic stupor as the year draws to a close or you can take the reins and steer that close into a positive ending and ensure you start January right. I'm definitely backing that latter mindset.

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December 05, 2018

Have Yourself a Sustainable Little Christmas

It's just 20 days to go until Christmas Day and who is as excited as me?! As you may know if you are a regular reader or if you follow me anywhere on my social media, I am trying my best to be a little more sustainable and thoughtful this Christmas (check out this post for sustainable gift ideas). Aside from the gifts I have chosen, I've realised there's lots of other little things you can do this Christmas to still keep the festive spirit very much alive but also ensure that you're not costing the planet - so here we go!

Use brown parcel/kraft paper for wrapping your gifts. A really simple switch to make but completely overlooked. I only just found out this year that many wrapping papers are not actually recyclable due to the coatings and treatments they have had (even if they seem like ol' regular paper!). Therefore kraft paper or parcel paper is a fab alternative that keeps your gift wrapping completely eco-friendly. This also gives you the chance to be really creative as you can paint, draw, or stamp your own designs onto the paper or buy some recyclable twine or reuse any ribbons you may have already from previous parcels and do some simple ribbon work around your parcels. Kraft paper is really cheap and you can often get quite a few metres of it in one lot. If you don't fancy using kraft paper, why not try plain and simple newspaper instead and use colourful ink and stamps to make it look festive? You can add brown paper or card gift tags too!

Try fabric wrapping too. So, this is a new one for me, but hear me out. Furoshiki is a Japanese knot wrapping technique and I am obsessed. There's lots of instructional how-to videos on YouTube for this technique and I'm really keen to give it a go this year. Lush are always a brand that have done the scarf wrap really well with their bathbomb gift sets, but I never thought of doing something like that myself. This is a great way to use up any old fabric you may have lying around or if you are inspired by the likes of Lush, you could totally buy a bandana or scarf to try this idea out. This is a particularly good idea for anyone in your life that may use the scarf too as it's technically an extra gift!

Buy things in bulk and spread them out. Something that is a great way to be more eco-friendly but that will also save you some pennies is bulk buying an item then spreading it across many recipients. For example, you could buy a really large bag of bath salts, a large bottle of body lotion or bath oil etc. and a set of smaller jars or bottles (or even get them secondhand in a charity shop!) and spread the product out amongst the smaller containers. This may seem cheeky to some people, but this is a great way to make little stock fillers or an extra small gift to go with other things. You can then decorate the containers however you wish (with twine, ribbon, artwork etc.) and give it a handmade feel. This also gives you a chance to experiment so you could mix together bath salts and bath petals for example and make your own concoctions for others to enjoy.

Make things yourself! In-keeping with what I just mentioned, if you're crafty or a good baker, why not make things?! I probably should have included this in my gift guide but, if you have a natural flare for something, definitely utilise it at Christmas time as not only will it save you some money, but you can also make your gifts more personalise and sentimental to the person you're making the present for. An example of this for me would be the fact that I could make someone an embroidery hoop, some cookies, or a natural face mask. There's tons of things out there you could make whether it's a drawing, painting, a homemade candle, a room spray, a cake, Christmas tree decorations for the next year, jams or marmalade, knitted gloves scarves and hats... the possibilities are endless.

Create your own hamper. Who out there has someone tricky to buy for each year? I know I do but, a great way to get around this is by creating your own personalised hamper for that person. Of course you can buy a variety of hampers and gift sets/boxes, but by creating your own version, you can make sure that every single product included in it is something the receiver likes and will use. You could include food items, drinks, beauty products, jewellery, home decor... there's so many great things you can throw in a hamper! You can also make them very specific to a particular hobby (gardening, favourite movie, sport, music etc.) so you have so many potential avenues to go down. Although the individual gifts may not be necessarily sustainable, you absolutely can try to make the hamper itself purse-friendly and sustainable instead. Scouting out baskets and boxes in charity shops is the best for this and it means you can display the items you've hand-selected for this gift in the best way possible.

Don't just stop there with charity shops. Think decorations, too. If you're on a budget or simply want to source things second-hand so you're not buying into a high street Christmas, charity shops can be goldmines for second-hand Christmas goodies - especially decorations. Things such as garlands, bunting, baubles, and tinsel can be found in charity shops if you check regularly and closely during this time of year - even whole Christmas trees can be found in some of them!

Use what's naturally available and completely free! If you're really struck for cash or you want to really try to be zero waste and eco-friendly, use what nature might be available to you to create a festive home and gifts. You could collect pine cones from the local park and sprigs of Christmas tree if your local flower shop sell them or if you have a real tree in your home. These pine sprigs could be used in your gift wrap decoration or could be added to decor around the home. They can also be plopped into some hot water to create a lovely room fragrance if you have people visiting. If you have time before Christmas, you could also dry out and press some flowers and leaves to use for decoration or even for gifts - placing pressed plants in photo frames can make pretty gifts.

Up-cycle the old to make it the new. Lastly, I wanted to mention another thing that we can overlook and that is upcycling some of our old Christmas decorations to refresh them and give them a new breath of life. Using the same decorations can get boring and they can begin to look tatty and tired, but by giving them a makeover you can save yourself some serious money and minimise your waste as you won't be tempted to throw old decorations out. An easy way to do this is by buying spray paint or glue and glitter and transforming your tree decorations. This year is seeing a grow in the popularity of very garish bright decorations as well as the classic millennial rose gold, so you could always spray old baubles a fresh new colour or even dip lightweight toys you might have (such as small dinosaurs, army men etc.) in glue and glitter to make your tree very Paperchase-chic. You could cover old pillar candles in glitter too to make them more festive looking or add one to a large bowl with some old tinsel or pine cones to give your dining table some Christmas spirit. Another favourite of mine is using old books to create new pieces - Matt made some beautiful flowers from pages of old books and you absolutely could use the same resources to make a garland of stars, snowflakes, or other festive shapes for your fireplace (or use that leftover kraft paper from your gift wrapping to give it some variety!)

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