Friday, 20 November 2015

192. My Birth Story

I can't believe I haven't blogged since May, when I was 34 weeks pregnant. Life kind of got in the way - as happens so often! Since May, I have of course given birth to my beautiful baby girl, Jessica, and she's now 20 weeks old.
I've been looking to get back into blogging for a while now and, after talking to some friends and family, I've decided that now is as good a time as any. I'm planning on writing a series of posts on how I've found the first few months of motherhood; from my labour to my post-baby body, feeding and bonding, mental health and my recovery.
So, let's start from the beginning: the labour.
I was due to give birth on June 23rd but Jessica actually arrived on July 2nd - 9 days late. I was booked in for an induction and Mum drove us both to the hospital, having only experienced a couple of twinges in the lead up to my labour, feeling excited but very apprehensive about what was to come. The house was totally prepared and we were all looking forwards to meeting our little one.
We arrived at the hospital at around lunchtime; I was weighed, monitored (only about 2cm dilated) and left to relax for about an hour - as there was no sign of the baby arriving by herself, my waters were artificially broken at about 1pm. It didn't hurt and there was no big gush of water, in fact it just felt like I'd wet myself.
The midwife sent S & I off to go for a walk around the hospital grounds to try and get things started, as they wanted to avoid giving me a pessary, and after an hour of wandering about in the park opposite the hospital, with S and my Mum, we went back to the ward. About an hour later, halfway through a piece of chocolate, at around 3pm, I had my first contraction.
When people say it feels like intense period pain - they're right... at the beginning. The first couple of hours of contractions were just like horrible cramps; I couldn't eat as it was so painful and I couldn't find a position I was comfortable in. Once we were admitted to our own private room, my Mum was allowed in too and she and S were both amazing support throughout. I couldn't have asked for better birthing partners.
I started on gas and air once I was in my private room, and it did offer some relief in the early stages. I don't remember when it happened, but I was given diamorphine at some point which helped to dull the pain, but also made me incredibly sleepy - especially when combined with the gas and air for contractions. Throughout, my contractions were only about a minute apart, which was tough as it meant I had no relief in between them.
The room we were in was brightly lit, there was a fan whirring away as it was one of the hottest days of the year, there was a television, plenty of water and lots of room for me to walk about. However, I couldn't really walk as my contractions were right in my back. At around 9.30pm, I asked for an epidural. The pain was unbelievable and I couldn't see myself being able to carry on like that. As the midwife was discussing the epidural with the anaesthetist, I felt my contractions change - "I feel like I need to push!" I shouted. The midwife rushed over and had a look; yep, I was 10cm dilated and ready to push.
As it was too late for an epidural, I had to (literally) push on with just gas & air, and the previously administered diamorphine. As my only experience of childbirth so far had been watching One Born Every Minute, I was under the impression that after hours or contractions, you simply push a few times and the baby is born. How wrong I was. Midwives will allow you to push for up to 2 hours before they have to take emergency action.
After an hour of agonising pushing, Jessica was born, thankfully without any forceps or cutting, at 10:56pm, weighing a chunky 8lbs 9.5oz. That relief when they pull the baby from you is indescribable; the pain stops instantly (but not for long, unfortunately!) and instead you're overrun by a feeling that you just need to focus on your baby now.
Proud Daddy with his minutes old baby.
Jessica didn't cry immediately and, after a couple of seconds on my bare chest, was rushed over to a table in the corner of the room where she, thankfully, started crying. After having a few cuddles with Jessica, and having to push the placenta out (am I the only one who thought it just fell out?!) a doctor came in and did my stitches as I'd had an internal tear.
An hour later, as S and my Mum left, I showered and headed off (when I say 'headed', I actually mean 'waddled', walking isn't too easy when you've just given birth and had stitches!) to spend my first night with my beautiful healthy baby girl in the hospital.
Our first Mother & Daughter selfie.
I hope you've enjoyed reading my birthing story. It was the hardest, most painful, experience of my life so far but it's incredible what you gain in those hours or days - not just a baby, but so much strength and so much pride in yourself and so much love for those who helped you through it.
Next time, I'll be discussing how I found feeding Jessica.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

191. 34 Week Pregnancy Update

It's a whole four weeks since I published my 30 Week Pregnancy Update, although it feels like it was just yesterday! Time is flying by and my little baby girl is now due in just 40 days! [Insert swearwords of your choice here].

So, how do I feel?

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll probably be so sick of my constant tweets moaning about how tired I am, how much my back and hips hurt, and how crappy I feel. I had a lovely back massage last week though and that has really helped to ease my back pain - I'd definitely recommend getting one if you're struggling!

I've been exhausted after work recently and yesterday I had to take an extra fifteen minute break to sit in the spare testing room with the air conditioning on full blast as I was all hot and bothered. How glamorous.

I've been getting really impatient and snappy over the last week or so and I'm starting to feel really sorry for S who has to cope with my horrible half hours where I scream and shout about absolutely nothing. I cringe so much when I think about it - I honestly sound like a woman possessed when I lose my temper!

How do I look?

Well, I've put on another 5 or 6lbs in the last four weeks, so I'm now almost one stone over my starting weight, which sounds like a lot to me - but everyone has reassured me that its totally normal, so I'm trying not to worry. I hate being that person who is bothered about how they look during pregnancy - at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter - but it's quite hard not to let it bother you at all.

Are we prepared?

The nursery, Moses basket and pushchair are all set up, our hospital bag is packed and all the babies clothes and blankets have been washed and dried, so I think we're just about ready in terms of the materialistic things.

Mentally, I am so not ready. It still hasn't sunk in that, in just over a month, we will have a baby here with us... I still can't picture it, but soon I won't even have to imagine! 

I start my maternity leave at the end of next week, which just seems mad. I can't believe it's nearly four months since I told work - it seems like two minutes ago! I'm so ready to start my maternity leave though as I'm feeling so knackered and I need to make the most of having some time to myself to sleep, see friends and watch my favourite TV shows, before the little one arrives and everything descends into (beautiful) chaos! 

** Apologies for the lack of photographs. They keep turning out awful quality when I upload them onto blog posts. I'm in the process of looking into buying a new camera so, bare with. **

Monday, 11 May 2015

190. Loving Lately...

Here's a quick rundown of what has been making me happy recently, from food to make-up, books to films!
What's floating my boat?

Reading: I've been getting stuck in to A Force To Be Reckoned With: A History of the Women's Institute by Jane Robinson for a couple of weeks now, and I'm really enjoying it. The WI has always intrigued me - not only do they love tea and cake, but they have done so much incredible work over the years and it's so interesting to learn about. I'm expecting to finish this book this week, so I'll post a review - see if it sounds like your kind of thing!

Watching: I've been really getting back into my TV lately, as a result of poor nights' sleep and, therefore, spending the rest of my days off on the sofa! I'm re-watching Peep Show from the beginning, I'm really enjoying ITV's new drama Home Fires which is about the WI (do you see a theme going on here?!) and, as recommended by my sister, Jane the Virgin which is a new comedy on E4. Film-wise, I watched Kingsman yesterday with S and it was brilliant - funny and action-packed!

Eating and Drinking: It would be a lot faster simply to list what I haven't been eating recently, as I've been hungry 24/7! I've been trying to incorporate more fruit into my diet in the form of smoothies, and I'll be sharing some recipes over the weekend. I've not had much energy to prepare any fancy meals, but S and I had a tasty Mexican inspired cottage pie last week, which I blogged about here

Beauty: I finished my Snow Fairy shower gel this week and I miss the smell of it already! I wish I had stocked up whilst it was still available... I'll just have to wait until next Christmas and then hit Lush! I've really been loving a new lipstick that I picked up in Superdrug recently - it's L'Oreal Paris Color Riche in the shade 'Julianne's Nude'. It's a gorgeous, subtle dusty rose colour and its perfect for pale girls like me who want to add a pop of colour without overdoing it.

What have you been loving lately?

Friday, 8 May 2015

189. Mexican Inspired Cottage Pie

This Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo, a day in which Mexican's celebrate an army victory, and what better way to celebrate halfway across the world in wet old England, than with some Mexican food?!

As both S and I are huge Mexican food fans anyway (check out my review of Zapatista Burrito Bar in Newcastle if you are too!) we don't really need an excuse to cook up a Mexican inspired feast so Tuesday night was as good a time as any to try out a new dish!

I didn't fancy a trip to the shops in the rain so instead I made do with what we had in the house and improvised to create a Mexican Inspired Cottage Pie. Here's the recipe:

1lb/450g mince (I used half Quorn mince, half Aberdeen Angus mince)
1 x onion, diced
1 x pepper, diced
1 x handful of frozen peas
1 x tin of chopped tomatoes/passatta 
1kg potatoes (I used Maris Piper but any would do)
Kidney (or baked) beans
Oil for frying
1 x tablespoon of butter for mashed potatoes
100ml milk for mashed potatoes
80g Mexican cheese (or just use a strong Cheddar if you have chilli flakes)

Seasoning (add more or less depending on your personal tastes)
Black pepper
3tsp Ceviche seasoning
2tsp Cumin
2tsp Very Lazy Chilli
2tsp Paprika
2tsp Hot Steak spice
Jalapenos (to top)
A squirt of tomato ketchup
I used the Gourmet Kitchen 4-in-1 Mexican Seasoning Mix (available from The Range)

1. Brown your mince in a large frying pan, once cooked add the onions and peppers and cook until soft
2. Once the peppers and onions have softened, put your potatoes on to boil
3. Add the chopped tomatoes, frozen peas, beans and any seasoning you fancy to the frying pan
4. Leave the chilli to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through
5. Mash the potatoes with the milk, butter and about 2/3 of the cheese until creamy
6. Pour the chilli into a deep baking dish and spoon the mashed potato on top
7. Garnish with the left over cheese and jalapenos, if desired
8. Bake in the oven at 220 degrees (fan oven) or 200 degrees conventional oven, for 20-30 minutes or until golden on top
9. Serve with salad

This dish should serve around 4 people. Or 2-3 people with big appetites!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

188. Pregnancy Pro's & Cons: The Cons

Following on from my lighthearted take on the Best Bits of Pregnancy, here's my rundown on the Worst Bits (so far, I hasten to add!) I'm 33 weeks pregnant so obviously there is still worse to come... i.e. giving birth but I've still managed to amass quite a few Con's on my pregnancy journey so far, so here goes!

Everybody Wants To Give You Advice
Now, sometimes its appreciated. Of course. I have very few friends who've had babies themselves so when they give me advice I take it gratefully, as I do with advice from people like my Mum or my midwife, but when you get given advice from people who haven't even had a baby, that gets a bit annoying. "You should buy this type of pram" "Didn't you know that you need to do 'x' before the baby gets here?" "You will wee and poo yourself, you know?" I think some people don't realise that every pregnancy is different, and everyone's approach to it is different too. Just because one thing works for someone, doesn't mean it'll work for someone else. Please, guys, only give me/ANY pregnant lady advice if you actually mean for it to be helpful. Not patronising and certainly not pushy.

You Have No Control Over Your Body
I've spoken previously about how it feels to be fat and pregnant, and my concerns about weight gain and my changing body shape, but this definitely isn't a worry that is devoted purely to plus size women. I wish it wasn't something I worried about but, yeah, it is. My bump was non-existent for the first 5 months and I hated that, and now that its popped I hate the shape... There's just no pleasing me. Add into the mix the occasional swollen foot, terrible nails which just don't seem to want to do anything other than snap, and stretchmarks that give off the impression that I've been attacked by Wolverine. I know that these superficial changes aren't important and that, with time, I'll be back to my usual self (and hopefully a bit better) but knowing that no matter what creams you use, how careful you are with your food intake and so on, you ultimately can't control how your body will react to pregnancy, is kinda hard to accept.

Oh, and when you need the toilet - just go. You don't want to risk any little leaks when you sneeze. 

Sick, sick and more sick.
I was lucky enough to be *blessed* with about 4 months of morning sickness. Every day at the exact same time (between 8.15 and 8.45am, FYI) I'd have to run to the bathroom, retching and bring my coco pops and orange juice straight back up again. And then clean it, my hair and my face up all before setting off to work at 8.50am. Fun times. To be honest, I think that morning sickness was probably the only reason I didn't gain weight for such a long time, so at least it has one perk. 

Bump Envy
I don't know about you, but when I think of a pregnant lady I think of a lovely, smooth perfectly round belly, that is obviously a baby bump whether it's in a tight vest or hiding under a maxi dress. This is what I crave. Every time I see someone who I know is pregnant they have these beautiful bumps and, whether they're huge or tiny bumps, they always look amazing. Every week I scroll through Instagram making myself green with envy over how perfect everyone else's bumps look. In the beginning, I thought my bump was too small... now I think it's too big... but also a bit flat. The grass is always greener, right? I think it's natural for any girl, in this day and age of low self-esteem and *ahem* Instagram filters, to feel self-conscious over their pregnant body, but you (and I) just need to remind yourself that - in this scenario more than ever before - it's whats inside that counts. If your baby has everything it needs to grow and flourish, then how you're carrying your weight doesn't matter at all.

Aches & Pains
You guessed it - being pregnant hurts. Not only are you carrying around an extra little person inside you, but your ligaments loosen which causes pain, your posture changes which can lead to backache and, as you get closer to your due date and the baby moves down, pelvic and hip pain become a constant source of discomfort - as I've learnt in the last few days! Do you know what I'd normally do if I was achy? Pop a couple of ibuprofen and soak in a hot bath but, nope, you can't even do that when you're pregnant because, yep, ibuprofen and hot baths are both out of the question. Having said that, it does give you a great excuse to get booked in for that back massage!

No Wine. No Pâté. No Joy.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating a lot bit. I can live without wine, and I can certainly live without pate, but life really is a little less joyful because of all these things that I'm suddenly "not allowed." I'm not a big drinker but a glass of red wine when I'm watching a film with S, or a nice cold bottle of fruity cider in a beer garden right about now would be amazing. And as for the pâté... well, I can assure you its one of the first things that I'll be eating when I get out of hospital once this little one is safely delivered. 

What did you find the hardest about pregnancy? 
Were there any foods or drinks you really missed?

Monday, 4 May 2015

187. April Empties

April was a super busy month and, as I reached my 8th month of pregnancy - think backache, swollen feet, tiredness - I needed a lot of pampering to get myself feeling even half normal. Although I don't have that many empties to share with you this month, I tried loads of new products so I'll be reviewing them over the next few weeks and, by this time next month, I'm sure I'll have a whole load of empties to review. So, let's take a look at what I used up in April...
Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula (with Vitamin E) Skin Therapy Oil
I bought this stuff ages ago - before I even knew I was pregnant - as it was on offer at Boots for about half it's RRP (it's currently on offer at Boots for £6.66, down from £9.99). Skin Therapy and stretchmark products are always expensive and they make big claims about what they can achieve, so I wanted to give one of them a try - without breaking the bank.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant I started using Palmer's Skin Therapy Oil almost daily. I'd use it everytime I got out of the bath, and sometimes just when my skin was feeling a bit dry or irritated. I massaged it into my stomach, bust and hips - as advised by the bottle - but it certainly hasn't stopped me getting stretchmarks. I don't really know whether I just didn't use it enough or whether, if you're going to get stretchmarks, you're just going to get them no matter what... but, either way, I wouldn't repurchase.

Touch of Silver Daily Nourish Conditioner
Last month, I finished and reviewed the Touch of Silver shampoo in my March Empties, and in April I used up the remainder of my Touch of Silver Daily Nourish Conditioner (currently £2.03 in Boots, for 200ml). I actually really liked this product - it left my hair feeling nourished and soft - but, as with the shampoo, I didn't notice any great difference in the actual tone of my hair. I'm not sure I would repurchase this product to be honest, but I have nothing bad to say about it!
Garnier Micellar Water
I've just finished my second bottle of Garnier's Micellar Cleansing Water (currently on offer at Boots at £3.33, down from £4.99) and I love it. A bottle lasts me a good 4 or 5 months, and that's with daily use! I use this product to remove my make-up before using a face wash and it's brilliant - it even gets rid of that tough mascara and eyeliner, without just smudging it across your face.

The cleanser itself is an unscented, water like product. It leaves very little residue on the skin and, any that is left, can easily be washed off by your face wash. I found that, rather than simply using a face wash or face wipe, it left my skin soothed and clear - rather than irritated and red.

Although I haven't repurchased this time as I'm trying out a different brand, I would recommend this product highly and I'm sure I'll buy it again in the future. 

Sure Compressed Long Last Protection Anti-Perspirant 
I've raved about my undying love for Sure's Maximum Protection range here, but I always carry a back up with me for when I'm out and about, in case it gets super warm super quickly or I'm having a busy day, and I always go for Sure Compressed Long Lasting Protection (currently with £1.10 off at Boots, for only £1!).

The size alone is a major winning factor for me, as it's so easy to carry around in your handbag, unlike the chunky cans we're used to. It also smells gorgeous! I've been using the 'Bright' anti-perspirant in April and it's got a lovely floral scent. I wouldn't say that it lasts the 48 hours that it claims too, or perhaps I'm just really sweaty? But it's definitely strong enough to get you through a busy day! 

Friday, 1 May 2015

186. Month in Review: April

Hello lovelies.

April has been a busy month, but a great one too! The weather picked up as did my mood and social life. Here's a quick recap of my month...

I spent loads of time with my friends and family this month; I'm trying to see them as much as possible whilst I still have the time! I went to see the new Cinderella film with my lovely friend Becca, had a delicious meal out at The Rat Inn with the family, enjoyed mocktails with my sister at Sydney's and met the beautiful Georgia for the first time, even though it felt like we'd known each other for months. I also caught the new Avenger's movie with S, spent the day in Newcastle with my Mum and sisters (you can read about it here) and visited my Grandma in the Lake District.
Carrot Cake & Chai at Costa // I finally got my Chicken Katsu! // Virgin Cosmpolitan // Delicious Scones with Mum

When I wasn't gallivanting about, I've most definitely been nesting! I spent some time, money and effort sprucing up our rather miserable looking backyard. I picked up some pretty pansies from a local garden centre and potted them, so they've added a touch of colour to the yard and it's looking much better! 

S and I also added the finishing touches to the nursery. We finished setting up the furniture so we now have a changing station as well as storage for all the babies clothes, nappies and general bits and bobs. We also put together the pushchair, washed the first load of baby clothes and packed our hospital bag, as I reached the 32 week mark in April - it's so exciting!
Pretty pansies before & after potting // Our nursery changing-cleaning area // World's cutest pushchair!

After months of dedicated viewing, I finally finished watching The US Office and I'm now feeling a little bit lost without it. Having said that, I'm getting stuck into Peep Show again - it's one of my all time favourite shows, I just love it. 

I treated myself to a gorgeous Flamingo Candle's jar candle this month in the scent of Vanilla and Black Pepper, and it smells delicious in my bedroom. I also picked up a cute new wax burner (there seems to be a bit of a theme going on here...) and a few new books, which I'm still waiting for arriving from Amazon. I started reading A Force To Be Reckoned With: A History of the Women's Institute, which was proven to be really interesting so far!
The only book I finished in April // Homemade chocolate fudge muffins // New beauty purchases

I really got back into the swing of things on my blog in April and found I was enjoying writing a lot more, with a real variety of posts, such as sharing my March Empties, a book review, 12 Things I'm Grateful For, the Pro's of Pregnancy and reviews of a Lush bubble bar and an alternative to toothpaste

May looks to be an exciting month as I begin my antenatal classes, head to my first two barbecues of the year, begin my maternity leave and my sister comes home for the summer! 

I hope you had a great April, and have an even better month this month!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

185. Lush Brightside Bubble Bar - Summer, in a bath!

Hello lovelies.

I apologise for the overkill of Lush product reviews lately but, seriously, I just can't get enough of them right now. Every time I'm near a Lush shop (which, for the record, is not very often - damn you countryside living) I can't help but pick up a few items to try out.

I spotted this summery bubble bar - Brightside - when I was in the Metrocentre's Lush a few weeks ago, when I went to see the new Cinderella movie with a friend (it was also the trip where I picked up the Toothy Tabs that I reviewed last week), and after a quick sniff I knew it was the one for me.

The smell of oranges is one of my absolute favourites (along with sun cream and bonfires, FYI) so Brightside, with Sicilian mandarin and tangerine essential oils, was right up my street. Lush describes the ingredients as 'uplifting' and I couldn't agree more - I felt so refreshed and energised after my first use.
It's definitely worth mentioning the amazing colours that this bubble bar creates, just look at the photo below - it's awesome! I used about 1/3 of the bar in my bath and it turned the water bright orange with a lovely creamy layer of bubbles. 
I had my second Brightside bath last night and I'm still totally bowled over (mainly by the gorgeous smell) and I'd definitely repurchase - I think this bubble bar is perfect for summer!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

184. Pregnancy Pro's & Con's: The Pro's

I thought it would be fun to write a little blog post (well, it's more like a list and we all know I love lists...) of what I've found to be the best and worst bits of pregnancy. Obviously, as I'm only 31 (going on 32 on Tuesday!) weeks pregnant, I've yet to experience the unavoidable labour, or the inevitable constant discomfort in the last few weeks. So, bare that in mind as I take a light-hearted look at the Pro's of Pregnancy.

It brings your family together.
As I'm the first of my four siblings to start a family, it's an exciting and new experience for the whole family - first niece, first granddaughter, first baby in the family in 15 years! My family have been an incredible support so far and it's made me feel so much closer to every member of the family, but in particular my sisters (who were the first to hear the news - after S of course!) and my Mum who has provided constant reassurance and helpful advice throughout.

You can eat a second breakfast (and a mid-morning snack, lunch, a pre-dinner sandwich, dinner and supper) and not to get judged for it.
People are nice to you.
Obviously, this should happen all the time - wouldn't it be a nice place if people were nice, all of the time? But yeah, that doesn't happen. I've found that people have, generally (not in 100% of cases) been really lovely to me since I announced my news. People want to take care of you, they want to make sure you're okay, they want to help - and it is so, so nice. Seriously, anybody who has shown me any support - no matter how small - so far, you have no idea how grateful I am.

You don't have to feel guilty for doing nothing.
I try to vary my days off; as in, one day I'll make plans to see friends and get errands done, and the other day will be spent in the house - watching Netflix, having a bath, sleeping... all the things that you want to do with your down time, but worry that people will judge you for 'wasting time.' Nope, when you're pregnant you can do it as much as you want and nobody can say a thing - because, God knows, you'll have no down time once the baby arrives!

You get paid to stay at home with your baby.
You get a baby - a real life baby - at the end of it.
All those aches and pains, all the morning sickness and midnight trips to the loo, all those months without a glass of wine... they're all worth it. Because, after all the pushing is done, you get your own little baby to take home. And then the fun truly begins...

I cannot freaking wait for sleepless nights for all my clothes to be ruined by sick to never stop worrying for my baby to arrive.

Friday, 24 April 2015

183. 24 Before 24 - Donate to Charity

Hello lovelies.

Three weeks ago, after a lot of deep thought and daydreaming, I finally compiled and published my 24 before 24 list. This list is part of a challenge, set by me - for me, to complete 24 goals before my 24th birthday (which is in October 2016). The list contains a real variety of items - from blogging goals to travel, trying new places and spending time with family and friends. 

Today I ticked my first goal off the list: Donate regularly to Macmillan, St. John's Hospice and British Red Cross. 

Why do I want to do this?

In my mind, donating to charity is incredibly important. Charities do amazing work and rely so heavily on public funding, so if you know that you can afford to spare a few pounds each month (and, lets be honest, most of us can) then why not give it to a good cause rather than spending it on a magazine or a coffee? It's so much more worthwhile; it helps people, and it makes you feel good knowing that you're helping somebody else who is less fortunate than yourself.

Why Macmillan?
The majority of us will have been, or will at some point be, affected by cancer in some shape or form. Whether it's a family member, work colleague or close friend who has suffered from this terrible disease, or perhaps you've suffered yourself - it affects so many of us that it's hard to turn a blind eye.

I lost both of my grandfathers to cancer - one to bowel cancer, and one to prostate - and, in their final weeks, they both received wonderful care from Macmillan nurses, who also provided aftercare, counselling and support to the family following their passing. 

Although I couldn't afford to set up a substantial donation to Macmillan, the amount I am giving will, over the course of the year, pay for one hour of a Macmillan nurse's time and, in turn, help to support an individual, and their family, in a time of great need.

You can find out more about donating to Macmillan here.

Why St. John's Hospice?
This time last year, my Grandad was spending time in St. John's Hospice, in Lancaster, whilst fighting prostate cancer. We visited him in the hospice in April and, as he seemed so content and so happy in the beautiful surroundings, we had no idea that I would be the last time we'd see him. It makes me so, so happy to be able to remember him smiling and chatting and having a bit o' banter with the hospice nurses, and I know that so much of that was down to the exemplary care provided by St. John's. That is why I chose to donate to them. 

Hospices do incredible work to help people feel comfortable and content in their final months, weeks and days, and I think that this is so important which is why I would urge you to donate to your local hospice - as you never know when you, or someone you love, will rely on them.

Why British Red Cross?
I love the ethics behind British Red Cross; they treat every emergency or crisis relatively - meaning that they don't compare something happening in the UK to something happening in, say, Syria or Africa. To the British Red Cross, a crisis is a crisis - no matter where it is and no matter how many people are affected, and I completely agree with this. 

British Red Cross are currently running emergency appeals for survivors of the Iraqi war, the Ebola outbreak and conflict in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen, as well as numerous projects across the UK and the rest of the world. From refugee support, tracing missing people and providing social care, the British Red Cross are a great support to thousands and thousands of people, and this deserves our support in return. 

You can find out about donating to British Red Cross here.

How did I achieve this?

To be honest, this was probably the most straightforward of all of the challenges on my list. It's incredibly simple to set up a Direct Debit to donate money to a charity either monthly or annually. I set up my first one a couple of weeks ago, and set up the remaining two this morning. And that's that - done. 

My donations are only a total of £10 a month which, in the grand scheme of things, is a tiny amount but will, undoubtedly, help these three incredible charities to continue their inspiring work. 

Do you donate to charity?
If not, what could you sacrifice in order to do so?

Monday, 20 April 2015

182. What's In My Everyday Make Up Bag?

I love looking for new make-up. In fact, Superdrug is probably my second home. I'm always on the look out for new products that are affordable and, frankly, do what they're supposed to. That's why I wanted to share, with you lovely lot, the contents of my Everyday Make Up Bag. These are the products that I use every single time I apply make-up; whether it's for work, a meal out or something more special, this is my go to selection of products to achieve that everyday look.
First up, skin. I've been using my two main skin products for such a long time now that I've actually lost track, but it must be well over a year! I start off by applying Seventeen's Phwoarr Paint, in Fair, under my eyes to eliminate any dark patches, as well as dabbing it on any ugly spots that have popped up. It reminds me of Benefit's Boi-ing concealor, which is equally good but a helluvalot more expensive. At just £5.49 you really can't complain - this stuff lasts months and works wonders. 

Next up, I use Rimmel's Match Perfection foundation in Ivory 100. It's a lovely, runny but not watery, liquid foundation and it applies seamlessly with a foundation brush. You hardly have to use any of it to get a good, medium coverage and, at just £6.99, it's definitely worth it. I get through a bottle of this every two months, and that's with daily use. 

To ensure my make-up stays put all day, I use Maybelline Matte Maker powder, in Classic Ivory. I apply this pressed powder with my Real Techniques powder brush all over my face, especially around my nose, chin and forehead as these are the areas where my foundation seems to want to escape from my face! The powder is only £3.99 and lasts a good few months for me. It's very handy for carrying around in your handbag whenever you need to get rid of that shine too. 

Finally, to add a pop of colour, I apply Bourjois Blusher in Rose De Jaspe to the apples of my cheeks and brush upwards and outwards, with the Real Techniques blush brush. It's a gorgeous deep, shimmery rose pink and is subtle enough to avoid the clown-like look, but pretty enough to make your skin look just that little bit healthier. I've been using this blusher for about six months and it's still about half full, definitely worth the modest £7.99 that I spent on it.
Once I've got my skin looking clear and healthy, I move onto my eyes. First up, my eyebrows which I think deserve a good bit of attention. I've always loved dark, statement brows but - unfortunately, being blonde, pale and with the tendency to frown a lot - I can't quite pull the Cara Delevigne look off. Instead, I try to find some middle ground by using the Collection Work the Colour Eyebrow Kit, which is just £3.99. I use the middle shade and apply it with the brush which is included in the palette, it's a double ended brush and is perfect for shaping and filling in your brows, giving off a natural look but enough definition for your eyebrows to really stand out.

Once my brows have been tamed, it's time to tackle the make-up nightmare that is liquid eyeliner. I've been applying liquid eye liner for a good 8 years now and I've done it the same way the entire time, so I don't struggle with it nowadays, but that may also have something to do with the eyeliner that I choose to use. I've recently been using Seventeen High Drama liquid eyeliner which I picked up for just £3.99 in Superdrug and it's honestly so good. I've never been sucked in to buying expensive, high-end eyeliners as I honestly believe that the budget versions do just as good of a job (in fact, I prefer this to my old Eyeko eyeliner which was triple the price!). This eyeliner creates a solid black silhouette around your eye and lasts all day long, even in the heat or the rain. I'd recommend it to anybody, plus the shape of the brush makes it so easy to apply, especially for those cat-flicks!

In an attempt to make myself look less zombie like, I use a white eyeliner pencil, in the form of Maybelline's Big Eyes Liner. I apply the eyeliner to the inner corner of my eye, both on the top and bottom water lines, as it really helps to make my eyes look brighter and wider. The eye liner is only £4.99 and includes both a black and white eyeliner pencil, so it's a real bargain!

Last but certainly not least, the mascara that I've sworn by for years: Max Factor's False Lash Effect, in black. At £10.99 it's actually, by far, the most expensive item in my make-up bag but it probably also lasts the longest. I find that the brush is brilliant for even, all over coverage and doesn't give me lashes that spidery effect which is all too common nowadays. I've tried numerous mascaras over the years but I always come crawling back to False Lash Effect as it really is just so good, even when the gods forgot bless you with gloriously long, thick lashes. 

So, ten minutes after unzipping my make-up bag and letting the contents spill out all over my bed, I just add a slick of colour to my lips depending on my mood, and I'm good to go!

What about your make-up essentials?
Have you tried any of my favourites?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

181. Lush Toothy Tabs: An Alternative To Toothpaste?

I'm big on impulse buying. Now, I know that's not something to brag about but, sometimes - just sometimes, it means you stumble across some absolute gems. Things you would never have thought about, things you had no idea you needed (usually because you didn't) and things you've never even heard of. This is why I love it.

I headed into Lush recently when I was at the Metrocentre with a friend and, whilst queuing to pay for a Brightside bubble bar (review coming soon!), I spotted an intriguing display: Toothy Tabs. As this was something I'd never heard of before, I asked the sales assistant who kindly explained exactly what Toothy Tabs were to me. An alternative to toothpaste; environmentally friendly as they use recycled paper boxes (rather than the usual plastic or aluminium which would end up in a landfill) and, as always, cruelty free.
There were several different options to choose from but I went for Sparkle, promising 'gleamingly clean' teeth, which I thought sounded perfect as I'm conscious that my teeth aren't exactly as white as I'd like them to be. (I'm blaming years of drinking diet coke, smoking and having a penchant for curries and tomato-based sauces, which my dentist tells me aren't ideal if you want sparkling, white teeth.)

Now, the idea of using what is, at the end of the day, a weird little tablet to brush your teeth does take some getting used to and it took me a couple of attempts to actually perfect the method. But, once you've figured it out, it's pretty straight forward - you take one tab, put it between your teeth and gently crush it so that it forms a powder, then you just brush your teeth with a wet toothbrush as usual. The tabs quickly foam and your mouth is filled with a delicious, refreshing taste that reminds me of the paste that dentists use to clean your teeth. 
Image Source

The main ingredients in Sparkle Toothy Tabs are black pepper oil, lemon oil and powder and grapefruit oil. These ingredients combine to create a really pleasant, refreshing and warming flavour and sensation. I've seen a couple of reviews claiming that the peppery taste is far too strong and off-putting but I haven't found this to be the case whatsoever; it goes without saying that I am a chilli and pepper addict, but even so, I think it creates a lovely, warming sensation. 

I have to say that I haven't noticed a difference in the colour of my teeth or their general appearance but I've only been using the Toothy Tabs for a little over a week, so I guess I need to give them a little longer before I judge them on that. However, I do love the taste of them and they leave my teeth feeling incredibly clean and fresh, which is my main aim from a toothpaste or - in this case - 'toothy tab.'
At £2.50 for a 12g box of Toothy Tabs, they are a lot more expensive than regular toothpaste which I usually pick up in the supermarket for about £1, but they're almost an experience in themselves (if you're as sad as I am...) and they really do 'do the job' so I can't complain.

For some, they may be a novelty product and for just £2.50, you can't really go wrong, but if you're keen to find a cruelty free, environmentally friendly alternative to toothpaste, I'd definitely recommend you give Toothy Tabs a go. Check out the full range on the Lush website or find out more about "Why?" you should use Toothy Tabs here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

180. 30 Week Pregnancy Update

Hello lovelies.

As I now enter my 31st week of pregnancy (insane), I'm officially 75% of the way there... more or less, depending on whether this little one decides to turn up early, on time or fashionably late. 
The weeks are still zooming by and, in the coming few weeks, I'll be starting my antenatal classes and preparing for my maternity leave - which starts in just over 5 weeks! I'm beginning to get really impatient as I'm so ready to meet our little baby girl, so lets just hope the time continues to fly by.

So, how do I feel?

Not much has changed in the last few weeks. I still feel really tired and achy by the time I get into bed - bubble baths are my absolute saviour at the moment - and I'm struggling with how many times I'm waking during the night; mainly to go to the loo, but also just to move around and get comfortable. 

The lightheadedness has faded a bit, which is a relief, but I still have to eat and drink something within about half an hour of getting up, otherwise I find myself feeling pretty weak.

Moodwise, I'm still feeling very stable. I don't feel like I'm losing my temper or getting emotional particularly easily, but I guess all that's still to come.

The main thing I've noticed is that I am hungry. ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME. It's seriously a miracle that I haven't gained a good couple of stone already, with the amount I've been eating in the last few weeks!

How do I look?

I've been gaining weight at a steady rate of 1lb a week for the last 6 or so weeks now, so I'm now 1/2 a stone over my start weight. I think my weight gain is around the normal rate, especially as I didn't gain anything until I reached the 6 month mark, but I'm hoping that I don't gain too much more - not from an aesthetic point of view, but because I've been warned by midwife about the complications that excessive weight gain can add. 

I'm feeling pretty whale-like at the moment too as I'm struggling to find any flattering clothes. I've been wearing lots of floaty dresses which are pretty but I feel quite dumpy in them. I'll keep trying new things though!

Are we prepared?

I picked up some more adorable baby clothes the other day so we're now collating quite a nice wardrobe for our baby girl, although admittedly it is about 90% baby grows, rather than any outfits as I think I'll leave them until the baby is a couple of months old. If it's going to be covered in milk, sick and God knows what else, what's the point?
Tesco has proved a great place to pick up affordable, cute baby clothes!

We've got one more bit of furniture to put up and then the nursery is sorted, even though we won't be using it for around the first 6 months. It's still nice to get everything set up whilst we've still got the energy. 

My blood test results came back fine so that's good news, I had to rearrange my whooping cough vaccination as I slept right through it (oops!) so I'll be having that in the next couple of weeks, my job has officially been advertised in the paper so the reality of my impending maternity leave is now sinking in!

I'll be back in a couple of weeks with my 32 week pregnancy update!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

179. 12 Things I'm Grateful For

1. Having an amazing, close-knit family who support me through every decision and every mistake I make and who I love spending time with. I truly believe family are the most important thing in life and I wouldn't change mine for the world.

2. Still being in a strong relationship with S after 5 and 1/2 years together, finally living together in our lovely home, and knowing that very soon we will become more than just a couple - we'll be a family, and knowing that I've chosen someone who will make an incredible, involved and loving father to our daughter.

3. Living in a beautiful home where I feel safe, comfortable and that I look forwards to returning to whenever I'm away.

4. My small but perfectly formed group of close friends who each lift me up and make me happy. 

5. A job which, at times, challenges me but is, for the majority, a fun and relaxed job, where I can help people, learn new things and spend time with lovely people. Plus, it pays the bills. 

6. Baking, reading, blogging, eating out, long bubble baths, catching up on my favourite shows on Netflix and all those other little things that I get to do on my days off. 

7. My health, mind and body for only ever giving me minor niggles and keeping me ticking over, able to move about and with enough energy and drive to get out of bed each morning.

8. This beautiful weather that we're currently experiencing up North and the fact that there are so many stunning places nearby where we can enjoy it.

9. How much my anxiety, in particular social anxiety, has decreased over the last 6 months or so. The fact that I look forwards to trips out and very rarely spend a whole day in the house is a massive achievement for me, not to mention the lack of sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat when I'm somewhere busy.

10. Having this little blog where I can write about what I want, when I want, with no pressure and the lovely feedback that I receive from fellow bloggers and even friends and family who read it. It makes it all worthwhile.

11. Feeling our baby girl moving about inside me. It's the most incredible feeling.

12. The amazing experiences I've had so far in my life and those that are just around the corner, such as a trip to Liverpool in October and a 4 night stay in a Yorkshire cottage next February.

What are you grateful for?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

178. A Day in the Life

As I had a fun day planned for my day off today, I thought I'd share with you some snaps from throughout the day. Enjoy!
A little after 8am, I dragged myself out of bed and made the strenuous journey to the living room sofa instead, armed with my two-course breakfast (yup, that is a necessity when you're seven months pregnant) of chocolate Cheerios, Marmite on toast and fresh orange juice, where I watched the latest episode of Ordinary Lies (has anyone else been watching?! Today's episode had me gripped, and last weeks made me so teary!) before getting ready. 
An hour or so later, I headed down the street - passing the gorgeous, sun-lit Hexham Abbey in the photo above - to drop some stuff off at work, before popping into Superdrug where I picked up the new Barry M nail polishes, some nappy cream for the baby and some new powder and moisturiser. 
Around 11am, my Mum picked me up and we, along with my two sisters, set off to Newcastle for a day of shopping, sightseeing and - of course - eating. It was a beautiful, bright day in town and the first day this year that I've been out without a coat on!
With it being half-term, and a lovely day, Newcastle was bustling so we sought out some peace and quiet in the Laing Art Gallery after a quick look in Superdrug and Game. There were some amazing exhibitions, including Pablo Picasso's work, and it was a really nice way to spend a couple of hours, rather than just shopping or watching a film which is what we usually do when we all get together. 
After months of me craving chicken katsu, I finally had my dream fulfilled. My sister loves Wagamama's so she suggested we go for lunch and everyone was pretty keen. Fi went for the chilli chicken ramen whilst Meg had chicken ramen and my Mum had a spicy green curry (I'm not sure what it was called, but it smelt delicious!) The service was brilliant, I managed to eat 99% of my meal with chopsticks *proud face* and it satisfied my craving, but I'm not sure chicken katsu is something I'd go for again - perhaps it was just my pregnant taste buds playing tricks on me, I'm not sure!
Not that our meal at Wagamama wasn't filling enough... but I suggested we pay a visit to one of my new favourite places - Wheelbirks in Stocksfield - for some ice cream on the way home. It was absolutely packed but we managed to get a table outside in the sunshine where we could enjoy our treats. I went for one scoop of Toblerone Crunch and one scoop of traditional Chocolate, and it was well worth the £3. New Girl in Toon has a fab review of Wheelbirks here
Early evening was spent catching up on blogging and I managed to get a few posts scheduled before we settled down to catch up on One Born, Masterchef and The Island with Bear Grylls, and tucked into tasty bacon sandwiches before heading to bed for an early night. Busy days are tiring, you know?!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

177. Book Review - The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Hello lovelies.

Today's post is another book review, to add to my collection - the most recent being Salt & Honey, a wonderful book set in South Africa, which I reviewed here.

I just finished reading Jonas Jonasson's The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared after a couple of weeks of getting well and truly stuck into it. I picked this book up in Waterstone's months ago and it was sat on my to read shelf for quite a while before intrigue got the better of me and I decided I'd best give it a go. And, believe me, I'm so glad I did.
 (As you can see from the photo, my copy is now well worn after many trips in the bath with me!)

The title was what had initially drawn me to the book. It's not everyday that you get to read about a hundred year old man making a run for it. 

The story is based in Sweden and the main character, one Allan Karlsson, is an elderly but most certainly not decrepit Swedish man, with a wealth of adventure and experience behind him, and he isn't ready to give up those adventures just yet. So, he does exactly what it says on the tin cover: he climbs out of the window, and disappears.

One of my favourite things about the narrative style was that it swapped between present day - as care home escapee Allan travels across Sweden with no real destination in mind - and a past tense, almost biographical, format; giving the reader an in-depth insight into Allan's former years, from birth right up to just before he climbed out of the window, on his final, epic adventure. 

We learn, throughout the novel, that Allan played a key part in many historical events - from the making of the atom bomb to communism in Russia, China and North Korea; all seemingly unlikely but so ridiculously believable due to Jonasson's story telling prowess. 

There are many crucial characters in the novel and none of them fail to deliver on substance or relevance, each adding something to the story and complimenting Allan's character. Each character is also described in a somewhat humorous way, and I loved that this humour was present throughout the book. It takes a lot for a book to make me laugh out loud, but this one did. 

As well as a hugely entertaining, and at times very moving, tale The Hundred-Year-Old Man is also an inspiring read. It made me want to forget about planning and worrying and just embrace the moment and see where it can lead, just as Allan does for his whole life, seemingly without a care in the world. 

I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little bit different, and to anyone who likes to read something with the ability to make them smile. I can't wait to see the film, I just hope it lives up to my expectations!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

176. 24 before 24

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love lists. I write to do lists for each month, I write to do lists for work and for my days off, I plan my meals for the week and base my shopping list on it. Seriously, I just love lists. 

I attempted a 21 before 21 challenge in the months leading up to my 21st birthday, way back in 2013, and managed to complete about half of my goals. The aim is to write a list of things you'd like to achieve in a certain time frame, and work towards them, ticking them off as you go.

I've been working on a 23 before 23 list for months and, as I've only just managed to think of 23 things I'd like to/can realistically achieve, I decided it's a little late (as my birthday is in October!) to begin this challenge... so, instead, I'm giving myself that little bit longer to work towards my 24 before 24 challenge. 

24 before 24
 (Deadline: October 15th, 2016. 560 days)
1.     Get a full driving licence and my own car
2.     Holiday with our baby girl
3.     Introduce a pet to our family
4.     Pay off and keep credit/store cards under £500 at all times
5.     Learn a second language enough to make conversation
6.     Reach 300 followers on Bloglovin
7.     Stay in a 4 or 5* hotel
8.     Treat mum to a spa day
9. Visit Fi in Sheffield
10.  Take up a sport
11.  Try Vietnamese, Korean and Turkish food
12.  Try 18 new eateries
13.  Re-watch all of Breaking Bad and Peep Show
14.  Read every book on my ‘to read’ pile (31)
15.  Visit Liverpool
16.  Walk to the top of Winder
17.  Improve my own health and fitness; more sport, no smoking, healthier eating habits
18.  Get my eyebrows properly shaped
19.  Regularly donate to Macmillan, St John's Hospice and British Red Cross
20.  Go to a blogger meet up/event
21.  Holiday with Dad, Tristan and Megan
22.  Treat myself to (and learn how to use) a good camera
23.  Get my teeth whitened
24.  Have a night away (just S and I)

Do you think my goals are achievable?
Are any of them similar to what's on your bucket list?

I'd love to read other peoples bucket and ** before ** lists, so please send me your links!