Monday, 29 August 2016

Autumn/Winter To-Do List

That season comes. My body is ready. Yes, I'm completely basic, and yes, I love to have things written down so that I can tick them off.

  • Make a pie (pumpkin, blackberry or apple, I haven't decided yet).
  • Have a bonfire.
  • Snuggle up in blankets and write fanfiction.
  • Write a horror story.
  • Make gingerbread.
  • Stop off for hot chocolate on my way to work on frosty mornings.
  • Start going for more runs (I like to run at night).
  • Scrounge my other half's Netflix so I can watch Stranger Things.
  • Go for walks in the woods.
  • Get a pumpkin spice latte.
  • Try a nonalcoholic mead recipe (I love mead, but I'm cutting down on my drinking.)
  • Tell ghost stories.
  • Wear skirts more - it will be the boots-and-tights season.
  • Carve a pumpkin.
  • Go to a Christmas market.
  • Dig out my oversized jumpers for maximum snuggles.
  • Catch up on some Sherlock.
  • Prepare my Halloween costume (I'm thinking witchy this year, although I could still be swayed by Ghostbusters.)

Does anyone else have plans for autumn?

Thursday, 25 August 2016

TILT: End of Summer Edition

So it's coming up to the end of August. I love summer, but I love autumn and winter even more, so I have a tendency to get quite excited at this time of year as the evenings start to get longer and the blackberries begin to ripen. It's also my birthday next month, so I am beginning to quiver in anticipation of new books.

I haven't done a Things I Love Thursday in quite some time, so here are a few of the things making my world go round at the moment:

  • my partner and I have been spending time exploring abandoned buildings around the area where we live. There are a lot of disused farms down deserted backroads, a few empty factories and an awful lot of out-of-the-way houses standing empty, so it's prime suburban-Gothic creepsville real estate. Especially good in the evenings for watching sunsets and bats (but not at night, I don't want to be the first five minutes of a Supernatural episode, thanks).
  • naps! I just started back at work as a part-timer after eight months off to study and I am suddenly knackered all of the time, so naps have become a big part of my routine. Yeah, I know, I'm such an old lady but I don't care.
  • stargazing. My boyfriend and I happened to be walking home very late at night during a meteor shower, and there was the clearest sky I have ever seen. It was absolutely amazing, like looking into eternity. 
  • all things cryptozoology. It is very hard not to Google cryptids when I'm supposed to be studying. Also, I'm really excited about trolls. I love trolls.
  • truck stops and roadside cafes.
  • Subscription boxes! I had the unbelievable luck of scoring a complete secondhand Lootcrate from work (the Vs. box from March). I love the idea of a subscription box and am probably going to ask for one for Christmas but there are so many that appeal to me that I don't know which one to choose.
  • having rooftop access on my lunch breaks. Nothing like sitting on the flat roof with a book and a hot coffee, under the blue sky.
  • London at night.
  • getting 94% on my first psychology test. 
  • Seanan McGuire's October Daye series of books. Highly recommended for fellow urban fantasy fans and faerie obsessives.
Listening to: Down by the Water by PJ Harvey

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Book Review: Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore

I'll admit, I was skeptical when I picked Skin Cleanse up. One of my biggest bugbears, for basically half my life, has been my skin. Okay, it's not the worst skin in the world - just bad enough to be embarrassing. I spent what feels like my entire teen years buying books, creams, gadgets, lotions, potions, special cloths, brushes, and even the odd DVD in the hope of sorting out my problem skin.

And then when I hit my twenties, I thought, thank goodness, perhaps I'll grow out of bad skin at last. Only, not so much. In fairness, without the deluge of delightful pubescent hormones, it did improve. A bit. But I hated having blemishes that were often red, sore and downright uncomfortable. And for some reason, this year, things started to get even worse. The skin on my back was already plagued by blemishes enough that I hadn't worn a bikini or a strappy top since I was about fourteen. But lately, no matter how much I exfoliated, moisturised or cleansed, the problem was spreading from my back and shoulders down to my arms as well. I tried everything, from spa treatments to prescription meds, and nothing helped.

So I bought Skin Cleanse hoping, but not really expecting much. Reviews on GoodReads were mixed. But it was Adina's author photo that really intrigued me. It was probably airbrushed, I know that. But her skin looked fantastic - plush and rosy and glowing. I have got, I thought, to get me some of that.

One of the first things Adina recommends is an elimination diet. I have struggled with disordered eating, so I'm very careful about committing to any eating plans (other than that well-known 'seafood diet' - you know the one, right?). I decided to try her non-judgemental food journalling technique to see if I could pinpoint anything that might be causing my breakouts. But then, I couldn't wait through a fortnight's food journalling to read the rest of the book. If there was something in there that could solve my skin issues, I wanted it now. So I read on.

I learned about the harmful, unregulated and potentially toxic ingredients lurking in the beauty products I had - ironically - bought in the hopes of helping my skin. I took the book into the bathroom and went through my entire array of products. I discovered that my face mask and body lotion contained formaldehyde. The scrub I was using on my back, and my daily facial moisturiser, both contained petroleum. No wonder my skin was upset.

I bagged up and chucked out a whole range of products (with the notable exceptions being everything I had from Lush, a handful of Body Shop products, my Pure Chimp cleanser and the Golden Silk oil I bought from a local independent health shop).

I am now four months into a stripped-back, natural skincare routine. The only 'products' I have used on my back are water, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and sea salt. I was nervous about using oil on my back in case it made the problem worse, but my skin is softer - almost velvety, if I do say so myself - and I have had no more breakouts. The skin is not so red and irritated. My face was visibly clearer and felt smoother after only three days. After a month, I no longer needed foundation or concealer.
Day 1
Day 14
As well as tweaking - or rather, overhauling - my skincare regimen, I have been adjusting my diet. I could see from my food journal that I don't drink enough water, I have far too much sugar, and despite being vegetarian, rarely get my five-a-day. (Mostly I live off crisps, cereal, ramen noodles and frozen pizza.) However, eliminating things entirely tends to make me miserable and stressed, so I decided to simply add in more of Adina's recipes and good food suggestions, and make swaps where I can. So I still have two sugars in my tea and eat an awful lot of ice cream. But I am also eating copious amounts of veggies, having fruit salad with almonds for breakfast, and pouring olive oil onto anything that stays still long enough.

Unfortunately, because I over-excitedly tweaked my diet and my product regime at the same time, I can't say which has made the greater difference. I think that many of the immediate, visible differences have been down to changing my approach to skincare. There's a nice mental effect too, I actually feel like I am caring for my skin now, not just covering it in more and more product. I'm also planning to implement more of Adina's suggestions, such as regular meditation and exercise (both of which I guess I should be doing anyway... oops).

So despite my initial misgivings, I have to give Skin Cleanse five out of five stars, because it has saved me money (and time in the mornings) and given my self-confidence a massive boost. I have even been seen out in a strappy top once or twice this summer! I can't promise that this book will help everyone, but it helped me, and if nothing else, you probably don't want to be putting petroleum on your face.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

I Made a Jacket Out of Apples & Other Gishwhes Stories

This past week, I took part in my first Gishwhes. I also managed to charm, bully and blackmail several friends, penpals and acquaintances into taking part in this enormous international scavenger hunt (created and overlord-ed by Misha Collins of Supernatural) with me. Some of them are even still speaking to me. My neighbours, however, are concerned.

It was a taxing week. Physically, emotionally (you'd be amazed what eighteen hours spent making a jacket out of baked apples can do to your feels) and most of all financially. But it was also epic. I made new friends in other countries, was complimented on my swashbuckling prowess (!), and my team - HMS MooseKnuckles being the name we eventually settled on - managed to complete over fifty tasks (of a possible 177) ranging from the simple to the semi-insane.

I got super-lucky with my team - I had cosplayers, mums and au pairs, members of theatre groups, musicians and delightful lady scientists, so we were all set to cover almost anything that was thrown at us (one of my teammates serenaded a barista on his ukulele. I remain delighted by this and would like random ukulele serenades to become more of a thing). My penpal Tessa absolutely pulled it out of the bag with some great cosplays, including turning up at her previous workplace dressed as a zombie and getting a milkshake at a 50s diner with a group of friends whilst dressed as sith lords and Jedi knights. My friends Jade, Rosie and Eve were also awesome, and did some very brave and weird things despite heatwaves, illness, work schedules and general life stuff.

Here are some of the things that happened to me during the past week (with a little help from family and friends):
  • got out of bed at eight a.m. on a Sunday to be sprayed in the face with a hose
  • made my dad talk a biker named Big Pete into being photographed in a jacket made out of fruit leather
  • made said fruit leather jacket. I know I keep going on about this dratted jacket but it took days to make, I can't get the smell of apples out of my hair, and, well... you may think you've done some weird shit in your life, son, but have you made a jacket out of apples? Because I. Fucking. Have.
  • adorned my toenails with a delighful drawing of the potential lovechild of Miley Cyrus and Donald Trump. Posting a pic of Diley Tryrus lost me seven followers on Instagram. Can't imagine why...
  • went for a public jog wearing shoes and a hat carved out of pineapple

  • made rainbow prosthetic teeth
  • learned how to swing an axe to devastating effect (don't worry, those records were not good records)

  • put up a tyre swing for neighbourhood children (and then snuck out in the middle of the night when there were no kids around to have a go myself)
  • defended the perimeter of the ladies' undergarments section in Asda with a shopping basket on my head, Sellotape gauntlets, and a pool noodle as my weapon

  • contacted a friend I hadn't spoken to in about eight years to ask if I could film her pet albino hedgehog in my My Little Pony spa (she said yes)
  • convinced my best friend to dress up as Dean Winchester and hold a pie in front of a Winchester Street sign
  • made a panda out of sanitary pads. His name is Charles. He is a bit saggy but he is doing his best
  • painted a bad portrait of Zachary Levi onto my butt
  • had red wine poured into my mouth out of an upstairs window whilst wearing a white dress
Honestly, I don't know if I will have the fortitude to sign up to Gishwhes for a second year. I may just buy something from the Gishwhes Shwag Shwop and cheerlead from the sidelines. But I'm glad I took part, not least because I definitely wouldn't have had the confidence to do so a year or so ago. To be fair, I would have done it just to receive emails from Misha Collins, but I am a bit of a nerd. If you're considering Gishing next year, please do give it a try. Being a bit weird is important. I have entirely lost the ability to be embarrassed, and have learned some important new skills, such as making snazzy headgear out of tropical fruit.

Listening to: The Root of All Evil by Abney Park

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

In Print: Romantic Threads Interview

I am delighted to mention that I have a new piece out in Carpe Nocturne magazine, available from the CN website here. For the steampunk-themed summer issue I was lucky enough to interview the lovely Belinda of Romantic Threads about her creations.

Romantic Threads: Custom Made Fairytales

"From a modern-day Marie Antoinette, or a be-corseted Mina Harker, to a medieval maiden draped in velvet - whatever your heart's desire, there are artists and craftspeople out there that can help us make it so. Belinda of Romantic Threads is one such creatrix. She has been making one-of-a-kind, custom gowns for over fifteen years."

In honesty, I'd love to screenshot a page for you because the team have done an extraordinary job on the layout (there are roses and everything) and the photographs are stellar, but I'm restraining myself.

Thanks to Belinda for taking part and as always a huge thanks to the Carpe Nocturne staff.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Being Your Own Best Friend

You've probably heard this before, but self-love isn't easy. Let's please chuck out the useless mantra of 'if you don't love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to love you?' because frankly it is bollocks - sometimes, it's a lot easier for other people to see the best of you when your perception is cluttered with your own flaws and shortcomings.

Becoming your own best friend and cheerleader is a hard thing to do, but even making the effort to try can be so incredibly rewarding. I am certainly not a guru or a mental health specialist, but over the last few years I have done my best to change my attitude towards myself and I am the happiest now that I have been since childhood. It ain't perfect. Everybody goes through rough patches. But compared to the headspace I was in five or six years ago, the changes are dramatic.

I don't claim to have all the answers, but below are some suggestions of ways I came to care for myself more, and hopefully something here might resonate with you, too (but please - judge carefully what you feel will be safe and empowering for you and don't try something that makes you in any way uncomfortable just on my say-so. And of course, if you are experiencing mental health problems or other issues of concern, please don't be afraid to reach out for professional help. At the bottom of this post, I'm including some links for organisations such as Samaritans who are there to offer you non-judgemental help and support. You are valid; you are important; you are not alone.)

As always, if anyone has any tips, suggestions or further advice, please do jump in.

  • Stop seeing your personality as a challenge to be overcome. Those of us who are quiet or shy or introverted or unsociable by nature are often bombarded with the message that this is a problem to be fixed. No. You are valid and good exactly the way you are. I don't mean that you should never encourage yourself to go out or push the edges of your comfort zone a bit if you want to, but if you know a noisy party in a strip club is never going to be your thing, you don't have to go. We're always told to 'put ourselves out there', 'say yes to stuff more' - but you don't have to! Realising this was a massive relief to me. I like to go out for a dance from time to time but I'm never going to be a wild party animal. Sometimes now I choose to stay in and read or have quiet chill time with other introverted friends instead of going out, and my stress levels thank me for it.
  • Be your own target demographic. I let go of 'cool'. I let go of 'fashionable'. I let go of hating on things that teenage girls like (this has been said before, but can we all stop bashing teenage girls please? Adolescence is hard enough without being belittled at every turn, jfc). I let myself like whatever it is that I like. Seek out what makes you smile. (Personally, I recently got hugely into cute, fluffy manga - it's non-threatening, it's squee-able, I find it incredibly soothing. I should probably also mention Pokemon Go here - I haven't played it yet cause it's not compatible with my phone, but I hear people are finding it very helpful for coping with anxiety and depression.) Luckily, the media and franchises available to us seem to be becoming more diverse, representational and feminist-friendly, which makes me happy because I can now read comic books and watch movies where the women wear sensible armour and have realistic body types and I don't need to come away feeling a bit poop about my belly chub (Ghostbusters. Fury Road. Bitch Planet. Rat Queens. Lumberjanes. Princeless.). 
  • Listen to yourself. A big turning point for me was realising that I couldn't even contemplate going to a certain social event sober, because it scared me too much. And a little voice in the back of my head said, well, if it's that uncomfortable for you, maybe don't go? So my new yardstick for social events is 'do I have to drink to get through this?' and if yes, I don't go. (This has also massively cut down on my drinking and my skin has cleared up wonderfully, so, yay! I'm really not a fan of drugs and obviously alcohol is a drug, albeit a legal and socially acceptable one, so the smaller a place it has in my life the better, really.) Just checking in with yourself and seeing how you feel - and adjusting accordingly - can make a big difference. Using my new yardstick, and therefore only going to things I think I will enjoy, has turned my social life from something stressful and terrifying into a set of genuine, comfortable friendships.
  • Also important is to check in with yourself physically. Self-care, as we all know, is an important thing. Sometimes this is hard. If you can't get out of bed, let alone shower and eat, then that's fine. If regular sleep and three square meals a day is not on your dance card at this point in time, that's okay too. Self-care can range from 'I didn't die today' to 'I ate', 'I bought myself a nice perfume' to 'I bought Thinx pants because VAT on tampons is fucking stupid and periods should suck less'. When you feel able, check in with yourself and see what you are able to manage. Can you get a glass of water? Put socks on your cold feet? Get a manicure? If you can't manage anything extra right now, then still well done to you just for checking in, because sometimes acknowledging your fleshy meat prison is hard all on its own. 
  • Check your compromises. Obviously in all relationships there are some kinds of compromise involved. But if a relationship isn't actively enriching both people's lives, it might be time to take a look and see if you're okay with what you're contributing. Letting go of toxic relationships is difficult but sometimes necessary. Or you might simply need to adjust your boundaries. De-prioritising a relationship that takes up too much of your time and energy is okay. (For example: my partner suffers with cluster headaches, has a busy work schedule and supports a person with disabilities. Therefore we don't see each other half as much as I would ideally like. This was beginning to really upset me and was putting a lot of strain on both of us because we were both stressed about it. Letting myself focus more on other friends and other activities doesn't mean I love my partner less - it just gives us both space to breathe instead of both of us freaking over a problem we can't solve.)

If you feel you might need support or advice, try:
Depression Alliance

Listening to: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Ramshackle Glory

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Inspiration Station: 12/7/16

Wow, I actually haven't posted one of these since February! I'm taking a trip to London for a couple of days with my best friend so I thought I'd sneak a post in before I go.

Articles I've Enjoyed

Cool is a Trap: A Defense of Being Uncool
And not in an 'I was uncool before it was cool' way either. Honestly, my life has become approximately 7954% better since I gave up on trying to be cool or impress anyone. 10/10, would recommend.

How I Became Okay Wearing the Same Outfits All the Time
Speaking as someone who has the same handful of T-shirts and two pairs of jeans in fairly continuous rotation, I loved this. In Ye Olde Goth Days, I never wore the same outfit twice. Literally never. Mostly this was fine, because I had A LOT of clothes, but sometimes it led to absolute meltdown. And it got hella expensive, fast. If I'd lightened up on myself (and stopped feeling the need to blog every single outfit) I might have had a little more fun.

The Not-My-Style List
Oh look, I'm linking to Into Mind again. Whilst I'm never going to be the ultimate minimalist (I collect My Little Pony, which does not make for the Pinterest-friendly, sparse, Scandi environment. My room will never be a shimmering vista of polished driftwood and white paint, and I'm good with that), I do really enjoy this blog, and this particular post was such a lightbulb moment for me. And it's such a simple idea, I can't believe I didn't think of this before!

Punk Girls
A showcase of the amazing photography of Liz Ham. Her Punk Girls collection focuses on the women of the punk subculture - yes, the clue kinda was in the name. Seeing women express themselves in non-conventionally-'pretty' ways is a real big thing for me and I absolutely love this photo series (it's worth clicking through to Liz Ham's Tumblr as well).

My Husband and I Made Up a New Last Name When We Got Married
I thought this was a genius idea and I was really surprised by the reactions this couple got. My partner and I have been talking recently about what we would do, name-wise, if we got married. I've always said I'd keep my own name but the problem is that his last name is really nice, which puts me in a quandary. :/ I suppose there're always hyphens, but it just doesn't sound so good then. Perhaps I could choose a new name. A better name. One name to rule them all.

Recommended Reading
  • The Wander Society by Keri Smith. Funny, clever, thought-provoking, and got me to start going outside more. It's easy for me to fall into the trap of being indoorsy but I was always an outdoors kid and the more time I spend wandering, the more I feel connected to myself.
  • Girl Up by Laura Bates. Aimed at a younger market than I realised when I bought it, this nevertheless features some delightful illustrations of dancing vaginas and as such I can't recommend it more highly. I wish this had been around when I was in my teens.
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. I thought I was over YA vampire books until I read this. Holly Black's writing is amazing - lush, dark, poetic, magical. #endgush

Listening To
  • Pet Sematary by Muncie Girls (Ramones cover)
  • Rich Bitch by Die Antwoord
  • Lush Life by Zara Larsson
  • A Month From Now/Whatever You Like by Rail Yard Ghosts (Prof cover)
  • Army of Me by Bjork

Lusting Over
  • The last thing I need is another mug, but this Supernatural mug is great. (I'm SO into SPN lately that I'm even annoying myself. I have a massive squish on the entire cast and... oh man... the fanfiction, the feels, I can't even. But we probably have a gif for that ;) ) (Sorry if you're my dad and you understood about 1% of that sentence.)
  • My next perfume purchase is absolutely going to be this Screaming Fangirl perfume oil.

Geeking Out

Just generally pretty excited about Supernatural right now, so there's that.
Neil Gaiman is taking a break from the internets to work on a new novel, so that's exciting. I'm not sure if that's separate from his Norse Mythology book due to come out next year, or something totally new, but it's all good with me!
I haven't got Pokemon Go yet! Security updates have taken up so much space on my phone that it won't download so I'm frantically deleting everything to make room. Can't wait!
Looking forward to Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Obviously I'm on Pottermore, and I got sorted into Thunderbird house.
Lastly but not leastly (sorry), the new Ghostbusters is apparently pretty good despite all the whining about the predominantly female cast. No surprise there.

Style: Icons and Current Ponderings

My Month

L-R: Walking home late at night after parties, chilling on abandoned armchairs in the woods, badly photoshopping my Gishwhes team onto the Avengers (sadly you can't quite see Rosie as Thor because it's brilliant), a sketchy self-portrait that managed not to look like me, accidental Life Is Strange cosplay whilst out exploring and taking photos of abandoned buildings, being fancy for no reason vs. being a happy potato, travelling at sunset, a day out for the 12th anniversary of my relationship, writing in the woods.

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