If someone asks how you are you are meant to say FINE.

There’s still a month to go but I can pretty much guarantee that ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ will be my favourite read of the year.

I wasn’t prepared for the dark undertones to this story which were presented so naively through the eyes of the principle character, Eleanor.

The book touches on loneliness, isolation, mental health and trauma, as well as how people who look or act ‘differently’ are treated with prejudice in society.

The heart breaking revelation about Eleanor’s past is hinted at throughout the book and not fully explained until the end, which kept me turning pages until the early hours. There is also humour and happy moments as she goes out in the world to experience new things which she has avoided for so long.

A label isn’t put on them, but it’s evident that Eleanor suffers with multiple disorders and it’s eye-opening to read the story’s events from her perspective. She’s peculiar and endearing and I loved her character with my whole heart. You will find yourself rooting for her, cheering her successes and wanting to take care of her at her lows.

In short, this book is a beautifully written reminder that a little kindness goes a hell of a long way.

August onwards: Ascending to Autumn

My favourite time of year is finally upon us; which means the log burner is on and the cosy knits and wellies are out! It’s also Scorpio season, which, as my rising sign, is why I feel so connected to this part of autumn.

I got some really shitty news in August, which resulted in times of incredible lows on my part. However, there were also plenty of highs which carried me through and I’ve got lots of lovely things to reflect on from the past couple of months..

Early September, the other half and I took the four dogs away for a long weekend back to ‘God’s country,’ and where my heart feels at home; Yorkshire. We stopped in a lovely little place aptly named Oscar’s Lodge and had some much-needed quality time together with the big fur-babies. Lots of woodland and beach walks, country pubs and seaside chips and ice creams. It’s all good for the soul! The North East coast will always be special to me and making memories there with my own little family makes it even more so.

Reminiscing of our time in Jamaica and shared love of reggae music, we went to the Nottingham Rum & Reggae festival with our siblings when we got back from our short break. Had a really fun night out, danced our little legs off, but it’s safe to say rum does not agree with me!

October brought with it a long anticipated weekend away with my girls. We stayed in a gorgeous cottage complete with a hot tub and celebrated my friend Emma’s birthday in style (with plenty of prosecco and pornstar martinis!) Despite our many years of friendship we’ve never managed to go away with all of us together, so it was honestly the best few days and I can’t wait until we get chance to do it again.

So it’s here, another end of the month, and I’m preparing for the whirlwind up until Christmas (seriously, where has the year gone again?) After a period of pulling myself down, I’m feeling motivated for change and to focus on the things I can control and to get. Shit. Done.

How does Scorpio season affect you?

Summer: It’s been a hot minute

In true Vanessa fashion, I’ve been caught up in the all-consuming chaos of life and been AWOL from my blog for a couple of months.

It’s a pattern of behaviour I’ve struggled with since my teens; overwhelming myself and leaving no time to take a step back and reflect, relax and re-evaluate. That is primarily what I love about blogging, that it gives me something to focus my thoughts and recollect the positive things I’ve accomplished or make more sense of the negatives by putting them into words. So I feel a bit disappointed for not taking the time to sit down and write for a while; but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Life can get in the way from time to time and mindfulness and self-belief is just something I’m working on.

So. Down to the nitty gritty, and what I’ve been doing with my summer so far. The biggest highlight is most definitely the ten day trip to Jamaica me and the boyfriend ventured on at the start of June. We fell in love with the country, its people and its atmosphere that made it such an unforgettable experience. I truly hope I get to visit the “Land of Wood and Water” again – ya mon!

Of course it wouldn’t be summer without a million and one weddings to attend (although I’ve not yet beaten last year’s record). There’s been various social gatherings including a good friend back visiting from Australia, so it’s been lovely to spend time with the people that made my school years bearable and reminisce (and feel older and none the wiser!)

Other events over the last few months include a new tattoo, more home renovations, Etsy orders taking over my life and avoiding the World Cup like the plague.

What about this heat though?! We’ve been experiencing a – what feels never-ending -heatwave here in the UK since around the end of May until now and I am so over it. I am also over hearing people telling me not to complain as we rarely get long periods of all sunshine and no rain. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of vitamin D, pub gardens, barbecues, glowy skin and all the other nice things that come with a long, hot summer. But when you live in the Midlands, no coastline in sight, it’s the humidity of a jungle and flying ants and wasps ruining any outdoor pursuits, not to mention no air-conditioning – it’s wearing thin. I’m a winter baby, and I am SO ready for the changing of the Seasons now.

Anyone else ready for autumn too, or are you a total sun-worshipper and want the summer to last forever? I say bring on the cosy jumpers, log fires, frosty walks and pumpkin spice lattes!

The Lovely Cup of Tea

After falling into a reading slump, and reluctantly giving up on the last book which I was finding no inspiration to pick up and finish, ‘The Keeper of the Lost Things’ was just what the doctor ordered.

There are two main stories in this book which are told in parallel and the author has done this in such a way that the two come together seamlessly at the end. I normally find myself favouring one of the stories over the other when books are written in this style; but Hogan writes her quirky characters with such attention to detail I couldn’t help but like them all. Their stories encapsulate love and loss so intricately through each of their journeys and how they all connect together.

Hogan has a way of making you see joy and magic in the little things. She attaches stories to disregarded, ‘lost’ objects that remind me of the way my imagination would be forever making up stories and characters when I was a little girl. Her child-like reverence of these objects that you might normally consider insignificant made me feel very sentimental. My favourite element to the book was to read the world from the perspective of the character Sunshine, a teenage outcast with Downs Syndrome who has a higher emotional connection to the lost and found objects, and somewhat psychic abilities.

I’m a sucker for a love story, and this book has them in abundance. Whether it’s the love of a lifetime, or a newfound awkward love, a man’s love for his dog, or that dog’s love of donuts; ‘The Keeper of the Lost Things’ had me hooked from the start, and wiping my eyes by the end.

If you’re looking for a joyful little page-turner, I fully recommend this book. I’ll definitely be picking up Hogan’s new novel ‘The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes‘ for my holiday reads.

April: The aches of adulthood

The older I get, it can scare me how fast time seems to slip away. The year is already hurtling by at a rate I can’t keep up with and I constantly feel like I’m battling with the clock and calendar to try and keep some sort of work/life balance, whilst also maintaining a degree of sanity. With the pressures to live a lifestyle comparable to those (seemingly) more privileged than ourselves, no thanks to social media, I’m sure most people in my generation feel the same.

Amidst the chaos of adult life, it has become increasingly more difficult to see friends or family as often as I’d like to. It’s these relationships that mould us as individuals and it’s important to nurture them. If only I had more hours in the day and more bloody days in the week! We’re at an age where most of us have big commitments now, whether it be our careers, houses, babies, FUR babies – you name it! Of course, there is a mutual understanding with my friends that we just can’t ‘hang out’ as often as we used to. In fact we joke that we need a certain alignment of the planets for us all to be free on the same night for a social event.

Despite all of these factors though, I really wanted to make more of an effort to see those people that matter and make me feel grounded. It’s easy to get isolated and caught up in the existential crises of daily life. So throughout April I’ve reconnected with a number of friends I’ve not seen face to face for a while for various reasons – all perfectly valid – but after catching up and spending quality time together again, it makes me wonder why it’s taken so long!

Speaking of lovely people that keep me sane… my best friend only went and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids! The wedding is two years away, but at the speed time is rolling on, it will be soon upon us, and I can’t wait to be a part of her and her fiancé’s special day.

One of the other numerous joys of this ‘getting older malarkey’ are new aches and ailments deciding to invite themselves to join in on the fun. The last two weeks of April I experienced crippling, daily headaches; something I have never experienced before in my life. I have a new found sympathy for those that suffer with chronic migraines/headaches, as it was unbearable and I had no idea how debilitating it could be. With no clue what could be causing them, seeing a Doctor and trying various medications, I was advised to try a sports massage. I booked one and two days after my session, touch wood, I haven’t had a bad head since. It just shows what a detriment that stress and tension can have on your body. (If you’re in the Nottinghamshire area, I can’t recommend BG Sports Massage enough!)

I feel this has been a bit of a whingey post? But honestly, I’ve left April with a far more positive outlook and I’ve achieved a lot of the things I set out to do in last month’s goals. Sometimes things can be overwhelming when there’s so much to do, like keeping spinning plates from falling and juggling at the same time…

So a note to myself: If in doubt, there’s always the Circus with this one to make things right.

Birchbox by a Basic: April’s ‘Brighten up your day’ box

This month’s Birchbox is a collaboration with Cath Kidston and comes in a cute, rose floral print, easily recognisable of the brand. Here are my thoughts on the products I received for April:

Cath Kidston Hand Cream
For their 25th anniversary this month, Cath Kidston teamed up with Birchbox and the product they released was a limited edition hand cream. I must admit, I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t a little purse or make-up bag in their ditsy, floral fabric prints as that is what I immediately associate with Cath Kidston. That aside, the hand cream itself is a decent product; it has a strong floral scent which is reminiscent of baby lotion which may be off-putting for some people, but I don’t mind it. It’s a nice travel sized 30ml tube and the packaging is the same rose print design of the main box. As someone whose hands have to deal with the abuse of many needlepoint-related injuries and also regularly cleaning up after four dogs, I get through a lot of hand cream to soothe my paws.

ModelCo Backed Blush (Shade ‘Frose’)
This month’s product that subscribers were able to select their choice of shade was a baked ModelCo powder compact. The product is described as a blush, but is definitely more of a highlighter. I like the look of both shades, but in the ended opted for the lighter colour in case the other was too dark on my skin tone. I am a highlight obsessive, a magpie for all things sparkly and glowy, so I was really keen to try this out. Upon initial application I thought the ‘Frose’ colour was pretty but far too pink on my cheeks and wasn’t sure if I liked it. However as the day went on I couldn’t get over how bloody well this product wears and it really grew on me. After a full day at work, when most of my make-up has normally perished and needs taking off/touching up, this highlight still looked amazing. For a more subtle sheen apply it with a brush, or if you’re like me and prefer an intense highlight then I found that this product goes on much more pigmented by applying with your finger. I adore the formula and the ethereal glow this shade achieves. My only grumble is that the sample size is teeny tiny, and the full-sized product is over twenty pounds. I would love to buy it; but I can’t justify that amount when my highlighter collection is already beyond ridiculous..

AfterSpa Magic Make Up Remover Cloth
I’m probably being a bit pessimistic, but this product seems rather gimmicky to me. It’s essentially a micro micro  fibre cloth for removing make-up with just warm water which eliminates the cost or hassle of using cleanser products. Did it work? Well yes. But, to me, common sense dictates that surely using any micro fibre cloth with warm water on your face is going to remove your make up? And as someone who wears make-up most days it’s not practical for me to have to put this in the washing machine between each use. In theory, it’s a good idea, but I’ll be sticking to my preferred skin care routine and using a cleanser.

Beautaniq Beauty Fill + Tame Brow Gel
I am all about the brows; so I was chuffed to bits to receive this sample product this month. I’ve recently been using just tinted brow gel to create fluffy, natural brows as opposed to the sculpted look and this gel does the job perfectly. The brush on the wand is nice and small, which is great to get the brow hairs in place. The brunette colour I received is a bit too warm for my liking but as I’m always changing my hair colour I’ll definitely be keeping it to use when it suits me more.

Percy & Reed Perfectly Perfecting Wonder Balm
I wasn’t wowed by this hair balm and for eighteen pounds I certainly won’t be purchasing the full-sized product. However, my hair is very fine and bleach-abused so it’s always nice to receive a hair care sample in my monthly box to give my mane an expensive treat that I normally deny it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on April’s Birchbox and any of the products you received that were the same as mine!

March: Me, myself and motivation

The clocks are forward, the days are lighter and longer, and there’s a whiff of Springtime in the air. It’s still too cold to step out the house without a few layers on, and we’ve had our fair share of snow storms create their usual chaos on the perpetually unprepared UK, but I’m starting to feel like I can finally wave goodbye to Winter now.

March is always a busy month for me with plenty of Aries birthdays to celebrate, including both my parents. Mum and I went to see Matthew Bourne’s stage adaptation of Cinderella, which was wonderful. It’s the second of his productions we have been to see together and certainly won’t be the last. He is the master of telling classic stories with a new twist (his version of the Cinderella story was set in a World War II air raid) and choreographing dances that work so intrinsically well with the gorgeous stage design ever-present in his shows.

I also had a morning out with her and my little sister for Mother’s Day; we went to our local cinema to (finally) see The Greatest Showman. And Oh. My. God. I’ve always been a lover of musicals but I haven’t been as obsessed with one as this probably since my Phantom of the Opera phase, circa 2012. I have listened to the soundtrack on repeat pretty much every day since; I’ve even dragged my boyfriend to the cinema so I could see it on the big screen for a second time. He’s a big fan of anything circus-related so I knew he’d love it too.

In my February post I wrote that I wanted to get out further afield with the dogs. The adverse weather conditions in the first half of the month meant we have mainly stuck to our local walking spots. However there was one sunny weekend that we took advantage of and had a lovely five mile walk around Hardwick Hall. I’m really looking forward to less rain and mud so we can get some good long hikes (and picnics!) in our weekends.

The end of the month and, I might add, the entirety of my bank holiday break, I was struck down with a horrible virus. I’ve not been poorly like that for ages and I was not a happy bunny (Easter pun very much intended). I’m still not one hundred percent but I’m back on my feet and I’ve got so many ideas for TheAnxiousNess brewing that I can’t wait to get started on.

My aims for April? I want to improve my canicross running distances and hopefully sign up to some virtual race events. Proceeds for these go to charity, you can get some pretty cool medals and it keeps me and the dogs healthy. I want to get the book I’m not getting very far with finished as I’ve slacked off on my reading challenge. I would also really like to get a whole set of new embroideries I have designed finished before the month is out.

Have a lovely April!

Birchbox by a Basic: March’s ‘Be present, not perfect’ box

This month I decided to renew my subscription to Birchbox in an attempt to curb my enthusiasm for over spending on beauty products. (It’s a problem).

I’m sure most of you have heard about beauty boxes but for those of you who haven’t, Birchbox is one of the many subscription services available where you sign up and pay monthly to receive a themed box in the post, which contains sample-sized or full-sized products for you to trial.

I am a self-confessed addict when it comes to buying beauty products and it is an expensive habit to keep! Receiving a beauty box each month is a nice little treat to satiate my new product appetite at a fraction of the cost. I chose Birchbox as they work with a lot of brands I already like, or am interested in trying, and you can tailor your account preferences so they send you products which suit your specific needs (for example: skin type and tone).

March’s theme was called ‘Be Present Not Perfect’ and came in such a gorgeous blue and turquoise box with a mandala style design on the outer casing. I received five products and a free gift as it was a new subscription. Here’s what I thought:

Benefit BADgal BANG! Volumising Mascara
Description: The gravity-defying formula contains space aero-particles to deliver big, bold lashes.

Not going to lie; this product was the reason I decided to get a subscription again. There has been so much hype about this mascara in the beauty world that I really wanted to try it. However, I didn’t want to commit to spending over twenty English pounds on a mascara that I might not like. Now don’t come for me, but I’ve always been disappointed with the Benefit products I have bought and tried. They just don’t work for me and I’ve never understood their high end pricing for products I find to be, well, not that great. They are obviously marketing and packaging geniuses though, and it shows how much influence beauty bloggers currently have in this industry, because despite not being a fan of the brand, as soon as the hype over their new mascara release began I wanted to dash to my nearest Boots store to buy this bitch!

So when I saw there was a sample of this mascara in every March Birchbox I was really excited to try it. I really wanted to love this product. I wanted to be wowed and surprised that finally this was the Benefit mascara that would work for me and make me see what apparently the rest of the beauty world is seeing. Alas! Benefit and I are clearly never meant to be.

I did find, as with the Roller Lash mascara, the brush to be really good at separating and defining the lashes. Another plus was on the initial application my lashes did look longer and I got a good coverage on the bottom lashes. However. The formula transferred easily and was just downright messy and I didn’t think it was the best ‘volumising’ mascara I have ever tried. When built up it looks clumpy and spidery and I was left feeling like ‘oh, is that it?’ after the high expectations I had after all the internet madness.

It did last throughout the day and didn’t flake off too much, but I’ll be saving my twenty and spending it on a trusty M.A.C Haute and Naughty Lash mascara instead.

BLAQ Mask
Description: This charcoal mask peels away to draw out toxins and purify skin.

I couldn’t wait to try this charcoal peel mask. I was dubious that my skin might react badly to it as it does warn people with sensitive skin to patch test first, but ain’t nobody got time for that! This turned out to be my favourite product from this month’s box; I absolutely loved it. A word of caution, it is very gooey and inky black and can make a bit of a mess if your application is done in the same slap dash style as mine usually is, but it does come off easily with hot water and soap.

Once I’d peeled the mask off and washed any remaining residue off, my skin felt so clean and soft and it hadn’t reacted badly at all. It was slightly tingly but it felt refreshed. I used my Kiehls Midnight Recovery concentrate afterwards and the next day I was so pleased with how my skin looked and felt and I noticed it was less oily all day and my make-up lasted longer. I will definitely consider buying the full size product. (My skin type is combination/oily – it may be too harsh on those with dry or sensitive skin types).

Rituals The Ritual of Sakura Foaming Shower Gel
Description: Infused with cherry blossom and rice milk, this gel soothes skin and calms the mind.

This stuff smells amazing! Does what it says on the tin, I have no complaints, however this girl won’t be spending a fiver on shower gel so it was nice little extra to try.

Spectrum Collections Marbleous Black B04 Brush
Description: Use the B04 for seamless blending in the crease and outer third of the eye.

This was the full-sized product in this month’s box and I’m so glad I’ve finally got a Spectrum brush in my collection. It’s super soft and blends shadows beautifully. I’m so lazy when it comes to cleaning my eyeshadow brushes, so the more I have the merrier!

Pro Blo Group MaskME Hydrating Hair Mask
Description: This nourishing mask is brimming with antioxidants for strong, super-shiny strands.

This hair mask came at the right time. I’ve just had my extensions taken out to give my own hair a break and it is in need of some serious TLC before colouring again. My hair is quite fine and mid-length so there was enough product for me in the sample sachet, but I don’t think there would be enough product here for someone with long or thicker hair to trial properly.

ModelCo® Eye Define Crayon Liner
Description: This silky crayon glides on with ease, boasts serious staying power, and is highly pigmented.

This was the free gift I received with my Birchbox for setting up a new monthly subscription. I didn’t think it was very pigmented as it is described and the formula is quite ‘waxy’ and needs warming up on your hand first to get the colour to come through well. It’s not the worst eyeliner by any stretch though and I’ll be keeping it as a spare in my make-up bag.

All in all I was really pleased with the range of products I got to sample this month and can’t wait to see what products and theme there will be in store for April!

Disclaimer: Again, this is not a sponsored post nor am I affiliated with any of the brands mentioned. Just a nerdy gal blogging along.

IWD 2018: Things I have learnt from the women in my life

The ladies in my life, or my Earth Angels as I call them, are my greatest supporters and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. We’ve been through thick and thin together and, in honour of International Women’s Day, today I’d like to thank them all for being there for me, for guiding me and making memories with me. I am eternally grateful and in awe of you all. Here are some of the things I have learnt from them:

Invest in your friendships.
How many hours have we all wasted obsessing over someone that won’t even answer a text message and makes you doubt your worth? I wish I’d spent some of those hours on people who I know genuinely care about my well-being. No matter what toxic relationship I’ve been in that has caused me to be distant from those who matter, they have stayed the course and been there for me when I’ve seen the light. It’s been a hard lesson learnt in my former years, but don’t take those friendships for granted. Whether it’s a quick message or call, a catch up over coffee or taking a trip together – make time to see those that would make time for you.

A Mother’s love is a super power.
I swear all the women in my family are crazy and we’ve had our fair share of disagreements. The one thing we all have in common though, is that we love fiercely, and I’ve never seen anyone love anything as much as my Mum loves her kids and as much as my Grandmother loved us all. At almost thirty years old, the one person I want to talk to when I’m upset is still (and always will be) my Mum. Also, her scrambled eggs on toast can cure almost any illness.

Beauty is within.
Don’t get me wrong, we all have our insecurities and things we’d like to change about our bodies. But I’ve learnt there is nothing more attractive than a woman who omits confidence and intelligence no matter her appearance. Far too often I hear women in my life picking themselves apart about flaws I just don’t see in them. You’re all gorgeous and unique and it’s about time we championed ourselves more instead of comparing and copying one another based on beauty ‘standards’ in society.

Take that leap.
What’s stopping you? I’ve seen the women in my life do so many inspiring things. Things like travelling around China alone, training to be a Nurse, running their own business, following their heart. We have so many opportunities open to us now, that women have fought and are fighting for, and my ladies have taught and encouraged me to never settle for anything less than amazing.

Being a girl gets a bad rap, and mostly from ourselves. I’m definitely guilty of saying ‘being a girl sucks!’ when I’ve felt at a disadvantage for whatever reason. Let’s take the time to think about what’s great about being a girl and celebrate our femininity, not just today, but every day.

February: The good, the bad and the anxiety

For the shortest month of the year, February has been tough. A spike in my anxiety has left me feeling deflated and drained; a complete one-eighty to how I was feeling at the end of January.

I’m not going to focus this entry on my anxiety disorder, but it’s been prevalent throughout the last few weeks so I feel I should touch on it, especially since the Time to Talk Day took place this month.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully articulate how it feels when a wave of anxiety takes hold. Sure, I can describe the physical sensations I’m experiencing – things like a racing heart, dizziness, and dry mouth. The need to curl up in a ball in a dark room or to get fresh air to cool down from the adrenaline coursing through my body. I could write about the rollercoaster of emotions that exhaust my brain day to day: panic, uneasiness, worry, constant self-doubt, mistrust, disassociation… the list goes on. And on. I just can’t find the words to express how damn debilitating these symptoms can be. Or how they can come from nowhere, without warning or explanation, and the negative impact this has on, well, pretty much everything.

I am grateful though, that I live in a time where people are talking and learning about mental health much more and attitudes are changing towards it. I think we all have our own demons and our minds and bodies deal with things in different ways.

That’s all I care to write about my anxiety at the moment. Another post, another time. Basically, right now my nerves are shot to shit and I genuinely can’t remember when I last had a decent night’s sleep. But I’m getting by, and I have a wonderful support system in the shape of my boyfriend, my best friend and my girl gang and they were the people that contributed to all the lovely things that happened in my February:

At the beginning of the month I had two nights out planned which I couldn’t wait for after January’s reign of discipline. The first was a slap up meal with the other half at The Old Vicarage in Ridgeway Moor, Sheffield. We had the seven course prestige menu, the accompanying wine flight and – of course – an additional cheese course to finish. It was extravagant and indulgent, and I bloody loved it. We are more than happy to sit in our pjs and order a pizza, but it was such a nice treat to get dressed up and go somewhere fancy for a change. I fully recommend the restaurant to anyone who enjoys a good gastronomy experience; the staff were superb and the Vicarage itself made for an inviting and romantic setting.

The second night out was the opposite of fine dining, but just as brilliant. A night at my friend’s with all my best girls, Chinese food and (too much) gin! These girls. They’re amazing and I love when we all find time in our busy schedules to get together and unwind. I laughed till I cried, vented like I was in group therapy and then passed out in the wee hours from all the excitement. You know you’ve got friends for life when you wake up to videos saved on your phone of them taking the mick out of your gin-induced coma but also making sure you get home safely. (Cheers ladies!)

February meant celebrating occasions including the Chinese New Year, Valentines Day and Pancake Day in the only way that matters… with food! I had some low-key nights with Karim at home or at friend’s having meals together and they’ve really picked me up when I needed it.

Now the sub-zero temperatures and snow are behind us, my aim for March is to explore new places with the dogs – walk some miles, climb some hills, put my phone down and just get outside. It will help me get out of this rut and let Mother Nature do her healing thang.

‘This too shall pass.’