Mirror, Mirror

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When do you feel that you look most like yourself?  For me it’s about twenty minutes before I fall into bed when I’m in my bathroom and about to take my makeup off (on one of the days where I’ve actually done my makeup – that’s very important; I don’t count the other days).  That moment before I scoop my hair up and run the tap, I lean on the sink and look into the mirror and actually recognise the reflection staring back as most like “me”.  Or maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that I actually like the reflection staring back.  I mean sure, it’s not as polished as the 10am version – but that’s okay and I kind of prefer it that way; it’s more realistic, less maintained (but at the same time not the horror show that is the 7am version).  I’m slobbing around in my pyjamas, my makeup’s worn in, I’ve shed my glasses, the curl’s mostly fallen out of my hair and I’m about to get into bed (the best time of the day, I think you’ll agree) so I’ve usually got a happy little grin going on.

That slightly dishevelled, chilled out and cheerful reflection is what I expect and hope to see in every mirror I come across day to day – not just in my bathroom one – but also in changing rooms, hotels, other people’s houses, the windows I walk past when I’m out and about, in photographs and in the eyes of everyone I know.  Kind of like the evil step mother in Snow White (Mirror, mirror on the wall…).  So, how come I NEVER do!  That bathroom reflection never bloody leaves the house and I feel like I’m constantly being pounced on by other reflections of myself that I don’t recognise AT ALL.  Like the one lurking behind me in that long, tilting mirror you get in every H&M fitting room that lets you see what you look like from a horrible backwards angle (“Jesus christ, is that what my nose looks like from the side???  That’s not me!”).  Shudder.  The horror at seeing a photograph of myself on a day where I thought I was walking out of the house looking absolutely smokin’ in that new skirt when actually – turns out – it makes my thighs look massive.  Yeesh.  Then there’s that weird moment where I try and correlate those two very different images of myself and work out which one is actually real – because there can’t possibly be two.  I’m just one person after all, I don’t have two sets of thighs.  So which is the liar: the camera or the mirror?

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We’ve all experienced those surreal moments when people actually voice how they see you.  The first time I became aware that other people might see me differently to the way I saw myself was when I was about seven.  I was in school, queuing up with the rest of the kids to go to assembly and one of them suddenly turned around in the line and gave me a long, hard look.  “…It must be really strange having one eye bigger than the other,” they said, then shrugged and went off to assembly without realising that they’d just performed the equivalent of a hit and run on my appearance, and man was it a kill shot.  I remember being simultaneously confused and completely horrified, because firstly I’d never noticed anything different about my eyes, and secondly – hold up – “is that what everyone thinks I look like!?  Am I a monster!”   Thinking about that now makes me laugh out loud (kids are dicks, aren’t they?) – I mean, how ridiculous!  But I never forgot it and – you know what? – there might actually be some truth to it because to this day I can never seem to apply my eyeliner evenly.  Oh well.

Why is it that criticisms of our appearance – however wide off the mark and ridiculous – are so easy to believe, but compliments aren’t?  There are some observations that we want to believe, but flat out refuse to – like a mirage.  For example, my husband is always telling me that there’s nothing of me – that I’m stick thin.  I know he’s not lying, but I’m convinced that he sees me as skinnier than I actually am because he’s taller than me and so he’s always looking at me from a slightly skewed angle (isn’t that mad?!).  A few weeks ago my sister-in-law turned around, pointed to my eyes and said they were “quite stunning” because apparently they’ve got a darker ring around the outside of the iris.  Excuse me, what?  Looking at my eyes in mirrors all my life I’d never once noticed this mythical dark ring – but she’s right, it’s there.  How the hell did I miss that?  Why didn’t I see it?

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It’s a kind of weird, daily challenge that we all face, isn’t it?  Gathering up all these different versions of ourselves and trying to marry them up with the one we accept as the “real” us (and that’s without adding that impossible bar set for us by the media, fashion and beauty industries).  I’m 33 and I still haven’t figured out which is the real one, or whether I care.  Is it that bathroom version?  The skinny one with the stunning eyes my husband and sister in law see?  Or the sloppy one my neighbours see at 7am when I walk the dog?  Or are they all way, way off?  Are my thighs big?  Are my wrinkles easy to spot?  I can’t for the life of me work out how I can look in a mirror and love my appearance one minute and then take a photograph two seconds later only to stab furiously at the delete button.  I have absolutely no idea.  There’s no easy answer except that I’m probably all of these different versions of myself and none of them at the same time – and that mirrors are very, very strange objects.

Fun fact, every time you see your reflection in a mirror it’s out by about 10 nanoseconds – so it’s a slightly younger version of yourself.  *eye roll* In case you wondered, that’s probably the real me – the one who has to punctuate everything with a nerdy fact. 😉

How to Organise your Life using Instagram

How to Use Instagram to Organise Your Life - The Cardiff Cwtch

Okay, I know, I know!  You’re looking for more reasons to step away from Instagram – not towards it.  But hear me out.  If you’re like me (i.e. OBSESSED) then it’s probably one of the first apps you open up and choose to have a quick scroll through first thing in the morning – y’know, during those ten or so minutes in bed after the alarm has gone off but before you’ve resigned yourself to crawling out and facing the day.  Whereas Twitter is the go-to for up-to-the-minute news and the latest talking points (kind of like ye olde newspapers – remember them?), Instagram – on the other hand – is the glossy magazine alternative; the place to go for (mostly) real lives, viewpoints and stories, holiday spots, styling tips and food.

As a teenager, I loved cutting up magazines.  Once I was finished reading the latest issue of Marie Claire, Glamour, Seventeen or Mizz (yikes, remember Mizz?!) I’d get snippy with the scissors – flicking through and cutting out my favourite pictures, from clothes to quotes, to photographs of food I wanted to make and faraway places I wanted to visit.  I’d blue-tack them all to the walls of my bedroom (permanently pock-marking the paintwork and forever putting me in my Mum’s bad books…) – and it was a kind of my own mood board, and a scrap book of ideas; Instagram and Pinterest before they even existed.

Nowadays, I can just use Pinterest and Instagram – and I do!  And while Pinterest is great when I’m on my computer or tablet, I wouldn’t dare put it on my phone (buh-bye monthly data allowance!).  Instagram on the other hand is far more portable.  It’s not just a social media app or a tool I use to promote my recipes and my blog, but now that you can create collections of saved photos it’s also become a handy tool to organise my ideas, interests and inspirations.  Much like Pinterest, I use it to collect recipes that I fancy trying out, outfits I want to recreate, places I want to visit, as well as photos that I love – all to create my own little mood board to inspire my own photography.  If you’re on the app all the time then you might as well use the features to help make life easier, right?

If you’ve never heard of the save function on Instagram or have never used it, then hold tight; I’m going to show you how to use it, and how I use it to organise my life!

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How to Save/Bookmark Photographs on Instagram

Scrolling through Instagram, if there’s a photo that you really like the look of – whether it’s an interesting outfit (ooh, I fancy getting a coat like that), or a recipe you really fancy – you can save it to your own private collection.  All you have to do is click the little bookmark symbol in the bottom right hand corner.  No one will know that you’ve saved it, so don’t worry about feeling like a creep!  Just clicking it once will save it, but if you hold down, then a little menu will pop up at the bottom of the screen, giving you the option to organise that photo into a specific folder that you can label yourself.

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To see your collection of saved photos, head to your profile page and click the little symbol made up of three horizontal lines in the top right hand corner.  A menu will slide out and from there you’ll be able to access your saved photos by clicking “saved”.

This is where you can get as creative and as organised as you like!  What you save and how you save it and organise it is entirely up to you – but here are a few collections I like to keep.

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Midweek Meal Ideas

I’ve got quite a few collections of recipes that I’ve stumbled across on Instagram (I’m a food blogger, after all!).  I’ve got a collection full of recipe ideas for Christmas, and one full of desserts, but the one I keep on adding to and tend to dip into the most is the one I’ve labelled Midweek Meals”.  I love cooking, but sometimes coming up with something to cook in the middle of the week when I’m knackered and tempted to call in a takeaway is TOUGH.  So what I like to do is save some ideas from the food accounts that I follow on Instagram – that way, I’ve always got something up my sleeve when I come to plan my meals for the week and can’t think of anything to cook. 


Holiday Rec List

Before I go away somewhere – whether that’s a city break or a beach holiday – I like to create a new collection on Instagram full of ideas on places to visit and to eat!  Before Sunny and I flew out to Vancouver last year for our Canadian Roadtrip, we knew we were only going to have a day at most to explore the city and so we used Instagram to decide what we wanted to see and where we wanted to eat.  By doing that, we found this tiny, tiny Taco Bar for dinner that we never would have known about had it not been for photos of their crazy cocktails and tacos on Instagram.  It’s such a great way to plan a trip – or even collect places you’d like to go in your own Home Town!  Plus, you’ll always – hopefully – have your phone on you – and with the added locations and maps feature, it’ll be like having a curated and personalised guidebook in your pocket! 🙂

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DIY and Interiors Projects

I’ve been thinking about giving my office a little bit of an overhaul recently and so I’ve created a collection full of ideas on how I’d like to decorate it.  Instagram is full of interiors and DIY accounts as well as brand accounts selling home furnishings.  So as you can see, I’ve saved lots of photographs of home offices, storage ideas, lamps (gotta find that perfect desk light!) and even colours for the wall via the Pantone and Farrow and Ball accounts!

Seasonal Outfits

I follow a lot (A LOOOOT) of fashion accounts because I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to creating outfits for myself.  I organise any fashion posts that I save into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter collections – so everything’s easy to find.  Not only are these collections great for creating outfit mood boards and collecting ideas for outfits, but I use it to inspire my future wardrobe.  If I can see that I’ve pinned a lot of white blazers in my summer collection, then I know that that’s perhaps something I’d like to add to my wardrobe next season.  By scrolling through what I’ve saved, I can get real idea of which styles I tend to like and might like to buy into, and also how to wear them!

That’s it! Have you ever used the save function on Instagram?  Have a great weekend everyone! 🙂

Why we all want to be a bit more Villanelle (minus the murder)

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My husband and I always tend to have our most deep and meaningful conversations in the car.  It makes sense; you’re wedged together for anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours where at least one person isn’t allowed to scroll the time away on their phone.  Conversation is going to happen, and when you’ve known each other for ten plus years, it’s not going to be about the weather.  In between mini-arguments over who’s Spotify Playlist has got the best mix (mine, obviously), bouts of road-rage and scrambling around to find that fruit pastille I dropped between my legs (it was a black one, no!) – we tend to get a little deep.  Last weekend – road tripping back from West Wales – we somehow got onto the subject of murder.  “Could you ever kill a dog?” I asked.  “No, never – not unless it was in pain,” was our united stance on that one.  Even then, I’d struggle and sob myself silly; I couldn’t even bear the thought of it, because, well… dogs.  And then we played that game you always play when pondering moral dilemmas; you go to the most extreme situation you can think of.  I shrugged my lips, “Alright then, could you kill a person?”  

Now before you start thinking that my husband and I are psychopaths who spend every single car journey plotting murder, I should probably explain that we don’t.  We’ve just been watching waaaaaay too much Killing Eve.

It’s back this weekend for Season 2; are you as excited as I am?  I’m so ready for another helping of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s razor dagger-sharp script-writing, more scene stealing fashion and two of the most complex, well-written female characters on the box (three, if you include Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn – which I totally think you should because she’s awesome).  But mostly because, finally, more Villanelle!  Played by the brilliant and beautiful Jodie Comer, she’s become a bit of an unlikely icon and – yikes, dare I say it? – role model?  Probably not for the cold blooded killer bits, but for just about everything else.

I mean, there’s a reason why tailored suits are everywhere at the moment, along with frou-frou pink tops and dresses (who can forget that psychiatrist scene from Season 1?).  And it’s not just the fashion, it’s her playful, devil may care attitude that we’re all hooked on; she does and wears whatever the hell she wants, speaks her mind, and is as tough as the Balenciaga Biker Boots she stomps around in.  There’s a beautiful brutality to her that I think we all fancy injecting a little of into our own lives – whether that’s wearing something eye-catching and extravagant, to telling someone exactly what you think of them.  To their face, with a serene smirk.  Sorry not sorry, baby.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained in an interview that crafting the character of Villanelle (originally created by the writer Luke Jennings in his book Codename: Villanelle) came from continually asking herself the question, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”  And I think that’s the question we should all probably be asking ourselves every day in as many variously worded ways as possible.  It’s the only way to acknowledge the fear holding you back from being the most explicit and honest version of yourself, and then shake it and be that person – devil may care. “What would I wear today if I wasn’t afraid of being stared at?”, “What project would I take on at work if I wasn’t afraid of failing?”, “What would I say to that person if I wasn’t afraid of being rejected?” ad infinitum.  As long as the question isn’t, “Who would I kill today if I wasn’t afraid of being caught?” then you’re golden.

Killing Eve is back on BBC One this Saturday at 9.15pm.  Smell you later.  🔪

 

How to Bounce Back from Burnout

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About a month ago I hit THE WALL.  I’m not talking literally, of course, and neither am I talking Game of Thrones (…which would probably be for the first time in oh, I don’t know… SEVEN years?).  You know that scene from Run Fatboy, Run?  The one where Simon Peg is running the Marathon and he hits that metaphorical wall?  He’s knackered; he physically can’t move another step forward and mentally, he’s ready to give up.  Well, that’s kind of how I felt about a month ago (minus the marathon). Things had been a bit busy and I’d just kept on burning through – as you do – but when things became quiet again and I stopped to think, I suddenly realised how tired and uninspired I was feeling – mentally, I just didn’t have any fuel left to keep that fire going.  All the little things I enjoyed doing on a weekly basis – like cooking, writing and walking the dog – suddenly felt like a mammoth task.

I was burned out.

Burnout isn’t just about feeling tired; it’s a total and utter max-out in energy – period.  You don’t just feel tired, you feel drained of that fire that keeps you going on a day to day basis – your personal combustion engine.  And once that goes, forget it.  You know the creative energy that you need to be able to come up with new ideas at work and feel inspired to take on new tasks?  All out.  All that social energy you need to maintain relationships and forge new ones?  Gone.  The motivation to go out, to get some exercise and stick to your usual, healthy routine?  Nada.  If you’re feeling tired, overwhelmed, uninspired and are struggling to keep up with your friends and maintain your usual healthy routine, then all signs point to burnout, baby.

And it’s not just me; how many times have I heard the phrase, “I’m so ready for my holiday now…” in the past few weeks?  We all seem to be thirsting for that summer break – just a couple of weeks away from the desk and a bit of time to get that groove back.

But, what if that holiday is still a few weeks away and you’re feeling so burned out that you’re smoldering out your ears and snoring at your desk?  Well, here are five ways to get bouncing back from burnout.

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1. Strip Back Your To-Do List

You know when you’re on the computer and you’ve got a hundred different windows open at once (with about twenty different tabs in each on the go, as well as The Sims 4 running in the background…)?  Some days you can handle it, but definitely not when you’re approaching burn out.  Time to take a look at your to do list and see where you can lighten your load.  I mean it’d be easy to ditch the whole thing, but just sit down for twenty minutes and see if there’s anything you can strike out and put off until you’ve got the energy.

2. Sneak in Some “Me” Time

“Me time”, “Self Care”, whatever you want to call it – if you’re heading for burnout taking a little time to do something that’s guaranteed to either relax you or put an instant smile on your face is a must.  Sometimes a little bit of what you fancy goes a long way, and sometimes you need a couple of hours or a day or two to just do you – whether that’s something as simple as a soak in the tub, a takeaway, a walk with the dog or treating yo’self to something special – reminding yourself of what feels good will stop you collapsing in on yourself like a black hole post supernova.

3. Focus on NOW

Time forget about… time!  Or least shed the stress that goes with it.  Forget your monthly, yearly, big picture goals for a while and just focus on getting back on track NOW.  You don’t need the stress of worrying whether you’re going to fall behind when you’re trying to bounce back from burnout.  The less stress and worrying, the better.

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4. Reconnect with your Support Network

If work’s been keeping you busy and you’re feeling burned-out then you probably haven’t had time to see your mates in a while.  Time to meet up with your faves over coffee or head over your Mum and Dad’s for a Sunday Roast.  Reconnecting with the people who know you best can do a lot to remind you of who you are and how to be that best version of yourself.

5. Have a Break

You don’t need an expensive holiday booked to get a break away from the day to day grind.  A break can be as simple as a morning spent on the sofa catching up with your favourite shows!  (Can I recommend Fleabag?  I binged it last week and IT IS AWESOME).

Have a great week everyone! (Don’t work too hard 😉 )

 

How to Go it Alone and Survive a Party or an Event Where You Know No one

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When I first started blogging nearly four years ago, the thought of going solo to an event where I knew absolutely no one would have been enough to bring me out in hives.  I’d have had some questions before predictably deciding to skip it.  Number one: Why the HELL would I voluntarily put myself through that kind of torture?  Number two: Can I bring a friend to cling onto/hide behind? and if not, then Number three: How do I get out of this and hide out at home without looking like a total loser?  The truth is that I’d have made my excuses, metaphorically shut the curtains and hid out at home – simple as.  “If anyone calls I’m not here!!!”

We’ve all been there (I hope!); at some point we all get invited to that party of a friend of a friend – only to have the friend bail at the last minute, or get sent to a networking event to mingle with total strangers (smingle?)Shudder.  I got invited to my first event four months after I started blogging and even though I was thrilled to have been invited, I was rattled.  I’d have to go alone and worse, as I was brand spanking new to the Cardiff Blogging Scene, I wouldn’t know anyone.  Yeesh.  Thankfully, I decided to be brave and went anyway, and even though – yeah – it was a bit awkward walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces, by the end of the event they became familiar and I came away realising that – actually – I wasn’t the wallflower I thought I was.  Four years on and I pretty much go solo to all the events that I get an invite to (in fact, as this post goes live I’ll be on my way to yet another one), and even though I still get those butterflies and that urge to bail – every single time – I’ve learned to take a breath and power through it and I always end up having a good time.

So, down to the million pound question: How do you survive a party or an event when you don’t know anyone?  How do you do it without clinging to a corner scrolling on your phone or choosing to keep the dog or cat company (GUILTY)?  Here are some tricks and tips I’ve picked up over the years.

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Arrive Early

I honestly can’t think of anything worse than turning up to a party or an event when it’s in full swing.  Having to walk into a room where everyone’s already paired up and chatting away is my idea of hell, so I always – if I can – try to be the first person to arrive.  Yeah, it’s a bit lame and you risk looking over-eager, but there’s a massive upside.  If you’re the first to arrive you’ll get one on one time with the host before anyone else does (and before they’re busy) – so, you can introduce yourself, offer to help out – and, when everyone else starts arriving they’ll most likely zone in on the host too, who’ll probably introduce you.  Easy, you’re in!

Pick a Bomb Outfit (and compliment everyone else’s)

Obviously you’ll want to check the dress code, but pick an outfit that you’re not only comfortable wearing, but also one that makes you feel confident.  I always like to wear one of my weird shirts because that’s usually how other bloggers recognise me (I’m the weird shirt girl) but also because they’re striking and a bit of a conversation starter.  Also, complimenting other people’s outfits is one of the best ways to strike up a conversation – a quick, “Sorry, I just had to come over and tell you how much I love your dress/bag/shoes – where are they from?” is all it takes.

Hunt down other guests who’ve decided to go it alone

One of the best tips I’ve ever read about going it alone is to track down someone else who’s in the same boat!  There’ll always be someone shy standing alone desperate to be rescued – so why not be their knight in shining armour?  They’ll be so grateful!  And don’t stop once you’ve settled in and have found a few people to talk to – always be on the look out for someone in trouble. 🙂

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Come armed with conversation topics

Don’t be the nob who reverts to chatting about the weather when there’s nothing else to say!  Come armed with questions to ask and topics to talk about.  After moving in with a compliment conversation starter ask questions about the other person’s life and the ball will usually start rolling.  At a lot of the blogging events I’ve been to there’ll usually be someone I recognise from social media – even if I’ve never met them in real life, and that makes things so much easier! If they post pictures of their dog, I ask them questions about that cute pupper – if they recently posted pictures of themselves on holiday, I ask them about it! I always feel like a total stalker, but usually I find the other person is just so happy you’ve taken an interest in them on a personal level that it never seems to come across  as stalkerish.  Maybe it’s a blogger loop hole!

No one is staring at you

Unless you get naked, you’re golden.  After I attended my first event alone, one of the biggest things I realised about myself was that I’d much rather take a risk and be the loudest, friendliest person in the room than play it safe and be the one standing alone scrolling on their phone.  I’ve always thought of myself as this shy wallflower – an introvert to the core – and I still am; I always get nervous before throwing myself into a social situation and I actually get a social hangover if I’ve spent too much time socialising (It’s a real thing!).  But, I’ve realised that I can be social and that I enjoy being social.  The truth is that the party or event isn’t going to revolve around you, there isn’t going to be a big spotlight following you around and no one is trying to catch you out or trip you up.  No one will care if you make a mistake.  So relax!

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Don’t Drink

Okay, hear me out; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of liquid luck, but use it once and it’ll become a crutch for every event you attend thereafter.  All the early events I attended on my own, I drove to – which at the time seemed like madness because, “How the hell am I going to be able to talk to people without a bit of dutch courage!?”  But actually, being forced to stay sober meant that by the end of the night when I’d come away having had a fantastic time and met some great people, I could chalk it up to being completely myself.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know anyone

You mean, admit that you’re a loner!?  ARE YOU CRAZY?  Well, look.  You can either stand around and hope someone will come and rescue you, or you can take a gamble and admit that you’re vulnerable.  I’ve done it a couple of times myself when I’ve really struggled to find someone to talk to and the other person has always been absolutely lovely and introduced to their friends.  No one is ever going to turn their back on you and tell you to go away – that worst case scenario rolling around in your head doesn’t exist.

Give Yourself a Bail-out Time

Before leaving, I always give myself a deadline – a time when I’m allowed to “give up”, call it quits and leave.  Not only is it a sensible thing to do so your nearest and dearest know what time you’re likely to be heading home, but it also takes the edge off if you’re nervous.  You’ll know there’s an end in sight.  Usually you’ll find that your bail out time sneaks up way too soon and you’ll be having such a great time that you’ll end up extending it anyway! 😉

If you’re local to Cardiff, whether you’re a blogger or own a small business or just fancy mingling with some new faces then there are loads of networking events to attend.  Definitely check out The Monday Club (most of the photographs in this post were taken at their summer garden party earlier this week), The Wonders Of Events, Warrior Women and House 21.