The New Normal Me: Why I’m not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet

…except the split ends – they can do one…
Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Welsh Bloggers

Today marks the day when a lot of us here in Wales can finally travel further than five measly miles from our doorsteps and even hug (hug!) our favourite people. It’s felt like a really long time coming, and although nothing’s going “back to normal” yet by any stretch – Coronavirus is still around and it’s still killing people – I cannot wait to give my Mum a proper cwtch, sit in my local beer garden (if the Welsh weather plays nice), wander a bit further than just local and see all those favourite corners of my hometown again, get my split ends taken care of (ugh), and – yeah – pop into T K Maxx to pick up a five quid candle just because I can. I cannot wait.

We’ve all got our “Buh-Bye Lockdown Bucket List” ready and raring, as well as a list probably a mile long of all those things about four months in hibernation that we’re definitely not going to miss – whether we’re stepping out today or in a few weeks or months time when we feel safe enough to do so – but what about the things that we are going to miss? There’s got to be at least a few! Whether we like it or not, the Lockdown has bound to have changed us all in some way, and the person stepping out of the front door tomorrow is not going to be an identical, unaltered version of the one who closed that same door back in March. From the physical to the emotional, there’ll be some marked differences. We might be a little softer around the middle; perhaps a little more anxious, a little less trusting. Maybe we’ve lost loved ones, or seen some of our closest relationships break under the strain of long distance, or from being smushed together under one roof for months on end. It’s been tough.

Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Cardiff Bloggers

But what about the good stuff? What about all the ways in which Lockdown has changed us for the better? What about all those little discoveries we’ve made and the things we’ve learned about ourselves and others over the past few months? The new habits, hobbies and moments of happiness during those dark days – no matter how small. Are we going to say buh-bye to those too?

For me, the best thing about Lockdown has been the fact that – while it’s obviously complicated everyday life in so many ways – it’s made it simpler too. It’s made the things that matter most to me incredibly clear, and suddenly I’m so much more appreciative of the little things day to day – the simple stuff – that makes me happy. I’ve genuinely loved doing the weekly shop for my Mum and Dad; not just to keep them safe, but for the hours long chat in their garden at the other end. The plant and magazine swaps and TV recs – all those shows I’d never have watched and enjoyed if it hadn’t been for Lockdown (Future Man – who knew!). My skin – having had a four month long break from makeup – has never looked better (…minus a spot of sunburn back in May – whoops). My hair – even though it’s much longer than I like and that suits me – has definitely loved having a bit of a break from heat styling.

Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Welsh Lifestyle Bloggers

As soon as the rules eased back in May and my husband and I were finally allowed to exercise outdoors together again (and I use the word “exercise” in the laziest way possible…), we started taking the dog on long walks and suddenly discovered so much more of our neighbourhood – from public paths we never knew existed to lovely neighbours (and – more importantly – their dogs) that we’d never met. Around the house, we’ve got on top of a few chores and DIY bits and bobs – ticking things off a list I wrote well over a year ago. I’ve had more time to read (turns out travel books like Felicity Cloake’s “One More Croissant for the Road” are the cure to the Lockdown Travel Ban) and bake and to get into the habit of doing yoga (almost) every morning – and I’ve finally trained the dog to behave and not dig around in the garden… almost. Which has never looked better by the way. Oh, and I’m never going to take for granted the luxury of going for a stroll around the shops with a coffee and cake pit stop in my favourite café ever again.

Now that Lockdown is easing up and we’re heading into that “new normal” that everyone keeps banging on about, I’m suddenly in a weird place where I’m not sure whether I can or even want to go back to the Me that existed before. As well as accepting the new normal post Lockdown, we’re all faced with accepting a new normal version of ourselves too – and mashing together who we were before Lockdown with the best bits of ourselves that we perhaps only discovered existed because of Lockdown.

Which bits of Lockdown are you going to be sad to say goodbye to? Which habits are you going to be holding on tight to?

5 Things I’ve Been Loving Lately

My January and February Favourites, from books, to food, to TV…
Golden Retriever - The Cardiff Cwtch - Bungle the Golden

It’s been a while since I’ve done a bit of a round up of all the things I’ve been enjoying lately – and what better day to show a little love for my daily loves than on Valentines Day? I mentioned in this post that I enjoyed a very slow, quiet January of self care and gratitude for the little things that make me smile every day, and February has started in much the same way… just with a few more plans scribbled into the ol’ diary and goals for the year ahead. I saw a meme going around saying that January 2020 was a free trial month – well, now I’m officially subscribed and ready to go. Anyway, here are a few things that I’ve been really enjoying lately. 🙂

Pho Cardiff - The Cardiff Cwtch

Pho

I can thank my husband for this one. We’re both big fans of Asian Food – ramen in particular – and a few weeks ago he stumbled into Pho looking for something different to take back to the office for his lunch. He came home that night gushing about the bowl of awesome sauce that he ended up slurping down at his desk, insisting that I had to try it – and that I’d love it more than Ramen. Challenge accepted.

If you’ve never tried Pho before (pronounced “Fuh”), then it’s basically a Vietnamese Noodle Soup with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables including bean sprouts and coriander. It is a lot like Ramen, but it’s lighter and fresher.

Anyway, we popped to Pho on a date night, I ordered the Spicy Chicken Pho and – whaddya know? – I did love it. And now I’m obsessed. I had a craving for it the other night and picked up one of the Blue Dragon Pho Meal Kits and it was a pretty good dupe for what I had at Pho.

Pho Cardiff - The Cardiff Cwtch - Spicy Chicken
Les Parisiennes - Anne Sebba - The Cardiff Cwtch

Parisiennes

You guys know how much I love Women’s History – my shelves are packed full of biographies about History’s most badass babes – and early in January I ended up watching Inglorious Basterds for the hundredth time (I’m also a big Tarrantino fan FYI) and kind of fell down a French Resistance hole. I picked up “Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s” by Anne Sebba to read up a little bit of what it was like for the women of Paris under the Nazi Occupation during World War 2, and so far it’s been a really interesting read. Lots of stories of survival and bravery – as well an interesting dive into why women chose to collaborate with the Germans. I’ve nearly finished reading, if you want a full review, let me know in the comments.

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base

I feel like I kind of escaped the dreaded winter skin until recently. It’s been a really mild winter until the past couple of weeks where the weather’s been a bit whacky, and in terms of my skin? Everything suddenly started to dry out and give up. (Thank God for the Elemis Facial I had last week!) I’ve had to double down on hand creams, lip balms – and I’ve even had to fish out the old anti-dandruff shampoo. But in terms of my face, I’m actually doing okay – and I think that’s all down to this tub of magic.

I mentioned the Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base in my Best of the Decade Skincare post – I had a small tester of the stuff after picking it up at a Bobbi Brown Makeup Masterclass last year, and completely fell in love with it. A couple of weeks ago I decided that I couldn’t live without it and bought a tub of the stuff. It’s gorgeous stuff. It smells like grapefruit, smooths on over my usual moisturizer, and as well as sinking into the skin quickly and creating the perfect base for my makeup (and a lot more staying power), it also provides an extra boost of moisture. Also, you don’t need a lot of it – a small blob goes a long way!

Patriot

I don’t know about you, but I’ve kind of been stuck in TV limbo recently – there’s been absolutely nothing to watch. Vikings is limping towards its finale (it’s just not as good as it used to be), I’m patiently waiting for the new season of Outlander to start (can’t wait!), and for Westworld to return… but in the mean time, it’s been slim pickings. And that’s meant that Sunny and I have been spending night after night of scrolling through the TV Guide/Prime/Netflix trying to find something – anything!- to watch. PAINFUL. And then we stumbled on Patriot. No, not the cheesy Mel Gibson flick.

Patriot is unlike anything I’ve ever watched. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s weird – and those are all boxes I like ticked when it comes to TV. The series follows John, who works off the books for the Government (for his Dad) as a spy. He’s asked to get a job for a company that send their employees overseas to sell piping in order to prevent some kind of arms deal with Iran (…or something, I’m a bit sketchy on the deets). But John’s father uses him like a machine when all John really wants to do is sing country music (he writes his own songs which often feature sensitive spying info). Anyway, he gets into all kinds of sticky situations having to pretend to be an employee of a pipe company (most notably from the bloke he pushed under a car in order to steal the job from him in the first place…!), all the while continuing to work as a spy. Definitely worth a look if you fancy something a bit different.

Golden Retriever - The Cardiff Cwtch - Bungle the Golden Catch

Morning Walks

Simple, but probably my favourite daily love at the moment: taking Bungle into the field for his morning walk. Until recently, Sunny and I have been walking him on the lead around our village – which is fine for Sunny, but not so much for me because Bungle just doesn’t behave on the lead. He pulls, he lies down, he humps… it’s a struggle. Anyway, just before Christmas Bungle put on a few pounds and so we decided that he needed to run a bit more, rather than just settle for a stomp around the block. I’ve been taking him in the field to run off the lead every morning and – as well as being far easier – it’s quite possibly one of my favourite parts of the day. Bungle loves it, I love it – and we’ve scored some pretty funny burst shots out of it to boot! 🙂

Golden Retriever - The Cardiff Cwtch - Bungle the Golden Catch Fetch

Happy Friday, guys! Enjoy the Valentines Day weekend whatever you’re up to! ♥

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?

mirror mirror

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. 😉

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 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.