Odyssey box – a hair subscription box accessible to blind people

This is not a sponsored post. I talk a lot about accessibility and the problems that I have when companies don’t think about customers with different needs. Instead of just talking about problems, I also want to use my platform to highlight good practice, and talk about those brand owners who are working hard to make their products and services more accessible, particularly for visually impaired customers like me.

I first mentioned the Odyssey haircare box back in my March products post when I was talking about how much I’d enjoyed the Queen of the Nile mask. Since then, I’ve been getting the box every 2 months, because that’s how it comes out.

The Odyssey Box was created by Chloé, and As well as enjoying the products, I’ve been impressed by her commitment to diversity. She agreed to tell part of her story for this post.

What is ODYSSEY BOX?

First I wanted to know why Chloé decided to bring this new haircare box onto the market.

“I created ODYSSEY BOX to fill the gap in the market for a customer-first brand that could truly stand behind the products it was marketing. When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to the knowledge I needed to really care for my afro hair as I was the first generation in my family to decide against chemically straightening it.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I truly started to learn what my hair needed and started to embrace my true texture without using heat styling tools. In 2018, I discovered Black-owned hair care products and learned the truth behind the brand giants I had been purchasing for many years. I learned that the products I had been using contained low quality, filler ingredients, and in some cases, some of these ingredients were toxic.

It was an easy decision to make, to decide to stick with the natural, plant-based, community-oriented Black-owned hair care brands I had found and after committing my time and efforts to support these brands for 2 years, I knew that I wanted to have a longer-lasting impact and that’s where ODYSSEY BOX comes in.

ODYSSEY BOX is a subscription box service delivering luxury haircare from the best of black-owned brands for curly, kinky, and coily hair textures. We are committed to educating, empowering, and connecting our community, whilst working towards more positive mindsets about natural haircare.

An odyssey is a long and exciting adventure and that is what we believe your natural hair journey should be. I am aware that some ODYSSEY BOX subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair and for me, that shows that the demand for safe, natural, and effective products extends beyond just the natural hair community and so I am happy to be able to meet that demand.”

My thoughts on the products

As Chloé mentioned, some of her subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair. I fall into that category too. My hair is thick, down past my waist, and naturally straight.

I was interested to try out the box though when I saw it on YouTube, being reviewed on Sussex Sandra’s channel. I thought that the contents of the February box looked good, and I’d be able to use most of them. After all, a lot of the focus was on nourishing the hair and helping it to lock in moisture. My hair isn’t dry or damaged, but as it’s so long, I often use masks and moisture-rich products to keep it in good shape.

It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the main target audience for the box. Occasionally there is a product that is not as relevant for me, such as one specifically for curls, but to be honest, when I was getting beauty boxes including products that were more geared towards my own type of hair, there were plenty of styling products that I didn’t want to use, probably more so than there are with this box.

I’ve been moving towards more natural products over the last couple of years, and I like the fact that this box supports smaller, independent brands. Sometimes I would like to do more of this than I do, but as a screenreader user, I often face challenges with the accessibility of smaller brands’ websites. This is not always the way, but when it happens, it can make buying from them more of a challenge. It’s not just a case of put in your credit card details and go if none of the buttons on the website are labelled!

Given that this is a luxury haircare box, it’s not one of the cheapest around. But if you want better ingredients and to support small companies, that’s normal. I expect to get value for money with subscriptions, but if it’s a race to the bottom with the biggest savings on products, it’s A not a sustainable business model, B not going to support independent brands, and C not going to ensure quality long-term.

.The Odyssey box website is accessible and I had no trouble signing up with my screenreader, so that’s a win-win. I can discover smaller independent brands, most of which I hadn’t heard of before, without having to find out whether each individual site is accessible.

Blind people and subscription boxes

In most beauty and hair subscription boxes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. I have various ways of identifying my products, but they all involve relying on someone or something else.

Probably the easiest way is to ask S – who knows more about beauty and skincare than most fiancés would want to. But that depends on him being around and having time to do it when I want the information. More importantly, he’s my partner, not my admin help. He does help me, but I’d rather be independent.

I have an app on my phone, which can often read labels, but then I have to Google to find out how to use the products. Also, its being able to read the label isn’t guaranteed – it depends on the font, the background contrast, the size of the writing, and the material.

I can wait for online reviews on YouTube or blogs – this is helpful, but this involves waiting, and I don’t like waiting! It also doesn’t tell me which product is which in my own box.

When Chloé asked for customer feedback, we got talking about accessibility. I’ll let her take up the story again:

“It’s important to me that I make the whole ODYSSEY BOX experience accessible. From the language I use to describe hair care concepts to the layout of the inserts in the box, I want every single person who gets a box to have an equal opportunity to enjoy it.

It wasn’t until I reached out for feedback that I learned that one of my subscribers, Kirsty was visually impaired and so my first instinct was to email the inserts instead of including them in the box so that she could listen to the information instead. I did this for a couple of boxes and had the realisation that it was all well and good being able to hear the information but if the products are all in identical packaging, it would still be challenging to distinguish which information related to which product.

I was so disappointed in myself for the oversight but saw it as an opportunity to do better for the August Box. I want my community of subscribers to feel empowered when they receive their boxes, and not feel as though they can’t access what they need on their own. So, for the August box, I got creative and taped some packing material to two of the products to make them more tactile.

The box contained two pump bottles, two spray bottles, and a pouch. So, this time around, when I emailed the information to Kirsty, I was able to say which of the pump bottles had something taped to it, which of the spray bottles did and what they felt like overall. I was pleased that it had a positive impact!

Small things like this make a big difference and only make the experiences for the customer and the brand more positive. It’s not always an impairment that disables someone, oftentimes it’s society and services that prevent equal access for all. I’m always willing to get creative and do what I can to make sure that my service isn’t one of those. ODYSSEY BOX is all about bringing you positive haircare experiences and I’ll go above and beyond to make sure of it.”

My customer experience

Of course we want good quality products, but the way you feel about a brand or subscription also plays a role. I am more loyal to brands that take the extra time to create an experience that lets me participate, independently and as an equal. When my box arrives, I can just unpack it and go, without having to ask my partner, or spend time scanning and figuring out what things are. I can read my email, check it against the products to see which is which if they feel the same, and get going using them. This is good customer service and I love the fact that it’s less work for me!

In the last year I’ve been working with a lot more small business owners, and I think that they are often less removed from their customers than bigger brands. They appreciate that we are all different and may have different needs, and it is often the small things like this, that make a big difference.
Thanks to Chloé for making her boxes more accessible to me as a blind customer.

The growth goals box

I’m looking forward to my October box as I write this, but the August box, which we’ve been talking about, is still available from the Odyssey Box website.

The growth goals box contains 5 full-size products from Black British haircare brand, shea decadence London. I hadn’t actually heard of this brand before, but having a range of products from the same brand gave me the chance to try them out together over a period of time.

In the box there is a conditioning shampoo, a deep conditioner, detangling hair milk, a curl-enhancing leave-in conditioner, and reviving hair dew.

I use all of them. My long hair can get tangled, so the detangling milk is a firm favourite this month, and the shampoo leaves my hair feeling really clean, without feeling stripped. The conditioner is rich and luxurious – I’ve never seen one in a pouch before, but it’s good because you can get every last drop out. The leave-in conditioners are quite rich for my hair, so I do use them, but they last me a lot longer because I don’t need much.

So – have you tried this box? Would you be interested in a hair subscription box? Let me know in the comments.

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Image © Odyssey Box

Life of a mature student – technologies in practice module

TM129 (technologies in practice), is the 3rd of my Open University IT modules, following TM111 and TM112. Actually, there are only 3 IT modules at level 1. Most of the other students did a solid module of maths, which would not have been my idea of fun! As the degree is for my own personal development and I’m on the open degree route, I chose something from the language faculty to finish off my first year. But more about that in another post.

This is my summary of the module from the October 2019 presentation. If you’re planning to study it in the future, there may be some differences.

The content

As with the other level 1 IT modules, the course is split into three blocks.

Probably the most interesting part for me was the networking block. Not all of the knowledge was new to me, but I found it useful to consolidate and build on what I knew already. The Cisco materials almost felt like PowerPoint slides, with very little text on each page, so I was forever clicking next. I’m one of those people who’d rather a solid block of text, but I know some students prefer the bite-size chunks. Anyway the information was well-structured and apart from a small part that was very Cisco-centric, the knowledge can be applied to networking across the board.

Robotics – I enjoyed exploring the social and ethical questions in this part in terms of how we use robots and AI, how it affects our life already, and how future developments might look. I thought it was interesting to look at some practical activities for programming a simple online robot, though I would have preferred it if we’d done some more tasks that weren’t so focussed on using the light sensors. This is useful for explaining other concepts, but a bit frustrating for any user who is blind or unable to distinguish colours. I think there are concepts that I can take from this block though and apply to other programming problems, so overall I felt that was useful.

Linux was new for me, so I was glad to have an introduction, especially as it focussed a lot on command line commands, (which is what, as a screenreader user, I would have had to do anyway) as opposed to using a graphical interface. In some ways we just skimmed the surface, but I think as an introduction it was easy enough to follow and understand.

The assessment

Things were a bit different this year because the final assessment was cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions. I don’t really understand why, because it was all online, but that’s what happened.

On one hand it was quite nice not to have to write the final assessment, but I think a number of students wish the process had been explained a bit better. There was clear information about the fact that the assessment had been cancelled, but I hadn’t appreciated that the marks wouldn’t only be based on my previous work. My overall average ended up lower than the average of my previous marks. Apparently this was because the final averages were adjusted down due to the fact that historically students had done worse on the final assignment. I was ok, but anyone on a grade boundary may not have got the final grade that they were expecting.

So I can’t talk about the final assessment, but the other 3 were written tutor marked assignments.

The part that worried me most was one assessed activity within the networking part. I hadn’t realised that there would be a timed assessment that contributed to my overall mark. My biggest fear was that I would run out of time, but I didn’t and my worries were unfounded. I needed to make sure I’d revised properly, because it’s not like the project work where you can take as much time as you like to double-check everything, but on the day I did end up with time to spare. The worse thing you can do is see something you’re not sure about, panic, and then forget everything else you know!

Accessibility – studying the module as a blind student

The main take-away for me is that I did it, as someone with no vision. Yes, there were some challenges, and yes, I did need some sighted assistance at times. But this module was enjoyable for me and I learned a lot.

All of the module materials were provided as downloadable or online copies – in fact I think everybody was reading the materials online. There was also a book and a DVD. I sourced my own copy of the book, though an alternative was available. The DVD material was also available from the module website, so it was just as easy for me to get it from there.

I noticed some people grumping about the lack of textbooks on the forums, but I think no obligatory printed textbooks is a step in the right direction – think of the trees!

The Sisco materials in the networking block were accessible, and even included some image descriptions. Unfortunately the level of accessibility was a bit inconsistent in terms of the practical learning activities – many of these involved dragging things around with a mouse and had no accessible alternative for keyboard users. I focussed on the theory as learning the concepts were more important to me, and the exercises were just to supplement the learning.

The Packet Tracer software also caused some problems in terms of accessibility, and a sighted assistant was needed to assist me with these practical parts.

Despite these challenges, I found this block the most interesting.

Having said that, if the OU continues to buy in content or work in partnership with other training providers, it needs to ensure that those other organisations are held accountable to the same accessibility standards. I feel there is some room for improvement here as I did encounter some missing image descriptions in the 3rd-party materials.

The robotics software did work surprisingly well with Jaws (my screenreader). However, some of the practical tasks relied quite heavily on being able to see in order to assess the outputs of the programmes, so again, some sighted assistance was required.

The Linux part didn’t pose any accessibility problems.

Final thoughts

Out of all the IT modules I’ve done so far, I enjoyed this one and TM112 the most (OUBuild ruined TM111 for me, but there is other interesting material in there)!

The module gives you an introduction to three distinctly different areas, particularly useful for those who are still deciding which route to take when it comes to their level 2 modules.

My tutor was helpful, always replying quickly and being available to discuss issues relating to accessibility or alternative ways to meet the learning outcomes.

Adobe Connect continues to be an accessibility nightmare for me as a screenreader user, though that has nothing to do with TM129 as such, and I still prefer this to face-to-face learning. Tutors did what they could to help me, either answering questions or making slides available in advance for me to access.

I do wish though that the Open University would use a more accessible conference platform.

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September – sunflowers and shielding birthday

September – sunflowers and shielding birthday

I was debating whether to write this post at all. Our household is still shielding, so I don’t have posts about the places we went or the things we did on our week off.

But the thing is, even though many people around us are going out and doing all the things, which is allowed now as we’re not under local lockdown, There are plenty of us who aren’t. It feels like we’re kind of under the radar now we’re in the minority, but we still have something to say. We’re still learning things, making connections, and enjoying the good things – even if that doesn’t involve going out, meeting up with people in person, and doing all the things we may have taken for granted before.

We’re still here. If you look in the right places, you can find that there are more of us. Doing that actually did me good, as did having a spring-clean of my feeds to remove people who think that the virus isn’t real, who believe their individual rights to do what they want are more important than helping to keep others safe, or who want to try and convince us that making informed choices about staying safe is just succumbing to fear and oppression.

I don’t want echo chambers, but neither do I want to see people promoting illegal gatherings, encouraging others to ignore measures to stop the spread of the virus, or behaving as though the lives of anyone who is not “fit and healthy” don’t matter. That’s offensive.

My not writing as often because we’re not going out and about this year just pushes us under the radar even more. So here’s my good things in September post!

The beginning of Autumn

I love Autumn. You won’t see me crying that Summer is over! I love it when the air is cold and fresh in the morning and you can get out the snuggly, fluffy things. I love the crisp leaves and the idea of new beginnings, that began as a child with the new school year, but has somehow followed mi into adulthood too. Ok, September is also my birthday month, so that’s a reason to like it, even if this year was a bit different.

There are still places to go where you can enjoy the nature – as far away from other people as possible, because sadly some people don’t understand about social distancing, or respect others who are clearly choosing to do it.

The birds don’t know what’s going on in the human world. They just carry on as they had before – in fact, studies have shown that some are singing more interesting songs now that they don’t have to compete with as much traffic noise.

Shopping

I know some people have had real problems with online grocery deliveries, especially during lockdown times. But Ocado has served us well. In September, they stopped selling Waitrose products, but at the same time started stocking M&S goods, which has been really good. I never shopped there before because they didn’t deliver. There are new foods to try, and I also ventured down the beauty and skincare isle!

And then of course there are Percy pigs and Colin the caterpillar!

I made the dangerous discovery that the Boots app works quite well with VoiceOver, and I prefer it to the web version with my screenreader. I may have got a little carried away, but fortunately I had the generous treat of some birthday money too! I stocked up on a few essentials, bought some new skincare to try, and treated myself to some makeup, including a Fenty cream highlighter, and some liquid eye shadows from Pixi and Too Faced.

The Body Shop brought back their vanilla pumpkin range, which I discovered last year that I actually liked! Usually I avoid everything with vanilla because it’s too sweet, but I like this fragrance and have already used up the hand cream! I still have a body butter and a shower gel on the go! I would link them, but they’ve sold out all ready. I’ll have another post soon about the Christmas ranges though.

Work

It was an interesting month at work because I pushed my boundaries and did a couple of new things. I was asked to speak about accessibility at a virtual meeting for local business owners, and I did a live interview on YouTube about my online English lessons for adults. The latter was new for me – the public speaking part of it wasn’t as scary as the fact that I didn’t know how many of the host’s rather large following would be there or watch later.

I’m really glad I did it though and it reminded me how sometimes it’s good to do things that make you feel a bit nervous or uncomfortable, because these things can help us to grow.

I also held my first paid webinar about helping businesses to make their Facebook posts more accessible to visually impaired customers. I hadn’t thought of doing one-off events like that, but I went with the suggestion and it worked out well, so I’m thinking about other topics for the future.

Week off and birthday

I didn’t tell many people about our week off because I didn’t want to answer the “where are you going” question for the millionth time. We had a week off at home. We didn’t do any work. We spent time together, cooked, read books, had time for hobbies, relaxed and recharged.

Yes, I see people doing things that we would like to do, but each household has to do their own risk assessment. Sometimes just enjoying what you have and what’s going well is a choice, and I have a lot to be grateful for.

I chose to enjoy our time off and my shielding birthday, which involved flowers (sunflowers are my favourite), a home-cooked meal, messages from friends and family, presents, and chocolate cake!

How was September for you?

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10 things I learned from Cindy the golden retriever

I used to have a golden retriever guide dog. She taught me a lot and we had many happy years together, as well as a lot of adventures! We could both be stubborn and things weren’t always easy, especially at the beginning as we were getting to know each other.

You can find out a bit more about her here.

She was with me through relationship break-ups, job changes, house moves, and all the normal stuff in between. We went to weddings, funerals, the theatre (not her favourite place because of a large stomping rhinoceros), restaurants, bars, and wide open spaces.

She loved to bark at logs that were twice her size because they were too big to carry! She travelled on trains, tubes, ferries, trams, and in the car. We were a team, and here are some of the things that I learned from her.

  1. There’s nothing more satisfying than going for a long walk with the wind in your fur! Nature is wonderful if you take the time to get out there and explore it! Listen to the birds. Stop thinking about all the things that you need to do, or that are stressing you out. Take some time to enjoy the sounds and smells, and appreciate the world around you.
  2. Every day is a new day. She greeted each new day with such enthusiasm, much more so than I can ever manage first thing in the morning. Dogs don’t think about the rubbish day they had at work yesterday, or the challenging things that might be coming up. It’s good to learn from the past and plan for the future, but dogs definitely know how to live in the moment and enjoy the small things.
  3. Following your instinct can get you into trouble – think huge muddy pond! Might seem like a good idea at the time, but instincts need to be balanced out with the facts!
  4. Don’t be afraid to show your happiness and to celebrate the good things. I just have to think about that big swishing tail and the sound she always made when she was pleased to see me or someone else. I generally have an understated kind of enthusiasm, and don’t wear my heart on my sleeve like a retriever. But if someone made you happy, let them know it!
  5. Sometimes no words are needed to show that you care. If I was sad, she would often come up and put her head on my arm or just sit close to me, as if to say “I’m here. I can’t offer you advice, but my big silky ears can listen, and I am here with you!” Don’t draw back from people just because you don’t have all the answers, or you don’t know what to say to them because you haven’t experienced what they’re going through.
  6. Following on from that, you might be able to kid everyone around you and convince them that you’re ok, but you’ll never kid a loyal four-legged friend. They know when you’re hurting or just having a rubbish day, and they want to help. I can’t do that, and neither can most people. So you have to give them a hand and let the trusted ones in behind your protective walls sometimes.
  7. Teamwork takes time. Some other breeds can be won over more quickly with a tasty snack, but a retriever’s heart has to be won over. They’ll be your most loyal friend afterwards, but they need to want to work with you and that can take a bit of time till you both understand each other. Friendships take time too, and you have to work at them and invest in them if you want them to grow.
  8. Sometimes you just need a good shake when you’re happy to be done with something, or when your fur’s full of rain! That’s a great way to get a seat on the train too! Ok, so I’m not going for the wet dog shake, but I could do to let my mask down sometimes. Also, sometimes you need your own space!
  9. Don’t take any nonsense! One of the other guide dogs was trying to get too friendly in the dog run, so she peed on his head! That’s my girl!
  10. Sometimes the shortcut is the smartest idea. She used to indicate where the taxi stand was if we were coming back from work and the weather was bad! As if to say “it’s snowing – let’s take the easy way home!” I don’t think she was lazy, because she actually enjoyed her job and wagged her tail when the guide dog harness came out. Maybe she just knew that I’d be more happy to get a ride when the weather was bad, and it certainly doesn’t do any harm to treat yourself once in a while! In other words, give yourself a break sometimes!

So, what lessons have you learned from four-legged friends?

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Guest post – we’re all in it together – until we aren’t

You may remember Caz from the interview that she did for me earlier in the year.

Caz asked me to write a guest post for her blog, and I’d like to share that with you today.

It’s about the current situation, and how the feeling of all being in it together is slipping away, particularly for those who are still shielding and not taking part in any of the social activities that others are starting to do.

Thanks Caz for the opportunity to write a post for you, and I hope everyone else will check out her blog too if you haven’t already. It’s well worth a read 🙂

August 2020 – chocolate owls, neck fans, results, and cheese bread!

Good things in August 2020

Well, August isn’t usually holiday month for me. It hasn’t been for as long as I can remember. When you don’t have children, taking holidays outside of the school holidays often feels like a smart move! It’s hot! It’s sometimes a bit much! But generally there’s a holiday vibe and I like the long summer nights where you can eat in the garden and spend more time outdoors.

We are still being careful and shielding, so you won’t see a lot of staycation posts this summer, but there are still good things, and things to be grateful for. I think in some ways I’ve socialised more this year than I have before, even though I’m not saying “yes” to any face-to-face socialising right now.

New course

Since I’ve been working for myself, August is often a quieter time because many of my customers go on holiday. This year was the launch of my pilot programme for a new course though, so it was actually quite busy – getting things ready and starting off the programme. I have a really lovely group and I’m enjoying working with them. It’s good to try something new!

University results

This actually belongs in July, but I didn’t write this kind of post then!

The end of the university year was a bit different because two of my final assessments were cancelled. With so much else going on, it was quite nice to not have to do them, but nobody really knew what would happen in terms of the results. We knew the previous results would probably become more relevant now, but it wasn’t really clear what would happen. I think an opportunity for better communication was missed there.

As it happened, I got my two distinctions, but as I understand it, the calculations were all adjusted down because they also reflected previous students’ performances on the final exams. I wasn’t on the threshold, so I got what I was aiming for, but some people dropped down into the next bracket, through what felt like no fault of their own. If you screw up an assessment, ultimately it’s on you, but if it happens because generally other people don’t do as well in that assessment, it doesn’t feel fair.

Overall I was happy – year 1 took me 2 years because I’m part-time, but I did it! Posts about the final two modules are coming soon – I don’t like to write them until I’ve properly finished.

Next module booked

There were some questions about the accessibility of the module I wanted to study next. That took a bit of time to resolve, but it feels as though we have a better process in place now, and a way to make sure that the transitions to future modules go more smoothly.

I’m looking forward to writing the code for web pages – less so to the reliance on diagrams to communicate ideas about how said web pages should turn out! But at least we have a plan now to make it more accessible!

New products

The Body Shop has come out with some new hair and body mists. Body mists are nothing new, but not all of them are suitable to be used on hair – some ingredients can dry your hair out – but these ones are fine .

There are 5 in the range – apricot and agave, lime and matcha, pomegranate and red berries, pink pepper and lychee, and coconut and yuzu.

I got the apricot one and the lime one. My favourite is the apricot one, but both of them are good!

Not quite so new, but I also enjoyed the new zesty lemon range of products – they were a special edition, but if they come back, I can definitely recommend them if you love zingy citrussy scents. I enjoyed the zesty lemon body yoghurt. It’s made with lumpy lemons, which presumably wouldn’t be up to the normal standard for selling and eating.

Portable neck fan

I turned up to an online meeting during the heatwave and a friend was wearing one of these! It’s a great idea – you take your fan around with you wherever you go! It’s like three sides of a square. The side opposite the open side goes behind your neck, and the two arms sit on your shoulders, facing forwards. You have to be careful with long hair, but I push mine back and I haven’t caught it yet! The arms blow out air onto your face and neck, and there are multiple settings for how intense you want the fan to be. This is the neck fan that I got.

New platform to try

I was involved in an accessibility research project throughout August. I probably can’t say a lot about that at the moment, but one thing it also gave me was the opportunity to try out Microsoft Teams with Jaws and VoiceOver (the two screenreaders that I use on my laptop and my phone).

I was impressed! It’s so much better than what we use at university! I mainly use Zoom and other conferencing tools at work, but it was interesting to try something new. It’s more involved than Zoom, but it also has more features for working collaboratively.

Chocolate owls

These are the owls featured in the image for this post. They were delicious – some were with orange essential oil and others with peppermint. (If you intend to try this, make sure the essential oils you have are suitable for internal use – not all are).

The owl moulds can be bought from Amazon – this is one of my owl mould sets.

They were amazing – both sets were good, but I think my favourites were the orange ones! I’m going to try dark chocolate tnex.

New Turkish friends

I know my biggest weakness in learning a language is speaking. I hate it. I don’t want to do it until I’m really good – but the only way to become really good is to do it!

Especially if you’re living in a country where you’re not being exposed to the additional language every day, you need to be more proactive.

So I went to a language exchange site. You have to be a bit careful, because especially if you are a woman, you can get inundated with messages, some of which are quite annoying. I started chatting with a few people. Some fizzle out straight away, so it’s good to not only rely on one or two right at the beginning. I’ve found two people wit whom I’m meeting regularly online now for English and Turkish practice. It’s hard for me – I would much prefer to write – but they are both really friendly and having a real person to speak with definitely gives you a reason to do it!

Duolingo

I wrote before about improving my Turkish on Duolingo.

I saw that this way of strengthening the connection between language pairs was also really good brain training. A lot of activities for training your memory involve pictures, and therefore don’t work for me. But I love languages, so I decided to use my subscription to this app to work on my active languages, refresh a couple that I used to speak, and also try a couple of new ones.

I want to write a more in-depth post about this and what I’ve discovered. At the moment I have 12 courses, which are combinations of 8 languages!

Baking bread

I haven’t jumped on the sourdough train, but we have been trying out some bread recipes. Yesterday we made cheese and onion bread – something I’ve never had before – but it has cheese in it, so it must be good, right? It was amazing! Random internet recipes can be a risky business, but I can recommend this yummy cheese and onion bread! Not an affiliate link – just something we found and enjoyed.

So, that’s a round-up of my August! Tomorrow is September – I love autumn!

How was August for you?

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Let sleeping pharmacists lie by Janelle Soong

I got to know Janelle a while ago – I believe through a group for bloggers. Since then, I’ve been following her blog The Nellybean and Janelle did a blog interview for me in 2018.

In a saturated blogging landscape with some quite repetitive and superficial blogs, I find Janelle’s posts really refreshing. Often I can relate, but it’s more than that – she has something interesting and authentic to say. So whether it’s make-up, midnight musings, or posts about her pharmacy studies, I read them all! She also writes supportive and interesting comments on other bloggers’ posts, and I look forward to seeing those too.

Recently I found out that Janelle had written a book, “Let sleeping pharmacists lie”. I agreed to review a gifted copy on my blog – so here it is!

Let Sleeping pharmacists lie – tales from pharmacy school and the patients you just don’t forget

Description from Amazon

“Let sleeping pharmacists lie” is a collection of funny (and 100% true) anecdotes from pharmacy school and musings on the healthcare sector. From Viagra lovers to paracetamol hagglers, Janelle tells all in this labour of love inspired by her personal encounters. Delve deep into the colourful – and at times, mystifying – world of pharmacy.

Pages: 106

My thoughts

I’d had a couple of glimpses into Janelle’s studies and practical pharmacy experiences from her blog posts, but I had no idea what it takes to become a pharmacist in terms of what you have to learn, how much science is involved, and how many interesting members of the public and strange requests you have to deal with!

The book is available as a paperback or a kindle edition from Amazon. This was the first plus point for me! Having it available as an e-book means it’s accessible to people like me who can’t read standard print.

The book is a series of short chapters, which makes it easy to read, and gives you a glimpse in to different parts of the learning experience.

I really enjoyed the mixture of more general information, such as the process a new type of medication has to go through before it can be used, to the personal anecdotes from the pharmacy. I also thought it was interesting to see how different medical professionals can work and learn together, and some of the ethical questions you have to think about once you start taking what you’ve learned, and applying it to real-life situations.

It also takes apart some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about being a pharmacist – good for educating us as the general public, and hopefully good for pharmacists too if they don’t have to hear the same old lines about sticking labels on boxes all day!

It’s factual information – so you’ll learn things when you read the book. But it feels as though you’re listening to stories over a coffee with a friend. The scientific parts are explained in a non-technical way that’s easy to understand, and with some of the anecdotes, you can just imagine yourself in the queue at the pharmacy, overhearing the conversations – the bizarre ones, not the personal ones! People really do say those things 😲

I don’t think any public-facing role is easy, but the book also gives you an insight into some of the more frustrating parts of being a pharmacist, and things we as customers can avoid doing!

I haven’t been out much at all over the last couple of months, but I’ve appreciated my local pharmacists keeping things running and being there to give me my prescriptions. So this is a public thanks to them, to pharmacists in general, and to Janelle for giving us a look behind the scenes!

Find out more

This is where you can find out more about Janelle’s book on Amazon

You can also visit Janelle on social media:

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Vitamin C products and beauty box finds

Vitamin C products and beauty box finds

I thought I hadn’t done a skincare post for a while, so here are some of the things I’ve been enjoying (or not so much!) lately. Let me know if you have tried any of them and what you thought.

Vitamin C range from Pixi

I was excited when Pixi brought out its vitamin C range. I’m not sure exactly when they came out, but I got them some time last autumn.

I first tried Pixi skincare when I heard about the glow tonic – I’m all about the chemical exfoliants – so when I heard that the new range had this kind of toner, I decided to give the whole range a go. It’s made with oranges and lemons to brighten and exfoliate the skin, without any abrasive particles.
The cleanser and the serum also contain grapefruit extracts. I know how a product smells is no indicator of how good it is, but these smell amazing and that made me want to use them!

The juice cleanser is a no-fuss cleanser – I’m not sure how well it would work with heavy make-up because I tended to use it in the morning, but it’s gentle and refreshing, and you don’t need to wash it off. The vitamin C tonic is similar to the glow tonic, but I think it’s gentler, and this meant that even when I had both of them on the go, I was more likely to reach for the vitamin C one. The vitamin C lotion comes in a tube and is a fairly light-weight moisturiser, good for wearing in the daytime, and fine for layering with other products.

I’d recommend all of this range. I also have the serum, but it’s still going as it was out of stock when I bought the others. I haven’t tried the caviar balm yet.

Lovelula

I signed up for this subscription because I wanted to try more cruelty-free and natural brands. You don’t know what’s coming in the box, and it tends to be more skincare than make-up. This time there was one hit and one miss, but even if something isn’t for me, I do appreciate the chance to try new things, for a fraction of the normal price.

Madara often shows up in this box, but I’m ok with that as I really like their products. This set of 10 Hyaluronic Collagen Booster Ampoules alone costs double what I paid for the box! They are enriched with hyaluronic acid and natural plant sugars, to stimulate the protein structure of the skin and provide a protective layer to shield the skin’s protective barrier. You basically use them like a serum, after toning and before moisturising. The capsules are very generous, but I tended to use them in one go because I understand the point of having sealed capsules is to prevent exposure to the air. Madara is not a cheap brand, but I am happy to pay more for serums and moisturizers if I think they are worth it. I would buy these again.

I really wanted to like this Rescue My Hair Shampoo Bar – Pollution Patrol from My. Haircare. It was the first shampoo bar I’ve tried, and I love the idea behind it. However, the “ultimate sensory experience” they promised just didn’t happen for me. My hair felt stripped afterwards, I didn’t like the scent or the texture, and I didn’t come away feeling that I’d done something good for my hair. I do have a couple of other shampoo bars, and I will try those, but so far I can’t see myself making the switch.

Latest in Beauty

I’m loyal to this subscription because I get to choose my products. I might make a mistake, but they’ll never send me something I’ll never use!

Yardley Lily of the valley hand cream – this was an all-round good hand cream. All the hand-washing of late does mean dryer hands, so I want to take care of them. It is floral, but a pleasant kind of floral!

Rodial Vitamin C sheet mask – this was one of the products – usually more high end ones – that they have as the product of the month, which means there is enough for everyone. Rodial is a more expensive brand, but if I were going to invest in something from them, it wouldn’t be a £14 sheet mask! The plan I’m on meant that I paid £2, but I do prefer the ones that are tissue soaked in the serum, rather than this kind of solid slimy stuff – I know that’s not a good description! It felt nice enough afterwards, but is not something I’d rush out to buy.

Single use hair masks like the couple I’ve got from Hask aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to go, but they are a way to check whether you like a product before committing to buying it, and the 50g ones give me enough product to work with as someone with really long hair. I’ve had the charcoal with citrus oil purifying mask, and the argan oil repairing deep conditioner. These can also be bought as a larger size, and it got me interested in the brand, so I also tried the orchid and white truffle moisture-rich shampoo. This is a budget-friendly brand, but my hair always feels really good afterwards.

Advent calendar

So my plan last year was to build my own beauty advent calendar. I had a lot of fun doing it, with some budget-friendly buys and more expensive treats, and the best bit was I knew I would use everything in there. Often the best thing in a beauty calendar is something I don’t want – such as a palette – and it feels like a bit of a let-down. Most of the wellness products have already gone, but I have a couple of skincare bits still going strong! There’s usually a sale at Feelunique in November, so I could try some new things and make the money go further.

I haven’t found a link for the Yves Rocher Hydra Végétal Moisture Boost Serum from a site that I would use, but it’s definitely a good one and one that I’d get again if I found it. As the name suggests, it’s good for dry skin.

I also wanted to try the e.l.f. Beauty Shield Vitamin C Pollution Prevention Serum. I liked the packaging – you push the top down and it draws the product up into a kind of pipette. Unfortunately that’s where the positive feedback ends! I found the product very watery – which in itself is ok if you use it like an essence, but it was sticky too and just not pleasant! I didn’t finish it.

Body shop

I finished the almond bath milk powder from my Body Shop pamper package. It’s powder to milk, so you just shake some in and it becomes bath milk. Think more moisturising than bubble bath, but this is a lovely gentle range.

The banana bath blend smelled good enough to eat! These are bubble baths made with fruit and vegetables known for their vitamins, and these are made from wonky bananas, which makes me happy because they weren’t wasted!
I used up a tub of the shea body butter – I think I must have got it in a set. I usually go for more fruity scents, but this one is good for sensitive skin or if you don’t want a strong scent, and it is really good for dry skin.

An old favourite – the
Gentle eye makeup remover.
This doesn’t sting my eyes, so I repurchase it.

I was super lucky to get to try the two new ranges – Sicilian lemon, and cucumber. Unfortunately the cucumber hand cream also contains mint, and gives you the weird tingly sensation that peppermint products often do. It might not be so bad with a wash-off product, but this stays on your skin and I found it quite uncomfortable. I think it would be even worse for more sensitive parts of the body. I think cucumber would be really nice, but I feel the peppermint was a mistake.

Supermarket

I needed some shower gel, so decided to try something new from the supermarket. I like fruity scents, so I tried the Kind natured lime and mandarin body wash and an almond milk hair mask. This was a new brand for me and I liked the brand’s commitment to natural ingredients and the fruity scents.

So, let me know if you’ve tried any of these and what you thought.

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Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin

Ok, I don’t actually have a guide dog. But I didn’t have a blog when I did have a guide dog, and this message is important!

I got the idea for the post when I read a humorous article about how some people can’t understand even the most obvious signs that other people don’t want to engage.

You’re reading a book? That must mean you want to talk about that book. You’re listening to music? Let’s start up a conversation about what you’re listening to. You’re working on your laptop? Maybe you’re just waiting to tell me all about your job! That kind of thing!

Trying to start a conversation is not a bad thing in itself, but if the person gives monosyllabic answers, turns away, or tells you that they’re busy – that’s the time to stop trying to engage them in conversation!

I used to spend a lot of time on the train because I didn’t live close to my office. I had some good train conversations too, and many train adventures as well. Some random conversations on trains even led to lasting friendships.

But sometimes, in the early morning or late evening after a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to random strangers. I wanted to read my book, listen to music, listen to a podcast, or just be still and let the day wash over me. Unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t pay attention to the headphones or the “I’m done with people for today” scowl!

If you have a dog with you, it can be even worse!

A guide dog can be a great conversation starter, but having one with me often got me more attention than I really wanted.

The woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer

It came to a head one day when I was having dinner with one of my colleagues after work. She was also a friend. I don’t even remember now what we were talking about, but it was something fairly intense. One of us was having a hard time and we were trying to fix it. Partner trouble, family, annoying colleagues – I really don’t know now. But we weren’t just having a casual chat or open to other people joining our table.

Along came a woman who thought that this would be the best time to come over and wake my guide dog up.

I told her it wasn’t a good time because we were in the middle of a conversation, and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to stop bothering us, she stayed around and let me know how she’d been raising money for people like me and I should be a bit more grateful.

I was not grateful.

I was not sorry.

She just succeeded in making me more annoyed and I did finally manage to get her to stop bothering us.

The problem

The point of charity work or donating to organisations that help others is not to then give you freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, particularly when that means completely disregarding the needs of those you claim to want to help.

There is a different system here in the UK because unlike other countries, where funding for guide dogs is part of the healthcare system, our main guide dog school is a charitable organisation. This means it runs fundraising events and accepts donations from the public.

But that doesn’t make the dogs public property. They are working with an individual to improve their quality of life, give them independence, be a fantastic friend, and enable them to navigate the world with a bit less hassle.

Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, it is ok to say hi, but it’s never ok to assume. If someone asks you to leave or stop engaging with the dog, that’s what you need to do.

I can be a bit forthright, and generally people left us alone when I asked them to. But as well as the practical problem of exciting a dog who was otherwise having a snooze, the issue was about this woman’s sense of entitlement and the assumption that her desire to stroke my dog was more important than the private conversation that I was trying to have.

I’m not sure that the woman in the story really got that point after our encounter. I think she was just indignant that I dared to challenge her.

You can’t win them all! To be honest, her leaving felt like a win that day, even if she just thought I had a bad attitude.

It’s possible that I was a bit short with her. I know I can be quite direct! I try to calmly educate and stay objective, but it’s hard when people don’t bother to think how their actions might be causing a problem, or when they won’t listen. She could see I was leaning across the table, deep in conversation. I wouldn’t go up and bother someone who looked like that.

The other thing is that all these things add up. Someone might have had to deal with the same things multiple times that day. It could be interrupting an important phone call because someone thought that would be a great time to come and make a load of noise saying hi to the dog under the desk. It could be educating parents on a train that a guide dog is not free entertainment so that the parents could have a bit of piece. It could be dealing with the person who thinks that calling a guide dog from the other side of a busy road is a smart thing to do. I’ve experienced them all!

It’s a tough one. If the cute doggy is in the centre of your fundraising strategy, people will identify with the cute doggy! But working with a guide dog means working as part of a team, and the guide dog owner, or the person at the other end of the lead, is also part of the package!

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10 Tips for dealing with the heat when working from home

I’m not good in hot weather. If I’m supposed to be on holiday, I can just about deal with it, but my first thought about choosing a holiday destination is not about whether it’s going to be hot.

I’m one of those people who’s happy like a little kid when the first snowy snowflakes fall, and who complains when the temperature goes above about 27 degrees. Usually the people who can’t understand the latter take holiday to enjoy the hottest part of the summer, or they work in air conditioned offices, but now, with so many people working from home, the heat is affecting more of us.

This week was particularly hot, so I thought I’d get together some tips for working from home in the heat in case it happens again.

1. Do you have to work at your desk all of the time?

My office is one of our hottest rooms, but generally I do like to work there, even when it’s hot. It’s my working space. I have everything I need there. It’s definitely easier when I’m doing video conferences.

However, if I’m just reading or doing admin, I might choose to work somewhere else for a couple of hours if I think it will be cooler there.

Is there somewhere else in your house that might be a bit cooler for you?

2. Can you channel your inner tortoise during the hottest part of the day?

I know some people gave up completely last week, but you might not have that option. I didn’t. But when I was really hot and bothered, I tried to do things that would take less brain power.

We all have those things that need to be done – they might even be a bit boring, but you can do them without too much effort. For me it was designing templates for web pages and writing some website code. I had to pay attention, but it was fairly repetitive and it didn’t need much creative or social energy. I was maybe slower than on a day when I felt my best, but I was still productive.

Of course this depends on what you need to get done, and how much control you have over your own schedule. When I had meetings booked in, I did them as normal. But this is a way to make sure that you still get things done when you’re maybe not feeling your most energised!

3. The problem with fans

I do have a desk fan, but it wasn’t doing a lot of good to be honest. The best ones are those that also cool the air as it’s circulating, but most just push the hot air around. I have heard tips about putting a frozen water bottle or a bowl of ice in front of the fan, so the ice cools down the air before the fan pushes it out. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know how well it works. But Always be careful with water and electricity!

4. Don’t forget to keep hydrated

It’s easy to get focussed on a task and carried away with what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s also easy to be lazy and think that going to get a drink of water will be more effort than it’s worth. But it’s really important to stay hydrated, especially during periods of hot weather.

I find that if I put a big glass of water on my desk, I do actually drink it. So I need to make sure I get into the habit of doing that.

I know other people use water bottles that show how much they have drunk, or apps that remind them to take a drink so they get enough water throughout the day.

I never forget to drink coffee, but it’s important to have the water as well!

5. Can you change your working times?

The idea of starting any earlier than I need to is painful – unless there is a meeting that I need to attend. Chances are, if you work for yourself, you’ve already got into a rhythm that works for you. But if you can start and finish early, or do two blocks of work either side of the hottest part of the day, this may make it easier for you to concentrate.

6. Other ways of cooling

I heard about someone who froze a hot water bottle and used this to cool off. I’d never thought of this, but I guess you could use cooling packs in the same way.

Less conventional ideas that we have discussed include a paddling pool, and one of those cooling mats that are intended for dogs!

7. open windows, closed curtains

There is conflicting advice about whether windows should be open or shut, but I’ve found that closed curtains to keep the sun out, and open windows to keep the air circulating are the best. Nobody wants to be stuck in a stuffy hot room with no air circulation.

8. Damage limitation

I know I get grumpy in the heat! Irritating people or situations become that little bit more irritating!

If someone or something is getting to you, step away from it for a while. Take a walk, make a cool drink, or do something else until you feel calm enough to respond rather than react.

I even asked S to read an email before I sent it off to see if I was being unreasonable. “It’s polite, but you can tell you’re annoyed” was what he came back with, so off went the email! Annoyed is fine, but unprofessional is not. If in doubt, give it a few minutes or get a second opinion if that’s an option.

9. The cooler evening

I’m not suggesting that people leave windows open overnight, or even in the daytime if it’s not safe to do so in an unoccupied room, but when it’s cooler, it can be good to let the breeze in and get the air circulating.

10. Clothing

I work from home full-time, and I never got on board with the “we’re working at home now so we can wear anything”. It depends on what you’re doing, whether you have any customer contact, and what your company’s dress policy is.

I don’t want my customers to see me in my fitness clothes or my bikini. But if you can wear something more loose-fitting, it will help you to keep cool.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments!

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