25 lessons from 2.5 years of Unseen Beauty

I can’t believe I’ve had this blog for two and a half years now! From what started as an idea buzzing around my head whilst I was supposed to be relaxing in the bath, it’s been an interesting journey and I am really glad that I now have this little corner of the internet for writing. Writing is quite a big part of my job, but I really wanted to do something that would get me away from thinking about work for a while – which is basically how Unseen Beauty came about.

Here are 25 things that I have learned since setting up the site in January 2017.

1. As time goes on, you’ll change what you want to write about

At the beginning I thought it would just be a beauty and skincare blog, but I found this too narrow a niche, and also some of the people who read my articles couldn’t care less about that! Also, there are so many beauty and skincare blogs out there. What makes people stand out is when they bring something new and different to the table. So I still have my product posts about once a month, but Unseen Beauty has become more than that.

2. Sometimes it’s surprising what people want to read

It’s that thing – you never know which posts people will like. You can spend ages with your finger hovering over “publish” thinking “shall I just bin this?” and then when you finally click the button because the indecision is getting too much, you find that people really relate. Or, you can spend ages on a piece of content that you’re really proud of, and barely anyone reads it! You just never know until you send the posts out into the world!

I’m never going to be the kind of blogger that bears her heart and soul to the world, but I have found that the posts where I share a bit more honestly are the ones that people respond to. I think there’s a lot of generic content out there, so people want something a bit different.

3. If you set out with the idea that it’s not about the photos, the right people will come

On my work blog I wasn’t that bothered. It’s an educational blog, and people come for the educational content.

In the whole lifestyle arena, photos have a more important role. Instagram invaded the blogosphere and suddenly much higher importance was placed on the photos – which is an issue when you’re blind and can’t take them yourself.

Blogging has always been about the words though, and I didn’t want that to be taken from me. So I was just honest about it. If I’m talking about a place or a product, I’ll try and get someone to take a picture. If I don’t manage it, you get the article without. Blogmas is enough work anyway without stressing out over images, so you may just get my stock Christmas photo.

And you know what? On the whole, people are fine with that. My articles tend to be on the longer side, and people come because they want something to read.

I’m grateful to S and my mum for helping me out, and I know the photos add value. But it makes me sad when I read that people don’t want to publish posts because they don’t have the right photos.

4. Blogmas is a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun too

I’ve done it twice now and will probably be doing it again this year! Posting every day in December until Christmas Eve, coming up with the content, and not reusing ideas is challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun. Readers who engaged with the posts kept me going, and it’s also good to be part of the community of people who are doing it as well so you can see what content they are creating and encourage them too.

5. You’ll meet some cool people through blogging

Yes, there’s drama if you choose to get involved in it, but generally I steer clear of it and it stays away from me. I’ve found the blogging community to be really friendly and had some great conversations with people, either via the comments, on Facebook, Twitter, or privately.

6. Ideas will come at the weirdest times!

In the bath, when out running, in the middle of the night … Never when I’m at my laptop ready to write them down!

7. It’s ok to take a break

Having a plan and a schedule is good, but sometimes if you’re running on empty, the best thing to do is take a break. Give yourself space to think about other things. Then the ideas will come again.

If you try to force it or churn out posts when you really don’t feel like it, you’ll lose the sense of enjoyment, and a hobby blog is supposed to be fun!

8. Blogging is about community

It’s not all about only communicating with your own readers. You can make some great contacts through interacting with others and also discover new blogs by seeing who comments on things that you find interesting. You may well have things in common with them. Apart from that, community = the chance to do interviews or guest posts – and perhaps my favourite, swap boxes!

Also, knowing that my genuine recommendations have helped someone else feels good too.

9. Things change and you have to come up with new plans

When I was reading my notes, I couldn’t remember why I wrote this at first, but it was in relation to WordPress. Sometimes the platform changes. Horrid new editors are forced upon you that are inaccessible for blind people. You have to come up with a solution or give up. I didn’t want to give up, so yay for plugins that disable the new editor!

10. The internet can be a mean place, but it’s often not as bad as you think

I was really anxious about posting some of my content because I know some of my opinions are unpopular. Not with the people I know, but particularly when criticising the disability community or things that challenge the accepted way of thinking – they can bring out the trolls! It’s not that I particularly care what some troll on the internet thinks, but things can spiral out of hand quickly and it takes time and energy to manage. Fortunately I haven’t had to … yet!

11.The stats will never tell the whole story

I look at them. My number-crunching brain likes them. They are useful. But particularly when it comes to people who don’t have their own blogs, they may just read and won’t give you any idea of what impact your words had. That’s ok! We don’t all do the comment, like or share thing. That’s ok! It often amazes me how people come out with things that they can only know because they’ve been reading my blog – and I had no idea they were!

12. If you get bored with a topic, stop writing about it

I got bored doing some of the product posts, so I reduced them. People will know if your heart isn’t in something!

13. There is so much blogger junk mail

Every… single …week! Offers of high quality content directly related to my audience. People who love my blog about parenting, even though I’ve never written a parenting post in my life! People who think my audience would just love to see their infographic. Because blind people just love infographics – the clue’s in the name! Ugh!

14. Collaborations are fun

Whether that’s the swap box or the posts I did collecting views on a topic – involving others in a non-spammy way is a different way to create content and get to know other people at the same time.

15. Readers can be so kind

From comments that say “I know where you’re coming from” to those who regularly support the blog. From people who look out for things I might want to feature, to others who say the kindest things. Then there was the reader gift of new products to try that nearly made me cry because it was such a lovely thing to do!

16. You might think you’re the only one, but often many people can relate

I’m thinking about some of my opinion pieces now, and the things I don’t usually talk about…sensory difficulties, the disability-related challenges that we don’t talk about. Someone somewhere knows how it feels and might even be happy if you put it into words!

17.Blogger events aren’t actually that scary!

Admittedly I haven’t been to many, and I still think I’d find some of them a bit pretentious or be mistaken for someone’s mum, but there are low-key ones out there where it’s just everyday people writing blogs, rather than going after that perfect Instagram-worthy life that only really exists in people’s heads!

18. Beauty box fatigue is a thing

So I cancelled them all at the end of December and only restarted one in June. I’m up for looking at new and different things, but if there’s a lot of repetition and things you don’t really need, it’s not really a bargain!

19. Broken links are a pain!

I now have a plugin to tell me about them, but often shops will just pull a product and then you have a broken link. Or people will delete their site, meaning that any links to it from comments or linked posts will just lead to nowhere. This is not a great user experience for anyone wanting to visit those pages, but broken links are bad for your SEO too, so it is worth fixing them – even though it’s a boring task.

You probably aren’t surprised that I have a massive spreadsheet for logging them all!

20. This is not my job

And I’m happy about that! I have 2 businesses. I think some people put themselves under a lot of stress to monetise their blog, which sometimes leads to collaborations that look a little out of place or endorsing products that they normally wouldn’t. I’m not judging because we all need to get the bills paid, but this not being my main job means I can turn things down without measuring everything as a business opportunity. However, if I do make some money through the blog, it’s a bonus.

21. People sending out phishing emails seem to love bloggers

Your site, that you don’t host with us, will be taken down if you don’t give us your credit card details immediately! Your email address, which also wasn’t set up through us, is about to be deleted! Oh no! Give us your money quickly!

22. People don’t just read Blogmas content in December – who knew?

I think it’s because it’s linked – so someone reading a doggy post might also read dog-related Blogmas content. It just makes me smile to see those pages getting views in June!

23. You can use your blog to do good and support charities

I’ve done posts with two wolf sanctuaries, two donkey sanctuaries, and a couple with Dog’s Trust. I know that as a result, a couple of new sponsorships have been set up and that makes me really happy. I’ve found too that charities are happy about the publicity and willing to help with information requests.

24. You can reach people all over the world

Location data isn’t always accurate – people aren’t always where they claim to be – but it can give you a good idea of where your readers are. Most of mine are in the UK, but I sometimes scroll through the list of countries and am interested to see how many readers are based in other parts of the world.

25. I still have ideas!

Yes, there’s a spreadsheet for that too! I haven’t run out of ideas after 2.5 years and I still have plenty more.

Finally I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has read, commented, supported me, or contributed in some other way to the first 2.5 years of Unseen Beauty. You’re amazing!

I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

 

Trip to the Vyne – a National Trust property

It was the last day of our week off and we had been working through my list of places to visit. We decided to go to the Vyne, a former Tudor country house and grade I listed building owned by the National Trust in Hampshire.

It was a good day for it – the weather stayed dry for our entire visit, which I was particularly happy about because the Vyne is situated in spacious grounds with gardens and woodland, and you can do a number of walks.

We began by taking a look around the grounds . We even ventured into the children’s play area because there were some carved wooden creatures and insects that S wanted to show me. They were really cool, but I had to handle with care because of the bird poo! Still, I thought it was a nice feature to have in the play area, and blind people rely on tactile representations to know what small creatures and insects look like,. You can’t really touch a butterfly without hurting it.

As we arrived around lunchtime, we decided to have lunch before venturing into the house and doing our walk. The café area was quite full, so we decided to go outside and munch our sausage rolls on the picnic tables there!

We don’t have a National Trust card at the moment, but if you are likely to go back multiple times or visit other National Trust properties, it will save you money in the long-term. Disabled people can take someone with them for free. I hate the word carer and wish we could be like the more progressive countries who call them assistants or companions, rather than this archaic term, but the free ticket is definitely helpful. I would struggle to enjoy a trip to a property like this without an assistant to read information and help me get around. (This is a general comment about the term that is used everywhere, and not directed specifically at the National Trust)

If you don’t have a card, the price of your ticket depends on whether you want to go round the house as well. We did, so that was our next stop.

Your ticket for the house has a 30-minute window, during which you need to enter the house. However there is no restriction in terms of how long you can spend in there.

The house tours are self-guided, but there are plenty of volunteers around in the various rooms who are happy to give you further information or ask questions. We mainly read the information from the displays, which gave you an insight into what it was like living in the house, and the work that went into the recent restoration project. There was also an insect trail for children, which told you about the different insects that liked to munch on the wood or other items that the trust wants to preserve.

The house was built by William Sandys, who later became Henry VIII’s chamberlain, and throughout its lifetime, it had famous visitors such as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1535, Elizabeth I, and Jane Austen. Later it became a safe place for World War II evacuees.

The Vyne used to be much larger – it’s still big now, but the building is about 1/3 of its original size. I can’t imagine how much it must have taken to heat it in winter or to keep it clean!

The Vyne remained the property of the Sandys family until it was sold in the 17th century to Chaloner Chute, a barrister and speaker of the House of Commons, whose family owned it until the 20th century. They were responsible for downsizing it, but also for improving the access routes – something that had been complained about in historical documents. The Vyne was given to the National Trust in 1956.

On entering the house, there was a tactile model, which made it much easier for me to imagine the shape of the building and how the building as a whole looks.

Apart from this, as blind people go, I’m not particularly tactile when going around exhibitions. If there is a cool tactile thing, such as the statue of a horse that S found, I will touch it. But I can’t say how much can be touched otherwise, because we didn’t really ask about that and I don’t randomly touch walls and things as we’re going round!

I think the biggest surprise for me was the lay-out of the house and the way that a lot of the rooms were connected by doors, rather than all coming off a main hallway. The main bedroom had a couple of doors into it, which I’d find really disconcerting!

If you want to see how you would have looked in Victorian costumes, there are a number of items of clothing to try on. Not sure I like the image of me in a maid’s bonnet, but there was a dress that I rather liked!

It was clear from the information about the roof restoration project just how much work and how many people had been involved – sometimes taking parts of the roof apart, brick by brick, labelling the bricks so that they could be put back in exactly the right place, and then putting everything back together once the restoration work was finished. The house was fully reopened in 2018 – some parts could not be accessed during the restoration project because of the ongoing work. The project cost 5.4 million pounds.

Conservationists were also involved in a book cataloguing project, logging and restoring books from the 2500 book collection from the old library. The books can only be stored in rooms whose floors will support the substantial weight!

We didn’t buy any, but if you’re interested in second-hand books, there’s a second-hand book shop in the house, as well as the main shop on site for souvenirs or local products.

Even though there were a fair few people walking around the house, once we’d finished our tour and gone into the woods, we hardly saw anyone. Actually I think this was my favourite part, just walking around and enjoying the nature. There were a number of designated trails, depending on how long you wanted your walk to be, and there is information about the trees so that you can do bark rubbings. I didn’t, but perhaps this is something we can go back and do later.

We didn’t see any deer, but apparently they live in the woods. There were plenty of birds though, and ducks on the river. There is a clearly defined path and it was really peaceful walking around through the trees. There are also social projects, which empower people by providing them with new skills, whilst at the same time helping with the conservation work outside.

Have you been to the Vyne? Do you have a favourite National Trust property? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Life of a mature student – TM111 – my first module

I wrote some thoughts about my first module in this post about the first four months of my degree, but my idea is to write a summary post about each module once I’ve finished it. So here are some thoughts about TM111.

As the title says, it’s an introduction to computing and IT. I had some prior knowledge in a few of the areas that we covered. This definitely helped me, but I don’t think it was necessary as all of the information should be in the materials. This didn’t mean that I didn’t go elsewhere on occasion, but that was more about my learning style than a lack of information. Sometimes when you’re stuck, you just need to find someone who can explain it in a different way.
I want to write these posts in a way that’s accessible to all of my blog readers – whether or not they understand the subject matter or what I’m talking about – but if anyone wants more specific information, just let me know privately.

The content

The module is split up into three very distinct blocks. This is great in terms of helping you to focus on one thing at a time. A bit less great if you really don’t enjoy one of the blocks, but if this is the case, you do feel a sense of achievement when you get it finished and know you’ll never have to see it again!

Block 1 – the digital world. This was probably the most varied block because as well as a basic history of how computers have evolved, you get an introduction to some quite different activities from creating and manipulating sound, to designing a simple web page. There’s also an introduction to databases and some content on what you need to think about when designing new products. Each of these sections is fairly short and you get an introduction rather than a deep-dive, but I like the way that the material is varied, giving people the chance to try new things and start thinking about what they may want to focus on in later modules.

Block 2 – creating solutions. Normally I would find something like this really interesting – it was all about solving problems through designing simple programs. I’m a linguist, so learning how new languages work is right up my street. The only thing was that these concepts are introduced within a graphical programming environment that is inaccessible to blind people. So, learning the concepts was a valuable experience for me because I’ll be able to apply them in other programming contexts, but as I couldn’t do any of the practical work independently, it was less enjoyable.

I understand why things are done this way – people can get up and running and start producing programmes quickly without having to bother much about understanding how a text-based language works and the grammar rules or missing character that will break your programme, but for me, it really wasn’t fun.

Block 3 – connecting people, places, and things. This was an introduction to networking concepts, wireless communication, and the internet of things. It also looked at some of the social aspects of the way in which we use technology, as well as data security, biometrics, and the advantages and disadvantages of increased connectivity in our everyday lives. As someone whose business is carried out entirely online, I was interested to look at how people interact online.

I think some of the networking concepts could have been explained in a more straightforward way – I just looked up the information elsewhere because it felt that a lot of space was given to drawing analogies with things that we already know, whereas I just wanted to know about the thing we were supposed to be learning about and how it worked. That’s a learning style thing though. I’m sure some people would have been happy that someone took the time to try and make the concepts more relatable.

Things are changing all the time and I imagine it will be difficult to keep this really up-to-date, but I think the module raised some questions that are relevant to us today and the case studies helped us to think about people whose experience of using technology is different from our own.

Some concepts, such as maths, run through all of the blocks. Others are dealt with individually in one of the three blocks.

Assessment

The marks come from three tutor-marked assignments, which include activities to demonstrate what you’ve learned throughout the course, and three electronically marked assignments, which you complete online by answering multiple choice questions or typing specific values in the box.

I had a really helpful tutor who responded quickly to questions, made sure I had everything I needed if I was going to attend a tutorial run by someone else, and chased up some accessible materials when they went astray.

I worked hard – extra hard in some ways – but in the end I was happy with my mark and it was all worth it!

Learning as a blind student

I want to be positive because I did really enjoy doing this module, but for me it wasn’t an easy introduction into studying with the Open University as I believe the initial courses are intended to be. For me, even though the content will get harder, this was probably one of the most difficult and frustrating modules I’ll take due to the inaccessibility of a large chunk of it. Only my helpful sighted assistant and the knowledge that we’d soon be going onto other programming languages and never have to see OU Build or Scratch again kept me going – along with all the positive vibes around Christmas (because this was block 2)!

On the plus side, I could access all of the material, either as downloadable documents or as web pages on the site. Descriptions were provided for the diagrams in the material. There was an active community on the forum, which is run by the Open University, as well as a student-led Facebook group where students can socialise or ask questions.

But, even if you’re doing an open degree as I am, if you want it to be an IT-based one, there’s no getting past TM111. In many ways you wouldn’t want to either, because a lot of basic concepts are introduced that you will be building on in later modules. If you can’t use the visual programming environment because you are blind, you need to be prepared to work with a sighted assistant as there is really no other way round it if you want to complete that part of the course in its current form. The work will need to be your own, but you will have to have someone carrying out tasks for you with a mouse, and also giving you feedback about what the programmes actually do when you run them, so you can check that this is what you wanted or expected.

Most IT modules do have a degree of inaccessibility, but when comparing percentages, this is one of the highest I found, so in this respect, things will only get easier.

All information is correct at the time of writing, though of course things may change when the module is run again. If you are interested in studying it, it’s best to get the most up-to-date information directly from the Open University.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

My 2019 – products to talk about – part 2

I’ve collected together another 15 products to tell you about. I’m doing these less regularly now and not featuring repeat products. There’s less make-up now too as I don’t get through it as quickly as the skin care. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products and what you thought of them!

1. Freshly cosmetics serum

This serum from Freshly Cosmetics is part of the skincare set that I bought with a micellar water, a toner, a moisturiser and the serum. It comes in a bottle with a pipette, which is fine till you get right down to the bottom where it doesn’t quite reach. I can’t comment on the technology it mentions – I can’t say I noticed looking radically younger, but who doesn’t want pollution-blocking extracts, especially when they’re derived from natural ingredients such as broccoli and lingonberry? I enjoyed using the serum and felt it was gentle and it was comfortable to wear under my moisturiser and make-up. There are some spelling mistakes on the site, but I received good and speedy service from them.

2. Superdrug vitamin E serum

From the expensive to the budget buy. This vitamin E serum from Superdrug is about hydration, with fruit acids to help retain moisture and stimulate cell renewal. Plus points are the price and the pump bottle, which prevents the air getting in and means that the product stays fresh. It’s described as a lightweight serum, but it’s one of the thickest I’ve used, which isn’t a problem, but if you’re expecting a thinner consistency, you might get a surprise. I tried a couple of products from Superdrug’s own range, and I preferred the vitamin C serum over this one, but you could do a lot worse than this, and it does smell nice and fresh with a coconutty type scent. Despite being a bit thicker, it does absorb well, and it doesn’t sting or feel greasy, so it’s fine to use before other products in the morning.

3. Shampoo – oatmeal honey

This shampoo from Tigi Catwalk was on sale and in fact it’s still on sale as I right this now. The massive 750 ml bottles last a long time and if you like the product, it’s definitely a bargain. This one is for dry and damaged hair. I don’t have that, but as my hair is so long, I like to use moisturising products on it to make sure that the ends are taken care of. This smells like Christmas somehow – like cinnamon baking! I was happy with the shampoo and my hair was soft and silky after using it. I’d get it again.

4. Korres crocus serum

This is incredibly expensive and I only had a tiny tester to use, which isn’t enough to really know how well it works for me. But Korres is a good brand, and saffron is expensive! It’s referred to as a skincare booster, which should be followed by a serum or moisturiser. I enjoyed the couple of uses that I got out of the sample, but I’d probably wait until the crocus serum was on sale before splashing out on it!

If you’re wondering why I have so many serums in this post, I’m on a mission to use things up, and I had several that were nearly empty!

5. Rituals body lotion

I only discovered Rituals last year and I think my favourite so far is the ritual of Sakura with cherry blossom and rice milk. This whipped body cream is light and fluffy, but also rich and nourishing. Nice as a gift or when you want to treat yourself. These products smell amazing, leave your skin feeling soft for ages and make you feel special. I am slowly trying out other ranges, but I think this is going to be the one I like most.

6. Mango shower gel

Could I do a product post without mentioning something from the Body Shop mango range? I don’t think so. Recently I used up their mango shower gel which I got for my birthday and which is my favourite shower gel from the Body Shop. I just love the mango goodness!

If you like Body Shop products, don’t forget that they have a new recycling scheme – I posted about it recently.

7. Madara mask

I got this Madara SOS instant moisture plus radiance hydra mask in a giveaway that Sussex Sandra was doing on her YouTube channel. I mentioned that I liked moisturising masks and she sent me some, which was really nice of her. This one was a multi-use mask in a tube. I really like Madara products, both for the quality and the way that they live up to their promises on moisturising. It says you can leave the mask on or wipe off after 20 minutes. I just left it on and let it soak in overnight. I also like the way that these products are described on the site – they tell you what’s in it without making ridiculous claims. I first discovered this brand in the Lovelula boxes, which was my first venture into more natural products.

8. From dusk till dawn serum

Laidbare is another brand that I discovered in the Lovelula boxes, and I did like a number of their products. However, this serum was not for me. It is a rejuvenating and hydrating vitamin C serum. Oil-based serums are fine, but I found this one felt particularly greasy and although I don’t think it’s a bad product, I didn’t like it very much. You might like it more if you use more oils in your skincare regime.

9. Rêve de Miel cream

I’d heard bout Nuxe products, but I didn’t try any until I got a gift set for Christmas. I think my friends know I like skincare by now, but it’s always great to try something I haven’t had before! My friend got it right too because this product is for dry skin. This is the day cream. It says “treat your skin with the restorative power of honey” and contains honey and precious oils. It’s a luxurious cream and it feels as though you’re giving your face a treat! I’d like to try more from the range!

10. Nuxe hand cream

I also got the hand cream from the same range in the Christmas set. This is a non-greasy handcream with honey and sunflower. I popped mine in my handbag – it’s a good one to use on the go because it is good for moisturising your hands and cuticles, but it absorbs quickly for when you’re out and about.

11. Body Shop rose hand cream

This was one of the products in my advent calendar from last year. I thought the large hand creams were just for Christmas, but you can still get the rose one in the larger size now. It’s fine as hand creams go, but I prefer roses in the garden and not on me. When do we get to see the mango range in this size?

12. Elemis marine cream

I only had a small sample of this, not surprising really when you consider the price, though at the time of writing there is a discount at John Lewis, so I used that link. There has been a lot of hype about the marine cream lately. I like Elemis as a brand and I enjoyed using the sample. However I do think you can get creams that also give good results, but are at a cheaper price point.

13. Body Shop almond milk and honey body lotion

I thought I’d tried everything from the almond milk and honey range, but I hadn’t seen this before I got it in the advent calendar and I’m sold! The body lotion is thinner than the butter and comes in a squeezy tube. I like to use it especially if I’ve had an allergic reaction and I want something kind and gentle on my skin. For me it seems to have soothing properties too. I’ve already bought another tube of it!

14. Pomegranate hand cream from Wileda

I really liked the body lotion from this line, so when I noticed in Ocado that there was a hand cream too, I decided to try that as well. The Wileda pomegranate hand cream smells great and does what it says on the tube. No synthetic chemicals and another brand like the Body Shop that doesn’t test on animals.

15. Lavera night cream

Sometimes those little sachets that people seem to like complaining about actually pay off! I got a sample of this night cream and was so impressed with it that I went and got some! It’s a very lightweight cream – I have used it in the day before too – but leaves your skin feeling really smooth and soft in the morning, so don’t be put off by the light consistency – it is hydrating too. And though this shouldn’t be a key selling point – it smells amazing!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products and what you thought of them!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested, and I give honest reviews.

 

Why I’m glad that I learned languages at school

I can’t contribute much to the current debate about whether the new language exams are too hard – I haven’t seen them. I do remember though, back when I did my school exchange with a school in Germany, and based on my experience of teaching current German students, that the expectations seem lower here in terms of what students should be able to accomplish in another language. Lowering the bar might make the subjects more appealing again, but overall, English students won’t have a competitive advantage in the job market if the language qualification doesn’t count for as much, or require as much effort as other European counterparts have had to put in.

I was at school before the decision was taken in 2004 to make languages a non-compulsory subject at GCSE. I think there are individual circumstances in which this makes sense, but overall I believe this was a step in the wrong direction. Since then, take-up of languages at A-levels has also been falling overall, with German falling by 45% since 2010 *see this article from the Guardian). Still, things are looking up for Mandarin!

I’m biased, because languages were some of my favourite subjects, but here are some of the reasons why I enjoyed learning languages at school.

They opened up a new world and new people to talk to

Knowledge is only really useful when you find some way to take it out of the classroom. Many people don’t do this or don’t have the opportunity to, which is why I think some students in the UK feel that learning another language isn’t relevant.

Once I got a taste for languages though, I started finding reasons to use them. My German pen-pals. My school exchange and the lovely host family. Some German relatives of local friends. Later new people that I met online. I got to travel outside my local town and discover other perspectives, other ways of doing things, and challenge some of my own ideas.

Something I could be good at

It wasn’t the smartest choice, but at school I always spent extra time on the things I was already good at, rather than using it for the things where I really needed more practice. But I enjoyed languages and however well I did in them, there was always more to learn and discover. There were things that I needed help with in everyday school life, but I understood how the languages we were learning worked, so I had something to offer others too.

I like patterns!</h3

I have creative moments occasionally, but languages made sense to me because if you take some time to learn the rules, you will be allowed to play the game, and importantly, not make mistakes. There will always be exceptions – “exceptions confirm the rules” was one of our German conversation teacher’s favourite sayings! But rules give things structure, and if you can understand the structure, you can understand the thing. There’s a logic to it – you just need to invest a bit of time at the beginning.

My blindness isn’t relevant

Ok, it may have been relevant for picture-based learning activities or watching movies, but we didn’t do much of that at school. My listening skills probably came in useful, and as long as I had access to the texts that we were working on, it was a completely level playing field, in a way that some more visual subjects weren’t. This may not have been the case if I’d been learning languages with different writing systems – there is always a way – but for French and German it certainly wasn’t a consideration. I did both at GCSE level and then went on to do a German A-level.

I think it was one of the first times I realised I could do something that the sighted people around me couldn’t do. I remember interpreting for some friends and feeling really good about being able to facilitate the conversation between people who would otherwise not have been able to communicate. They helped me get around the unfamiliar places that we visited, but I had a role to play too – and that made me happy!

Learning other languages helps you to understand your own language better

Training to become an English teacher definitely does that as well, but when you start learning about tenses, sentence structure, and ways to communicate ideas in other languages, it helps you to understand how your native language works too. If you’re a language nerd, it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities.

They were useful for my career

Well, German was. I haven’t done anything with my French since leaving school, but I remained interested in German. For many years it was just a hobby – something I did in my free time. Originally the only suggestions people could come up with were interpreting (too stressful), sales (not my idea of fun!), and translating. Translating was the most appealing out of the three, and I do some translation now, but I didn’t want to spend all of my time doing it.

I now work as an English teacher for adults, most of whom come from German-speaking countries, so I speak and write German every day. So the basic knowledge that I picked up at school is still helping me now, though it took longer for me to actually feel comfortable speaking.

Other languages

After finding out that I enjoyed learning languages, I tried a couple of others after I left school – Hindi and Turkish. German is the only one that I really kept up with, although I can still understand a fair bit of Turkish. I keep saying I’ll maybe go back to it some day.

I think understanding basic principles of grammar – having parts of the language that perform different functions, and the fact that you have to do things in a certain order for the language to work, also makes it easier for me to understand the coding languages that I’m learning in my IT degree.

So overall, learning languages opened up a lot of opportunities for me and it was one of my favourite things to do at school.

How was the experience for you? Did you love or hate your French or German lessons, or did you learn a different language? Have you used the skills since? Let me know in the comments.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Our visit to Island Farm donkey sanctuary

​I’ve always like donkeys. I think they’re cool and I’ve supported various donkey charities over the years, but the only time I tried to visit one, it was out of season and the sanctuary was closed to the public. One donkey came up to the fence to bray at us, but it wasn’t the same as going inside!

So one of the things I put on our list of things to do on our week off was visit a donkey sanctuary. I discovered the Island farm Donkey Sanctuary near Wallingford in Oxfordshire and we drove there on a sunny day, earlier this week.

There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated and you can also support the sanctuary in other ways such as by adopting a donkey, or buying gifts from the shop. The sanctuary is open every day apart from Christmas day from 11 till 4, and they sometimes hold special events. There is one planned for the 2nd Bank Holiday weekend in May (2019) so check out the site if you’d like to go!

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the donkeys, though children should be supervised to ensure they don’t scare the donkeys and any treats should be given in at reception. It’s hard to make sure that all donkeys have a balanced diet if people give them too many treats, and some of the donkeys are on special diets, which means certain foods would be harmful to them.

When we arrived, we saw a lot of donkeys out in their fields. The donkeys are in various fields with groups ranging in size. Donkeys like company!

Speaking of company – going on a weekday during term-time was great, because when we were walking around, there was hardly anyone else there apart from a couple of visitors and people who worked there. I like donkeys more than people!

There was also some information around on the walls to teach visitors about donkeys, what they like to eat, differences between horses and donkeys, and further information about individual donkeys who live at the sanctuary.

After popping into reception, we were encouraged to walk around the grounds and see the donkeys. Many of them were behind electric wire fences. I did reach across to pat one who came right up to us, but I don’t suggest that anyone else does that! Also we later found that some of the donkeys were wandering around on the path area, so I could get up close and talk to a couple of them who were grazing or standing around in the sunshine. As someone who can’t see the animals, I’m always especially happy if I can get to meet some!

They didn’t solicit attention like your average golden retriever! Well maybe they would if they know you, or if they know you’ve come to feed them! But they stood still while I stroked and talked to them, with one of them twitching his ear in my direction. I think they like to know what’s going on!

Jack was definitely up for a stroke, and stood patiently while we had a chat.

Pollyanna must have been tired, because she was chilling out on the floor, happy for me to stroke her lovely silky coat!

Many of the donkeys come to the sanctuary with problems associated with neglect, such as skin problems, parasites, and worst of all, overgrown hooves. These are very painful and if not treated, can lead to problems with walking. This of course means extra vet bills to get the problems sorted out.

The donkeys seemed content, chomping at the grass, or trying to get their friends to play!

As well as around 120 donkeys, and over 50 more living with foster families, there are other animals at the sanctuary such as a couple of Shetland ponies, some chickens, goats, and a pig!

The donkeys have plenty of space to graze and enjoy the sunshine, and as they don’t like getting wet, there are also shelters for when it rains. Some of the ones whom I stroked had been enjoying a roll around, which keeps the pesky flies at bay, and also helps to remove any loose hair.

Some of the donkeys are active in the local community, attending fairs, starring in nativity plays, or taking part in country shows. This raises the profile of the work of the sanctuary and introduces new people to the donkeys. The donkeys have also starred in some TV shows – from animal rescue programmes to children’s TV.

I wanted to support one of the donkeys and decided to adopt Loppy, a 32-year-old mare who has what are believed to be the longest ears (around 45 cm) of any female donkey in the country. She came down from Scotland in 1996 and was bought at a livestock market and offered to the donkey sanctuary where she would have a good home. Loppy is an Andalusian donkey, which is in danger of becoming extinct. Loppy is one of the larger donkeys at 14.2 hands, but she is very gentle and friendly. You can read more about Loppy here.

You could sponsor a donkey at reception, but I chose to just do it myself online because I wanted to take my time and read through the individual stories.

I could complete the adoption process using my screenreader. The only slightly tricky thing was the payment types, because they were neither radio buttons nor check boxes, so a blind user can’t be sure which payment method had been selected because there was no feedback apart from the fact that it was highlighted visually. But I chose the one I wanted and hoped for the best – and it worked!

I would recommend this as a place to visit for anyone who loves animals or who wants to learn a bit more about donkeys.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

_

The Body Shop – earn rewards for recycling your empty product packaging

It’s not just kitchen waste that needs to be recycled. It’s sometimes a bit more difficult with beauty products in terms of identifying exactly which bottles and tubes can be recycled, but it’s something we need to take seriously because so much waste from beauty products ends up in landfill, or even worse, in the ocean.

Yesterday I heard about someone diving to the deepest part of the ocean, only to find sweet wrappers and a plastic bag down there. We have to do better.

Some shops are going down the route of naked products – with no packaging, but this can be quite messy, and it’s not suitable for all product types. The Body Shop has a different strategy. If you have a Love Your Body® card, and it’s really easy to sign up if you don’t, you can earn £5 on your card for every 5 eligible products that you return.

Once the empty product containers have been collected, they are either recycled, or repurposed and made into new products, such as park benches children’s play equipment.

In order to receive the £5 reward, you have to return 5 eligible containers at the same time. They must be clean, so wash them out first. A shop assistant does it with you, so you can find out exactly what can go in the recycling container, and the shop assistant will update your card with the reward points. The reward could take up to 48 hours to appear on your account, but after that, your points will be available to spend.

You can also return recyclable packaging from other brands, but this will not count towards your 5 products that qualify for a reward.

Some types of packaging are exempt, such as cardboard boxes, although these should go in your home recycling. Single wrappers from things such as soaps or bath bubbles are not part of the scheme. Also, you can’t recycle perfume bottles or anything that contains alcohol.

Bottles, tubs, pots, and tubes should be fine. There is no comprehensive list on the Return, Recycle, Repeat page, but this is where you can find further information. Also, this information is correct in May 2019, but if you’re visiting my site after this time, it’s best to check the terms and conditions directly on the Body Shop site.

Most stores are taking part in the scheme, but there are a few exclusions, so check the list on the above link to make sure that your local store is taking part.

Doing the right thing for the planet should be enough of a reward, but I think it’s a great idea that the Body Shop is offering this scheme to encourage people to recycle. There are plenty of little treats that you can get for £5, or you could save up points on your card and put them towards something else (points are valid for three months).

What do you think –have you heard of this service? Will you be using it? Let me know in the comments.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Broadlands country show a day out for all the family

Recently I’ve taken to signing up for tourist information so I know what’s going on. I can’t see flyers or adverts for upcoming events, so the alerts and newsletters work well for me because they come directly by email and I can look through to see if there’s anything we would enjoy.

That’s how I found out about the Broadlands Country show that was held in the grounds of Broadlands country house near Romsey over the bank holiday weekend.

It’s a day out for all the family. We saw lots of families with children, and plenty of visitors brought their dogs along too. Parking was free, and there were various events and displays throughout the weekend.

We decided to go on the Monday. After buying our programme and getting inside, one of the first animals I met was a very friendly Labrador. He was competing in the gun dog trials and very eager to meet some new people!

I enjoyed walking through the big tent with all the animals. I believe there were some competitions going on, and some of the animals were getting ready for those. I heard lots of chickens, ducks, and some very noisy cockerels, who sounded as though they were all competing with one another to see who could be the loudest.

S described the chickens, ducks, and fluffy bunnies as we walked past, and some of the animals could be stroked. This is how I met my first ferret – I knew roughly what shape they are, but didn’t know how big they were or what they felt like. I think the one we met was a bit shy, but he was happy enough to get a gentle stroke.

I also met some cute guinea pigs!

At lunchtime we got a table near where the falconry displays were going on. We had already walked round the falconry section and spotted a harris hawk and a very sleepy owl, but from the table I was in a good position to hear the handlers talking about the birds and how they trained them.

There were various options available for lunch from burgers and hog roast to a noodle bar.

We didn’t end up trying any of the activities, but there was a climbing wall for children, as well as things like crossbow shooting! I wonder how good I would be at that?!

As well as the displays and activities, there were a lot of stalls where you could buy locally-produced goods such as food and craft items. A bit like the kind of stalls that you see at a Christmas market. We were tempted in by the fudge stall (mmm chocolate orange, banana, and coffee fudge!), and I also stopped by the woodcraft stall to get a new fruit bowl and an owl door stop! Just because I needed a couple more owls for my collection. My grandad was really good at making things out of wood, and I guess that’s why I like them.

I also found a little donkey brooch, and S got me some owl earrings. It was meant to be a surprise, but the lady on the stall started talking about them, so I guessed there was something owl-related that was being bought in secret.

Some of the stalls were more for people interested in falconry or dog training so that they could pick up new equipment or supplies, but there was plenty to see if you were just a regular visitor.

On our way back, we stopped by at the gun dog trials to get some pictures and see what they were up to and how they worked with their handlers.

The good weather definitely helped, but it was a fun day out and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of going next year.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

How far should we really go when fixing other people’s problems?

It’s one of those rambly posts with more questions than answers, so be warned if you’re not a fan of those!

People wear me out sometimes – in a way that my dog never did!

Not all people – although having a job, which I love, but which involves a lot of people contact, I do get to the point where I’m all peopled out sometimes and just want to be left alone in the bath or with my book. This doesn’t include S – but sometimes if I’m feeling overstimulated, the last thing I want is more social interaction.

But no, I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about the comments I read on social media or blog posts.

“You should cut her out of your life”

“Demand that they”

“You need this right now…”

“You’ll never feel better unless you”

“Your problem is that you…”

“you need to eat more/less/try … and then you’ll feel better/then your medically diagnosed condition will be gone! I know that, even though I have no qualifications and don’t actually know anything about your problem or medical history!”

You get the idea.

When did we all become such experts about what complete strangers should do with their lives, and why do we have to be so emotionally charged and demanding? How can we sound like we have the definitive answer when we might not fully understand the problem? We go straight in there with our solutions, without even fully understanding the context or what consequenses our great advice might have. Hey, it might even make the problem worse – but never mind. The main thing is we were seen to contribute somehow!

It makes my head hurt!

It’s not that I haven’t fought for my rights or put people in their place or made sure that someone did their job properly. But all this advice about someone else’s life? Is it really justified, when we can never completely have all the facts from a few lines on Facebook? Isn’t there a better way to show we care?

Ok, there are stories online that just make me angry or incredibly sad. There are stories that make me want to get involved and offer up a suggestion of something that I’ve tried. There are times when I see a way out of a situation, or just want to tell someone to hang in there because I don’t actually have anything useful to add, but I equally don’t want to just click on past as ifI hadn’t seen it.

But sometimes people aren’t actually asking for our advice. They just want a place to offload their feelings, or someone to listen in a world of people growing gradually worse at doing just that.Listening. Without interrupting or offering well-meaning, but unqualified advice.

Paper, or rather a laptop keyboard, is patient. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t chime in with “yes I had a vaguely related but completely different situation like that and I…”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t empathise, but so often people don’t even get a chance to finish their story because someone else is champing at the bit to add their input, give some advice, or share how they felt in a similar situation. But it’s not about them right now. It’s about the person who wants to share.

I wasn’t going to write about this today. It wasn’t on my list of blogging ideas. But it just kind of hit me as I was reading the comments on someone else’s post. I felt a bit sorry for her.

If any complete stranger starts a comment with “you’ve got to” it immediately makes me want to say “no I haven’t”. Childish? Maybe. But I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times! Never mind by a complete stranger! You win me over with reasoned arguments. There are a couple of people who I’ll listen to just because of who they are – I value their opinion whatever it is – but that kind of respect has to be earned and that list isn’t very long!

Have you considered …? Do you think it would help if …? Have you heard about …? Did you know that …? … might help. You could try …

Sometimes I think people just want to be seen as publicly helping, or an expert on a particular topic, and it’s not even about the one who wants help.

Also, the thing I did before reading random blog comments involved offering up suggestions on a Facebook post – one that was written by someone whom I don’t know, whose child I don’t know, and who lives in a country with a completely different school system to the one I know. She did actually want advice, and hopefully mine helped, but I hope I didn’t boss her around like some of the other comments I’ve seen today.

I think most of the time we want to help. When it’s our friends, we want to be seen to be giving support. We genuinely care. Sometimes it makes us rage to see friends being treated badly or taken advantage of.

I know how that feels to want to charge in and put a friend’s world to rights. But sometimes you can push people further away if you do that. Nobody wins. As long as that friend knows they can come to you for help when they need it…

We can’t make other people’s decisions for them.

Then there are the Facebook rants where people want all their friends to agree. We only ever get one side of the story.

If a friendship falls apart and someone starts ranting on social media – is the other person really to blame, or just a bit more classy because they’re not up for a Facebook mud-slinging match? Is the person who shouts the loudest always right? How much fake news is there in our own newsfeeds because people only present the part of the problem that doesn’t make themselves look bad? How much do we question what we read so that we can get the full context before jumping on the bandwagon and condemning people who have no right to reply because they’re not even aware of what is being written about them?

I’m just churning out questions here, but it’s something I’ve kept noticing, so I decided to write about it.

It’s not that I’m anti-social media either. Yes, there are some bad practices that need to be challenged, but ultimately social media is just a tool that we can either use well or badly. The choice is ours.

People have been giving unwanted or really bad advice for years and years – think of some of the crazy wives’ tales. But social media does give us a microphone to reach further than our immediate circle of friends, and that is something new.

So yes, go and help people, give them advice if you can, show you care, encourage people to stand up for themselves when others want to keep them down. But don’t tell people how to run their lives, what diet they should try, what they’re doing wrong, or the only thing that will work if they want to fix their problems. Often there are many solutions and what worked once for you might not work this time. Offer suggestions, but the final choice is not yours to make.

The daft part about this is that people who read my blog probably aren’t the people who would do any of these things. That’s the other problem.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

 

 

Pong a monthly cheese subscription

When I was doing the “gifts that keep giving” post for Blogmas, I was intrigued by the number of cheese subscription boxes that are available. There’s plenty to choose from in different price ranges and I recently had a look at some of the options. This post is not sponsored – I just love cheese and wanted to tell you about it!

I narrowed it down to two subscriptions and the final decision was made by the sign-up process. One was accessible to me as a blind shopper using a screenreader and no mouse, and the other one wasn’t. It’s not difficult to guess which one I went for, but there’s a lesson in there about site design and customer experience. We go for the path of least resistance. We won’t necessarily say “hey your site’s inaccessible”, because it’s just quicker and easier to go to the competition!

Anyway – back to the cheese!

What did I get?

I went for the Pong cheese subscription – love the name – from Pong Cheese! You can choose how often you want your box and there are ways to customise it such as no goat’s cheese, no blue cheese, or vegetarian only. I didn’t tick any of the boxes for mine. You can also go for the premium selection to get an extra special cheese.

The box arrived by mail and it was well-packed, with a couple of cooling packs. There were four cheeses inside:

  • Petit Munster – a soft cheese made from milk produced by cows living in the regions between Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté in France. It’s traditionally eaten with boiled potatoes, cumin seeds and a glass of wine.
  • Lincolnshire poacher – this is a cheddar-style cheese, matured for 15-20 months and produced in Lincolnshire. It’s made using unpasteurised cows’ milk and traditional rennet. It has a nutty taste and is somewhere between a farmhouse cheddar and a Swiss mountain cheese in terms of the flavour.
  • Cravet – a delicate, Italian goat’s milk cheese, made in the Piemonte region of Italy.
  • Roquefort – a French blue cheese that according to legend, came about because a lovestruck young farmer left his lunch behind in a cave after being distracted by a beautiful woman. He returned for it several months later, and the Penicillium Roqueforti mould had transformed his cheese sandwich into Roquefort!

The cheese comes with tasting information in the form of a leaflet. I couldn’t read this due to my visual impairment, but after contacting the customer service team at Pong Cheese, I received the information by email so I could write it up for you and also know more about what I was eating.

What did I think of the cheeses?

I’m not a professional cheese tester, but here goes….

The first to be eaten up were the Lincolnshire Poacher and the Cravet. The Lincolnshire Poacher was similar to cheddar, but with a different flavour to anything I’d tried before – slightly dryer, less crumbly.

I hadn’t realised the goat’s cheese rind was edible, but probably wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. This was the smallest cheese, with the typical goat’s cheese taste, but not too strong.

The Munster was a creamy spreadable cheese – quite spicy in flavour, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t try it with cumin seeds, though I could imagine this working well.

If you don’t like strong blue cheese, you probably won’t enjoy the Roquefort as much. I did eat some, but I can’t put it away in such large quantities as I can other cheeses!

Overall I thought there was a good mix of cheeses and I’ll be interested to see what’s in next month’s box!

What do you think?

I wanted to try this out because it’s a way to try new things that I otherwise might not think about picking up to try. The information lets you know a bit more about how and where the cheese is produced, which, as well as being interesting, might help you to discover other things that you like.

Pong Cheese also has a shop, so you can buy other things there such as a selection of themed cheese boxes and hampers.

Have you tried anything like this? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.