Pip box in October – cruelty-free subscription box

At the end of October, I got the 2nd of the three birthday Pip boxes that my mum got for my birthday. So yes, this is gifted, but not by the brand and therefore not sponsored.

These boxes come out at the end of the month, which is why I review them at the beginning of the following month. I thought there was a good range of products again this time, with only one new brand for me, but I’ve been wanting to try some other products from the brands that I new, so this gave me a chance to do that. All the products are cruelty-free and vegan – I’m not vegan, but if you’re specifically looking for a vegan box for yourself or a friend, I’d say this is a good one to try.

I ended up keeping four out of the five products this time, but that’s only because I prefer cream blushes. The person who got the blusher is happy with it, so my not keeping the product is no reflection on its quality.

Skin care for the body

We got a pouch of the sweet orange hand Cream by Sknfed. This is a new brand for me, and I like the packaging – it feels less wasteful because it’s a soft pouch and you can squeeze out every drop. It also takes up less space in your handbag – I just need to make sure I don’t puncture it with anything sharp!

The hand cream has a fairly strong orange scent, which is good because I like anything citrusy. I’m always in need of hand cream, so I thought this was a good thing to put in the November box. The hand cream contains shea butter and cocoa butter, but it’s fairly thin, so you need to watch out that you don’t get too much~!

Skincare for the face

The pomegranate regenerating Sleeping Mask by Dr Botanicals

has been doing the rounds in beauty boxes for a while, but this is the first time that I’ve got one, so I was happy to try it out. As the name suggests, you apply a thin layer to clean skin and leave the mask on overnight, cleansing as usual in the morning.

It doesn’t have a strong scent, and it’s full of antioxidants to smoothen and brighten your skin while you sleep. This was new for me because most of the overnight masks that I use are moisturising ones. I rarely put overnight masks on directly before going to bed because I want to give them a bit of time to sink in – nobody wants mask all over the pillow – but you don’t have to worry with this one as it absorbs fairly quickly and doesn’t leave your face feeling sticky.

Haircare

I’ve used sheet masks from Vitamasques before, but I didn’t know that they do haircare too. We had a reusable sachet of the blossom hair masque, which contains evening primrose and cherry blossom, and is recommended as a deep conditioning hair treatment.

I don’t overdo it with styling or hours in the sunshine, but my hair is very long and that’s why I like to give it a deep conditioning treatment a couple of times a month. I find I can’t use some of the haircare products that you get in boxes, but I can use this and I’m always happy to see hair masks. It’s also a decent size for if you have a lot of hair – some are tiny!

Bathtime

We got a 50ml bottle of the Sensual rose bubble bath and shower gel from Kathleen. It comes in two sizes – 50ml and 150ml.

You can buy me roses, but I’m not usually too fond of rose-scented products. However, this one also contains orange and nutmeg, so the rose isn’t quite as strong, which I think makes it more pleasant. It’s not my favourite from the range, but it was good to try it out and see what other people do to make a rose scent a bit less rosy!

Makeup

I can’t review the paradise Blush from Manna Kadar because I passed it on. It was a little pot of mineral blush, and I didn’t keep it as I don’t use this type of product. Still, it was a nice addition to the box and I know it is being used and enjoyed!

What do you think?

All in all I was pleased with this box. Keeping four of five products isn’t bad, I got to try a new brand, and the other things are products that I will use or have already used. In fact only the handcream is left!

Have you used any of these products before? What did you think of the products? Let me know in the comments and if you want to take a look at the Pip Box, you can check out their website.

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10 things for companies to consider when approaching blind content creators about blindness-related products

I’ve had some interesting conversations recently with people doing research, and others who are developing or have developed products for visually impaired people. I mean interesting in the original sense of the word – I like to understand how people go about creating things, and hope that I could give them some insight into how I do things, or what I’m looking for in products and services.

I’m generally happy to give ideas on things or help people with market research when I can, especially if they’re students or small companies, because I believe the best way to create really good products is to understand your audience. That’s not easy if you don’t fit into your own audience demographic, i.e. blind people.

I’m a bit more protective of my little space when it comes to promoting things – I do promote things that I like and have used, but I don’t take pre-written content or talk about things that I haven’t tried myself.

The thing is, blind people can be compared to any other large group of people. Take dog owners for example. If you have a Chihuahua, your needs might be different from someone with a German shepherd. If you have a senior dog, you’ll have different needs and expectations to someone with a puppy. It’s the same with blind people – we’re not all one big homogenous group, so it really pays to do some research, narrow down your target audience if you can, and where possible, , find the people who are most likely to benefit from what you have to offer.
Sometimes you’ll have no idea if someone will be in your target audience, but the “blind or low vision” tick box often is not enough. You need to develop your ideal customer persona a bit further.

When you’ve done that, you still might not know if the content creators you find online will be like your customer persona, but it will help you understand why or why they may not be interested in a new product or service.

1. Are you meeting a need?

It’s the same with any product or service – are people looking for the thing that you want to create? Is it fixing a real problem that people have?

If so, great! If not, you could be spending a lot of time on something that people won’t buy. If it’s partially true, then you need to find a way of reaching those people who are most likely to need it. Are they for example younger people, people with less advanced technology skills, or people who speak multiple languages.

I have the feeling that some product designers start with the question “what would I find difficult if I were suddenly unable to see?” However, anyone who has been blind for some time will have developed strategies for doing things, and the things that you anticipate being the most difficult, might actually not be the biggest problems.

Sometimes I think people charge through into the creation stage because they’re eager to get on with things, whereas they could save themselves some time and trouble by seeing how viable the idea really is. It can be useful to have a prototype, especially as blind people may not be able to see your sketches, but if you want to sell a product, all the usual market research stages still apply.

I remember a friend coming to visit me at home and being surprised how “normal” it looked. If I need something to be different, I’ll buy a specialist device – such as a tactile watch – but where the thing that everyone else is using will do the job for me too, that would be my preference. I think sometimes this idea can get a bit lost. If you’re marketing to Harry Potter fans, they’ll like things that automatically make them stand out as Harry Potter fans. In terms of other differences, particularly those that we don’t choose, we don’t always want to draw attention to them.

2. Are there things already on the market that do the same thing?

We’re living in the age of mobile phones and multi-purpose technology. Most of my time is spent not far away from my laptop or my phone. There is still a place for specialist equipment, but why take 4 devices out with you when you could take a phone with apps that do all of the things that the other devices could have done?

There are some exceptions – I do have a colour detector device – it was expensive, and it detects colours better than its app counterparts. But, for example, if people offer me reading devices, I’d rather take the OCR apps that are already in my phone.

Other people may see this differently, especially people who are not as reliant on technology generally, or maybe children that don’t necessarily have other devices.

Some people want extra functionality. Others want an interface that is as simple as possible and requires very little time spent learning how it works.

There will be things that I see as unnecessary, whereas other people will love them – but it is worth checking out the market first to make sure that the thing you want to design doesn’t exist already, or the need isn’t being met in some other way.

3. Are you approaching someone in the right country?

Just leaving this here. I have been asked to promote events in other countries – not even longer conferences that it might warrant taking a flight for. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about stories from other countries – I find them interesting – but a lot of my audience is UK-based, so a local event in the US would be better [promoted by people closer to it.

4. Is the person the right age group?

I know this may be harder to tell if the person doesn’t post any or many photos, but you can get a bit of an idea when you look at the things that they right about. A teenager will give you different feedback from someone like me in their late 30s. Maybe you need both, and that’s cool, but if your product is specifically aimed at a certain demographic, it’s best to find people who fit that description.

Sometimes it won’t matter. I’ve been a child, so I can give my opinion on toys for blind children, but I don’t know what it’s like to be over 40 or to be living in student accommodation in 2019.

5. Is the person interested in your topic?

Again, you might not know, but don’t be offended if they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how good your football app is, I’ll never use it because I don’t like football. Sometimes it feels like people take things personally because they wanted to do something good, but just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will use it. That’s not negative, that’s just product marketing! I don’t buy every product aimed at women in their 30s, brides-to-be, or dog-lovers either!

If it’s a really specific thing though, it pays to do a bit of research. I sometimes wonder in the past why I’ve been contacted about mummy blogger campaigns! Use your resources wisely!

. Is your customer journey accessible?

Are your website and the thing that you’re promoting accessible? You may well not know that, in which case it’s good to get some input from screenreader users etc, but if you want people to promote a product that has a completely inaccessible website or interface, you may find considerable reluctance on the part of blind content creators until the site is sorted and we can promote it with a good accessibility conscience.

7. Does the person accept guest/sponsored content?

Some people don’t display this information. I do, but people often don’t read it.

I don’t take any prewritten content. I do work with companies, but only to promote things that I would genuinely use.

8. Do they have the right degree of vision?

I can’t comment on anything that magnifies things because I don’t have the vision for that. Again you might not know unless you ask, but don’t take it personally if someone says “no” to talking about something they will never be able to use.

9. Are you making any assumptions that could turn people off?

I wrote a whole post about myths and stereotypes here. Sometimes the life as someone with a visual impairment is very different from the image portrayed in the media. Also, when you’ve met one blind person, you’ve met one blind person. They don’t speak for all the others. Their strengths and struggles are not necessarily representative. This is why it’s good to get a broad sample of views so that you can look for trends.

10 Don’t expect free advertising!

I do give free advertising sometimes – usually when I’ve discovered things that I think are really cool! I don’t charge when I promote charities or organisations that I think are doing great work. But if you do stand to make money from something, it is a business transaction. Even if it was especially designed for blind people, you shouldn’t start the discussion with the expectation that you will get free advertising from blind content creators. There are costs associated with running a blog – material costs, as well as the time and effort to build an engaged audience. It’s not fair to expect to benefit from those things without contributing anything.

Oh, and if someone says “no thanks”, please don’t spam their other completely unrelated posts with links to your products. The comments will probably get binned, and it doesn’t look good for the company. Unfortunately this has happened to me.

Summing up

I like conversations, so keep them coming if you want to ask me about a product or idea that you think would help blind people, or that may be of interest. Remember too though that I’m more than that – I’m a woman who has many of the same interests as other women my age and I am much more than my blindness.

My main point for writing the article was to try and highlight the vast experience, needs, preferences and available budget when it comes to advertising to blind people.

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New skincare in October – the Lovelula subscription box

It’s November already, but I like to give things a try before I write about them. That’s why I’m talking about the October Lovelula box today. This is not a sponsored post – I paid for the box myself and wanted to talk about its contents with you in case some of you are interested in trying out a new natural and cruelty-free subscription (I don’t receive a commission if you do!)

So, what was in the box this month?

Balmonds Intensive Facial Oil

This facial oil is my favourite product from the box this month. I hadn’t heard of the brand before, and I’m only really just getting back into facial oils. Apart from the ingredients, the packaging really makes or breaks them for me, because I don’t like the ones that have a big old neck and can make a mess because they come out too fast. No chance of that happening here though because it comes with a pipette, so you can get as much as you need in an easy, controlled way.

The product costs £22 at the time of writing, which is more than I paid for the entire box. It says you can use it as an overnight treatment, which is what I’ve been doing.

It contains rosehip oil, lavender, palmarosa, chamomile essential oils, along with cold-pressed sunflower and calendula oils. It doesn’t have an overpowering lavender scent and leaves my face feeling really soft after use.

Dr Botanicals Cocoa & Coconut Superfood Reviving Hydrating Mask

This was my second favourite this month. I’ve tried a couple of products from Dr Botanicals before, but I hadn’t heard of this wash-off mask before.

You apply it to a clean face, leave for five to ten minutes, then wash off. It contains cocoa butter to moisturise, and coconut oil to rehydrate and protect the skin. I really think my skin is enjoying some of these more gentle products and although I usually tend to go for rehydration masks that you leave on overnight, I enjoyed trying something new and will keep this in my skincare routine.

Seascape Island Apothecary Uplift Body Lotion

Laidbare Pac

I was a bit surprised to see another body lotion because we had one in the September box. I don’t mind, because I get through quite a lot of the stuff, but I can imagine some people not being so happy about another one so soon.

To be honest, I ddid prefer last month’s one because it had a citrus scent, whereas for me, this one is predominantly lavender. I do like lavender, but more in my bath than on my skin afterwards.

It’s a nice body lotion though, and something that I’ll definitely use. It also contains lime and eucalyptus, along with beeswax and shea butter to moisturise the skin. Maybe if the lime could be a little more promenant?

Laidbare Pack Your Bags Eye Cream

Laidbare is a budget-friendly brand, and anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will have seen me raving about their sunflower hand cream! I hadn’t tried their eye cream before, so I was interested to give it a go. It’s a generous size and aims to target dark circles, as well as provide moisture around the delicate eye area.

To be honest, I have more eye creams than a girl could need, but that isn’t Lovelula’s fault, because they didn’t come from these subscription boxes.

Mossa Glow Cocktail Serum

We also got a sample of the glow cocktail serum, but I think you’d really need to try it out for longer to see whether it really works. It is something that I would consider using though, and contains vitamin C for a brighter complexion. I keep seeing cloudberries coming up in ingredients and really should find out more about them.

Overall thoughts

I think it’s another good box. I’ve discovered two new brands, and tried out some products from three that I was already familiar with.

Most of the products came in cardboard boxes, but I took them out so that you can see the products themselves mor clearly.

I wasn’t feeling the love for the plastic wrapping outside the box for the body lotion, but overall there isn’t a lot of excess plastic in this box.

If we add these products to the ones from the September box, that’s 10 products, and 10 that I will use. I don’t expect this run of good fortune to keep going – it’s natural that one or two things will come up that I’ll need to pass along to someone else, but so far I’ve been really pleased that I can, and want to, use everything. These two months have given us a decent number of full-sized products two – which is great when you consider some of the comparibly priced boxes are mainly sample sizes.

Did you get the Lovelula box in October? What did you think of the products? If not, is it a subscription box that you would consider getting? Let me know in the comments.

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Good things in October – book club, breadmaking, and fluffy blankets!

It’s the last day of October and time to think about what happened during the last month. These posts used to be about new products I’d tried, but I wanted the month review to be more inclusive than that – a real snapshot of what was good about the last 30 or so days. And also I think this gives a more rounded view of the person behind the blog!

My post yesterday about being blind and unable to drive got a lot of comments on social media – my disability posts often do – but that’s not all of who I am! I’m just an average woman in her 30s who gets excited about autumn, organising her wedding, finding orange twirls, reading a good book, and planning her next trip to the spa or to see miniature donkeys! I’m happy to share my thoughts on the disability topics, and I think they’re important, but there’s much more to me than that!

Flu jab

Ok, not usually something to get excited about, but that’s what my first weekend in October was all about! I qualify for a free one now because of my health issues in August, but even if you don’t, they’re only around £15. Some of my friends have been really ill with the flu already this winter, and if I can do something to avoid that I will. Partly because being self-employed = no sickness pay, but also some people haven’t been right for two or three weeks. So I’m glad I could get mine!

Anyway it was an excuse to snuggle on the sofa and get the fluffy blankets out. Did I mention I love autumn? Walking through the woods, feeling the fresh autumn breeze, then snuggling up with a hot drink in the warm.

Making bread

I dusted off my old school recipe folder and we made tarragon bread! I don’t often make my own bread, but it always tastes better fresh, and I like the way that the tarragon gives it a different flavour. I’ve lost touch with the friend who gave me the recipe in year 11 at school, but she was good to me at a time when things were really tough, and chomping into it reminds me you never know who you’ll meet, or that help can come from unexpected places!

Apart from that, there’s something really satisfying about kneading dough!

Books

In my usual all or nothing fashion, I’ve been reading a lot recently. I finished all three of the Millennium series (The girl with the dragon tattoo). I’ve seen the film for the first one and decided to read the books. Described as Swedish crime novels – which would usually put me off because after working in the justice system, it frustrates me how people get it so wrong. But I’d seen the film and knew it wasn’t just another unrealistic detective drama.

I read the first book in English, but there was something about the writing style that didn’t flow as well for me. I imagine this doesn’t happen with the original, but I can’t read Swedish! So I read books two and three in German and enjoyed the writing more.

The books deal with some unpleasant and difficult topics, so anyone about to read them should be aware of that. I won’t put any spoilers here, but I found myself wanting the best for Lisbeth Salander, and the series raises some important questions about violence against women, and the people that the system fails.

Book club

On a lighter note, I joined in with the online book club for the second time this year. Each month we get a different book to read and then there is a discussion in the Facebook group at the end of the month. The books are varied – last month’s was an animal story that was autobiographical in nature. This month was young adult fantasy.

I like the book club for a number of reasons. It introduces you to new books that you otherwise might not have read. It’s accessible because you can take part from the comfort of your own sofa. You don’t stand out for being the only one without a glass of wine. You can explore ideas with other people who’ve read the book too.

Module results

I got a distinction in TM112, the Open University module that I finished in September. I plan to write a post about it for my mature students’ series, but I actually enjoyed this one more than the first, mainly because it was more about using an accessible programming language and less dragging stuff about with a mouse! Anyway I enjoyed the module and was happy with the result.

2 new modules started

This academic year is different because I’m doing two modules at the same time. I’m still part-time – I wouldn’t want to do full-time job and full-time university – but they don’t run one after the other as they did last year. This means I’ll have a longer break in the summer.

I’m doing another IT module – we’re writing programmes for robots at the moment, and the other one is about language and culture. I chose the second one because I couldn’t bring myself to do a whole module of maths.

Present that keeps giving

It’s the second time that I’ve had a subscription as a gift. The first time was when S bought me an Audible subscription. My Mum got me a Pip Box subscription for my birthday. You can read about the September box here and I may do one about October too. It’s not one of the subscription boxes that you hear so much about, but some of the others have got really samey of late, and I also wanted to try some more natural, cruelty-free skincare products. It’s also nice when you keep getting birthday presents long after your birthday lol!

Orange twirls

Yay we finally found them! S had been out hunting for them a few weeks ago when I read about them online, but he didn’t find any. By chance he saw some last weekend! If you like orange chocolate and you like twirls, snap them up! They’re a special edition, so I’m not sure how long they’ll be around for!

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Blindness and not being able to drive – getting around without my own car

When I was growing up, my grandparents always had a car. It was only Granddad who could drive it, so if Nan and I needed to get somewhere when Granddad was at work, we needed to walk, take the bus, or wait. I think this taught me that a car was a good thing to have, but when you don’t have one around, you don’t just have to stay at home.

The car certainly came in useful for things like going to riding lessons and meeting my friends who didn’t live in the village. But certainly when I was at primary school, Nan walked with me in the morning – whatever the weather – and Granddad usually came to pick me up in the afternoon. If it was really bad weather, he’d bring the car, but most of the time we walked. It wasn’t far. And really it was nice to spend time with them.

As I got older, I could have lifts, but I had to pay a small amount if I wanted to go into town. I thought this was really mean at the time, but I suppose it taught me that parents aren’t a taxi service. When I see what some kids – and girlfriends for that matter – expect of their parents and partners, I can kind of see my grandparents’ point. Nobody should be taken for granted. Having said that, my friends didn’t charge petrol money, so getting lifts with them was more cost-effective!

At high school transport became more of an issue because my friends lived further away. I did my a-levels at a school quite far away, and then nobody lived nearby. But people were accommodating and if I was doing anything with people from school, I was usually invited to stay over with one of my friends. There was a lot more to do in the big city than the little village where I lived!

At that time I used to hang around with people who were mostly older than me. Many of them had cars. Some didn’t, and not just because they couldn’t see. I couldn’t contribute to the driving around, but I never felt left behind. I tried to find other things that I could do to help. Maybe it made me try to be a better friend so I didn’t seem the one who was taking favours all the time. But I never really thought much of it because most of my sighted school friends weren’t in a hurry to get a car and start driving.

Moving to London

It was a culture shock moving from my little village to the capital. But it was liberating too. As long as I could get myself to the nearest tube station, I could go anywhere. I just had to think about how to get from the tube station at the other end to where I was going. If it was things like work or favourite restaurants, I learned the way. If it was for one-off things, I met up with friends or took a taxi – most stations had taxi ranks outside. There are also travel benefits for blind people in London that you don’t get in the rest of the country.

I got to know the tube network really well. I learned about the trains. I planned how I would get around so that I could always leave when I wanted to, not when others did. If I was meeting someone for the first time, I suggested central places for us to meet, but made sure they were places that I knew too. I asked questions about places so that I could build up a map in my mind. I practiced things until I felt confident. I had bad days – tourists, roadworks, and confusing layouts will do that to you, but each day was a new start and if I fell, literally or metaphorically, I got up again!

I didn’t spend my time wandering round unfamiliar streets hoping for the best. Some blind people rely on their navigation systems a lot more than I did – but I worked hard to be able to afford that luxury and I don’t apologise for it because I don’t think I have anything to prove. Being able to afford to do all the things I wanted to with the least hassle was an incentive for me to work hard and move up the career ladder. I don’t enjoy getting lost!

It probably helped that this was pretty much the same as what most of my friends and colleagues were doing too. We all got the train home. Many of us got our shopping delivered because taking heavy groceries on the bus was a pain. We all walked a lot.

Also, not all of my taxi journeys were blindness-related. I was happy to pay for one instead of walking home late at night in the dark. It was just the smart thing to do.

When I moved out of central London, many of my friends were able to drive, but very few of them did if they wanted to go into town, which most of us did during the week for work. So cars were never the main way to get around.

Weekends were different. If you wanted to go into the countryside, you really did need a car. We often joked that my friends shared my dog – because they enjoyed taking her for long walks with me – and I shared their car.

Sometimes my friends offered me lifts – either because we were going to the same place, or they found out I was planning something that would be a nightmare on local transport, such as a really early flight when I was travelling alone. I tried to make it up to them in some other way – petrol money, lunch, a couple of beers – it depended on the journey. They never asked, but it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe that’s because of what my grandparents taught me.

Living outside of London

Since I’ve been with S, I’ve got used to being in a household with a car. I quite like it! No more crowded trains, apart from on the rare occasions when we go to London.

S knew from the outset that we wouldn’t be sharing the driving.

If he’s around, he does give me lifts, but I don’t see him as my taxi service. It’s always good to have multiple options when it comes to getting a job done. Public transport isn’t as good here as it was in London, but we do have taxis.

It is harder here because when people choose venues for things, there is a general assumption that people will be driving there – but hey, car pooling is good for the environment and I think it’s ok as long as you don’t take people for granted. I’ve paid for petrol before. I’ve paid for taxis so that friends don’t have to drive all the time. Sometimes I accept lifts from friends who want to be nice. If I can think of something nice to do for them, I’ll do it.

Ultimately, there are a whole host of reasons why some people might struggle with this more than I do. I have my own sight-related struggles. I don’t want to make light of anyone’s feelings of frustrations about not being able to do this, but I did want to share some of my coping strategies because they might help someone else.

Are self-driving cars the answer for blind people?

I’ve seen articles where some blind people are getting really excited about the idea of self-driving cars. But I don’t think they are the answer.

I certainly understand why it feels better to rely on technology instead of a person. My Seeing AI app is great for reading the post, reading labels on beauty products (most of the time), and checking out things in the kitchen. It takes away that step of the process where I need to find a functioning pair of human eyes. But a car?

My first problem with the idea that self-driving cars are the answer to our independent travel problems is that they’re not the only ones on the road. There are other people doing crazy things too. As a passenger, how many times do I hear friends cursing about some other driver being unpredictable, careless, or just really stupid?

The whole point when in charge of a self-driving car is that someone is supposed to be paying attention and step in if something is about to go wrong. I don’t want to be responsible for hitting someone’s dog or small child that wasn’t picked up by the sensors, or ploughing into a vehicle because it was the wrong colour (I read an article about that).

And to be honest, as a pedestrian, I wouldn’t be happy at a driver’s defence if I got hit by a driverless car with a blind person behind the wheel. Sighted people are not supposed to be sprawling out and watching Netflix when they’re at the wheel of driverless cars, so I think it’s a long way before we can see them as the vehicle of choice for people with no usable vision.

Maybe in 50 years someone will find this and have a good laugh – but given what’s available now, I have no urge to start planning for when I just put my destination into a driverless car and hope for the best.

I have been behind the wheel of a car once – a crazy friend decided to give me a lesson in a field in his car. It was fine, apart from the near-miss with the tree! We had a laugh and I learned some things! If I could see I think I’d probably be a fairly safe driver, but I can be pretty intolerant of other people’s stupid behaviour – even as a pedestrian!

I understand it must be hard for blind people who previously had sight and used to be able to drive. But then there’s always the flipside – they had this experience which I don’t. I always get tired of the “what’s worse” debate, because I don’t think you can really say. It’s comparing two very different experiences.

How to reduce the problems associated with not being able to drive

I’m in some groups for parents of visually impaired children and I do come across people whose children or who themselves really struggle with not being able to drive. The fact that I don’t find this so hard has nothing to do with me not finding my blindness a total inconvenience sometimes. I do. It’s just that driving isn’t high up on my list of reasons for why this is.

There are some things that I have done though that have made things easier for me as someone who is unable to drive:

  1. Think about transport when deciding where to live. London was great for me in this respect. As I moved further out, each time I had a good look at how easy it would be to get to the station from every property I looked at. Nobody wants to feel trapped or isolated, and choosing accommodation with easy links to the transport network will make life easier. This meant moving away from my family, but apart from the lack of job prospects, life for a non-driver in a little country village would have been much harder.
  2. Budget for additional transport costs. I set aside money for taxis because I knew that I would need them. I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends all the time, and anyone with their own car has to budget for transport costs too – petrol, MOT, road tax etc. If I pay for someone to drive me, I’m not being dependent. I’m giving them work. I can do it when I want to, not when someone else has time to help. It puts me back in control of getting the job done, even if I’m not the one driving there.
  3. Take time to get to know your local area.
  4. In some cases, it’s just easier to get the job done online!
  5. Build up a good network. Taking lifts from friends is still hard sometimes, but there are ways to make it a give-and-take arrangement, even if you’re not giving and taking the same things. Maybe you’re really good at something that your friend with a car can’t do. Maybe you can think of something to buy or do for them that would make them happy. If you’re doing something with friends, maybe you can be in charge of organising or sorting out another part of it while someone else does the driving. Also, if you’re not asking the same people for help all the time, it doesn’t feel like such a big ask!
  6. Plan! I plan less now because I know if I find some place for us to go or activity for us to do, it will probably involve S or one of my friends driving there. So we really just need the post code and the sat nav. But previously I got good at planning – finding the easiest way to get across London (I generally liked busy stations with lots of people rather than deserted ones), organised car sharing, planned to do multiple things in the same area to cut down on unnecessary logistical nightmares, or made the effort to make contact with people who would be making the same journey. Ok, planning and organising come naturally to me and I find there’s something quite therapeutic about them, but even if this isn’t the case, a good plan can go a long way to reducing the stress of travelling around.

Do you have any tips to add to this list?

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Old favourites and new skincare in October

It’s time for me to talk about some new discoveries and old favourites from the world of skincare this month! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these and what you thought of them!

Body shop

These aren’t out yet, but I was given a couple of gifts from the new Body Shop Christmas ranges by my friend Heidi. Although I couldn’t find them online, I believe you can put orders in through the Body Shop at Home consultants like Heidi – Here’s Heidi’s Facebook group. So I tried the bath bomb and the shower gel from the spiced vanilla range.

I don’t usually go for vanilla anything, but this one isn’t overpoweringly sweet, and it makes me think of Christmas – maybe because they’ve done other vanilla ranges at Christmas. The bath bombs fill your bathroom with the scent of whichever one you choose – don’t be fooled by their small size! I usually top them up with a bit of bubble bath too because I like bubbles!

Next a couple of things from last year’s advent calendar. They are both body creams – the Japanese camellia cream is made with oil from the camellia flower to soften skin and relax mind and body. It’s from the Spa of the World range, and it’s a rich, creamy body cream for when you feel like pampering yourself!

The other body cream is also Spa of the World and it’s the Ethiopian green coffee body cream. At first I was a little disappointed with this product because I thought it would smell like a rich cup of coffee, and it doesn’t. But if you don’t come at it with that expectation, it’s a good body cream, which is meant to help your skin feel firmer and smoother.

The vitamin E range is one of the popular ones – it’s gentle and suitable for most skin types. The vitamin E quench sheet mask is for moisturising. It won’t take the place of a good skincare routine, but if you want to give your face a drink and give yourself a pamper evening, it’s a good choice. I usually use one or two sheet masks each week and really like to take the time to unwind with them. Tip – if you don’t like the dripping sensation from the mask, do them lying down.

Finally a while ago I wanted to look at what other toners the Body Shop has on offer and I found the Chinese rice and Ginseng milky toner for brighter looking skin. I liked to use this with the vitamin C range. It’s more gentle than the tea tree toner and with the same consistency as a milky cleanser, although obviously it’s a toner. I’ve since gone on to try a couple of other toners, so I wouldn’t repurchase immediately, but I did enjoy trying this, especially as it’s something that people don’t often talk about.

Boots

Unfortunately I can’t provide the links here because the products seem to be sold out at the moment, but I got a couple of the products from the Boots Extracts mango range for my birthday.

People know this girl loves mangos! I hadn’t heard of the Boots extracts range before, but if you come across them and like mangos, I’d give them a try! I had the shower gel and the body butter. I hope they have more stock soon.

Elgon

I’d never heard of this brand until I got the hair mask in the Glossybox advent calendar last year. It’s not a brand I’ve seen since either, and it seems quite hard to get hold of here. But I was really happy to see a hair mask in the calendar – I don’t have any use for some of the other hair styling products, but the mask was good and a fairly generous size too!

Korres

I’m a fan of Korres anyway, but I recently discovered this Santorini vine body milk, which contains soothing aloe, shea butter and almond oil. Like all of the Korres products I’ve tried so far, it’s good quality (your skin feels soft for ages) and this has a refreshing, non-artificial scent. It’s hard to say what it is exactly – you can definitely smell the almond, but it’s not only almonds that you can smell. Nice and refreshing for the summer, but really good at any time of the year.

Laidbare

I’ve talked about Laidbare before, but I was really pleased to see the Sunflower hand cream come up on Latest in Beauty. The link I’ve given here isn’t to Latest in Beauty, because you can’t buy individual products, but as someone with a 9 product box, I’m basically paying £2 for each product, which is a bargain when you get a 50ml tube of this really good hand cream! I picked it up a couple of times when I was doing my monthly selections, and I think it’s sold out now.

This brand often appears in natural beauty boxes such as Lovelula and I highly recommend the hand cream, which is non-greasy and absorbs well. I have one on my desk now in addition to the one I finished up!

Lush

My favourite thing from Lush has to be the bubble bars! The Karma bubble bar is bound to be a winner for me with its mixture of lemon grass, orange oil, and mango butter! All the good citrus things! Watch out for the glitter though as it goes everywhere!

Nivea

I was supposed to put this in the last post, but I forgot. Still, I wanted to mention this Spray on after sun lotion because I got really burned this year, which is a bad idea, and something I usually avoid because I am fussy about wearing my factor 50 sun cream. But I forgot to reapply it and paid for it later.

The spray on after sun was great because I could aim at the sore patch and tentatively rub it in, rather than going straight in there and applying it with my hands. I like the Body Shop aloe lotion too, but that doesn’t have a spray pump as this Nivea one does.

The best advice is don’t do what I did, but if you do, this may come in handy.

No 7

I think No. 7 often gets overlooked, but they do have some decent products, such as the Lift and luminate Serum, This serum contains three times the active ingredient concentration of the moisturiser in the same line, and is intended to support the skin renewal process and reduce the appearance of fine lines. I wore it under several different moisturisers and it’s a serum I would buy again.

Superdrug

I decided to have a look at some of Superdrug’s own brand face care products. The vitamin C gel moisturiser is a bit like the vitamin C one that the Body Shop does. If you compare them side by side, I do prefer the Body Shop one, but the Superdrug one is more affordable and it does a good job as well. I’ve certainly had more expensive moisturisers that I didn’t enjoy as much as this one.

It’s my usual gripe with vitamin C products though – vitamin C reacts with the air, so a tub with a lid is not the best. If you’re going to get one, don’t have it hanging around open for ages!

This Works

I keep hearing people raving about the in transit camera close up primer but I didn’t like it. I’m not fond of things that are meant to do multiple jobs anyway – this is supposed to be a mask, a moisturiser, and a primer. I want different things from each of these product, and for me this doesn’t work! I ended up using it as a mask because I didn’t like the way that make-up set on top of it, or the way it spread on my skin. I didn’t buy it specifically because I think it came in an advent calendar, but I wouldn’t buy it again.

Have you tried any of these? Let me know in the comments!

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Alpaca encounter- meet Humphrey the alpaca

It was my birthday towards the end of September. We had the day off. And it was raining. Not just a gentle drizzle, but the kind of rain that has you soaked to the skin in minutes!

This was not good news, because we’d planned to do an outdoor activity. It was one of the things on my list! I keep a list of things to do that I think we’d both enjoy. I hunt them out online and S is in charge of navigation! It works well!

I’d heard several friends talking about lama treks and alpaca walking, and I thought it would be a great way to meet some animals, go for a walk, and learn something new.
As a child – well ok as an adult too – I enjoyed visiting farms to meet animals and find out what they look like. For those that a young blind child can’t go up and pat, like the lions and tigers at the zoo, there was always plastic animals. But I’d never felt a real or a plastic alpaca, so I didn’t really know what they looked like. Ok, there are descriptions on the internet, but the problem is that they often compare the alpacas to other animals that I have never seen, so that’s not massively helpful.

Pennybridge Alpacas

I started looking around for alpaca or lama walks nearby. I found Pennybridge alpacas in Hampshire via their own website, although they regularly do deals on Groupon, and when we booked, the Groupon price was also honoured for us.

I called to enquire about availability and was told that the alpaca encounter takes around 2 hours. I booked us in for the afternoon of my birthday and paid by Paypal, although it’s also possible to pay in cash on the day.

I mentioned my visual impairment, but it wasn’t a big deal. You get one alpaca between two people, so I knew that S would be able to help me with directions and I would lead the alpaca because it was one of my birthday activities!

On the day

When we arrived, it was raining heavily. We were offered hot drinks, so I stood there with a mug of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other! I didn’t borrow any wellies, but I was glad of the plastic waterproof cape that I borrowed and kept on for the rest of the visit.

We could already see and hear the alpaca in the barn. I liked the fact that the first part of the visit was a talk so we could learn more about them –including what it’s like living on an alpaca farm, how they behave, what they eat, how they are shorn, and the process for making things with the alpaca wool.

We didn’t hear a lot of noise from them, but a couple of the females decided to spit at one another over food! They all seemed to get on well together, but there were definitely a couple who were in charge!

We then went on a walk around the grounds to see some more alpaca, offer up some hay, and meet some of the other animals. We encountered the cockerel several times – he wasn’t scared of the people at all!

I found that if I held the hay out slightly over the fence on my side, the alpaca would stretch their necks over to get it and allow me to stroke them. Some were a bit less inquisitive and less sure of us, so I just gave them the hay and they moved back a bit to eat it.

As well as the alpaca who were happy to munch on our hay, there were also some friendly goats. One of the babies came out and I held her in my arms for a while. She seemed a bit unsure as she was passed from person to person – but once she could feel your arms around her, I think she would have happily gone to sleep. A very chilled out little goat!

Our walk with Humphrey

The last part of the visit was our walk with an alpaca. The alpaca were ready with halters, and they were distributed one animal to every two people. We then lined up with our new alpaca friends and went round the grounds in a procession. Some liked to be in the lead – others were happy at the back. Humphrey, who came round with us, was a laid back kind of guy and he was ok in the middle, or I think he would have been happy wherever he was in the line. He didn’t want to be left behind, but he seemed in no hurry to charge ahead either!

We were advised to have one person on each side of the alpaca, but in terms of me knowing where I was going and turning the corners, it worked out better to have S guiding me and me leading Humphrey, so that’s what we did on the second lap. He didn’t try to get his head down or charge anyone else out of the way. Neither did he randomly stop to look around!

Having alpaca who are willing to be led is good for alpaca experiences, but it also has other advantages. Animals that are used to being handled are more accepting of the times when they need to be handled, such as vet procedures, sheering (which is done once a year), or having toe nails cut.

The young alpaca are introduced to people from an early age and they seemed happy to be around us. After doing two circuits of the grounds, we had photo opportunities, then took Humphrey’s head collar off and let him go free to wander again!

If you want a memory of your day in addition to the photos, you can get a range of gifts from the shop. Some of them have pictures of the alpaca from the farm on them – we found a Humphrey mug – and there are also gifts made of alpaca wool. I picked up a warm winter hat, and I couldn’t resist a cuddly alpaca too because I wanted something in the shape of one. As we drove away, the heavens opened again!

I was really glad that we went. I love animals and enjoy meeting and learning about them. The alpaca encounter was something different because it was interactive and educational. Have you ever done anything like this? If so, let me know in the comments.
Also, if you like animal posts, check out our encounters with wolves, owls, donkeys, and birds of prey.

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Note: this is not a sponsored post. S paid for the alpaca encounter as part of my birthday present.

Pip Box in September – cruelty-free subscription box

Today I’d like to introduce you to another beauty box – the Pip Box. It’s a cruelty-free box and 50p from each box sold goes to an animal charity. Also, the box was named after its founder’s dog, Pip.

This was gifted because it was a birthday present from my mum, but it’s not a sponsored post.

The Pip Box comes out towards the end of the month. Mine arrived on the 26th September, but I wanted to try out the products before telling you about them. The September box was called the Glow Edit – it isn’t available to buy now, but you’ll get an idea of the kind of things that you might find in the box. You can buy the box monthly, take out a subscription, which works out cheaper, or gift one or more boxes to someone else, which is what my Mum did.

The sign-up process is accessible with a screenreader.

So what was inside?

Bali balm cinnamon and burnt orange lip balm

I’d never heard of Bali balm before, but this cinnamon and burnt orange lip balm turned out to be my favourite thing in the box! I have more lip balms than I probably need, but this one smells and tastes amazing! The orange scent comes from orange peel, and cinnamon is used because it’s a natural anti-inflammatory and can help with blood circulation, therefore giving you plumper lips. Actually I have quite full lips anyway, but I didn’t know that about cinnamon – that’s good to know! Also, it makes me think of Christmas baking, so now I have an excuse when I make my next batch of Zimtsterne (cinnamon star biscuits) – it’s good for your circulation, right?

Seriously though, the lip gloss has a lovely texture and your lips feel soft for ages afterwards. Great for as the weather gets colder.

Nakin cleansing milk

I’ve heard of Nakin before, but had never tried anything from the brand. This advanced cleansing milk is a gentle cleanser that contains hyaluronic acid, seaweed and plant extracts. It removes make-up and environmental toxins/excess oil, stimulates cell turn-over, promising to leave your skin feeling clear, smooth and radiant. According to the website, it’s also suitable for sensitive skin.

My skin can be sensitive at times, so I was hoping to find some gentle products in these boxes. It isn’t fragranced, does remove make-up, and I didn’t have any problems or reactions after using it. It’s basically a nice, gentle cleanser.

Diamond eye pads from vitamasques

This set of eye pads are infused with diamond extract and caffeine. They promise that you’ll feel as relaxed as you do after a great night’s sleep. The formula also promises to brighten up tired eyes, feel cooling, and eliminate fine lines.

I certainly felt relaxed after using them. I’m not sure one treatment can completely eliminate fine lines, but it’s a nice sensation after a long day and I do think this kind of mask helps you to relax. I’ve had sheet masks from this brand before, but never tried any of their eye products.

This Danish brand is another new one for me. Actually that’s one of the things I like about these boxes – the chance to get to know new brands and try new products. If you’ve been around beauty subscription boxes for a while, you can start to see the same things turning up again and again – but I’ve found that the cruelty-free and more natural boxes tend to offer a bit more variety in this respect.

This refreshing scrub mask promises to help you avoid oily and blemished skin. These are my tormentors at certain times of the month, so I was eager to give this a go!
It is a mask that you leave on for 10-15 minutes and then wash off with lukewarm water. I lasted about 10 because what they describe as a “refreshing feeling” from the menthol is actually quite intense! Not unpleasant, but it would wake you up in the morning. If you do have sensitive skin, it’s worth doing a patch test first to make sure it’s ok for you.
The mask contains both chemical and physical exfoliants – salicylic acid and black jojoba beads. There’s also apricot kernel oil and shea butter to soften the skin, and jojoba oil to moisturise.

Once I’d got used to the sensation, I was ok with it and after a while it did actually feel good. This is a purifying mask, so you may see evidence of impurities in the form of spots after using it, but the point of the deep cleansing is to bring out those impurities and dead skin cells so they won’t block your pores.

This is a new product for me, and one that I enjoyed using. Still, I personally would use this once, rather than once or twice a week.

Mineral eye shadow

I can’t review this because I gave it away. I don’t use loose powder eye shadows because as a blind person, I find liquid or cream ones easier to work with. So I gave this to my mum, who said she liked the colour and it was something that she would wear.

Overall thoughts

I would use four out of five of these products, which is not bad for a beauty box. I don’t expect to keep everything in boxes and the thing that I gave away was one of the lower value items. I liked the range of products, was introduced to some new brands, and think these will come in handy for the cooler winter months. It’s also great to have some more cruelty-free products in my skincare regime.

I have two more of these boxes coming and look forward to seeing what else there is.
Have you had anything from the Pip Box? Let me know in the comments. If you want to find out more about them, you can visit the Pip Box website.

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Blind bride-to-be series – wedding fairs

To be honest, I didn’t really know that wedding fairs were a thing. But I liked the sound of them – lots of people in one place who can help you put your big day together – and there’s cake! What’s not to like! Well, maybe the crowds are something not to like – I’ve done big exhibitions before – but I thought we could start small.
I discovered that really there are two types of wedding fairs – the venue-specific ones, and the larger geographical ones. The smaller, venue-specific ones are more intimate. They’re good if you want to know more about that particular venue, they’re usually either free or fairly cheap to get in, and it’s easier to get an overview of who’s there and what they’re offering. The bigger ones tend to be more busy, but you do get a better choice of venue. We picked up information about places we hadn’t even heard of before, and two of them ended up in our shortlist of places to book an appointment and talk with the wedding planner. So overall, I was glad that we did both types of event. We may well do more before the wedding, but we’ve done all that we’re going to for this season.
Any bride to be can write a post about wedding fairs, but I wanted to focus on the particular aspects of organising a wedding as a blind bride – because that’s what this series is all about. I want to share tips about things that worked – or didn’t work – for us, so that they might be useful for others.

1. Planning before you go

Whether you go to the wedding fair with your partner, as I did, or with a friend/relative, it’s good to have a think about what kind of exhibitors you want to visit. It’s possible you don’t know what you’re looking for in some cases and the inspiration comes when you get there, but if you can discount some things that aren’t relevant – children’s entertainment isn’t relevant for us – it’s easier to plan your way round the event. You don’t have to visit every stand and you get to spend more time talking to the people who are offering what you’re looking for.
I suppose some people might want to, but as someone who’s blind, attending this kind of event with no sighted assistance is not my idea of a fun day out! There are lots of people milling around and apart from the fact that it’s easier when someone else is in charge of navigation, it’s a nice activity to do with someone else.

2. Be prepared for lots of paper information

Poor trees! The wedding industry is a visual beast and it relies a lot on glossy brochures, leaflets, and magazines. You may well get a goody bag – I enjoyed the chocolate and the hair mask that I found in ours, but the main point is to give you further information about the exhibitors, and it will probably be a business card, a magazine, or a glossy leaflet.
At other (non-wedding) exhibitions, there’s been a web page with links to all the exhibitors’ websites, and I found it really helpful, but none of the wedding shows I went to had anything like this.
I can’t read printed materials. If you’re in the same position, you either need a way of taking down contact details, to ask the vendors to email you, or to have a helpful fiancé who agrees to type up the contact details later!
We put all of the relevant contact details on our wedding planning spreadsheet that we can both access. This gave me the chance to check out some of the websites for myself, but the whole exercise created a lot of paper for the recycling!

3. Talk to people

The person with you can describe the displays, but I found one of the best ways to find out more was to talk to people directly. There were a couple of people who seemed to be repeating the exact same speech to anyone who came by, but most, especially the smaller businesses, were interested in getting into a conversation, finding out what you’re looking for, and telling you about what they have to offer. Then you can begin to suss out if there is a connection there, and if you want the person or business to be part of your big day!
Especially when people are creating things themselves, they have a closer connection to the end result than something that’s mass-produced. I want to support local businesses anyway, but I find they are also more open to describe their products and customise them to make them a bit more unique, special, or tactile.
Having said that, if there are a number of people selling similar things, it’s also good to have a trusted opinion about which products look nicest/more professional as it’s natural for people to put their own products in the best possible light.

4. It doesn’t all have to be decided straight away

It might be that you want to attend a couple of fairs or talk to a number of florists, cake designers, or make-up artists. For me, these events are just about making connections. I find exhibitions too noisy and too full-on to have proper conversations anyway, but once you’ve got someone’s contact details, you can find a convenient time for you both to chat, or you can visit them, or carry on the conversation in some other way. The fair is just the beginning of the conversation!

5. Customer service counts!

Most of the people whom I work with every day have never encountered a blind person before, and to me that’s normal. I don’t expect people to know what’s helpful or what I need, but I do expect basic courtesy. If someone doesn’t like eye contact, that’s fine – I can’t do it either. But if I am asking the questions and they spend the whole time only looking at my partner while they answer them, that’s not cool and they probably won’t get our business!

6. Smaller events tend to be quieter

Big events are good, especially if you haven’t decided on your venue yet. The single-venue events don’t tend to advertise their competitors.
I have other sensory issues anyway, but if you’re going to an event as someone who is blind, talking to the vendors and your companion is going to be important. The smaller events did have music as well, but it wasn’t as loud, which made talking easier for us. Overall, I preferred the smaller ones, but there’s a place for the larger ones too as they definitely helped us with our choice of venue.

7. Hands-on experience

I wouldn’t ask to touch anything that other people were going to eat, but when it comes to rings, dresses, flowers etc, most people are happy for you to handle them carefully.
One of the biggest problems I’ve found as a blind bride-to-be is that I just don’t know what’s out there. Most other brides head straight to Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration –but I can’t – because they’re such visual sites. There are blind people on Instagram, but I lasted about 2 days because it was really all about the images.
Going to the wedding fairs was good for me because it gave me the chance to touch some of the products and decide what things I liked, what I thought would fit with our theme, and which materials I wanted. Having real objects in front of you makes this much easier.

Coming soon

I hope some of these tips were helpful – either to other blind brides-to-be or to anyone exhibiting at wedding fairs.
The next article in this series is about choosing your wedding venue, so let me know in the comments if you have any questions that you’d like me to answer.

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Braile signs can be useful – but it’s still possible to get it wrong!

I don’t usually cross post from my other blogs, but I know some of my readers here are interested in accessibility too.

A recent visit to a hotel got me thinking about Braille signs, and how they don’t always make their point. This is especially true when they’re so high up on the wall that you have no chance of reaching them!

When we started looking around, we noticed a few other problems.

Here’s my post why these Braille signs didn’t help me find my way around”.