Gin-spiration promts – how far have you travelled from home

I’m part of a Facebook group for Bloggers run by Lorna from the Gin and Lemonade blog, who gives us writing prompts. The idea is that a bunch of you writes on a topic, and then you can see what the others wrote on the same topic.

I can get behind the idea of writing prompts – more than something like tags, which unless done really well, can feel a bit forced and dare I say pointless?

So, this week’s (or actually I think it’s last week’s prompt but I’m late) was How far have you travelled from home?

Before I could think about that, my first question was “what is home?” because I think this will be different for different people.

My home has always been an in-the-moment thing. The place I was living? That was the place I made my home. Somewhere to get away from it all. Somewhere to shut the door and know it was my space, or the space I shared with people I care about.

So for me right now, that’s the place where I live with my partner. It’s not where I was born, or where I was brought up, but it’s very much home. Unless we move somewhere else, and then I’ll make that place home.

Maybe this fluid connection to home has something to do with the fact that the house where I grew up was sold when my Granddad died and my Nan down-sized. I think people whose home where they grew up is still somewhere they can pop into from time to time, still have a kind of temporary connection to that home as well, but for me, it’s not a thing!

So, how far have I travelled? I didn’t actually know the answer to this as the crow flies, so I spent time asking Siri “How far is it from …. To ….?” So she could do the maths for me! Nothing like a bit of outsourcing for those tasks that you don’t love!

Anyway, she reliably informed me that the farthest I’ve been from home was my trip to Cuba.

That was a long time ago.

I had a real travelling bug in my 20s. Now I’ve grown up, settled down, we’ve bought a house and travelling is not high on our list of priorities. So much so that it gets kind of annoying when every time I have a week off, everyone seems to ask “where are you going?” Like you automatically have to be going somewhere every time you have some time off. But I digress…

Cuba was actually a really good couple of weeks. I went with a company called Traveleyes, which makes it possible for blind people to travel independently. Sighted travellers pay a bit less, and they act as guides for visually impaired people. I wrote more about the concept when I interviewed some sighted guides who had been on Traveleyes holidays.

Before this time, many of my trips abroad had been to German-speaking countries, and the language barrier was really a thing for me. Not in a practical sense – we got the food we wanted, had an English-speaking guide, and in the hotels people spoke English. But you couldn’t just have a chat to local people unless you spoke Spanish – which I didn’t! Also, the guy whom I was strapped to when we did the tandem sky-dive didn’t speak English. We’d had the safety briefing beforehand, but I couldn’t chat to him on the way down! I was younger and less risk-averse then! I probably wouldn’t do it now, but was glad to have had the opportunity. I preferred the floating down to Earth bit with the parachute open, rather than the crashing down to Earth bit, with the air rushing up at you like a massive hairdryer. It was Cuba, so the air was warm!

I’m still grateful to the friend who didn’t dive (I was the only girl) and who swapped out her shorts for my skirt. That would have been bad to have it flapping round my neck, especially as there was a video!

Anyway, we did have someone in the group who spoke Spanish, and one day he and I broke away from the group. You weren’t really meant to – never mind. We ended up in a street off the tourist trail – we probably weren’t meant to do that either – where we drank coffee with some people in their home. The guy that I was with acted as an interpreter and so we could get to know a bit more about the family, their lives and hopes.

That was cool. For me, visiting places isn’t just about the things you can do as a tourist. It’s about the people. You can’t always really talk to people when you’re surrounded by a load of other tourists, but fortunately we managed it that day. Possibly helped by the enormous grass-woven lizard that I’d bought and that was nearly as tall as me. I’m not very tall, but that was one big lizard! He was definitely a good starting point for conversations.

Other impressions from that time were swimming with dolphins, touching a baby crocodile, the intense humidity, dancing on the beach, the crazy amount of rum that went into each cocktail, the musicians, the very late nights, and the couple of days when the local water didn’t agree with any of us!

It was fun! I had the chance to do things that I’ll probably never get to do again! It’s definitely an interesting place to go, especially if you take some time to read a bit about the history beforehand. Of course you don’t have to do that – you could just go to enjoy the beaches, but it’s part of my trying to understand local culture, society and politics. Even on holiday I think that’s still important. Not because I have to, but because I think people are interesting.

So that’s the farthest I’ve been from home.

Maybe one day I’ll go further. When S goes on longer business trips, I sometimes accompany him. I work when he’s working, and then we explore the place together.

But the desire and need to travel is not as strong as it was when I was younger, so who knows!

How far have you travelled from home? Let me know in the comments!

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Monday musings – where did we miss the point about being assertive?

Where did we miss the point about being assertive?

I mean sure, nobody likes to be walked all over or ignored. That’s not good. But when did this idea become popular that to be assertive, you have to shout the loudest, be the most obnoxious, or quickest to threaten legal action, whilst demanding your rights, and preferably making a scene as well? Before you’ve even explained the problem to someone who might be able to help you?

That’s not being assertive.

It makes my head hurt. Listening to it drains my energy!

“You’ve got a problem with X? I’d complain if I were you. Before you even discuss why it was a problem or offer a solution.” Never mind that X might have had a problem too.

“Y didn’t do what you wanted? I’d make it official. It must be personal. You shouldn’t take that from anyone. Who cares if what you were asking was unreasonable/not possible/not even the right department. They said no? Give ’em hell!”

“Oh yeah and you should put it on social media too so that loads of people who have only heard your side of the story can commiserate with you and say all kinds of stuff about people they have never met, based on their totally unbiased understanding of the story from the few facts you posted in your rant.”

That’s not being assertive either.

Ok, I’m just exaggerating to prove a point. But how did we get here?

I’ve faced discrimination. The obvious type, where someone tries to throw me out of somewhere because I had a guide dog. The more indirect type, where people don’t make their products or services accessible to me. I usually stand my ground. If I really can’t be bothered, I walk away – because choosing your battles is smarter and better for my general well-being than taking on everyone and his dog who don’t know how to play nicely.

When I was having a really bad day, I have let it get to me on occasion. That’s not great, but it’s part of being a human being.

I get it – I’m better at hiding my emotions than most people I know, because I think it generally leads to getting things sorted out faster.

But if you start from the point of thinly-veiled aggression and confrontation, believing that everyone really is out there to get you, or at least to bring you down, there’s nowhere to go from there. You’ve already alienated everyone that may otherwise have been willing to help you. No negotiation – no discussion – just a fight from now on in. A fight in which winning is the only option, irrespective of what winning for you means for that other person.

I don’t have an endless supply of patience, and there are things that really push my buttons. But more and more I see this angry, entitled attitude rearing its head on social media and around me in the “real world”, and I think “no! There has to be a better way!”

Whether it’s about disability advocacy, parents getting what they need for their children, or people trying to fix their own issues with their employer/a service provider/some random person on the street.

Dealing with burocracy and a lack of understanding can wear you down. Often people aren’t thinking about those around them. But joining them by adopting a “me-against-the-world-and-every-single-person-I-meet” mentality doesn’t beat them.

Probably the worst I had in a customer-facing role was some guy saying “I know where you work” – like his problem was my fault and he was coming to make me pay for it. Incidentally, it was nothing to do with me – I was just the unfortunate person who took his call because the person he really needed to speak with was out to lunch. Fortunately for me, at that point he knew neither my name, nor what I looked like!

I see it on the streets and in the supermarket. Everyone is so focussed on where they need to be and what they need to do. Anyone who gets in the way of that is just being selfish… Or maybe they have their own stuff going on? They don’t see the person struggling to get around whom they nearly knock over, just the fact that this person taking a bit longer will make them late. Like a couple of extra minutes is going to change the world.

One day a couple of extra minutes could have made all the difference. I was travelling 200 miles on a train to get to see my Nan who was in a hospice and whom they didn’t think would be with us much longer. The train was delayed, There was nothing I could do. And I really needed to get there. But at the same time it put people stressing about their meetings into perspective. I did make it on time, but it made me really think about the way I had rushed around at other times as if someone’s life had depended on it.

I know that in London, I wasn’t the best version of myself – getting wound up by tourists who didn’t seem to appreciate that there were other people on the same street who actually needed to get somewhere. I know that. But when did everyone get so angry?

I’ve seen it at work too. “Your manager said no? Know your rights! Take it higher!” Yes, people should know their rights, but I’ve been a manager too, and sometimes you do have to say “no”! You can’t always give people what they want. That’s life.

I love electronic communication, but I sometimes wonder if we forget that we’re dealing with people out there – people who have lives and feelings too.

Totally, there are things that make us angry. But if children see their parents flying off the handle and roaring at people like an angry lion, just because they have a different opinion, or don’t handle things in the “right way”, what does that teach the next generation about problem solving?

It’s ok for me to say that – I don’t have kids. But I do deal with young people professionally. Mostly really nice, polite young people … and I believe that teachers are role models too. We’re all examples to more than just our own immediate family.

I’m not convinced that the permanently angry momma bear image, or the disabled person that everyone is terrified to offend, or the employee who can’t go a day without complaining about someone are really what we should be aspiring to become. I don’t think any of these images are cool. They don’t give off a sense of someone who really knows how to make things happen, challenge injustice, or make people listen. There’s a time to do these things and a way to do them. A scale with having a polite chat with someone at one end, and threatening action at the other. There are a lot of points between these two. We don’t always need to go straight for the one that results in someone losing their job.

I know people can find my direct communication style a bit much sometimes. I say what I think – sometimes what other people are thinking, and don’t like to say. That’s not what I mean though. It’s not what you say, but the way you go about it – and yapping Yorkshire terrier style rarely gets you something good!

One of the managers that I respected the most never raised her voice, but people always listened. She responded to things and didn’t just react with whatever came into her head first. She got things done without bullying those lower than her in the pecking order or crushing others by throwing her weight around.

People took notice. She must have had bad days and lost her sh1t sometimes, but I don’t think I ever saw it. She chose her words carefully, rather than letting them fly out like a burst water pipe – even on days when things weren’t going well.

There was something about her. Yes, she had authority because of her position, but she also had authority because of who she was as a person and how she conducted herself. I think she was a fantastic role model, and I wish there were more people like her.

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Autumn Unseen Beauty giveaway

It’s time for my Autumn giveaway on Unseen Beauty. It’s open internationally, and all you need to do to enter is fill in the form at the bottom of this post.

I know some bloggers wait till they have a huge box of stuff before doing a give-away, but I’d rather do smaller ones and run them more often so that more people have a chance of winning something. I like to show that I appreciate it when people regularly interact with my blog, so if you don’t win this time, you have the chance of carrying your entry forward to the next giveaway.

The winner of my Autumn giveaway will receive:

  • A L’Occitane verbena body lotion mini
  • L’Occitane verbena icy lip balm
  • L’Occitane Verbena soap
  • Trifle cosmetics – praline eye shadow palette
  • A shampoo bar
  • A mini mask from Mudmasky
  • A wipe-out make-up remover cloth
  • A shell make-up brush
  • The Beauty Crop Wing Woman liquid eye liner
  • Palmer’s cocoa oil lip balm
  • Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know what my readers like and where they are. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use CAPTCHAs on my site.

    The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

    It’s one entry per person using the form, but if you’ve entered giveaways before and asked for the entry to be carried forward, I will make sure your additional entries are counted.

    Terms and conditions

    1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on Sunday 8th October 2018 and I’ll draw the winner on Monday 9th October.
    2. I will give each person a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I don’t like Rafflecopter and want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
    3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away. Otherwise it will not be retained.
    4. I will email the winner on 9th October to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.

    5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

Interview with Gracie – what’s life like as a homeschooler?

I’ve got an interview for you today, but it’s a bit different from my usual blogger of the month series.

I can’t remember why or when I started following Gracie’s blog, but she has always struck me as someone who writes well, with passion, and a strong commitment to changing the world around her for the better.

As I read more of Gracie’s articles, I learned that she is being home-schooled, and I had to admit that this is something that I don’t know very much about.

There is a whole community of children and young people who are experiencing a completely different kind of education to the one that I received, and as most of us never come across these young people, mainly because our paths just don’t cross, we don’t know anything about them.

So I decided to ask whether Gracie would be willing to answer some questions – here’s what she said:

1. What’s a typical day for you like as someone who is home-schooled?

In my family we like to say that for us everything is school, everything is a learning opportunity – real life situations, books, the internet, documentaries, conversations, being outside, helping someone else, just living our lives. Therefore, we never really have a typical day!

However, on most days we do our school work which is a curriculum we’ve devised for ourselves based on what we’re interested in, what we’ll need in the future and what we think is relevant to our lives.

2. I think you said you have younger siblings – do you learn together with them, all do your own thing, or do you teach them sometimes?

Yeah, I have a brother and a sister. When we were younger my parents would teach us a lot more often and so we’d do more projects together. Now that we’re all older and have different interests we tend to get on with our education ourselves, though it does sometimes overlap. A lot of the time I teach my siblings things I’ve already learnt or help them out if they’re struggling with something.

3. What are your favourite subjects and why?

My favourite things to study are socio-anthropology (the social study of humanity), sailing theory and navigation, spoken word poetry and science of all different types. I just have an interest in learning new things and these are all things I’m working on for my future. I do think it’s good to learn a diverse range of subjects and skills that will allow you to live and make a difference in this world.

4. How much input do you have into what you will study? How do you decide what you want to learn about and what kind of projects you will do?

I have a lot of freedom over my education. If there’s something I really want to learn, am passionate about and that will benefit me in the future (because essentially that’s what education is – preparation for the future) my parents will support me in studying it.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love sailing, writing, having conversations with my friends, swimming/lifesaving, blogging, cycling, being outside, performing spoken word poetry and cooking/baking!

6. Have you read any good books lately?

I do really like to read. I have a love of and a fascination for words and stories so, in my eyes, books are a whole new amazing world just waiting to be discovered. Some of my favourites are The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, Where I Belong by Gillian Cross, Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari, The Order Of Darkness Series by Philippa Gregory and the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore. I recommend all of them!

7. What are three important things that you have learned since you became a blogger?

1. How important it is to be honest and open.
2. That you really can make a difference and meet like-minded people through blogging.
3. How important it is to have something to write about – to live an interesting, meaningful life.

8. Languages were my favourite subjects at school. Do you learn languages? If you wanted to learn a language that none of your family or friends could teach you, what would you do?

I have been learning Italian on and off for a couple of years now, but I’m still not very good. I’ve tried a few different methods of learning, but I still need to find one that works for me (and probably to put a bit more effort in)

9. Is there a community of young people who are being homeschooled, or do you create your own community using your blog?

I know LOADS of homeschoolers both on and offline. There is a huge, thriving, worldwide community of us – all with different views, ideas and ways of doing things. It’s so interesting and encouraging to interact with them all.

10. What is one common misconception that people have about homeschooling, and what would you say to give people the facts?

Haha, this is a good one. There are lots of misconceptions that people have, but the two main ones are probably that
1. we get to sit around at home in our pyjamas watching TV all day and
2. that we have no friends.

Both of these are completely uneducated assumptions that come from people with little or no knowledge of the lives of homeschoolers. I usually just explain the truth: we work pretty hard on our education too and, believe it or not, school isn’t the only place you can make friends!

11. I read somewhere that the idea with homeschooling is that students study things that interest them. This sounds like a great way to get students engaged, but how about those things that you don’t enjoy, but have to do anyway? I’m thinking about my job – I love my job, but there are bits of it that I find a bit boring. I can think of situations at school when I knew I just needed to get things done. How does this work for you if you don’t have to study subjects that you don’t love? I wasn’t a big fan of maths, but do see why it’s useful!

It really depends on your outlook, but for us…yes, there is a lot of emphasis on studying what you’re interested in, but we do also have to do our daily maths and science and writing and other skills that are necessary for us to thrive in a modern world.

12. Does any of your education take place outside?

Yep, lots! We live on a farm/campsite and over the years a ton of our time has been spent in the fields, rivers, woodlands, tracks and farmland that are our backyard. When we were little we’d play out in the dirt and explore, then as we got older we’d grow vegetables, look after animals, learn about nature whilst in the very midst of it, cook out over campfires and even just use the outdoors as our classroom – a place to read or study.

13. What’s an interesting place that you have visited recently?

We recently travelled up to Scotland for one of my sailing trips. It’s just the most beautiful country. We camped out for a few days on the edge of this loch where we could wild swim, watch otters, harvest and cook shellfish, create artistic masterpieces from shells, pebbles and seaweed, hike up mountains, go for stunning early morning runs and meet interesting local people all within walking distance!

14. Do you have to do tests or the same exams as people your age?

As a homeschooler, you don’t actually have to do any of the exams that school kids do. Some of us choose to do them and some of us choose not to. We can do them whenever we like, at whatever age, so whenever we feel ready. Personally, I haven’t decided yet. I feel like these standardised tests are something everyone has and it doesn’t set you apart like life experiences or an alternative education do. However, they might be a good thing to have, just in case you ever need them.

15. Do you have any pets?

We have a rescue partridge 😉 We’re just looking after it until it can be returned to the wild though. Then there’s loads of dogs, cats, chickens and ducks on the farm.

16. How important are the internet and online resources for your studies?

I do a lot of learning online. There are many resources out there and if I ever want to know something or learn about it, I can. However, it’s more important to me as a tool of communication with my friends as most of them live all across the world (America, Canada, Scotland, India, Dubai and so on)

17. Do you have any opportunities to take part in group work?

I am really into sailing and go on quite a lot of voyages where you’re on a boat with somewhere between 10-20 people who you live and work with 24/7. It’s a very intense experience and teaches you a lot about teamwork, tolerance and social situations. There are also a lot of home-ed study groups where people come together to learn something together.

18. What would you say is the main advantage of homeschooling?

The freedom to be yourself and think differently without being forced through a system which is turning you into a product of modern society. Look around and you’ll see so many young people failed by the system which is supposed to prepare them for their future. Homeschooling shows you a different future, doesn’t pile on the unnecessary pressure and allows you to flourish with your strengths and work on your weaknesses without being branded a failure.

19. What is something that you would like to learn more about in the future?

I want to work in sail training (charities that take young people sailing) when I’m older so I’d like to continue with my learning and understanding of everything to do with that. I’d also like to work harder on my Italian and to get better at performing spoken word.

20. Is there anything else that you would like to add/tell us?

I don’t think so. Just thank you for reading and to Kirsty for hosting me. If you have any more
questions about homeschooling, please let me know, I’d be happy to help out!

So, thanks again to Gracie for answering my questions. I know I learned a lot through reading them. If you have any questions, post them in the comments. I’m happy to discuss the different ways of doing things, as long as the comments are respectful.

Also, why not pop over to Gracie’s blog A light in the darkness and read some of her articles?

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Late August empties – mainly skincare and haircare this time

After my stupid accident, I kept working, but I’ve been chasing my tail all month. I did put together some August empties though, so I thought Better late than never!”

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

Skincare

Products: 8

I’ve talked about the Body Shop® almond milk and honey body yoghurt before but it’s worth mentioning again. This range is so kind to the skin. It’s not as strongly scented as the others, and it’s recommended for those with more sensitive skin. I don’t have sensitive skin, but my allergies to other things can make my skin flair up at times, and this is when I especially enjoy using the almond milk and honey line of products. The body yoghurts are much lighter than the butters, they absorb quickly, and are great for the Summer and Autumn.

I discovered two more hand creams through my Latest in Beauty box –first the orange blossom one. You can’t buy individual products directly from Latest in Beauty, so I’ve included the link to Boots. Not the cheapest out there, but it does a good job, isn’t greasy, and I am a big fan of the citrus scent.

Then there was the Gardeners’ hand therapy from Crabtree and Evelyn. The link is to Feelunique. This was a bigger tube, so more value for money, but I found it a bit greasy, which was a shame because I do like this brand. I’d use this again as a night treatment, just before bed, but after I’ve used a handcream, I don’t want my hands to feel sticky, so for me this one lost points on not being an all-purpose kind of product.

I wanted to link the Body Shop ® vitamin C serum, but it doesn’t seem to be on the site any more. I’m not sure whether it’s been discontinued or is just out of stock, but as someone who likes the vitamin C moisturiser, I decided to try the serum as well. This is an oil-based serum, so I found it better for use in the evening or on no-make-up days. I like the moisturiser more, but as someone who doesn’t like using face oils, an oil-based serum that isn’t so oily that you spend the rest of the night with a shiny face is a good thing to have.

I raved about this Lavera serum in this Latest in Beauty review. You can really get some good finds in there if you are lucky. Of course some boxes are better than others, depending on the products available, but this was a full-size serum and one that I would definitely buy again.

As I loved the serum and the night cream from this range, I decided to try the toner as well. (The link goes to Amazon). I wasn’t as happy with this product though. The product itself was fine, but it smelled like cough mixture, and I can’t deal with that in my morning facial routine. So, it’s a personal preference, and it lives up to the name of being gentle (at least I thought it did), but if there’s an ingredient that I don’t like the smell of, I don’t buy it again!

Another Latest in Beauty product was the Morning Dew moisturiser from Aimie. I think it’s aimed more at people with oily skin, because it does absorb fast, and promises to control excess oil and shine. I don’t think someone like me with normal to dry skin will see the best results from this, because I do like something a bit more moisturising, but that’s more about it not being the right product for me than it being a bad product.

I’ve talked about this Malin and Goetz moisturiser before, but as it was on offer on Latest in Beauty for a while, I picked up a couple of them. They were really generous sizes too, and I had no problems with applying this moisturiser over other products.

Haircare

Products: 5

I’m not even going to link these – I really wasn’t impressed! I was so glad to try some products from Noughtie, especially as a full-size shampoo and conditioner duo counted as only one product in the Latest in Beauty basket. Out of the two sets I tried, I liked the Blondie locks shampoo more than the “to the rescue” duo, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy any of them again. Rather than being super-nourishing, I found the “to the rescue” products quite thin and watery, which meant I ended up getting through them much faster.

Something I did really enjoy though was the Korres sunflower shampoo. I got mine from Feelunique, but it’s available in supermarkets such as Waitrose and Ocado too. I got this because sunflowers are my favourite, and didn’t actually notice that it was for coloured hair – which I don’t have – but even so, it’s a lovely range and definitely one that I’d recommend.

At the same time, I picked up the Korres almond and linseed mask. This is intended for dry and damaged hair, but you can also use it from time to time as a treatment if you want to give your hair some extra moisture and nourishment. I would definitely get this again as my hair felt great afterwards. It’s not damaged, but it’s so long – down to my waist – that I like to give the ends some love once in a while.

Perfume

Products: 1

I loved this Shea and blue, blood oranges perfume that we got in the 2017 M&S advent calendar. It’s so fresh and well – orange-scented! Definitely one for you if you like your citrus scents. Once I’ve used up some other products, I’d definitely buy this again. I think this is one of the great things about advent calendars, especially the non-branded ones – you get to discover some new brands that you’d never heard of before. (See this post for my thoughts on the advent calendars this year).

Bathtime

Products: 2

I actually forgot that I had this Cowshed Gorgeous Cow shower gel – I found it when I was doing the massive tidy-up operation when the new drawers came. It is part of the Cowshed range and contains Madagascan rose and Indian palmorosa oils, along with lavender to relax you. I love the Cowshed and always recommend their products. They are quite strongly-scented, and some of the scents are unique, using plant extracts that other companies don’t, but I think they’re great.

I tried out the ginger and clementine bubble bath from Waitrose. Actually I got mine from Ocado, but it’s available in both stores. I’m not loyal to bubble baths, but this was a refreshing change, had a good deal of bubbles, and is one that I would cycle round to again.

Discounts

You can get £10 off your first Feel Unique order by going onto the site using my affiliate link. This offer is open to new customers only, and the minimum spend is £30. So basically you can get £30 of products for £20.

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Back to school – it wasn’t like that when I was at school!

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you feel old, it’s looking at how the education system or life as a student has changed from when you were at school.

Ok, I’m only in my 30s, and I’m not actually going back to school! But stay with me here!

I don’t even know if I mentioned this on the blog, but I’m starting a course with the Open University in October. I’m doing an IT degree, which will last for 6 years, because I’m doing it part-time around my other work.

This is not my first attempt to study with the OU, but the first time didn’t work out because unfortunately the materials for the course I wanted to study could not be provided in an accessible format. I don’t really want to dwell on that, but things do seem to have moved on in terms of accessibility. It’s not 100% accessible – things rarely are – but we are working on strategies for me to get round the problems that I’ll encounter. On occasions, a sighted helper will take instructions from me to interact with graphical interfaces and do things that I can’t do because I can’t use a mouse. Diagrams will be provided with descriptions. I will work from online copies of the materials, rather than printed books.

I’ll probably write more about the course when it’s started – I know that some of my readers will be more interested in what we’re doing than in my beauty product posts, so it will add a bit more diversity to the blog. I plan to make it a regular feature.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

The Open University students’ Association is active on Facebook and Twitter, so I decided to follow their page. I then had an idea that there may be other groups out there – local groups, special interest groups, or course-specific ones.

In terms of networking for business, online networking is my thing, much more than face-to-face, so I thought this could be a good idea.

I joined some groups. I got accepted. Suddenly I had the chance to virtually meet up with others setting out on the same path as me.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never go to a face-to-face event, but I just find online easier – unless of course I’m in a group where all people do is post pictures that I can’t see. Then it’s not fun.

But if people are talking to each other, I’m on more of a level playing field. I don’t have to worry about eye contact, finding my way around, or noise sensitivity. Messages can be answered one at a time, rather than feeling that people are talking to me from all sides. Some of it’s blindness-related. Some of it’s sensory sensitivity-related. But either way, online is great!

But when you join groups like that, people can get a snapshot of you – where you are – who you are as an individual – what makes you really you. I don’t share my heart and soul on Facebook, so it’s probably not that revealing, but I’ve chosen to link to both of my sites, so you can get a fair idea of the kind of person I am.

My profile picture with the wolves is maybe not the most glamourous, but it’s also unique to what I love – how many people have a genuine picture of themselves casually hanging out with a couple of massive wolves?!

Some of my articles are set to public, because they are in the public domain anyway and might drive traffic to my sites. But still, you can get some idea of who I am without even exchanging a message with me.

That never used to be the case. When I joined a new school in year 12, I didn’t know anyone and had to build up a picture of who was around, whom I wanted to try and befriend etc, all based on our interactions.

If anyone starts talking to me in one of the groups now, I can click on their profile to see who they are, or at least the version of themselves that they want people to see.

Then it got me thinking about schools.

When I was at school, we didn’t have social media networks. What would I have posted if I had? I was the Hermione Granger type, so probably a lot of stuff about learning and school that others didn’t care about! Or horses. Some of it would probably make me cringe now. I’m no less opinionated than I was then, but I choose my battles more carefully!

But children nowadays? If they have a Facebook account, it means they’re never really away from their friends, or people who definitely aren’t their friends. I can see the advantages of staying in touch, but there’s also this idea that you never really get away from people whom you haven’t chosen to share your life with. As an adult, it’s easier. As a child, I imagine that must be quite tough at times.

This is a pressure, and a challenge that people of my generation never had to deal with, so we don’t really know what it’s like. That struck me today as I was signing up to Facebook study groups!

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Beauty advent calendars 2018 -what has got my attention so far?

I know, I know, it’s way too early to be talking about anything Christmas-related, but when one of my readers mentioned that they didn’t know beauty advent calendars were a thing, I thought I’d do a quick post about them, and which ones have caught my eye so far this year. The other reason for doing this now is that they can sell out really quickly, so it pays to be on the company’s mailing list if you want to know when something is going to become available.

I’m not planning to do a comprehensive guide – other people do really comprehensive ones, and they are usually the bigger bloggers who have been sent a bunch of them to unbox on their YouTube channels so you can see what’s inside.

I don’t have people beating down my door to give me advent calendars, but I am super-nosey and do watch this kind of videos to find out which one I want to get each year.

Which ones have I had so far?

It all started in December 2016, when I got the Body Shop’s calendar . I’d just got interested in the Body Shop’s products, and thought this would be a really good way to test out a bunch of them. There were a few things that I didn’t use, but overall there was a good selection of skincare, a few make-up bits, and a couple of tools.

Then later in 2017 I came across a Sanctuary Spa one that was being sold at a discount because it hadn’t been sold the previous year. This was shortly after my stay in hospital and I thought it would be a nice treat to do in the summer, especially as there was a good selection of bath products in there for pamper night. There were a couple of random fillers too, such as a pastry cutter, but there were plenty of lotions and body washes, and this one wasn’t as expensive.

In December 2017 I was really lucky and had two – one that I got myself and one that was a gift from my Mum. The L’Occitane one was full of fairly small samples, but then the price of the actual products meant that larger samples of them would have made the calendar even more expensive. I love these products and I had got them hoping that there would be Braille on the packaging, as there is with the full-size ones, but this unfortunately wasn’t the case. Still, I think I’ve used just about everything that was in there and having a one-brand calendar is a good way to check out a lot of products from different lines. L’Occitane usually does multiple calendars, so you can choose your price point. Whenever people are talking about this brand they seem to say “this would be good for your Gran!” but there are some lovely scents in there and I don’t think you have to be a grandma to appreciate them! I’m in my 30s!

The gift that I got was the M&S calendar – really reasonably priced, although you do have to buy a bunch of stuff from M&S to qualify to buy it. My Mum helped out with that! The lovely thing about this was that it had a range of brands in there, and introduced me to skincare brands such as Gatineau and Rodial. I also loved the fragrance in there and kept about 75% of the products for myself.

So what’s available?

Of course you can still get the traditional chocolate calendars. I’ve seen ones for wine, gin or other alcoholic drinks, food ones, ones with toys or other things to collect. Some only have 12 doors, but most have 24 or 25.

In terms of beauty, there is a lot out there, so it’s really important to think about what’s important to you. For example, I do wear make-up, but I go for the ones that are more skincare-heavy, because I know I won’t use the powder eye shadows or baked highlighters. If nails are your thing, there are some specifically for just nail varnishes. There are also ones that lean more towards make-up, with no skincare at all. Good if you have sensitive skin or don’t like to try out a lot of new skincare products. There are other calendars that focus more on bathtime, and I know there are ones for candles too.

They also cover all price points, from £10 to over £300! Obviously if they’re really cheap, like a tenner, the quality isn’t going to be amazing, but you certainly don’t have to pay hundreds of pounds to get a good deal. It can be a lot of money to pay out in advance, but even if you look at one around the £100 mark, it works at around £2.50 for products that would usually cost a lot more, so if you can save the money and would use the products, it’s a good investment.

Some people try to avoid the spoilers all together, but I’d rather forfeit the element of surprise and gain the satisfaction of knowing that I want and would use the things inside.

The other thing to consider is what you want in the end – do you want to really get to know one brand, or do you want something from a beauty subscription or department store that will introduce you to a range of brands?

What has caught my eye this year?

To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about the Body Shop® calendar last year, but I like what they’ve done this year. There are three calendars available at different price points, and they include new products, as well as ones that will be coming out for Christmas 2018. The most expensive one has 14 full-size products, and the most affordable one still contains a lot of the most popular products, such as the body butters and hand creams. You can find all three of the advent calendars here and if you want to see what’s inside, just click on each one to see the list of products.

Something else that I’ll be keeping an eye on is the first calendar from Glossybox, with £300 worth of full-sized products. I’d like to know a bit more about what’s in there, but it will feature products from NARS, Crabtree and Evelyn, Bare Minerals and Real Techniques. It will cost £99, but £75 for subscribers, who receive a monthly beauty box. It’s not available yet, but if you are interested in signing up to become a subscriber and getting 20% off your first box, you can use my code KIRSTY-RGE when you place your first order on the Glossybox site.

Finally, there’s the Feelunique calendar. I’m not actually sure whether they did one last year, but I’ve been using this site more and more because of the good range of products on there, the fact that it’s accessible to me as a screenreader user, and the big sales that they have. The calendar will be worth £250, cost £75, and include brands such as Caudalie, Makeup Forever, and REN. Possibly more of a skincare one? Not sure, but if you’re interested, it’s worth getting on the mailing list to find out when it goes on sale in October.

Also, if you find anything you like before then, you can get £10 off your first Feel Unique order by going onto the site using my affiliate link. This offer is open to new customers only, and the minimum spend is £30.

So, will you be getting an advent calendar this year? If so, which one? Do you have a favourite one from previous years? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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.