Blogmas day 17 – the best bits of 2017

So, I thought what better for day 17 than a post about the best bits of the year?

Blogging

I first got the idea when I was asked to contribute to a collaboration by Emma, who set up a group for bloggers on Facebook. We all shared our blogging successes over the last year and it was lovely to read about the progress everyone else has made and how blogging has helped them. You can read the post on Emma’s blog, and it also contains the link to Emma’s group.

I am not anew blogger, because I’ve been blogging on my business site for a few years, but this year I took my first steps into the world of beauty and lifestyle blogging, which is a lot more personal than educational blogging. I’ve enjoyed seeing Unseen Beauty grow, getting to know some great people online, and having the chance to work with some lovely brands.

Make-up and skincare

On Thursday I had to move my make-up collection into a bigger box because things falling out of the old one was driving me crazy! My skincare collection is still a lot bigger than my make-up, because that’s where my focus is, but I’m so happy that I now have a bigger choice in terms of make-up, and a lot of that is down to the fact that I’m better aware of what’s out there. As someone who has to do the no mirror make-up challenge every day due to my blindness, I was really happy to find more cream products this year, because I find them easier to work with than powders. I discovered all the joys of cream shadows, cream blusher, cream highlight, and cream contour! Yay! So special thanks to my partner S, who gives me honest feedback when I’m trying new stuff out, and my friend Amy, who introduced me to a lot of the new types of product.

One way in which I’ve been able to try out a lot of new products for a fraction of the price is through my beauty subscriptions. I tried out a couple, but stuck with Latest in Beauty and Lovelula for most of the year. I really like Latest in Beauty because you get to fill your own box. Lovelula is good too because of the organic and cruelty-free products, but a lot of make-up has been sneaking into what was originally known as a skincare box, and I prefer to choose my own make-up. So I’m on the fence about that for next year, but it’s still a good box if you aren’t as fussy as I am, and both boxes have given me the chance to try out a lot of lovely products without having to buy them full-size. In terms of Latest in Beauty, there were only 3 products that I didn’t like out of a whole year, and one of those was because I didn’t read it properly!

I’ve always been pretty good at the basic stuff such as moisturising, but I feel that I understand more about the science behind what the different products do, and because of this, I’ve now got a better skincare routine – maybe I’ll do a post about that in the new year!

On the subject of trying new things, my advent calendars have also been a lovely way to open something new and exciting every day. The L’Occitane one has let me see the variety of scents and products that they do and try them out, and the M&S one has introduced me to a lot of new brands.

Home

The big news at home is that we now have a garden – yay! The garden was a disaster when we moved in with rocks everywhere and only really a little patio area that was usable. Now we have a new fence, a new patio, and a grass area. I’m looking forward to getting out there next year.

Travel

This year I spent a week in Sweden and Denmark, and another in the South of France. Both were working holidays, but we still found plenty of time for sightseeing!

We also spent a weekend away at Wolfwatch, fulfilling my dream of getting close to a wolf and being woken up by howling!

Work

At work I’ve started working with new customers and continued working with existing ones. I get a lot of job satisfaction from seeing people grow in confidence and start using the things that they have learned. I’ve developed a new area on my site for teachers, and I’m over halfway through writing my second book for freelance teachers. My first book for language learners has been sold in 15 countries and this year became available as a hard copy, as well as an ebook. I got to episode 100 of the English with Kirsty podcast!

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 16?

L’Occitane – this time it was another shower gel. I find these a little on the small side, but they are lovely and a good way to find out what scents you most enjoy from the range!

M&S: this time I got something else I hadn’t tried before – the Ren instant firming beauty shot. It’s a serum that hydrates, firms, lifts, and plumps the skin. I’m doing a post on serums in the new year and I’m excited to try another one out!

Question of the day

Plastic or real Christmas tree? What do you think?

As a child, we usually had a real one, and I loved the pine scent, but now we have a plastic one! It’s easier, less mess, and I do feel a bit bad about all those trees in January.

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Blogmas day 16 – let us howl

Our visit to the Wolf Conservation Trust near Reading, whom we met there, and what we learned!

So, I’m going to break with the Christmas posts to tell you about what I did last night – because it’s cool, and also I’d like more people to find out about the Trust.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that S and I are interested in Wolves. I published the walking with wolves post earlier in the year. While I was researching that trip, I also discovered the UK wolf conservation Trust website, and last night, S and I went with some friends to their Howl Night!

The first part of the evening is a presentation about wolf communication. We learned about ways in which they communicate with other wolves using long-distance communication, such as howls, as well as other verbal forms of communications, such as barks, growls, whimpers, yips and woofs! We then went on to look at body language – the positioning of the ears, tail, and posture, as well as the eye contact. Real footage from the centre’s wolves was used to demonstrate points about what was happening and what the wolves were trying to communicate.

The centre is home to 10 wolves in four packs – two packs of 3 and two packs of 2. After the presentation had finished, we went outside to see, and howl with them!

The first pack we saw was my favourite – Mosi and Torak. Mosi is one of the older wolves at 11 years of age, but that didn’t stop her being the most vocal with her howls! She deposed her sister Mai as alpha female, which led to her sister being moved out of the enclosure when they were younger. She was eager to respond to us with howls and interested in her visitors! Torak is a tall and proud wolf with a handsome, masculine head and the most mournful howl that you have ever Heard! He was more aloof and stayed to the back of the large enclosure, but that didn’t stop him joining in with a howl!

The next pack we came across was the arctic wolves, Massak, Pukak and Sikko. Sikko is the only female in this pack, where she lives with her brothers. They were born during a severe snowstorm in Park Safari, Quebec, and abandoned by their mother, who got out of her den with one other pup, but didn’t accept these three back as they had been touched by humans, who revived them from severe hyperthermia. Pukak loves his food and sometimes paws at the fence in anticipation. Massak is the dominant male and often lets his brother and sister go to greet visitors first. All of these wolves have thick, white coats to protect them from freezing arctic temperatures.

The next pack we saw was Mai and Motomo. Mai was separated from the pack with her sister and now lives with Motomo, an unsocialised wolf from Devon. Though partially spayed now, Mai and Motomo had been getting on better than expected as, soon after they were put together, Mai was found to be pregnant. We saw their offspring in the next enclosure. Apparently Mai likes to howl to Motomo when she is away on a walk. Motomo was only hand-reared for two weeks of his life, so he can’t be handled by the volunteers as he is still very scared of humans.

In the last large enclosure are Mai and Motomo’s offspring, now 6 years old. They were very playful when we came up, chasing and growling at one another. Nuka is the dominant male and the most adopted wolf at the trust. He already knows which humans he doesn’t want to have around him! Tala is a very friendly and inquisitive wolf, who is often put in her place by her sister Tundra, the dominant wolf in the pack. Tala’s inquisitiveness sometimes leads to the destruction of things such as Christmas trees put in their enclosure for children’s events! Tundra is a wary wolf who is less likely to come and greet visitors. If her brother and sister do silly things like playing in the pond, Tundra just looks on and doesn’t join in.

The wolves are well-cared for and have plenty of space to run around. As well as looking after the wolves in its care, the trust also supports other projects to help wolves in other parts of the world – both in terms of caring for captive wolves and educating the local population. The centre is also involved in research projects to enable people to better understand these wonderful animals.

If you’d like to support the Wolf Conservation Trust, there are plenty of different ways for you to get involved. If you can get to Reading, there are Howl Nights or wolf walks throughout the year. You can also make a donation, adopt a wolf, give a child a junior membership, or buy a wide range of wolf merchandise from the store. I’d already got myself a pair of earrings and a necklace online, but last night I also came back with a mug, a keyring, another pair of earrings and a hoodie! All for a good cause, so that’s ok 😉

Are there any nature or conservation organisations that you like to support?

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

Going back to Blogmas and the advent calendars- what was behind your door no. 16?

L’Occitane – this time it was another soap – the last of the 3!

M&S: this time I got a hair spray, which I won’t use, so that’s something for Mother Christmas!

We still haven’t finished our Christmas shopping, so you can guess what we’ll be doing later!

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Blogmas day 15 – office Christmas party

So, most of the time I don’t miss having colleagues too much! I love having an office to myself, and I still have plenty of people contact through working with my customers and being active in various networks. But when it gets to this time of year, I do miss the office Christmas parties!

I say “parties” because I usually ended up going to more than one! I worked for the government, so there were a lot of people in our building, which meant that departments and teams did their own thing. However they weren’t always that strict about who attended, so as well as going to my own, I sometimes got invited to other people’s events as well! I remember being quite tired at the end of December!

Most of the time it involved going for a meal somewhere followed by drinks and dancing afterwards. Once I missed the last train home the night before Christmas Eve and had to get a taxi after I’d got as close as I could on the train. I think I got in at around 4AM and then had to get organised the next day to go to my Mum’s. I didn’t feel my best that day!

They weren’t all as late as that though!

Working in the centre of London, we were spoiled for choice in terms of restaurants. You could have whatever type of cuisine you wanted, but you had to be quick. If you started thinking about your Christmas party booking in December, it was usually too late as most places were already full.

The parties were a lovely excuse to get dressed up, have a laugh, a few glasses of wine, and get to know some new people. I remember one year I was the only person from my part of the office. I was also the first to arrive and felt very self-conscious. This was compounded by the fact that I was from the Director’s Office, and people were a bit wary of talking to me. Maybe before I joined, people kept themselves to themselves from that office, I don’t know, but after a drink or two, people overcame their initial shyness and we had a really good evening!

Mainly I did it to have fun, but in such a large organisation, it was a really good way to get to know some people from other buildings or areas. I think it helped too – if they remembered you later when you needed to contact them about something, you weren’t just a name behind an email, but someone they had already met and chatted too.

I think it’s great that some companies in the private sector put on their own events for staff and I’ve been to a couple with my partner.

Now I’m self-employed, I don’t have a Christmas party, but as I’m always roping S in to help with one thing or another for my business, I said I’d take him out for dinner, or maybe lunch after the Christmas market! It’s a bit late now, but maybe I could organise something next year for other local business owners, or some kind of online event for bloggers. I don’t know. But I’d like a plate of turkey and all the trimmings that I haven’t cooked!

How about you? Will you be attending any office Christmas parties this year? Or have you already?

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 15?

L’Occitane – this time it was a lip balm. I didn’t even know that they did them, but I guess this is the point of the calendar! It’s a non-flavoured one and good for a handbag.

M&S: it’s the second mascara – this time the Diego Dalla Palma Ciglione Mascara one in black. I haven’t tried this one before and I’m not going to open it yet because I don’t like to have too many mascaras on the go! But I’m looking forward to trying it out as I haven’t had anything from this brand before.

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Blogmas day 14 – winter weather expressions

English people have a reputation for talking about the weather. Have you noticed that some of the expressions we use are about winter weather?

At this time of year, there is a lot to say about ice, snow and cold, windy weather. Here are some wintry weather idioms and their meanings.

1. To be skating on thin ice
To be doing something that is dangerous or which could have negative consequences.

2. A snowball effect
A situation which gains momentum or where something increases in size or impact.

3. To be snowed under
To have so much to do that you can’t take on anything else.

4. Every cloud has a silver lining
Even if a situation looks bad, something good will come out of it.

5. To get wind of something
To learn about something, even though it was supposed to be a secret.

6. To have a face like thunder
To have a facial expression that shows that you are very angry.

7. To throw caution to the wind
This means that someone is taking a big risk.

Can you think of any more?

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 14?

L’Occitane – time for another shower gel! These are like travel minis – maybe ok for the shower, but in the bath I tend to use a bit of another shower gel as well! Still, it’s good to go through the whole range of scents!

M&S: Today I got a maringa cleansing balm from Emma Hardy. I’ve never used a cleansing balm before because I usually use a cream cleanser or micellar water, so I’m looking forward to trying this out!

Question for the day

Brussel sprouts – yes or no? I’d have to say no, unless they are the ones made entirely out of chocolate!

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Blogmas day 13 – warming winter food

On Monday a box arrived from Amazon and inside was my new pressure cooker!

The reason I’m telling you this is that I used it last night to make one of my favourite winter meals – a quick and easy winter stew!

I used to have this as a child too, although my Nan didn’t use a pressure cooker. I could smell the stew as it was cooking and I knew there would be a tasty warm meal with dumplings.

Actually I didn’t make any dumplings, because I didn’t have much time yesterday, but it’s a hearty and pretty healthy meal because all I used was fresh vegetables and some meat, though of course you could do it without the meat.

I won’t write down a recipe because my stew is different every time. Yesterday I used pork, potatoes, mushrooms, a tomato, an aubergine, and a couple of onions. I covered the meat and vegetables with gravy and whatever herbs and spices I felt like chucking in! I tasted the gravy mixture to make sure the spices were right before I poured it over the meat and veg that were already in the pressure cooker.

If you like it spicy, you can add chillis. I added two because we like our meals to have a bit of heat, but you don’t need to do this if you don’t like spicy food.

I like to make stews in the pressure cooker for two reasons – it’s super quick – after I’d prepared everything and the pressure cooker started steaming, it took about 25 minutes for the meal to be cooked. Then you just need to wait for the pressure to go down so it’s safe to open the lid. The second thing is how it makes the potatoes all soft and fluffy!

You can tell when it’s ready, because even if you can’t see the steam, it starts to hiss like a big snake, which is when you need to start timing.

I will admit that I’m slightly scared of the pressure cooker because I’ve heard stories of bad things happening, and I know that there is a lot of pressure building up inside it, but I have also heard that they are safer now than they used to be, so it doesn’t put me off from using it.

I do have a slow cooker too, and I sometimes cook casseroles in there, but sometimes I don’t feel the meat tastes quite as good as when you do it in the pressure cooker.

Making this kind of meal is a good way to use up any vegetables you have left over. We do sometimes have an excess of veg because of our vegetable box, and as I don’t like waste, I’ve been making winter soups. Having some hearty winter stews as well will be a good way to mix things up a bit!

How about you? What do you like to cook when it’s cold and grim outside?

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 13?

L’Occitane – I thought it was another soap, but no! It was a sugar bath cube! I haven’t tried one of those before, so it will be interesting to see what they’re like, and as it’s a sugar one, it shouldn’t be too messy because sugar is soluble.

M&S – today I got a fragrance – blood orange from Shay and Blue. I know it’s a risky business putting a fragrance in an advent calendar, and you won’t please everyone, but I really like this. I’m glad they went for a citrus one rather than a really floral one. You get 10ml, so enough to really try it out (I can’t see the point of those little 2ml ones!), and it’s something I would consider buying full size.

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Blogmas day 12 – Christmas jewellery

Today I want to talk about Christmas jewellery! I’m not talking about expensive pieces, just something that brings a bit of Christmas sparkle to any outfit.

I’m not a fan of Christmas jumpers because I’m fussy about what fabrics I will wear – i.e. no wool (I think it goes back to the scratchy school jumpers!) So I like to make things a bit Christmassy with my jewellery.

Last year I found some sparkly owls, but I can’t find them to link now. The only thing I’d say is if you’ll be wearing something all day, try not to go for really heavy earrings as they might start to hurt after a while!

Last year I got myself a Christmas tree necklace from the Ornami collection – it’s not available at the time of writing, but you can see it here.

I also have the snowman necklace from the same range, and the reindeer pendant.

I like this range because yes, it’s Christmassy, but also the pendants are tactile and can be enjoyed by someone who can’t see them too. To be honest, the tree is the most tactile because you can feel the little baubles, but the reindeer and the snowman are good too because you can clearly feel their shapes.

Maybe next year I’ll get the snowflake pendant!

This year I added a couple of pairs of earrings to my collection. We have some Christmas trees – not as nice as the pendant, but they would be ok with something else, and some little snowmen!

At some point I’d like to add these snowmen by Katy Craig because I already have some of her doggy jewellery! Or maybe some Santa hats from the same range?

How about you? Do you have any Christmas jewellery?

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 12?

L’Occitane – today it was time for another little hand cream, which is great, because I’m enjoying trying out their complete range. Previously I’d only tried the shea one. The almond one from today is nice and it goes with my almond soap from the calendar, which is out in the bathroom at the moment.

M&S – today we got a generous 50ml of Alpha H liquid gold rose. It’s an evening exfoliating and moisturising toner. Anyone who has been following my blog will know that I’m all about the chemical rather than scrubby exfoliants, so I’m looking forward to giving this one a go!

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Blogmas day 11 – things I love about winter

Let it snow! It did actually snow in our part of the world last night. It has now mixed with rain, and there’s not enough to make a good snow dog, but at least it snowed! Some people got up to 32 cm of the stuff, and I do feel sorry for all the people who lost power to their homes over the weekend. Still, even as an adult, I do think there’s something magical about the fluffy white stuff – as long as I don’t have to go anywhere in it!

11 things that I love about winter

People sometimes see winter as a dull and dreary time of the year. It’s true that in England it can be cold and damp, but actually I think there’s a lot to love about winter. Here are 11 of my favourite things!

1. Winter walks
Now that I work from home, I certainly don’t miss running to the train station in the rain and spending the rest of the day trying to dry out! But when it’s dry, I love wrapping up in my big thick coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, and going for a walk. We don’t get a lot of snow around here, but the air is so fresh and crisp – it really feels as though you’re doing something good for yourself, especially as we tend to spend a lot more time inside during the winter.

2. Winter food
I’m not just talking about Christmas dinner here, although I do enjoy roast turkey with all the trimmings! I also mean the home-made pumpkin soups and the hearty stews and casseroles that I make when it’s cold outside. These are really healthy too because they’re basically just meat and vegetables with a few additional herbs and spices for flavour.
I’m not a fan of the traditional desserts like Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, but I do enjoy a slice of chocolate log (a kind of cake) or a mince pie (a sweet pastry case filled with dried fruit and spices).

3. Christmas
Not just Christmas Day though – I mean the whole time leading up to Christmas with all the preparations, getting the tree, decorating it, buying presents, wrapping them, making Christmas food, listening to the music…

4. Winter clothes
AT the moment I’m wearing a soft, thick fleece with a wolf on it. Winter gives me the chance to get out all my warm snuggly clothes that would be too hot at any other time of the year. I think there’s something really comforting about being wrapped up warm!

5. Snuggling up on a cold evening
The wind is howling outside, the rain is lashing down – but it’s ok, because you’re in the warm, snuggled up with a blanket on the sofa, reading a good book, watching a film, or just enjoying a steaming mug of hot chocolate!

6. Christmas markets
They are actually a German tradition, but they are becoming quite popular in the UK now. It’s basically a collection of stalls with people selling gifts, hand-made products, and food. You can usually pick up a tasty treat and find some gifts for Christmas presents, or just for yourself, that are a bit different to what you can find in the shops.

7. Decorating the house
I mentioned this earlier in the part about Christmas. I don’t go for the crazy lights and garden decorations that you can see for miles, but I do like to have a tree, the singing snowman and some greenery around the house.

8. Advent calendars
They really started to be a thing here last year, and now so many shops and brands are doing them. They used to be just for chocolate – you got a little chocolate treat every day, but now there are make-up ones, skincare ones, perfume ones, ones with candles, ones for pets, and ones with food or drinks inside. I love to see the variety, and getting a little treat each day from 1st till 25th December is of course fun too!

9. Snow
We don’t get a lot of it where I live in the south of England, but when we did get some, my dog used to love it. She would roll around on her back in it, burrow down into it with her paws, and do her best to catch the snowballs that I threw for her. Then she’d be really confused about where they disappeared to if they hit the ground.
When I was still at primary school, my family moved to the north of England, where there was more snow. The children used to get excited when it snowed because it often meant that the school would close and they could go sledging!

10. Time off work
I haven’t always taken holiday around Christmas time, but people don’t usually want training courses at this time of year, so now I usually take a couple of weeks off at the end of December. I don’t usually go away, so it’s holiday at home with my partner, and it gives me time to catch up with family and friends.

11. New Year
I’m not a fan of huge parties for New Year. Most years I stayed home with my dog, or celebrated locally with friends. When I used to live in London, I wasn’t interested in going to join the huge crowds. But I like New Year because it’s a new beginning – a fresh new year with so many possibilities. Like a blank page waiting to be filled, or a new chapter in a book.

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 1?

L’Occitane – today I got another shower gel, this time the shea one. L’Occitane shower gels are lovely, and I prefer them to the oils. I haven’t had this one before, but I like the range.

M&S – after being so happy with yesterday’s mask (I tried it out yesterday), today’s offering was a make-up sponge. I can’t get excited about make-up sponges and do feel that this was a bit of a filler gift. It’s the first thing that I won’t use, so I suppose that’s not bad. I’ll find someone to give it to or put it in my give-away box – It’s not a bad product, I just can’t get very enthusiastic about it!

Question of the day

Today’s question – do you give or receive Christmas stockings? I don’t any more, but I always had one as a child, usually after Christmas dinner.

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