New finds from my beauty and skincare subscriptions

I haven’t done a skincare and haircare post in a while, so I thought I’d share with you a few recent finds from my subscriptions. Let me know in the comments whether you’ve tried any of these!

Odyssey box

One of my favourite products from the Odyssey haircare box was this almocado seaweed shampoo that came in the April box. It smelled amazing and its gentle formula lathered up well, leaving my hair feeling clean and less tangled. Seaweed is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and this product smelled more fruity than the funky smell you sometimes get with seaweed products!

I’m not usually a fan of mint haircare because I hate that tingly feeling on my scalp. I’ve heard it’s meant to be good for you, but it’s uncomfortable for me and I think my bathtime is a time for relaxing, not pain! Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to it. Anyway, I was a bit wary of using this herbal hair mask from the same April box, but even though it contains mint, it’s not as harsh or maybe as concentrated as products that I’ve used before. As a result, I could sit with this mask on for a while and get the full benefits of it. It also contains rosemary and sage.

These products are from the same brand and it’s not one I’d heard of before. That’s something I like about this box – being introduced to and supporting new independent brands.

Pip box

This Skinfd sweet Orange hand cream smells great! I like the packet with a nozzle – I had it in my bag for ages, and as well as being made from cardboard, aluminium and recycled plastic, this kind of packet doesn’t take up as much room. You can also get right down and get every last drop of the product. It is a good formula, I loved the orange scent. It is quite thin though, so you do need to be careful when tipping it out because it came out quite fast.

Not a new product for me, but I like Dr Botanicals, and I was happy to see this Cocoa face mask. It’s a wash-off product and it promises to revive and hydrate. I’m all about the hydration now that we’re coming into the winter months. Looking at my list now I see that there are a number of Dr Botanicals products. They are good and don’t have a lot of preservatives as some other skincare products do, so once you’ve opened them, you do need to get them used up!

Latest in Beauty

This is the box where you get to choose your own products, so you can customise the selection to things that you will definitely use.

I’ve used various products from Weleda, but I didn’t know they did a citrus range. It was a fairly small tube, but I’m glad I tried the Weleda citrus hydrating body lotion because now I know that I would definitely buy it again! It’s packed with a juicy lemon scent and also contains aloe vera gel and coconut oil to keep your skin soft.

I’ve mentioned the Laidbare sunflower cream before on the blog, but LIB had it on their selection list for a while, so I picked up one every month for a while. The plan I’m on means that products work out at £2 each for me, so it’s definitely a way to save money on things that you already like as well as trying out new ones. I do love sunflowers, but it’s more about the formula of this – it dries down quickly, making your hands softer, but isn’t one of those quick-drying formulas that make you feel as though you didn’t apply anything. Especially now, at a time when we’re all washing our hands more. I like to have some good quality hand creams around. This is a pretty cheap one by comparison, but it works!

The Dr Botanicals pomegranate overnight mask seems to be sold out on a lot of sites at the moment. It got to the point where I think some people were tired of seeing it because it showed up in so many beauty subscriptions, but it is a good overnight mask and I was happy to get another one!

Lovelula

Another Laidbare product, this time their shea body butter As the name suggests, it’s a thicker, creamy butter and contains jasmine, bergamot, patchouli and vertiver. It’s a butter, so you need to work it in, but my skin can become quite dry and I never skip this step, which for me is part of the whole bathtime ritual!

I also tried this Kathleen Tranquil fields Shower gel. It’s marketed as a bubble bath or shower gel, but I didn’t find it produced many bubbles, so just used it as a shower gel. It contains lavender and other floral fragrances that are good for relaxing and transporting you to a tranquil field far away. I do find these products are quite expensive for what they are though. I think I’m more likely to pay out on leave-on products such as body lotions, than those that you wash off in the bath!

I couldn’t find this Madara foaming cleanser on the Lovelula site, but I tried it out when it came in my box. I don’t usually use foaming cleansers because I find they can be quite harsh, but I do really like Madara as a brand, so decided to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a lot more gentle than some that I’ve tried, and I did use it all. I probably wouldn’t repurchase, though this has more to do with the product category than the product itself.

Self-made Advent calendar

Last year I made my own advent calendar and loved it! I haven’t done it this year, but I think of all the ones I’ve had, it was my favourite – because it was all things I wanted to try, there were no filler products and no products that I wouldn’t use. It also gave me new things to try throughout the year.

There is a bunch of Dr Botanicals superfood moisturisers on Feelunique, which is where I got the pineapple one, but it doesn’t seem to be available any more. Yes, I did love the juicy pineapple scent, but it was also a good morning or evening moisturiser. I hope they bring it back, but I’m also tempted by melon or cranberry!

I also wanted to try this Nympf radiance serum from Barry M because who doesn’t want to be a radiant nymph? Actually I just wanted some new serums, but I enjoyed using this one. The main ingredient is apricot oil, but it’s the citrus oils that you smell! It’s described as a lightweight serum to use under your make-up, but due to its oil base, I tended to use it in the evenings instead of a face oil. I guess you could do either though.

Looking back at this list, I see there are some common threads with brands, and some old favourites – but also a bunch of new products that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if it hadn’t been for my various subscriptions.

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Dr Botanicals pineapple cream
Lemon serum

I had to send a letter

I had to send a letter

I don’t know how long ago it is that I sent my last letter. I just don’t do it. All of my business correspondence is sent online and I generally encourage people to write to me online too, because that’s how I can read it. Even my bills are paperless!

Great for me and great for the planet!

The postman and parcel delivery people don’t count – they bring me the things that I order online! That’s definitely something I didn’t have 20 years ago, and for me, even though I grumble about a lack of online retail accessibility at times, it’s definitely progress!

But generally things I receive in the mail, with the exception of birthday or Christmas cards, are junk mail, advertising, and stuff that finds its way straight to the recycling.

So anyway – I had to send a letter for the first time in years.

I have access to a printer now, but I went for years without even that.

We did have a couple of issues though, such as not having an envelope big enough (a quick online order fixed that) and no stamps (fortunately my supermarket does them, so I could just add it to our shopping. But this all delayed the sending off of the letter, not least because we’re still shielding and couldn’t just pop to the shops.

Eventually the letter was sent off and I started thinking about my 21st century mini problem and how things have changed.

When I was growing up, my Nan always had a cupboard full of stationery, and she always had stamps in her bag. She wouldn’t have run out of either.

As a teenager, I was the same, with English stamps, international ones, free postage labels for my international library books, and envelopes of all shapes and sizes.

I had various penfriends in Germany, which was fun, but challenging at the same time. When the handwritten notes came, I couldn’t see to read them. My Nan could, but she couldn’t speak German. So she tried to read them phonetically and I tried to figure out what the letters meant, taking down the letter myself in Braille or on my laptop so that I could reply later without having to ask for help again.

At the time it was good, because it gave me a reason to improve my German – so that I could communicate with my friends (I would type my replies and print them out). I was grateful for my patient Nan who helped me transcribe letters in a language she didn’t understand. It almost became like a game – uncover the hidden code! Those letters were never particularly long though – when I think now of some of the lengthy emails I write to my friends – transcribing the answers to those would be a lot more work!

I don’t miss getting personal letters that I can’t read myself though. I communicate with people all round the world every day, and I am so grateful for the technology that allows me to do this independently – without having to bother someone else, or have them read all of my correspondence.

Ok, my teenage letters weren’t that deep or meaningful, but it’s still like taking someone with you every time you meet up with someone for coffee, and never actually getting to chat with them on their own.

That’s before you even get to things like love letters! Who wants someone else reading those?!

I know some people are happy to receive handwritten letters in the post. They feel it’s more special and more personal.

But apart from the minor inconvenience of not having what I needed to send off this particular letter, I’m glad about how things have moved on for me, and how far technology has allowed adult Kirsty to be more independent than teenage Kirsty ever was!

As for stamps – I remember what they used to cost before and was actually quite surprised!

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8 times people assumed and got it wrong with my access needs

This is actually a post that I wrote for one of my business blogs, but I wanted to link it here because I know I have readers who are interested in accessibility or posts around visual impairment.

Making assumptions about what people need is a bad idea generally, but I wanted to use some practical examples from my own experience to show the kind of problems that can come up when people do it.

You can read my 8 times people assumed and got it wrong post here. Let me know in the comments if you have experienced any of these things, or if you have your own stories to add.

Where are we going? An interview with an inclusive children’s book author

I met Vie online earlier this year because we were both in one of the same Facebook groups. What started as a virtual coffee chat has become a friendship, even though we haven’t actually met face-to-face yet. Welcome to 2020! But actually it’s not that unusual for me to have virtual friendships. The internet has opened up so many.

Inclusion is important. There is a place for explaining our differences and talking about them, but it’s also vital that disabled people are seen in films, books, tv shows, and news articles, where the focus is on the everyday things and the things we have in common, rather than the one thing that makes us different.

I would like to share Vie’s current project with you because I think it’s really important. I’ve done an interview with her so that she can tell you more about it.

If you have children, are looking for Christmas presents for children, or just would like to support other children by making this book available to them, please have a look and see whether this is something that you’d like to support.

Can you please tell us something about yourself and the work that you do?

I am founder and director of a Community Interest Company that teaches self esteem and confidence workshops to children and young people, aged 4 to 19. As a Community Interest Company, I can apply for some grants, although that has been very difficult in this year of Covid; have fundraising events, again, difficult this year; and take donations. I decided to set up as a CIC because I knew that schools needed the workshops I offer but often can’t afford to pay for external facilitators to go in.

What motivated you to write a children’s book/what gave you the idea?

I love children’s books! I have worked with children most of my life, as a Nanny, in schools, in groups, so I have read a lot of books; some I don’t recall, some are awful, some are amazing! I am also a regular user of public transport, both alone and with the children I’ve looked after; if you’re open to it, a journey on a bus with a young child can be one filled with wonder, as they can see things us jaded adults often can’t.

Many times, I have been waiting for a bus at a stop, and a child has asked a simple question of the adult they’re with, only to be answered in a snappy tone. I wanted to write a story that demonstrated that, in around the same amount of words it takes to answer in a snappy way, the same question can be answered in a magical, encouraging way.

As young children, we’re encouraged to be imaginative in school, then, as we get older, we’re told to “grow up”, to “not be silly”; it’s no wonder that many adults feel they can’t use their imagination. I want to give people the encouragement to say the silly things that come to mind; to encourage them to dream big. If we can dream big, we’re more likely to aim higher in our lives.

Who is the main character in your book?

The image is of a young girl with ginger curly hair, bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile; she is wearing a blue long sleeved t-shirt with a pink heart on the chest, blue knee length shorts, a pink tutu, and pink trainers; her left leg is a prosthetic limb.

A huge part of who I am, of what I do, is about acceptance and inclusion. I have said about my love of children’s books; in all the ones I’ve read, the only ones where there is a child with a disability, the story is about their disability. Although those books are very important, and they definitely have value, but, for me, it encourages people to think of them as “other”. In my story, the main character has a visible difference and it’s not mentioned, other than in the activity section at the back of the book; I want people to see her as a child having wonderful imaginary adventures, who just happens to have a disability. It’s important that all children see positive representations of themselves; it’s also important that other children see children that are different to them in a positive way.

What age group do you think would enjoy the book most?

The age group I would suggest this is for is 3 to 6, maybe 7, years old; it’s a great story to share and also a lovely story for a child to practice their reading.

What can you tell us about the underrepresentation of disabled characters in fiction?

In children’s stories, only 3.4% of books have a character with a disability in (Cooperative Children’s Book Council – CCBC – 2019), but, in the UK, there are 800,000 disabled children under the age of 16 (around 8%), which equates to one child in 20 (Contact A Family). Children need to see a positive representation of every child.

Why is addressing this imbalance important to you as an author and somebody who works with young people?

I really believe that, if we’re kinder and more accepting of ourselves, we’ll be kinder and more accepting of others. I live with several chronic conditions, all of which are mostly invisible; I am frequently astounded by the lack of awareness people have around disabilities; the image most people seem to have of a person with disabilities is someone in a wheelchair; too often, people with disabilities are seen as people to pity or patronise, or as “inspiration porn”, rather than fully rounded humans, with a whole gamut of emotions, a whole lifetime of experiences. But, perhaps it’s not surprising that the majority of people have those attitudes when people with disabilities are so rarely represented in books, films, on tv, and, when they are, they frequently exacerbate the pity or porn attitude. We need more honest, more frequent, representation, for everyone’s benefit.

And that’s where my book comes in. It’s from the age of three that children start to make judgements on others bodies; if they are surrounded by more positive images, more inclusive images, from a young age, they will have a better understanding that all bodies are good bodies.

Can you tell us something about your plans for the book? What would you like to happen as a result, and what message would you like others to take away?

My book can be pre-ordered via Crowdfunder (link below) as a hardback; in the campaign, as well as other exclusive items, there are also options to donate a book to a primary school or group of your choice, right up to being able to donate a book to every library, nursery, or school in your area. I would love for as many children as possible to see my book! It would be wonderful to have the book in every reception and year one class in the country, every pre-school, so an understanding of inclusion is developed from a young age. Though, as someone in Texas has contributed to the Crowdfunder, maybe I need to think bigger!!

I would love for a child to listen to the story, participate in the adventures, and think, “That child is just like me” because of all the things they have in common, rather than see the main character as someone different to them.

How can people support you or find out more?

As a Community Interest Company, support is always needed. With the Crowdfunder, as well as contributing to get the book published, and donating books to nurseries, schools and groups, every supporter will also be supporting my CIC, enabling me to reach more children and young people.

The Crowdfunder link is here.
This is my website, and I am VieNessCIC on social media

Thank you

Thank you Vie for sharing this with us. I am supporting this crowdfunder and if this is something you want to get behind too, I’d encourage you to check out Vie’s links.

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Winter is coming – but it’s not all bad!

I started thinking about writing this post after listening to a podcast, in which the topic was winter, and how we should use nature and being outside to help us through the long winter months. I can get behind that – particularly if I’m not feeling my best, nature can really help to lift my spirits – whatever the season. It grounds me somehow.

I’m possibly in the minority in that I’m not really a summer person! Yes, I like to be outside in the sunshine, but I don’t like getting burned and I get bored just lying around in the sun.

My favourite season is autumn, but winter is ok for me too.

I know it’s easy for me to say that because I have warm clothes, I can put the heating on if I want, and I don’t have to trudge to work in all weathers as I used to. I’m aware not all people have these things and I don’t take them for granted.

But I’m talking about a more basic level of learning to make the best of and appreciate all the seasons, rather than wanting summer all year round.

One of my students moved from Europe to a climate where there isn’t really much variation in the weather from month to month, and she misses the changing of the seasons. I think I would miss the transitions too, even if our weather has been a bit erratic in recent years.

Growing up

When I was a child, we always walked to school. In the morning, there was no other option. My Granddad needed the car for work, so my Nan and I had to walk. In the afternoon, my Granddad would pick me up, and we usually walked then too. Occasionally, if it was raining hard, he might bring the car, but otherwise, we walked.

It was quality time. We didn’t always talk, but we enjoyed the company, and the nature. The smells of freshly-cut grass, or the distinctive smells of the trees that showed me where on our route we were.

In winter, we would wrap up warm in coats, gloves, scarves, and hats. It made you appreciate the warm home after school, or when you came in from the snow.

We lived a lot further north when I was growing up, (although I’m originally from London), and it snowed more there. As children we got really excited about snow days – because school would be closed – but also because we could play out in it, build snowmen, and go sledding. Even the dog got involved in the games! (I am the child in the picture, and the dog is our pet dog Cindy)

My Nan loved Christmas, possibly more than the children did! She was always really enthusiastic about the day itself, but also the time before. All the preparations – buying things, wrapping things, making things, decorating things… And that enthusiasm was infectious! The activities are different now, but I still like the pre-Christmas time, which is why I had plenty to write about for the couple of years that I did Blogmas.

What winter means now

Ok, I don’t enjoy going out in the rain, and I’m glad I could say goodbye to freezing waits on train platforms and walking to work in the sleet. I do enjoy a good wintry walk though, when there’s a fresh breeze to blow away the cobwebs and clear my head. Maybe now, in this unusual time, it will also guarantee us more seclusion when we do go out for our walks. That will help me feel safer, and in turn make the walks more enjoyable.

I like making winter food – ok there is all the Christmas stuff, but also warming dishes like soups and stews. I like snuggling up on the sofa with a good book and a hot chocolate! I like hearing the sounds of the howling wind or lashing rain – as long as I’m inside! I like the snuggly, fluffy things that we bring out to wear during this time!

I listened to a report about winter life in places that have a lot more snow and a lot less light than we have. Of course they have problems too – no country doesn’t – but I really got a sense that this season is also something to be embraced and enjoyed, often with outdoor activities, rather than something to hide away from.

For me, winter is a quieter time – a time to reflect, to rest, and take stock. It’s a bit like the night time – we might be more active in the day, but you need the night as well, otherwise everything would be too exhausting! Ok I’m a night owl as well!

I know that this year it will be harder for some people – fewer chances to meet outside, if those activities are weather-dependent, probably a very different Christmas. We need to adapt, to make sure our friends are ok, and not be too ashamed to ask for help if we need it.

The clocks are going back, and the darker nights are coming. I know for some people that will be harder, in a year when some are already feeling isolated.

I’m not talking about people who are facing hardships right now, such as struggling to pay the heating bills or afford enough to eat. But I do get frustrated when people, many of whom still have a lot more freedoms than I’ve had all summer, want to dismiss the next few months because some things will be a bit different this year.

I’ve been shielding since March. I haven’t been able to do all the things I want, go all the places I want, or hug all the people I want to. But I still believe I have a lot to be grateful for. I intend to make the most of the winter when it comes, because every season has something to offer, even when you have to look a bit harder to find it.

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Odyssey box – a hair subscription box accessible to blind people

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

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

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

What is ODYSSEY BOX?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts on the products

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind people and subscription boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My customer experience

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

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

The growth goals box

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

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

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

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

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

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Life of a mature student – technologies in practice module

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

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

The content

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

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

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

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

The assessment

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

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

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

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

Accessibility – studying the module as a blind student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Linux part didn’t pose any accessibility problems.

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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September – sunflowers and shielding birthday

September – sunflowers and shielding birthday

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

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

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

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

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

The beginning of Autumn

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

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

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

Shopping

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

Week off and birthday

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

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

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

How was September for you?

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10 things I learned from Cindy the golden retriever

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

You can find out a bit more about her here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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