September favourites – birthday, chocolate skincare, and eye shadow sticks

Well, it’s the last day of September, and before we get into October, I’d like to talk about the good bits, the things I discovered, and generally things that made me happy.

Also, the giveaway is still open, so if you haven’t done so already, why not check it out? Details are at the end of the post. Closing date is 7th October 2018.

Birthday and family time

September is my birthday month, so it was good to spend some time celebrating with S, family and friends. There was the Chinese meal with S + 11 wonderful friends, the meal for 2 with S at Chiquitos, and the birthday shopping day in Reading, including a trip to the jewellers! There were also thoughtful gifts from friends, a visitor with cake (you know who you are and are probably reading this!), a Braille card from a company that not only brailles the cards, but also describes the pictures, and quite a lot of chocolate. Birthdays are great!

The photo in the post header was taken earlier in the month, when I met up with two of my cousins, whom I hadn’t seen for eight years. They were staying with their mum in a holiday cottage, another aunt and uncle came too, and we had a family reunion. It was lovely to see them after so long.

New finds – skincare and make-up

This could also fit under the birthday heading. I had no idea that Hotel Chocolat also did skincare – until I was bought one of the body lotions for my birthday. You can check out the whole chocolate skincare range here It’s mainly cocoa butter with nuts such as almond and coconut – so not good for you if you have nut allergies, but I don’t, and I think the lotion I got smelled good enough to eat!

I can’t help thinking this next product was bought just because of the name, suggesting that it suits me! However, the lippy cow lip treatment from Cowshed is a good product to prepare for the colder weather.
And ok I may be a lippy cow as well!

Finally, the lovely Joanna from MyPinkRambles was talking about the ELF eye shadow sticks the other day, and I picked up a couple when we went to Superdrug. If you find it hard to apply powder shadows because of a visual impairment, or just prefer something that’s quick and easy to draw on, this may be of interest to you. They are very creamy, and don’t drag on the lids as some of the other eye crayons do. I got rose gold and perfect pearl.

New finds – food and home

I can’t link this because it was a gift, but I was given a sunflower to sit in my office. I love sunflowers, and this one isn’t going to die through neglect because it’s artificial! Some fake flowers can look awful, but if you find tasteful ones, it can brighten up the room without the need to worry about keeping plants alive – which I’m not good at!

If you have children or you’re bored of ordinary-looking fried eggs, I’ve discovered some moulds recently. To be honest, I’m more of a scrambled or poached egg kind of girl, but I got this owl egg-mould to add to my ever-growing owl collection. One of the things I like about Ocado – you can get all the usual food and grocery stuff, but there are also a decent number of toiletries and things for the home on there. By the way, if anyone wants to try Ocado for the first time, there is an offer whereby we both get £20 of vouchers – £20 for you and £20 for me. You also get a free smart pass for a year, so if you like Ocado, you won’t need to pay delivery charges for one year. have to be a new customer to apply – see terms and conditions in your invitation. You can request an invitation in the contact form if you’re interested.

Studying

The beginning of my course is getting closer. I’ve found the Facebook groups really good – there is a specific one for my course, as well as one for my region. The forum on the Open University site is also quite active, but I like the way that Facebook is being used to bring people together so that they can help each other. There is also a Whatsapp group, but maybe I’m too old – I can’t keep up with so many messages lol!

I also went to a meet-up for new and existing students. I was the only one from the IT degree there, but it was still good to meet some other people on different courses, talk about their experiences, and see the wide range of backgrounds that people come from to do distance learning.

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Giveaway

Don’t forget that the Autumn giveaway is open until 7th October. Click here if you want to see what you can win and how to enter.

Newly discovered and favourite things in August

So, actually I wanted to put this up earlier in the week, but if you saw my post from Thursday, you’ll know that life didn’t go to plan this week!

Anyway – these are the things that I enjoyed in August – in terms of products, activities and new discoveries.

1. Masktime

This is not a new thing for me, but I wanted to try it out for a couple of months before telling you about it so I could see what kind of things came in the boxes. The picture in the post header is of masks that I got back in the springtime in a subscription called Masktime – masks for sheet mask lovers.

To be fair, the last box contained a couple of other things, such as a gel mask and a bubble mask, but generally you get a selection of sheet masks for different things (rehydration, detoxifying etc.

I used to buy sheet masks regularly, as I find them relaxing, and less hassle than traditional masks, and this subscription gives you the chance to discover some new brands and types of mask.

There are details in English on the masks themselves and on the card that you get with them, so no worries if you don’t speak Korean! The only thing is, if you’re blind and usually identify products by scanning them and reading the information electronically, your app may struggle as there is Korean and English writing on the package. I generally ask for a real person (usually S) to read the information and instructions to me, as the apps don’t work so well on these, particularly if you have a multi-step mask with little sachets of product that have to be applied in a certain order.

It’s a selection, so you don’t choose what you get, but I’ve pretty much tried or I plan to try everything that I’ve received, which I can’t say about all my other subscription boxes. You can find out more on the Masktime website. At the time of writing, there’s 10% off your first box – not an affiliate link. You can also buy one-off boxes for specific skin types and individual products, and within the subscriptions there are different price levels, depending on how many masks you want. I would say it’s good value for money, especially when you consider how much single masks can retail for.

2. Lindt Europe – blueberry, coffee and passion fruit chocolate

So, I’ve done a post before about the chocolate Emporium. I originally found the site when I was looking for mango chocolates, but they do a wide range of stuff on there, particularly good for people like me who like fruity chocolate.
I got an email to say that there were some new things in from Lindt Europe, and in a moment of weakness while waiting for a meeting to start, ordered a couple of things for us to try.
S was a fan of the hello blueberry muffin bar, which did really taste like blueberry muffins. I liked the peach and apricot bar, because I have never had peach and apricot chocolate before. The papaya was good too, and I also found a couple of coffee ones. Here’s the link to the whole Lindt Europe range. These are bars that we do not usually get in the UK, and some of the packaging is in German.

3. Turkish

I used to have Turkish lessons and be reasonably good at it – well the understanding part anyway. Speaking was never really my thing, mainly because I don’t think about how hard it is when I speak German now, and I had forgotten what it’s like to have the vocabulary of a small child when you start a new language. But I could read articles and enjoy podcasts that were meant for a Turkish audience.

Life moved on and I became busy with other things. It’s hard for me when my interests change – I’ll be doing something 100%, and then it’ll go down to nothing. Like when a relationship ends! I don’t think I’ll ever feel as passionate about the hobby as I once did, but I got out my old notes recently and was happy about how much I could still remember and understand. So I’ve subscribed to a short Turkish news magazine podcast and decided to start going through my old class notes again. It seems a shame to throw all that effort and hard work away, especially as most of the time this hobby made me happy.

4. Apple micellar water and lime toner

You know I love fruity things! I heard about a company called Freshly Cosmetics from another blogger, and really liked the sound of some of the products.

To be fair, there are a few spelling mistakes and errors on the site, and I think this may have put me off buying from them if I hadn’t known of someone else who had. So the communications professional in me can’t get away from the message that not checking your texts thoroughly could end up costing you in the long run. In the end I did order, but I certainly went through the thought process of “is this really a serious site?”

Anyway – the products came really quickly and I love the scent of the green apple micellar water. and the lime toner. I’ve never seen a toner in a spray container before, but it does actually mean that you use less, so waste less as a result – and you don’t need to use cotton pads. Both of them smell amazing and fresh.

These are not budget items and I think they would make a nice gift or a special treat for yourself. The brand focusses on natural ingredients and is also involved in a reforestation project.

5. My favourite serum ran out

This is very sad, because it’s expensive. I got it heavily reduced in a post –Christmas sale at Feelunique last year. I think I only paid about 1/3 of the price, but I really like this serum! It’s not oily, it’s not watery, it goes on smoothly, and helps you to build a lovely base for make-up. You can find the smoothing serum on Gatineau’s website.

6. Happy

This is such a lovely, summery fragrance – even better because it contains grapefruit! I’ve talked about Happy from Clinique before, but I wanted to mention it again because I’ve been wearing it all through August and now sadly the bottle is empty. Described as a fruity floral fragrance, and perfect for the summer!

7. Up close and personal with the owls

I had to include my new feathered friends in the August highlights! If you missed the post, here’s what I got up to when I met some owls from Hilltop Birds of Prey.

8. Body Shop club card event

A week ago last Wednesday I was invited to an event at my local Body Shop. It wasn’t a blogger event, but one for anyone with a Love Your Body card, which is a loyalty points programme. If you have a card, you can earn points when you buy things from the Body Shop. You also get £5 to spend on your birthday, and the chance to be invited to Exclusive events.

This was the first one that I’d been to. I could take a guest, and there was free chocolate (yay!), as well as prosecco for those who wanted it, or fizzy mango for those of us who didn’t! The main point of the evening was to launch the new almond milk with oats face mask, and to encourage anyone who hadn’t signed it to sign the petition against animal testing. There was also a free gift for those who attended (a make-up bag containing a body wash and bath lily), as well as another free gift if you spent more than £30 (a grapefruit perfume and a mini grapefruit body butter). I was very happy about the grapefruit. There was also 30% off a lot of the products. My Mum and I had a good evening, and I’m interested to see now what will happen as a result of the petition against animal testing in the cosmetic industry.

Signing up for a Love Your Body card is free, and you can get one here if you’re interested.

9. Grapefruit bubble bath

From the very expensive to something under £1! 750 ml of grapefruity goodness for your bath. Not the biggest bubbles I’ve ever seen, but the scent is amazing, and it will last you ages.
I got mine from Ocado, but as it’s Waitrose own brand, I imagine you can get it there too.

10. Sorbet maker

And finally – something I haven’t tried out yet, but which made me happy when I found it with 70% off in the Ocado clearance sale. I think it’s sold out now, so I can’t add a link, but once I’ve eaten the sorbet I have in the freezer, I’m looking forward to making my own. Mango of course! Have you tried making your own icecream or sorbet? How did it turn out? Any tips that you want to pass on?

So now it’s September and people are talking about autumn, cosy jumpers, and I saw the first advent calendar advert on Facebook. September is my birthday month, and there will also be the Autumn giveaway later in the month – you can follow the blog or sign up for updates if you want to find out what is in the box and how you can take part.

More from Unseen Beauty

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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. None of these products are sponsored.

May favourites – haircare, keeping fit, and fruity chocolates

So it’s time to talk about the things I’ve been enjoying this month. Let me know if you’ve tried any of them, and also what you’ve been enjoying lately.

Haircare

I’ll start with my haircare treat. A couple of weeks ago I got a couple of Molton Brown hair minis in a beauty box and I really liked the quality and the way my hair was so soft and shiny afterwards. I wasn’t too fussed about the floral scent, so I had a look on the website to see what else they had. I picked up this Glossing hair care set with plum-kadu, which is more expensive than the hair products I usually buy, but when I think of what I spend on my make-up or skincare, I decided to give it a go.

To be honest, I am getting through these products more slowly than the others – partly because I don’t want to waste it, but a little of these does go a long way and it doesn’t feel that the product has been watered down at all. I can’t justify using this all the time, but if I want to give my hair a treat, it’s definitely something I would pick up again, and I think it would make a lovely gift for someone (it comes in a presentation box).

Make-up

In my April favourites I mentioned the Clinique blush stick that I’d picked up and someone mentioned that there are sticks for eyes as well. I didn’t know about this, so I decided to try one out. The Clinique chubby sticks for eyes are like crayons and you colour in your eyelid with them. They’re a bit like the ones from the Body Shop. Some eye crayons are more like pencils and they are a pain because they don’t glide on well and you have to keep sharpening them. However these ones are like a crayon, they don’t scratch, and you can get decent coverage with them quickly and easily. As someone who can’t see what I’m doing, these are really easy to use and I get good results every time (apart from the first time when I was a bit sparing with it and it didn’t show up very well – lesson learned!)

I also got a Laura Mercier lipstick, mainly because I’d read that they were really moisturising and kind to lips. I like it and am glad to have a new brand in my collection. However, although it goes on smoothly and is quite creamy, I think it’s not as moisturising as some of my satin lipsticks.

Owls, wolves and dogs

When I was trying out the TILI box from QVC, I also picked up a cute little owl necklace. (Link removed as it sold out). I wasn’t impressed with the ordering process, which is why I haven’t done a post on it. There was an issue with the website which meant that my order couldn’t be submitted and I had to call them to put it through. Kind of annoying, but the owl is sweet and I’ve been wearing him a lot this month.

Bath and shower

I mentioned my bubble bar discovery earlier in the month when I was talking about my lovely gift of Lush products On our week off, I ended up going to the Lush Store to see what other bars they had, and came out with a
Sunny side Bubble bar
that contains orange lemon and tangerine. I think I still prefer the Bright Side to be honest, but this is a bit more of a delicate scent for anyone who doesn’t want to be blasted by oranges! Again, it was a generous amount of bubbles, even with just half a bar.

Lifestyle !

So this is the random category for things that I can’t put anywhere else.

We’ve been Amazon Prime members for a while and mainly use it for the free deliveries, next-day deliveries, selection of free magazines that you can read on the Kindle app, Amazon music app, and occasional things we want to watch on Amazon video. However, I also discovered that there are free books! Every month, the editors select pre-release books from different genres, and you can select one for free. I haven’t actually finished my first one yet, but I like the way that they choose books from a range of genres so that you’re likely to find one or two books that you wouldn’t mind giving a go! The service is called Amazon first reads, and if you’re interested in becoming a Prime member, (the first month is free), you can find out more about Prime here.

The lovely hot weather meant that we went to our first barbecue of the year in May as well and enjoyed some good company, good food (yay chicken with mango marinade and haloumi!), and there’s also something really good about eating outside.

I’ve been doing regular sessions on the running machine and bike, but as Blind Alive had a sale, I got two of their fitness workouts – one for use with weights, and the boot camp, which is the hardest in the cardio series. The good thing about these workouts is that they are made with blind people in mind, which means that all the moves are described in a way that’s easy to follow if you can’t watch a video of someone demonstrating the exercises. It’s so frustrating when you can’t just find something on Youtube and follow along because you have no idea what’s going on. In fact, if you don’t do things properly, you can end up doing more harm than good, which is why I appreciate the fact that someone has taken the time to put together these workouts and describe what you need to do. You can find a full list of the fitness workouts here. Also, if you want to listen to Mel from Blind Alive’s interview with me, you can find it here.

Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it just after the work-outs, but Hotel Chocolat has brought out a cheesecake selection chocolate box. There’s coffee, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, passion fruit – so many good things and no sea salt in sight – which is how all selection boxes should be as far as I’m concerned! I particularly like this selection because there are a lot of fruity chocolates in it – and of course there’s coffee chocolate too! You can find out more about the cheesecake collection here.

Fragrance

I wouldn’t say this has pushed any of my firm favourites out of place, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got a perfume in the Pink Parcel box in April. It’s a risk to put a fragrance in anything, but I liked the Catherine Malandrino Style de Paris Purse Spray because it’s a real summery scent and of course it has one of my favourite ingredients – grapefruit!

So, what have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

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Subscription for a chocolate lover

It’s good to read other blogs. You can make new friends, support fellow bloggers – and one other thing is that you get ideas for what you can spend your money on!

One of the ideas that I got from a blog recently was about the tasting boxes from Hotel Chocolat.

I am already a fan of Hotel Chocolate! In fact, writing about my chocolate obsession on the blog is a good thing, because then friends use the blog to find out what my favourite box is and buy it for my birthday! Win!

So, as a chocolate lover, particularly when it comes to tasty treats from Hotel Chocolat, I was interested to discover that they have a tasting club.

What’s even better is that you get your first box cheaper – I paid £9.95 instead of the £22.95 that it usually costs. This wasn’t an affiliate code and I believe it is open to any customer on their first box, though of course it’s best to check first as the terms on the site may change.

You can choose from five different boxes – classic, mellow, fortified, high cocoa, and rare and vintage. We went for the mellow box with no alcohol.

We received around 25 chocolates, including one large slab. The idea was that S and I share them, but as he had to go away on a business trip and the box was left on my desk, that didn’t quite work out as planned and there wasn’t one of each type left when he got back!

I won’t list everything, but my favourites were Sicilian orange, raspberry, and lemon and lavender. The chunky chocolate slab was also great. I think salt and chocolate or salt and caramel just shouldn’t be a thing, but it’s still chocolate, so I just left them till last! Seriously though – salt doesn’t belong in chocolate … ever!

If you want to contribute your opinions, you can either use the form that’s provided in the box, or vote online. The form can either be posted back, or you can send them a picture of it once you’ve filled it in. This isn’t a very accessible way to do it for me though, so I was glad to see that you can also submit your answers online. Unfortunately, I left it too late to do this for my box. I have logged in and can find the form, but it’s for the next box, which hasn’t arrived yet. Still, the form is well-labelled and I will be able to complete it as an access technology user. For each type of chocolate, you choose how many stars you want to give it and can add your comments in a text field under the name of each chocolate.

Of course I still needed help to identify each chocolate, but I expected this when I ordered it.

Being a club member also entitles you to other things such as 5% off other orders and special things in the shop such as an exclusive deal on the extra thick Easter eggs. Of course this too will change as the site is updated, but you get information with your box about any special offers.

If you don’t want one of these boxes every month, you can snooze it as long as the box hasn’t already been sent out.

I think it’s a nice thing for us to do together as apart from the big block, there were two of everything. It’s not an “I need a chocolate fix now!” kind of box, but if you want to take your time and savour some different flavours – on your own or with someone else – I think it’s an interesting way to do it either every month, or once in a while. We have to be a bit careful with food boxes or tasting clubs because of my allergies, but the things that I’m allergic to aren’t usually found in chocolate!

I think this would also be an ideal gift for a chocolate lover if you want the gift to keep giving over several months.

You can find out more about the tasting club on the Hotel Chocolat website.

Listen to the podcast episode

I’ve also produced a podcast episode about my Hotel Chocolat subscription box. You can look for Unseen Beauty on Apple podcasts (previously known as iTunes), or wherever you get your podcasts. Alternatively, you can listen to it here:

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Jan 18 favourites – Torak, tea creatures, and my new chair

So, it’s time to talk about all the things that I have been enjoying this month. Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these things, or if you’ve written a similar post for January!

1. Haircare set

There are a number of Christmas presents in this list. The first is the Little Treats haircare set from Cowshed. I hadn’t tried any of their haircare products, and I liked these little minis because I got to try the cowlick shampoo, the saucy cow conditioner, and the wild cow shower gel. There’s a set for the body too, ideal if you want to try out some of the products without committing to full size. All Cowshed products are free from animal ingredients and the brand does not test on animals.

2. My new chair

I saw one of these chairs when visiting a friend and my Mum got me one for Christmas. The chair has no back, and you sit on it with your knees resting on a tilted cushion in front of you, so your legs bear part of your weight. The idea with the chair is that it is good for your posture because it makes you sit up straight. You shouldn’t sit on it all day, but I’ve put it at my desk next to my office chair and spend a couple of hours on there, mainly when I’m doing paperwork and not on video conferences with customers. My posture when I’m with customers tends to be ok because they can see me, but I do have a tendency to curl up on my office chair, sitting on my legs, and this new chair will make sure that I don’t do that!

3. L’Occitane bubble bath

I always have bubbles in the bath and a lot of the time go for my old favourite – Radox – but sometimes it’s nice to have a special treat! This lavender bubble bath from L’Occitane is lovely for when you want to rewind after a long day. It gives a generous amount of foam and if lavender isn’t your thing, they do different ones such as shea and verbena as well.

4. Bloggers!

If you’ve been following the blog, you know I did Blogmas last year. This meant I also followed a number of other people doing Blogmas, which meant we were all doing quite similar content because it was Christmas-related. Now the festivities are over, it’s interesting to see the other content that these bloggers are putting out, giving me plenty of other stuff to read!

5. Torak!

Do you know who Torak is? If you read my Let us howl post, you might, because in that post I introduced all the wolves at the wolf sanctuary near Reading. Earlier this month, Torak got out of his enclosure, it’s believed because his enclosure was damaged by the wind. I was worried for his safety as there was no guarantee that he’d be captured safely, especially not with the sensationalist headlines that some media outlets were using. In thee end, there was a happy ending and someone from the wolf sanctuary was able to slip a lead on him and walk him home. I hope this event will be used positively to educate people about wolves. He wasn’t out on the prowl looking for an unsuspecting child to snack on. He didn’t even help himself to lunch when he walked through a field of sheep. Some of the ideas about “big bad wolves” from our fairytales need to be challenged so that people understand wolves are of course wild animals that need to be respected, but not something to be pursued or hated. Game of Thrones and the dire wolves have helped, but there is still a way to go.

6. Tea creatures

Am I the only person who had never heard of a manatee? Well, I know what they are now because of a tea gift. If you like loose-leaf tea (my favourite is mango) and want something cute to sit on your cup, there is a whole range of rubber friends who can infuse your tea for you and make sure that none of the tea leaves get into your cup. I was given the manatee but since then I’ve bought him some friends – the hedgehog, the elephant, and the sloth! The idea is that you put the tea inside the creature, which comes in half. Fit it back together, hang it off the side of your mug by its leg hooks, and just lift it off when it’s brewed long enough. I usually set them to drain, then take them apart and empty them out when they’ve cooled down. They’re practical, but cute as well!

7. Cleanse and polish

I’m very late to the party with this, but for Christmas one of my friends got me the Liz Earle cleanse and polish kit. I can’t link to it, because it’s the festive one with orange extract, which I think I would actually prefer to the normal one. It’s a hot cloth cleanser, so you massage the cleanser on to your skin, then remove it, along with excess oil and dirt, with a muslin cloth that’s been soaked in warm water. I don’t usually use wash-off cleansers, but I like this in the bath!

8. Chocolate!

I was surprised and happy when, for the first time, some of my friends had the idea of using my blog as inspiration for what to buy me and I was given the Hotel Chocolat fruity treats and lemon drops that I’d been raving about in last year’s September favourites!

S’s grandma also thought of me when she saw this make-up set made out of chocolate! I think it’s the first time I’ve ever said “I’m going upstairs to eat my lipstick!” They were both kind thoughts!

9. Korres body milk

I have talked about this Korres pear and bergamot body milk before, but I was happy to get a sample size in a free beauty box from Amazon. These body milks are lovely they still moisturise the skin, but are lighter than body butters, and ideal for the summer – although I’ve already used up this sample!

The beauty sample box is usually £35, but if you spend £50 on selected beauty products from Amazon, it’s free. I know that sounds like a lot, but the two main drugstore websites are not very accessible to me as a screenreader user, and I get a lot of my standard bath, skincare, and haircare products directly from Amazon, because I don’t have accessibility issues there. So I got 8 sample products, some quite generous samples and more like travel-size products, for free! There’s only one that I won’t use – the mud mask – but everything else will be showing up in favourites or empties posts. I think that’s more fair than doing one post on the box because I want to test things out first rather than just give my first impressions.

But the body milk is great!

10. Cherries!

One final L’Occitane product for this month, and this was also something from a Christmas gift set. I am usually a bit careful with things that are described as floral, but this cherry blossom scent is more cherry than blossom! I actually got a mini that is smaller than this, but the one I got doesn’t seem to be available to buy individually.

So, what have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

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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 deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.

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

Shopping without sight – my online shopping experience at the Chocolate Emporium

This is the first article in a new series that I’ve started on the blog.

I love shopping! In many ways, online shopping is really practical when you are blind. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy going round the shops with my friends, but if I want something without the assistance of friends or people working in the shops, online shopping is ideal. Even more so seeing as I work from home and can take in the deliveries.

There’s only one problem though – not all shops design their websites in a way that makes it easy for blind people to use them. Some common problems are:
1. Links, pop-up login boxes, or page elements such as date pickers that can only be activated using a mouse – which is a problem if you don’t use a mouse.
2. Unlabelled graphics – I’m not talking about not having nice labels for your images, although these are useful. No I mean when all the buttons are labelled as “button” because the designer thought everyone would get the idea from the graphic on the button. That’s a problem when you can’t see the graphic.
3. Inadequate descriptions of products so it’s hard to know what you’re buying if you can’t see the picture.

The last one is less about web design, but it doesn’t make me want to come back to a site! Points 1 and 2 are the worst, which is why I do a lot of my shopping on Amazon, because I don’t usually have these problems on the website or iPhone app.

Still, I wanted to talk about my experience of using other shops and in my “Shopping without site” series I’m going to set myself the challenge of buying something from different online shops.

It’s not going to be an in-depth analysis report as I would do if I were working with a brand, although if you are interested in a consultation on your site’s accessibility, you can find further details of this service on my contact information page.

No, this is an account of how easy the process was to select products, pay for them and get them delivered to me at home. Some sites are amazing. Others are terrible and I’ll never visit them again. Most are somewhere in the middle, with a lot of good points and one or two things that can be improved. I’m going to try and keep away from web design jargon that most people won’t understand – these articles are about the experience, what went well, and whether I encountered any problems. Mission fail is when I have to ask S to come and complete some part of the order because I couldn’t do it myself with the software that I use to read my laptop’s screen.

I thought I’d start with some chocolate from the Chocolate Emporium.

1. How easy was it to find things on the site?

Very easy. The keyword search facility worked well, and if you click on the chocolate shop, you can jump through the headings to see what chocolate selections they have, a bit like shelves in a shop.

2. How well were products described?

Very well. There are one or two paragraphs about each product when you click on to the product page.

3. How easy was it to put things in the basket?

This is where I had my first problem. On my first visit to this site, I ended up stacking my basket full of chocolates, going to pay for it, and then finding to my dismay that the basket was empty.
On most sites, you click “add to basket” and the item goes straight into your basket. On this site, a pop-up message appears about whether you want to add a free gift message or continue without adding one. This is immediately obvious to a sighted person, but in terms of the order in which my software reads things, the information from the pop-up message comes further down the page, past the information about the product I want to add and the recommendations for what else I might want. I totally missed it, and if you click off the page without setting your gift message preference, the item does not make its way into your basket.
The same happens if there is a question about what colour gift box you want. Because of this, use of such pop-up messages makes it harder for a screenreader user to use the site.

Now I know that it’s there, I know to look for it and make my choice. So it’s not inaccessible, because I can do it, but it does take points away from the user experience because the first time I used the site, I had to go back and add everything again. I wanted the chocolate, so I had the motivation, but if I had been less bothered about the products, I may have given up on it.

A way to fix this would be to make the gift box colours a second drop down box before you click the “add to basket” button. We already have a dropdown list for the size of box that you want. Perhaps the gift message options could come later when you’re about to check out. If both of these things were done, adding something to the basket would not require this second step that screenreader users are likely to miss.

4. How well were buttons labelled?

I didn’t have any problems with button labels. However the label for the basket is “The Chocolate Emporium – Lindt Lindor UK and USA pick and mix – Ghirardelli, Godiva, Monty Bojangles chocolates to buy online – account basket” and really “basket” would be sufficient!

5. Could every control be activated without a mouse?

Yes.

6. How easy was it to pay for the goods?

Once I’d got to my basket and clicked the checkout link, there was another of those messages further down the page. This time it was asking whether I wanted to add an additional chocolate bar. You can’t get to the next page unless you answer the question. There is a check-out button, which doesn’t appear to do anything – you have to click the no thanks button if you want to move on.

7. Can you complete the whole shopping process without sighted help?

Yes. There are some sites where I really can’t finish the order on my own, but with this site, now that I know how it works and what to look out for, I can do it and get as many chocolates as my heart desires!

8. What do you think of the goods?

I bought 3 things this time – a lemon chocolate bar, a lime chocolate bar and some coffee truffles. I really like the variety of different chocolates on this site. As someone who likes fruit and coffee chocolates, there is a good selection of things that you won’t find in the shops, and this is a good reason for me to come back. Also, Lindt chocolate is amazing!

I think my favourite this time is the lemon bar – it has a lemon cream type centre.

The lime bar is thinner and the lime is actually in the chocolate, rather than a cream centre. I will always be happy about coffee chocolate!

9. Overall how good was the experience for a screenreader user?

I’d say that overall, I could get what I wanted using my screenreader and there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t access because I don’t use a mouse. Questions and tick boxes appearing further down the page for me as a screenreader meant that the site wasn’t particularly intuitive and I could imagine less confident blind internet users getting annoyed with it. It certainly frustrated me initially.

I will continue to use this site now that I know to scroll down and check that I don’t need to answer any questions before going on to my next purchase.

10. How accessible were newsletters or other communications from the brand?

This is often another problem area because companies use newsletter software that doesn’t produce accessible newsletters, but that wasn’t a problem I had with the Chocolate Emporium. Their links and graphics were well labelled, and I could read exactly what was on offer and how to get my newsletter subscriber discount code.

Have you bought anything from this site? If so, what would you recommend?

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This is not a sponsored post. I paid for and ate most of the chocolate myself!

Blogmas day 10 – gifts for coffee lovers

Some ideas for what you can buy the coffee lover in your life!

So, yesterday was a festive day for us – shopping in town and baking Christmas biscuits. I wasn’t so impressed with the cookie cutters I bought, but we ended up with almond Christmas trees and cinnamon hearts.

Gifts for coffee lovers

Maybe you know someone who’s always got a cup of coffee on the go, or who likes to try new and different types of coffee? If so, here are some ideas for a perfect gift for them.

1. Skincare

Those who have been following my blog for a while will already have seen my skincare for coffee lovers post. Basically I was looking for skincare that wasn’t your usual coffee scrubs. Some of the best things I found were:

A coffee lover’s lip balm gift set with 3 moisturising lip balms in Americano, Latte and Mocha.
Anatomicals Java Lather shower gel – it’s called a body cleanser, but it’s really a body wash for the bath or shower and it smells amaaazing!

2. Mugs

If you’re going to have a cup of coffee, you need a nice mug. Try to think about the person’s likes and find something that ties in with that. I got a tactile owl mug for my birthday and I love it. The link no longer works, so I had to remove it.

Alternatively you could find something with a funny saying on it. I don’t have this don’t talk to me until this mug is empty coffee mug, but it would suit me!

If your friend likes ground coffee, but doesn’t always have access to a coffee machine, you could get them one of these infuser mugs. I got one last Christmas and it’s great for a single cup of coffee or loose-leaf tea.

3. Clothing

If you know someone well enough, why not get them some comfy winter pyjamas? Your coffee-loving friend might like this one that I bought today with coffee and chill printed on it. I also like these because they are true to size – there’s nothing worse than buying pyjamas and finding they came up too small.

4. Food and drink

These coffee chocolates from the Chocolate Imporium are among the best coffee chocolates I’ve tasted and I would definitely recommend them!

I tried this hazelnut coffee at a friend’s house, and Whittard of Chelsea does a wide range of speciality coffees if you’re looking for something a bit different.

One year a friend got me a box with different types of coffee to try from around the world. I can’t find the one I got, but this selection box is similar, with coffee from Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Peru, and Kenya.

5. Postboxed gifts for coffee lovers

You may remember that I did a review on Postboxed a company that specialises in gifts that fit through the letterbox, so you don’t have to worry whether the recipient is at home. Postboxed has a couple of gifts for coffee lovers too:

This coffee towel is printed with an infographic that tells you how to make different kinds of coffee drink.

A bar of roast espresso chocolate for the chocolate-loving coffee drinker.

111 coffee shops in London that you must not miss is a small book with notes and colour photographs for coffee lovers who live in or plan to visit London.

You can buy these things individually, or put them together in a gift box. If the items you select won’t fit in one letterbox-friendly box, they will be packed into two and sent off at the same time.

Let me knoe if you have any other good ideas for coffee lovers!

Christmas tree in Stockholm

The calendars

So, what was behind your door no. 10?

L’Occitane – today I got another bar of soap, this time the Verbena scent. I know I was a bit underwhelmed about the last soap, but I put it out in the bathroom yesterday and it’s actually really nice!

M&S – Formula Innovate radiance reveal peel. I was a bit worried about this because I don’t like those masks that you have to pull off along with half your face!But this has to be rinced off with warm water, so I don’tthink it’s one of those. I haven’t tried anything from this brand before, so I’ll give it a go later today.

Question of the day

Today’s question – do you send Christmas cards?

I used to, but I haven’t done so for about 10 years now. When I was a child, I used to write my messages in Braille and my Nan wrote underneath them so that people could read them. When I was a bit older and not living with my Nan, I printed out labels with the addresses and messages, but it became too much hassle trying to remember what was on each label that I couldn’t read. Now it would be a bit easier because there are text recognition apps for blind people to use on their smartphones, but I decided instead to do something for the environment and just contact or message the people whom I wanted to wish a happy Christmas!

How about you? Do you send out Christmas cards?

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