Friday, 17 February 2017

Letter #40 - 23 Things I've Learnt In 23 Years

Dear readers,

It was my 23rd birthday this week, and I figured I'd borrow an idea that's been floating around the blogosphere for a couple of years. Since I'm always up for a bit of self reflection, I thought I'd reflect on what I've learnt over the years. 

Here's 23 things I've learnt over my 23 years:

1 - Always moisturise, regardless of how lazy you feel. You will feel awful in the morning, when you wake up with irritated dry patchy skin. Don't do it! Skincare is too important to skimp on.

2 - Always keep a book in your handbag (or download a few onto your phone/tablet). You'll look really put together to anyone who might see you and you'll never be bored.

3 - Sometimes cake for breakfast is the only way to go. Don't knock it until you've tried it and don't feel guilty while you do.

4 - Smile at strangers (and retail workers). You never know what such a small gesture could mean to someone. If you have the chance to make someone smile, always take it.

5 - Feeling like your life is slowly falling apart is natural.It's not just you and it takes time to get to a place of stability. Even that hardly lasts long.

6 - When someone shows you their true colours, believe them. Seeing the good is one thing, but trying to find good when it isn't there is another entirely.

7 - Take time for your family, always. If you stop and think about it, your siblings are growing up and your parents are growing older. Don't take time for granted.

8 - Sometimes a day of sleeping in and lazing around is a good idea. When the world gets too loud, take it as a cue to take a break.

9 - Perspective is so important. It can change a world ending disaster into a blessed new chapter. Try it!

10 - Your health is something only you can comment on. Don't let someone else tell you that you're healthy or otherwise, if you don't think that's the case. You know your body.

11 - Education doesn't end once you're out of school. Your desire to learn may well be more prominent when you can choose what and when you want to learn. 

12 - Taking time out for yourself does not make you selfish!

13 - Always always always wear your retainer! If you've had to go through years of braces and treatments, why would you risk it all getting ruined by your sheer laziness? (I speak from experience of being that lazy idiot).

14 - Do not scroll through Instagram when you're having a bad day. It will make you feel worse.

15 - Scroll through Pinterest instead and just see as you feel all warm and fuzzy. If that fails, cute animal videos on YouTube are always a win!

16 - Baking is therapeutic to me. I don't even need to eat the goods; sharing is caring.

17 - Waking up before the sun rises, and watching it come up, is a great start to any day.

18 - Sleep is important and we all need different amounts of it. Don't feel lazy if you sleep a bit longer every night than the next person.

19 - No matter how old you get, a hug from a loved one will fix all manner of sins.

20 - If a hug isn't feasible, a cup of tea will work wonders.

21 - Stop comparing lives, successes or failures. Just be your own biggest fan and just do you!

22 - No matter how out of reach your dreams may be, try and try again. There's nothing worse than unfulfilled potential. "What ifs" are no fun.

23 - Just have fun and don't take yourself too seriously. You've got the rest of your life ahead of you!

It was surprising quite difficult to think of enough points, but digging a little deeper and reflecting is always a good thing.

That's all from me for now. 

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Letter #39 - La La Land // Here's To The Ones Who Dream

To anyone who needs a mood lifter,

SPOILER ALERT: This whole post contains spoilers, so go and watch La La Land, first!!

Just to give you a tiny clue of how this post is going to go, I'll explain how I came to be here, writing right now. I just watched La La Land finally, and it made me feel so full of emotion and life that I'm writing this on my phone while sitting in silence on the car ride home. I genuinely want to sit here for as long as I can, in this bubble of inspiration and joy that that production has put me in. It was beautiful and breathtaking and brilliant. (Yay, for alliteration!)

I don't really know what I'm writing yet, this isn't a review. It's more about how the movie made me feel, I suppose. And isn't that the whole purpose of a good film? To leave you raving about it.

So I was intrigued by the trailers that popped up before every YouTube video for weeks and then I heard the hype around it and then its success during awards seasons but I had still pretty much avoided hearing anything "spoiler-like" and so I didn't really know what to expect or even if I was going to watch it. 

A few days ago, my younger brother, watched a late night showing of it with some friends and at around 1am, I was awoken by the buzzing of my phone and my brother raving about this beautiful piece of artistry. He was talking about the cinematography and the colours and all of this other stuff, as though it was an average day and he speaks like that on a daily basis. Disclaimer - he really doesn't! The most you can get him to articulate is "'sup, bro."

So being the typical older sibling who had to be in the know, I had to watch it ASAP. But I also hate cinemas for movies like this. Those thoughtful, carefully painted pictures that need true appreciation. I hate to have to watch them in a crowd of faces, most of whom are rustling and whispering away, missing something magical happening before them. I ended up going to a daytime showing with my mum as a compromise. At least I knew she would appreciate it. There were maybe 6 others in the room.

Now, one thing about me is that I live by the saying "don't expect anything and you won't be disappointed." I heard the hype and how well received this movie was but I was still going into it with a lot of scepticism because generally I'm disappointed by the movies with hype. 

It only took until the end of the opening sequence for me to be proven wrong. That alone was so full of colour and fun that I knew I couldn't not enjoy this film. And enjoy it I did. I absorbed it; literally soaking in the beauty of this piece of work. This piece of art. 

Now, again, I'm not normally like this. I don't get precious about movies; it's usually tv shows that take my focus and even then solely for character development. But this was a production and a merging of so many things, that I feel it needs a category all of its own. There was fantastic film-making, an amazing score, music, dancing, colour, light and then the most lovable simple story, with such real characters that I could imagine superimposing myself into the story and it would still make sense.

It is a love letter to classic Hollywood and that was evident to me from the start but it gave the whole thing a timeless, classic quality. This film will stand the test of time.

The basic premise of the movie is a love story between the characters of Mia and Seb, but it's about so much more than that. They have hopes and dreams and their own creative paths to follow and it's about how important it is to have those people who support and push you as long as you don't lose sight of your end goals. 

It's about choices, and moments, and courage, and persistence, and dreams, and above all passion. A great line by Mia, is "people love what other people are passionate about" and it's true. The greatest people in the world are those with hopes and interests and plans so far fetched that you hope for their sakes that they follow through with them, because it would be amazing when it became a reality.

Another line that really stuck with me was "they worship everything and they value nothing" as Seb spoke about LA and his love of jazz. He valued it as an entity and stuck by it regardless of how many times he was told "jazz is dead." In this day and age everything is readily available, that interests wane after a mere moment before the next fad comes along and it was great to see someone so determined to love what he loved and do what mattered to him. 

As someone who has many creative dreams but a practical brain that usually overrides them, this movie was a perfect kick up the backside for me. Take the chances, do the things, live the life.

At the end of the day, this film highlighted how important it can be to follow through with your dreams and not put them on hold for a relationship. Mia and Seb both give up on their dreams at certain points; Mia out of sheer heartbreak of all the setbacks, and Seb out of a desire to have a steady job and lifestyle.

I've heard lots of people say how they cried so much while watching and I was confused by my reaction. I smiled with teeth throughout most of it. So much so that my jaw and face muscles ached at the end but like I've mentioned before, it was an uplifting, hopeful piece of work. 

The one time I did cry was a scene towards the end, where Mia has given up on her acting dreams and gone back to her hometown. Seb drives up to give her the good news of a callback and as they argue about it, she breaks. She looks utterly shattered as she cries "maybe I'm not good enough." I broke, there and then. I'm sure we've all felt crippled by life and not being at the stage we thought we would be, and putting it down to not being enough and it was so completely relatable, that it was heartbreaking. 

For all their hopes and dreams, they both worked exceptionally hard to make them realities; while that involved Seb selling out for a while and having to be reminded of the importance of his original dream, or Mia working night and day to write herself a role in a one woman show, and paying for the production to go on. They both paid their dues.

The ending was one that I've heard referred to as sad, but I'd say it's more bittersweet and those are the best endings. Where you know that someone got what they wanted but sacrificed a lot to get there. It's realistic and it's raw and it's true to human nature. 

There's always this idea that if the aim of a story is for a couple to fall for each other, then it's not a satisfying ending unless they do. I don't agree. To know that they grew and got their dreams was satisfying enough for me. Because you can't always have it all and that's just life for you. It's especially poignant in this modern time where career does take over for most of us but it's a choice to be made just the same. And like they said, they would always love each other regardless.

There's a sequence in the last ten minutes that shows an alternate reality for the two of them, where they would have been married with a child and they'd be happy and together and it's beautiful. I was reminded that the choices we make are so important. The moments that we will look back on may not be the most important or interesting at the time but we'll look back and wonder how it could have gone.

Anyway, this is getting way too long but if you can't tell, I love this movie and it'll be my new favourite and I doubt anything will beat it for a long time to come.

A quick mention to the music, and the songs. I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write. The fact that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not trained Broadway singers adds so much to the songs, because their voices have their own quirks and it comes through in a way that makes it so easy to listen to. Also, the way they depict jazz is lovely and I dare you to watch this movie without tapping a foot to the beat, or moving your shoulders and simply wanting to get up and dance with them! 

A final note has to go to Mia as a character; she's everything I wish I could be. She's strong, and focused and so unwavering in her belief that this is what she has to do as well as being incredibly supportive to Seb and pushing him to remember his dreams. It's great and her wardrobe is perfect. I'm now going to be on the hunt for the perfect yellow day dress. And then I'm naturally going to pair it with tap shoes! 

It may have been over 2 hours long, but it felt as though it passed in a blink of an eye. I could have sat in the screening, watching it on repeat! (I'm not joking. If that's an option, I'll take it)

And that's me done for now. If you've watched La La Land (which I hope you have or else I've spoiled it for you...) then let me know what you thought. It's also totally fine not to have felt everything from this movie as deeply as I did, or at all. 

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z

Friday, 13 January 2017

Letter #38 - Plan For Your Goals

So I've spent the week, having a fresh start and organising the things in my life that needed organising and after seeing just how many other posts there were relating to New Year's resolutions, I thought I'd wait a while and approach it a little differently. 

First of all, I hope everyone had a good holiday and new year. So I know it can be a touchy topic when I say it's a new year and time for a fresh start. The cynics among you will ask, "why now? If you wanted to start fresh, why was September not good enough, or October 23rd? Why does the new year require change?" In short, it doesn't. You can start with a new idea or lifestyle or any other alteration you need to make, whenever you want to, but there is something sweet and rounded about the first day of the year. It gives a solid starting point. It's like when you're procrastinating and you think to yourself that you'll get to your homework at 5pm and then before you notice is 5.24pm, so now you have to wait until 5.30pm or 6pm before you start. Because it just feels right. That's all it comes down to. A feeling.  

If that feeling is that you're going to have a fantastic year, then by all means, go ahead.

So I debated whether or not to talk about resolutions in general or my personal resolutions. I decided on the latter. I have a lot of goals for each year and I very rarely meet them all but I give it my best shot. This year, however, I really do feel that this is it. I'm going to smash this year and feel amazing about it. The reason I know this is because while every other year I set vague resolutions that I had no set plan to accomplishing, other the last year, I've learnt about goal setting and the preparation that goes into any task with a goal.

I mean, you wouldn't just jump in and attempt a 10,000 word essay, without a plan, right? (Okay, that's a bad example... I actually have done that and it turned out great haha). Either way, the majority of tasks require preparation of some sort before we can undertake the commitment.

Say that you wanted to go to the gym more. One, that's a vague goal to begin with. How do you quantify "more"? And two, you can make excuses far too easily. You don't have the right gym top, you need a new sports bra, the gym simply isn't cost effective right now... the list can go on and on and before you know it, it's June and you haven't even taken one step in the right direction.

So as I said, I'll name a few of my goals, simply as a way of holding myself accountable. I've already had my goals written my bullet journal since the 1st of the the month and now I'm using this post as a means of accountability while also drilling it further into my own mind. I always set learning goals, and they are important to me but this is the first year in a while where I'm not in education so I can choose to prioritise the things I want to learn. By the end of 2017, I am hoping to be fluent in Spanish, have a basic grasp of Italian, take a certificated sign language course and to understand the basics of coding. These are not things that I decided on a whim and I took my time, researching each of them because as I said before, preparation is key.

I've always loved languages and I did study Spanish to A-level but let it all get forgotten after that. So when it comes to learning Spanish and Italian, I am going to use Duolingo. 

This is an app that's been around for a couple of year and I've had it downloaded on my phone pretty much as soon as it was a developed application. The great thing about it is that it's free. If you want to try a language and you're not too sure whether it's for you, there's no harm in trailing an app that costs you nothing. It caters for a broad range of languages, and it starts of very simply. It uses repetition and audio and even tests your pronunciation as you get further into the lessons. The app is advertised as needing just 5 minutes a day, and that is absolutely all you need. It also gives it the option to set a notification so that it can remind you once a day and I really do love that feature. 

So this isn't a new app to me and I do know that I love it and the way that it helps you step by step but I also know that sometimes I get lazy once I'm in a routine. So this time, I'm keeping a notebook for all my new vocabulary and the gendered nouns so that I can feel as though I've taken a more active role in my learning. Five minutes a day for a year is just over 30 hours of study. That is minuscule in the grand scheme of things but it's still something that most people could find time for.

The coding is again, something I've loved from afar. I'm always so in awe of all you can accomplish with knowledge and as we travel further into a technologically aware society, I feel like I need to understand the basics for myself. Honestly, I just hate feeling like I've missed out and for me FOMO is never more real than when I feel I don't have a piece of knowledge that I should have. 

For this, I've found so many online learning systems and it is going to take some trial and error before I can feel confident that I've doing it right. I've subscribed to a programme called Skillscrush as just one way of introducing this topic to myself. There's also codecademy and Khan academy that claim to have great teaching resources for my needs. I think this is something that will take much more time and focus and for now, I'm setting that out as one day a week, for as many hours as I can stomach.

Lastly, a learning goal that I have wanted to achieve for so long is to learn British sign language. With a brother who has had to use signing systems as he grew up and a mother who worked in a special school, I've been around the practice of communication through signing for most of my life. But I've always wanted to actually learn the basics and more if I can. I think it could be an invaluable skill and even if it isn't, and I never have to use it, I think it casts an awareness of how other people have to live their lives and that's too important of a lesson to pass up. 

For this goal, I didn't want to be left on my own and to end up doing it wrong. So I've found classes that I can take in my area and I hope to be able to gain some kind of certification for the learning that I will do other that time. Again, this is just something I want to do for myself, to prove that I can and because I think it should be common practice, in the same way that first aid skills now are.

Anyway, those are just a small handful of my goals for this year. What are some your goals and how do you plan to achieve them? (I'm only really asking because I love getting new ideas that I ucan use myself!) 

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z

Friday, 30 December 2016

Letter #37 - Start a bullet journal with me

To anyone who has ever wished to be more organised,

I got sucked into the amazing feat that is a bullet journal. I've been interested in the idea of the journal after seeing it pop up on my Pinterest and Instagram feeds over the last year but I love notebooks too much to stick to just one. However, I think everyone should at least try this method. I wanted to start it with the new year, in hopes of beginning the year, with my best foot forward, but I also wanted to make sure that this wasn't a fad that I would get bored of after a few weeks.

So, I actually started this process at the beginning of December to see how it would be and if it would be something that I stuck to. Let me go back a few steps and explain how I am with planners. Simply put, I forget about them. Even back in school, when you would have a homework planner, I would either not write anything in it, or just forget to ever check it. This makes it sound like I was an awful student, I'm sure, but generally, if something is timetabled in for me, I will remember it. I mean, I survived school, sixth form and university, using just my memory for deadlines. But I have always wanted to be one of those cool, put together people, who can just flip open their diaries and their entire lives are planned out perfectly. They know where they need to be and what they have to do and life is a breeze.

Now, I have no fantasies or expectations of being one of those people. I like the chaos of being 'disorganised'. For me, I can find what I need in the mess, and it works for me. I do, however, want to tap into my potential for productivity. I can be super focused and on task as long as I know that that task has been planned for.

I have so many projects in the pipelines for this next year and I wanted to make sure that they didn't just remain in the pipelines, forgotten and rotting, because I didn't write it all down and the passion wilted away.

I'm not at all an expert on organisation and what I know about bullet journals is information that I have googled and read about from various blogs and YouTube tutorials to get to this point. I also don't use it the way it was probably intended. So as a disclaimer, this is simply my take on a bullet journal and you should check out for the original creator's thoughts on these journals.

Anyway, back to my attempt. I read up a lot and fell down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest for hours before I got cracking and actually got anything written down. 

Firstly, get a notebook. I always need lined paper in order to write anything that isn't floating off the page but for more freedom with the pages, I wanted a dotted notebook for easier customisation. I know that the Leichtturn 1917 is a very popular choice of journal and I will admit that I was tempted to get one but for as sleek as it looks, I didn't really want this to be a task of great expense, especially if I wasn't sure I'd stick with it. I shopped around and found a perfect dotted spiral-bound notebook in Muji for a much more reasonable price of £4 and the pages are thick enough that I can write on both sides, even with markers and it doesn't bleed. Spiral bound was important to me because as a leftie, I write at an angle and it's much easier to fold back the pages of a spiral notebook than a traditionally bound one, with stiffer edges. Another great thing about spiral bound is that if I really mess up a page and it bothers me, I can tear it out neatly and that's that. For now, it suits my needs and when it doesn't anymore, I'll change it up.

Next thing to note is that online there are so many beautiful examples of bullet journals that make my soul happy but that I could never recreate. And nor should I. I'm not an artist and my creativity stems from words, not illustrations so if you feel like your journal doesn't live up to others examples, just remember that it's yours to customise as you wish and that can mean keeping it minimal and neat if that's what you'd prefer. I keep a few coloured pens with me all the time so that I can just switch colours if I get a bit bored and that's enough for me.

Now, for the actual layout of this thing. I have to say that I wasn't very strict with myself because I wasn't sure what I would need at the beginning. What I did learn is that less is more. If you start with it as a simple planner and then add collections or extra pages for specific notes as you go, that might work best for you. 

For me, I left a page for the index but I didn't feel that I needed a key like most bullet journals contain, simply because I would know what I was writing and what it meant. 

I started with a monthly calendar, just because I liked seeing what day corresponded with each date. I also added some goals for the month that I thought were achievable. The problem was that I didn't need to check the monthly overview enough to remind myself of those goals and so I didn't achieve any of them to the degree that I wanted.

The next page was my favourite and I will absolutely continue it throughout the year. It's a habit tracker. I wrote out things that I wanted or needed to do every day and then I coloured in the corresponding box if I completed it. It was a good way for me to see what I was doing well and what I struggled with. (Ignore the blank spaces in the middle of the month. I got really ill for a couple of weeks)

From there, I didn't want to overcomplicate it so I simply created weekly spreads, only drawing out one week at a time. This worked for me because I have a much more relaxed schedule at present and most of the things I have to complete each day are personal and so this journal was really just for me, not for tracking appointments and meetings. Again, I customised it to what was important for me. I kept one half of each day for recording my food intake and also whether or not I prayed that day. I wasn't too strict with whether I completed tasks on time as this was just a trial run for me but in the new year I definitely will follow through a bit more.

The final page of my December trial was a brain dump page as I didn't have much on since it was the holidays and I didn't need to follow a strict weekly plan so I just wrote down anything that felt relevant or that had happened during the day. I think I'm definitely going to keep a few pages free each month for this purpose of just dumping my brain on paper. 

Like I said, I kept it simple so as not to overwhelm myself. I've added an end of year review page, that I will fill out now, as the year is ended. And then I've drawn out a 2017 quote page and created a goals for 2017 page. It's not really a resolution page as I want the goals to be achievable and attainable. I'm going to keep the rest of it up as I have done in this month. I might add some more pages to track specific things and if I do, I might write another quick post about my new year changes.

But for now, this post has already gotten too long and for that, I apologise! For something that's supposed to streamline your life, I sure have rambled far too much. I hope this motivates some of you to maybe give this method a try and if you do, or if you already keep a bullet journal and have any tips, let me know.

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Letter #36 - Sleep is precious

Dear readers, 

When thinking about self care for this week, I got to thinking about one of my favourite pastimes: sleep. Given how busy this time of year is for most people, I wanted to focus on an area that I feel most people skimp on and neglect.

When we're all so focused on getting tasks done and being as productive as possible in our waking hours, we tend to allow our waking hours to go on too long. Now I say "we" but I very rarely do this myself unless I absolutely have to. I love my sleep too much and I think it isn't valued enough when it comes to health and well being. A good night's rest can solve all manner of problems.

One phrase that bugs me to no end is "you can sleep when you're dead". Yes, you absolutely can! But guess what? You'll reach that point a lot sooner if you keep sacrificing your sleep. It's ridiculous and an empty effort at productivity when you're too tired to think straight. At least I think so.

For me, sleeping is my favourite part of the day because it means that my thoughts stop for a time and it gives me a chance to breathe. I say this, but really I'm someone who has many dreams and I know that I'm dreaming but when I wake, I cannot remember what I was dreaming about. It's strange but I like that fact. I only ever remember how I felt while I was asleep. So I can gauge how well I slept but remember how I felt at the time.

Even today, it's a Sunday so I had a lie in and woke up at 11am. For me, that's a big deal since I'm usually up at 6am but I had such a good sleep, I cannot put it into words. I don't think many people think about their sleep, other than a fleeting thought into how well or badly they slept.

Since it's getting to the end of the year, and people try to start fresh and set goals for the year ahead, getting good quality sleep into your lifestyle is my suggestion to you all. 

First, use the holidays to figure out how much sleep you feel that you need. It's wildly different for everyone. Personally, I need around 9-10 hours to feel completely refreshed and functioning. But I know others who can just about manage 5-6 hours before their eyes flick open. They cannot sleep for longer than that without it being that they have overslept and are now too tired. 

Our sleep cycles are an interesting thing. I've found that there is such a fine line between a good amount of sleep and way too much sleep. Even an extra half an hour in bed can mess with your entire day. 

Also, I remember reading somewhere that how tired you feel related to the sleep you got two nights ago. So if you woke up this Sunday morning refreshed, you must have had a good amount of sleep on Friday night. This is why we can sometimes feel so rough on a Monday morning, even if we got to bed early on Sunday night, but we forget how late we were up on Saturday night! So take the holidays as a time to figure it out.

Work out how many hours you need to feel refreshed and awake. And happy. For me, I feel much happier when I've slept well.

Figure out what type of sleeper you are
Are you a light sleeper, stirring at the slightest sound or are you dead to the world the moment your head hits a pillow? If you're a light sleeper, get some thick opaque curtain that won't let light through and sleep in total darkness so that the sunrise or street lamps cannot disturb you. If you're a deep sleeper, maybe invest in a good loud alarm so that you can actually wake on time and not oversleep. Finding what works for you is he most important thing.

Have a bedtime figured out
Once you know how many hours you need, work backwards from the time that you know you need to wake up until you've figured out the best time for you to sleep at. And then go back an extra hour so that you can use that time to get a night time routine sorted. This will ensure that you won't forget when you do to sleep and you can do whatever you need to, to complete your day. So if you need to lay out clothes for the next morning, do it. If you need you make sure you've prepped lunch, do it. And then as soon as you get to the time that you need to be in bed, make sure that you are. 

Absolute darkness is the best
If you want a good sleep, then make sure your bedroom is pitch black because your eyes won't have to adjust to the darkness under your eyelids as much. Because I've found that that time of adjustment can be really disruptive to my sleep when I've maybe been looking at my phone moments beforehand. You know those dancing lights that you can get when you've been blinded by the flash from a camera, and then every time you blink, you can see the light? It's like that and if you know how annoying that light is, you know how disruptive it must be just before you knock out.

If all else fails, take a nap!
If you're still shattered during the day, just take a quick nap if you can fit it in. But beware of how naps make you feel. For me, naps make everything better. Even if I take a nap at 6pm and wake up at 7pm, I can still manage to fall asleep again at 10pm. It's a gift.

But I do know that not everyone shares my love of naps. My mum would always tell me off for napping saying that "you'll never get to sleep tonight!" While that's not the case for me, I know plenty of people who will get stuck wide awake at 2 in the morning because they took a nap in the afternoon. So find out what you need and cater your patterns to those needs.

 Normally, I love writing for this blog but I always feel as though I have no place to actually be offering my opinions. But when it comes to sleep, I'm an absolute pro. I wish sleeping for a living was actually a thing. I'd be brilliant at it.

Let me know if you found any of this helpful and what are your feeling about sleep?

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z

Friday, 9 December 2016

Letter #35 - A warm drink makes everything better

To anyone looking for a drink,

I've been trying to curb my chocolate cravings for this new health kick I'm on but at this time of year, it's proving even more difficult. I can already take solace in the fact that I love dark chocolate so that's at least a teensy bit better for me.

After scouring Pinterest for ideas and testing flavours , I've put together 3 warming winter drink suggestions to keep you cosy when the air starts to get icy outside.

Now of course my go to winter drink is a large mug of hot chocolate and the thicker the better. But since I'm trying to be a bit more mindful of what I eat, I found two equally warming drinks that don't contain quite as many "bad" ingredients.

Chai tea

The first is chai tea. I refrain from adding latte on the end of that, because it's not a latte until you add the milk, and that's a choice of preference. I'd only ever tried this one before a few years ago (or so I thought) when it gained popularity and I spat it out straight away. It was gritty and way too milky and it was just put off for life, or so I'd assumed.

When I was scouring the cupboards for the spices that some of these chai recipes required, my mum came in and asked if she could help. She then proceeded to call me a hopeless Pakistani, if I didn't know how to make it already and I have to be fair to her, the way she explained it, I've watched her make tea like that for years. Suddenly it was a familiar recipe that my mum would always just make to taste. And honestly it's much better than any of the coffee shop versions, even if I do say so myself!

- tea bags - one per serving
- 1 cup of water per serving
- stick of cinnamon (or cinnamon powder)
- nutmeg (fresh or powdered)
- ginger (fresh or powdered)
- cardomom (fresh or powdered)
- whole cloves
- vanilla pod (extract can be used too)
- sugar/honey/sweetener (optional)
- milk (optional)

I have deliberately not added amounts to this ingredient list because when it comes to this infusion, it entirely depends on your tastes. I'd always say begin with a little and add more to your tastes. Spices such as these tend to be quite strong and if you're not used to the combination, it can be quite overpowering. 

Again, it is down to personal preference and also availability as to whether you'll use fresh or powdered forms of the spices. For me, the fresher it is, the stronger the flavour but in a less overpowering way. That doesn't sound like it'll make sense to anyone but I know what I mean so I'll hope you do too! 

The recipe itself is simple enough. add the tea bags and water to a saucepan and bring it to a boil and at that point, add all the spices and allow it to simmer for a few minutes. Once you can smell it filling up your kitchen, it will be safe to take it off the heat. Strain the tea to remove all the whole ingredients and add milk at this point, if you want to. 

It should be the perfect warming blend to see you through the colder nights and you get the positive of having the fragrance fill your home for a while afterwards!

And about those China tea cups... let's just say I've been watching a LOT of Downton Abbey recently and I wanted to do things properly. I did have to raid my mum's special crockery cupboard so I may be in trouble if these end up chipped. Oops! Since the tea cups had such a vintage feel, I thought I'd filter the photos to match.

Spiced apple juice

If teas are not your cup of tea (hehehe), then this spiced juice will be just as warming and cosy, without the caffeine. It's really simple too! I was finding all sorts of variations on Pinterest so I just smushed it together to make my own concoction.

- 2 cups apple juice
- stick of cinnamon
- 4 cardamom pods
- zest of one orange

Just like before, pop it all into a saucepan and heat until it's infused and you can smell the spices. It should take about 5 minutes. Then strain, pour into cups and enjoy.

Decadent Hot Chocolate

Now I know I said I wanted replacements for hot chocolate and these two drinks are both comforting and good for you in terms of the spices involved. But I also think, you only live once and you can enjoy a sweet, decadent treat when you need it.

My trick here is to have smaller portions and savour it so that that is all you need. If you think the other recipes were simple, this will be fit for a 6 year old to follow - with adult supervision of course.

This hot chocolate only requires a few squares of dark chocolate and some double cream. You can substitute the double cream for milk or make it half and half of each depending on how rich you would like it.

You simple heat enough double cream for a small mug (~100ml) and place squares of chocolate at the bottom of your mug of choice. When you pour the hot cream over the chocolate, it will eventually melt into the liquid and there you have a rich drink. You should add chocolate to suit your tastes so I prefer dark chocolate but it'll work just as well with white or milk chocolate.

Another simple trick is to infuse the cream with a handful of mint leaves if you want a refreshing minty aftertaste. It'll taste like an after eight mint. Another trick that helps me to be good, is to use espresso cups as they are small enough for a treat but you can't over indulge with them.

I hope you enjoyed these simple easy recipes. I always find that when you make something for yourself, it is all the more satisfying.

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Letter #34 - Make sure it brings you joy

To anyone who has ever questioned it,

In keeping my word about regular self care posts on a Sunday, I was going to write about skin care in the winter, because to me it always feeling like a bit of a pamper session. I've had a lot of people compliment, or rather question, the condition of my skin recently; what magic potion I must be using to keep it so clear. The thing is, I love my skin in the winter as it always seems to thrive before turning into a patchy mess come spring. But the irony of life stepped in just as I woke up intent on taking posts for the blog, with spots scattered across my chin and my cheeks. Now, I doubt that that's a sight anyone needs to see so I've had to talk about something else.

This is something I've noticed for a while and with the start of December, comes vlogmas for some YouTubers and that has made the issue more prominent in my eyes. Like anyone, I have my favourite social media 'influencers' and on watching recent videos or following their Snapchat and Instagram stories, the same words pop up all the time. These are words that always sounded strange but I presume that they come from a place of concern since their jobs are to portray their lives in a certain way. 

The words tend to fall along the lines of "sorry I look a mess", "I know I don't look great just yet" or "excuse my face" and they are soon followed by a reason as to why they haven't got makeup on. I hear it time and time again, and I feel sad for them. I can understand that they make a career out of beauty products and how to style their look and their makeup but surely they can be excused their appearance at the moment of waking or working in an empty home or simply living their lives.

The prominence of these words almost seems unfair on them. The Christmas season can be busy for the best of us and especially so for them, given that they have their own schedules to work to and events to attend AND they film it for the entertainment of others. But we shouldn't forget that they are filming a lot of their personal lives, and I think that that takes a certain level of courage and it's fantastic of them to do so. The level of public knowledge of their lives is different to that of celebrities in the traditional sense, since they are willingly letting the public into their lives and that is something you have to admire, whatever your view on them. 

But the sheer number of women who apologised to the camera for being flustered, or busy or especially, when they didn't have makeup on, and looked "a mess" was one too many. It sparked a thought and so that's why I'm writing this. 

Firstly, it isn't right for anyone to have to apologise for being a human being with a face that comes naturally unpainted. I needed to address that because it needs addressing and I'm sure it is something that people need to read about and have a think on. I find it interesting, for lack of a better word, that we are in an age and time where we have such education and understanding and yet we can still hold others to a certain standard when it is none of our concern. 

Those women may have apologised but when I read the comments sections, I understood why they felt the need to. So many comments pointed out their flaws or how different or tired they looked, and if this is constantly the feedback that they are exposed to, of course they will feel as though they have to be sorry for it. What I found most interesting was that most comments weren't by internet trolls, they were by fans or followers who had always been there. I don't think that their intentions are harsh, but it's what we have now become so accustomed to, that we feel the need to comment when it is no longer there.

Of course I'm talking about makeup here, but really any sort of imagined standard of appearance that is put on others is not okay. Something that started off as a bit of fun for most women has either become an obsession or a chore. I'm sure I sound so utterly against the idea of makeup but I love the stuff and I'm so fascinated and in awe of those who can apply it well and look so stunning with it. My only issue is that I generally think people look just as stunning without it.

I'm writing so much about other people and their presumed association with the stuff, I may as well explain my own view of it. In all honesty I don't have one. 

I'm just grateful that I don't feel a hold over my confidence from it. I'm grateful that as a young child, my mother never told me that I wasn't allowed to use it or that I was too young for it or anything along those lines. My dad once got me a huge makeup case when I was about 9 years old (he clearly didn't see anything wrong with it!) and it was one of those ones for young girls, with fluorescent pink blush and glitter lip glosses and the rest. I loved it and played dress up for about two weeks solid and then I got bored. I moved onto other interests after that. I never really thought about it until now, but I think the fact that I didn't have input from anyone else about if and when and how I should use it, meant that I formed my own opinion early on. I only ever saw it as a plaything. From then it couldn't define me because it held no interest for me. 

And now, at 22 years old, I do not wear makeup on a day to day basis and I love my complexion and all aspects of my face, because whenever I look in the mirror, I always see the same thing. I think that that is an important point in itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing makeup on an almost religious basis, as long as you don't forget that that reflection isn't the real deal.

I'm not saying that it's always been easy to love my skin. I certainly have days where I question whether I should resort to making it look more even or brighter or fresher or any number of things that can be done. It doesn't help that society is still wired a certain way.

When I lived with friends at uni, and when I would make new friends, they were always so curious as to why I didn't wear makeup. My idea of getting ready to go out with them meant taking a shower and putting on nicer clothes, whereas for them, it meant an hour in front of a mirror perfecting their faces. I also got roped into it exactly two times in those three years; times where I was begged to let them apply makeup on me and I relented as a bit of fun. But what I found was that it wasn't me. Nothing looked like me anymore. I'll add a photo somewhere here, but take my word for it, that's not what I look like even on my best day. And I don't need to.

My biggest problem was with the foundation. It covers all manner of sins but in the end, when you wipe it away, the imperfections are still there and I found myself disliking them. That day as I washed my face, I noticed the small freckles and the noticeable pores and it bothered me. The thing is I didn't like that it bothered me so the next time I got a request for being made up, I declined with a smile and reminded myself that I'm amazing as is.

In recent years, I think that there has been a move towards embracing ourselves in all aspects, with celebrities and others going out of their way to point out their no makeup selfies, but I think when something has been so ingrained for so long, it can be tough to wholeheartedly embrace it.

What I've noticed is that while it begins as fun, something to add a touch of colour, for the majority it eventually becomes a crutch. I've seen friends and relations alike terrified at the prospect of going about their daily lives without a full face of makeup. They refuse to be seen without it. They feel anxious at the thought and they feel as though it makes them unkempt.

I can understand the latter; I've had my fair share of remarks from well meaning individuals that seem to question how much I value myself. "You really don't like making an effort, do you?" or "surely you could have at least added some *insert product of choice*."

These statements and remarks shouldn't happen but it has become the case that if a women isn't made up, then on some level, she doesn't value herself enough or that she is lazy. I won't lie, I do get much more extra sleep compared to some of my friends but I spend my time taking care of my skin and my nutrition so that I have a good enough base that I can be content with.

This post has run far too long and if you've made it to the end, I commend you! I don't want this post to come across at all like I'm criticising those that wear makeup or promote it. I simply hope that people can be happy enough in their own skin that it becomes fun for them again. So it can be an addition to your face instead of a replacement.

Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Until next time, be inspired...

Love, Z