Garden Life: Outdoor Styling to put a Spring in your Step

Outdoor Accessories for a Stylish Spring

As Brits we are renowned for premature BBQs, flip flops and even public displays of shirtless torsos on a sunny day. But so what? We don’t have the best weather in the world, so when the sun does shine we make sure we max out the outdoor lifestyle. 

The sun has already shown it’s big bright face a few times this spring, and so far I have:

  • Sunbathed milk bottle legs in denim shorts once.
  • Had two BBQs.
  • Worked outdoors with squinty eyes and a laptop on a few occasions.

AND I AM LOVING IT. One thing we don’t do as well as other cultures is styling our outdoor spaces. In Scandinavia they live and style by the concept of hygge, Asian living has given us the balanced zen styling and in the UK we are just starting to catch on. With all these popular styling trends, an idealistic way of living is the driving force behind it. It’s not about tshirt tans and burnt sausages, but a much more holistic lifestyle that sees the outdoors as another space in the home that should be used regularly.

Here I’ve picked out a few outdoor accessories that will make the outdoor lifestyle even more appealing, come rain or shine. Because whatever the British weather we should all be reaping the benefits of a bit of fresh air and nature from time to time. 

Dial up the Decor with Garden Accessories

Edward and Erica the Elephant Planters – Next – £70 (Erica) and £40 (Edward)

Planting flowers in elephant shaped pots just seems a lot more fun than regular plant pots. Plus, Next have named theirs, which somehow makes them even more desirable. I now have the urge to create a miniature herd at the end of the garden…

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Light it Up with Outdoor Lanterns

Orb Hurricane Lantern – London Garden Trading Co. – £59.95

With the right lighting you can party all night long outside. Just don’t disturb the neighbours, unless of course it’s a block party! This lava-like lantern looks a burning ball of fire, which is both awesome and practical. 

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Heaters, because, you know, England.

La Hacienda Moda Lime Firepit – Homebase – £79.99

Being realistic it only stays warm outside in British springtime whilst the sun is out, and even then it’s hit or miss. This stylish firepit looks great, keeps you warm and gives you purpose – you can make a fire, gather round it and heat up marshmallows on sticks. Best. Day. Ever.

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Grow your Own with Herb Planters

Multi Herb Wall Planter – Urban Outfitters – £50

If you don’t have much space outdoors you can make the most of wall space with a wall mounted herb planter. If you have no outdoor space at all (then this post is probably a tad annoying) then you can even use this herb planter indoors – bring a touch of the plant life inside. It’s not just a feature either – get cooking with your freshly grown produce.

outdoor accessories

Outdoor Comfies with a Giant Waterproof Bean Bag

Leda Tribal Transform – BeanBagBazaar – £149.99

Bean bags are not just for kids. This unique bean bag floor cushion can be used indoors and outdoors making it great for lounging away on for perfect lazy, sunny sunday. Caution: you may forget to get up again and lose hours of time. 

outdoor accessories

 

Three Benefits to Being Outdoors

Don’t wait until summer to get outside, it’s too good for your health to pass up the chance of some time spent in the Great Outdoors. 

  1. Vitamin D: it’s essential for a healthy immune system with serious supplies coming directly from the sun. Just keep it safe with factor 30 or higher.
  2. Fresh air: indoor pollutants are far worse than outdoor pollutants. Plus, if you are living in the countryside you are already winning by avoiding the inner city smog. 
  3. Eye sight: artificial light from electronic devices and staring at screens all day is bad for your eye sight and health. Get outdoors and look around occasionally, feed your eyes some natural light.

 

10 Freelancer Tips – Lessons I’ve Learnt One Year On

One year into freelancing I had a little think about what I have learnt. Here’s my 10 freelancer tips and some of them may seem a bit daft, but they are in fact all-too real. 

10 freelancer tips after one year of freelancing

1. Get dressed. Because no, it is not cute. 

So many times I read about freelancers working in their PJs, and then people would also ask me, “do you just stay in bed and work?” And ohh, how I would revel in telling them that “yes, some days I don’t even get dressed!” However, on those days you will find this is the day when the postman / delivery person will knock at your door to take delivery for a neighbour’s parcel – as you are now the only person in the street at home in the day. You may also find that said neighbour will then knock to collect their parcel the next day. Just get dressed. You’ll feel much more human and connected with the normal world when you do. This goes for things like makeup and washing hair too. Honestly I’ve been that bad before. 

2. Overcome the daily struggle with the non-work life.

Working from home is great, but it’s also a problem. My daily distractions are normally dog-related (I have two frenchies). So I will be typing / reading and then all of a sudden I find myself shouting “don’t chew my camera lead!” or “stop humping each other!” As you can imagine this quickly can disrupt one’s creative flow. If it’s possible, try setting up your work area away from distractions. Then there’s just plain procrastination to deal with. I often find myself shocked at the time I’m starting work but then I realise I have spent an hour cleaning and tidying the room so that I feel zen to concentrate. Make lots of lists. This helps focus your day and you get a bit of everything done. After all, you don’t want a new client prospect calling you with your arms full of washing and your frenchie snorting like a pig in the background. 

3. Do something WILD in the middle of the day.

This may sound contradictory to the above point, but here I mean doing something that’s planned and beneficial. You should take the opportunity to enjoy your freedom, otherwise you may as well go back to full-time employment. You now have the power to control your working hours so stick something random that you enjoy right in the middle of the day. It will keep you sane. For example, going to the gym when it’s quiet. This is something people who work in offices can only dream of. Go on, hit the gym at 11am or 2pm. Like I said, WILD. 

4. Find a local cafe. Don’t take the piss. 

This is something I still actually need to do. But it is also something that I know I will really benefit from to stop me from becoming ‘crazy dog lady with no friends’. I’m going to chose one day a week where I work for an hour or two from a cafe. I will likely just do some of my own social media updates – i.e. not something that is right on deadline for a really important client. I put ‘don’t take the piss’ because it’s important to remember the cafe owner is trying to run a business too. So don’t sit there all day, order a tea and plug every electronic device you own into their sockets. If you have client meetings, maybe suggest you meet there. This shows willing with your new cafe owner friend and that you’re a benefit of a customer, not a nuisance. 

freelancer tips

Maybe order more than a tea. 

5. Promote yourself. Networking aint easy. 

Building up your connections takes time. Start promoting yourself with a blog, social media presence and networking regularly before you quit your full time job (and actually take on freelancing work before you quit!) Then, even when you are freelance and have a decent client base you will still need to promote yourself like you’re Kylie Jenner. Don’t be shy, put yourself out there. You are now the face of your business and you aren’t going to grow your business unless you are constantly connecting with new people and making a lasting (and positive, hopefully) impression. 

6. Get a kick out of saying ‘no’. In a non-sadistic way. 

OK, so when you first start out the urge to say ‘yes’ to anything and everything is strong. On the flip side, if you need to earn more money, then it’s understandable. The solution is to find a way to make this work for you. Be clear on what your services are and how you create value for your clients. Make sure your client is also clear on this before agreeing to work with them. Then, if it still doesn’t feel right, it is OK to say ‘no’. Be proud of yourself for turning down a job that isn’t right for you. You should be developing a specialism and a brand. Try and still be helpful though; this client may have a job in the future that is perfect for you, so put them in touch with someone you think could be better placed to help them. 

7. Make friends and ask questions. You don’t know everything. If anything at times. 

This may sound harsh but I have a tendency to want to do everything myself – hence: ‘freelance’. However, I have recently come to accept that I simply do not have all the answers. Plus, freelancing can be down right scary at times when you’re struggling with a job. Join Facebook groups with other like-minded people; I’m a member of regional blogger and PR Facebook groups, which are filled with kind people going through the same thing daily! You should also not feel scared about reaching out to people you used to work with if you just want some friendly advice. Just think, if it was the other way round I know I would be more than happy to help one of my former colleagues or friends if they came to me with a question. If they don’t want to help you, then maybe stop being friends with that weirdo. 

8. Be a pro.

Here we have the seemingly boring crap; written agreement, spreadsheet with your income and outgoings, receipts. All that jazz. You’ll be thankful for it when you come to doing your annual return, or when a client is late paying you. You will also feel like one of those really cool businessy people that knows what they’re doing / has had screwed on. Even when you mostly don’t. But if you can get your business admin down you are winning half the battle. 

9. Keep learning. 

When you go from working in an office surrounded by talented people with different career backgrounds and years of varied industry experience, to then working with two frenchies that know how to fart, sleep and eat really well, you realise how much knowledge you used to absorb on a daily basis. It’s now up to you to keep learning and absorbing knowledge and new skills in your chosen field. Using your hard earned freelancer cash is always well-spent in Boots or ASOS (my vice), but it is also well-spent when you reinvest it in a training course. I took a creative writing course last year (read my course review here) and I’m planning another one for this year. Whenever I hear of training I’m noting it down, I’m subscribing to online tutorials and I’m reading successful copywriter’s blog articles. The biggest fail as a freelancer is to stay still too long. Keep learning!

freelancing

Floyd is needy during work hours. 

10. Have confidence.

One of your best USPs for selling your services as a freelancer is believing in yourself. When you quit your job, you quickly realise that you kind of have no choice but to believe in you – it’s one of those ‘sink or swim’ situations. When you get your first payment and you realise you did it all by yourself, and that someone out there is actually willing to pay for your work – that feels pretty good. Really good in fact. If you have a tough time, try and remember the time when it was good and motivate yourself to keep going and be proud of your self-confidence!

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This Girl Can – and Phenomenal Women Will

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign sparked a conversation a year ago that hasn’t stopped. It returned to our TV screens and social media a week ago and is already having phenomenal impact – especially with it’s new message to women; that it’s OK to start again. 

You’ve got two burpees left and your legs feel like two planks of wood, but you’re not stopping when every single person at the bootcamp is screaming your name. You sit down at the leg press machine at the gym and today, you’re going to push yourself a little more, so you move the metal pin down a notch pressing the heaviest weights you ever have *smug face. There’s never enough hours in the day, but a quick run around the block is better than nothing at all, so you go for it and with your short window, you actually achieve a personal best… 

This Girl Can

Lydia, 29, hated P.E., loves roller derby.

This Girl Can – but how do you get there?

Working out can fill you with an enormous sense of pride and achievement, but what about if you stop? When you stop for a week, a week can easily become a month and a few months all of sudden can become a year. The impending doom felt walking back into that class, gym or just stepping out solo on the tarmac, is enough to weigh heavy on anyone’s shoulders. Quite frankly, it’s awful. 

I used to go to dance school three or four times a week plus doing sports at school. During uni and my working life I’ve tried a few different things; I tried the gym and even going to dance classes again. But the gym was a whole new world of intimidating machinery and dancing felt embarrassing as I couldn’t do anything I was able to do all those years ago. Group classes at the gym were tough and without even a basic fitness level, (I smoke cigarettes and drink wine like it’s water) I started telling myself I needed to go to the gym alone before starting again at a group class, just to make sure I could do it (excuses, excuses). 

This Girl Can – and it’s OK to feel nervous

When I looked into the latest campaign for This Girl Can, I was actually relieved to see so many other people shared this feeling of anxiety about getting back into working out (not that I want people to feel anxious, but it’s nice to know you’re not alone).

“Many of the women we’ve featured talk about stopping, then starting again. It can feel like the hardest thing in the world to return after a few weeks off, when you fear you’ve lost ground or fitness, but we want to surface this as a discussion point, to say it’s normal to take a break, but that needn’t stop you for good.”

 – Sport England chief executive Jennie Price, Feb 2017

This year, I have a motivating factor that I’m getting married and I just want to be fitter and healthier. So I’ve started learning kickboxing, because I need something that keeps me focused on learning something new (running on a treadmill is mind-numbing to me). My partner and I also do a weekly strength and conditioning session together with our trainer. Plus, I’m starting to get into weights more at the gym in my own time. 

So I’ve finally found my way back to sport and more than anything I feel like me again. I always considered myself a busy and active person, and now I really am, plus I’m aiming to be the fittest I’ve ever been. Because, why not? 

This Girl Can

This Girl Can – and she’s going to make waves

Sport England has returned with it’s latest advert for the This Girl Can campaign to keep the positive momentum going and to continue to inspire and connect with a female audience – because believe it or not there is still a big gender gap in sport participation. 

“…the job is far from done. With a gender gap of 1.73 million fewer women playing sport compared to men, we need to keep getting the message out there that women come in all shapes and sizes and levels of ability, and they should all feel able to exercise and play sport.”

– Sport England chief executive Jennie Price, Jan 2016

This year, the target age demographic has widened; originally targeting 14-40 year olds, this year’s campaign focuses on 14-60 year olds. If the success of the original campaign is anything to go by, with a whopping 2.8 million women saying they did more sporting activity as a result of the campaign, (Sport England, Feb 2017) then this year’s is set to inspire even more, including that older demographic.

this girl can

Sue, 67, cold water gives her a buzz.

Just check out 67-year-old Sue who enjoys cold water swimming (!) To overcome the anxiety of getting back into something, or even starting something new, maybe consider what motivates you to be active then find the right activity to suit your lifestyle – there’s so much out there to choose from! There’s everything from aerial trapeze to rave trampolining, but cold water swimming is absolutely not for me. I couldn’t possibly think of anything much worse, but props to anyone that chooses to do this! 

This Girl Can – and nothing will stop her

Personally, I have always whinged about going to fitness classes. My mum used to tell me as she pushed me towards the car, “you’ll be fine when you get there” (a phrase that covered a multitude of foot-stomping situations, see also: ‘getting to school when feeling sick’). But I always was fine. In fact, I was more than fine, I was really happy. So take the advice from my mum, because ‘Mum knows best’ and tell yourself, ‘you’ll be fine when you get there.’ Then you can feel extra surprised when you feel phenomenal when you’re done. 

This Girl Can – watch the full advert

 Click to watch the full 2017 This Girl Can advert from Sport England.

Featuring words by Maya Angelou and soundtrack by Beth Ditto. 

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Girls’ Weekend in Barcelona: Pretty as a Picture

Spending a girls’ weekend in Barcelona is always appealing! This photo diary reminds me of just how picture perfect it was there, even in January. 

Dirty Thirty in Barcelona

I’ve been to Barcelona a few times, but never before in the winter. Going on the last weekend in January I wasn’t sure what to expect but a girl’s weekend in Barcelona during the gloomiest month of the year is always a good idea! Keeping the surprise was hard as it was for my friend Maddie’s 30th birthday. It turned out to be a perfect location with mild weather and sunny enough days for sitting outside while enjoy alcoholic beverages like laaaadies. 

girls' weekend in barcelona

View from our MH Apartments Opera Rambla balcony.

girls weekend barcelona

La Rambla.

(Way more hectic in summer).

girls weekend barcelona

The beach. Duh. 

girls' weekend in barcelona

View from Columbus Monument. (It’s a roundabout).

girls weekend barcelona

View of Columbus Monument. Near the port. 

girls' weekend in barcelona

Drizzly walks through the city.

girls weekend barcelona

Architectural oldness.

girls' weekend in barcelona

La Sagrada Familia.

Travel to Barcelona in Winter

Return flights to Barcelona on the last weekend in February are currently £82 from London and £103 from Newcastle. We stayed at the MH Apartments Opera Rambla – literally a few steps from La Rambla and a few bars (muy importante). The apartments were big with a small balcony and kitchen area (we ate out all the time, but it’s there if you need it!)

A spontaneous weekend in Barcelona would easily make the perfect romantic getaway for two if you’ve not organised anything for Valentine’s this year. 

Where’s you favourite winter city break destination? 

 

Learn a New Skill: How to Write a Novel Course Review

It’s never too late to learn something new, and with an abundance of online courses available at your fingertips, what’s stopping you?

Going freelance gave me the opportunity to do more things I loved. As a fan of storytelling in novels and in my work (brand storytelling – not just making things up) I decided to have a go at a six-week writing course with the Writers’ Workshop called ‘How to Write a Novel‘. This is my review, plus why taking a course could help open new doors of opportunity. 

Why I took a writing course

  • Learning new writing skills helps me grow as a professional copywriter and marketer – it’s basically a no-brainer in terms of work related benefits. 
  • ‘How to Write a Novel’ was something I always wanted to do as I am obsessed with reading books as well as storytelling in branding and marketing.

Why should you take any course?

  • Develop your interest in something you’re passionate about – treat it like a hobby!
  • Improve your skills.
  • Looks good on your CV to employers; “this girl is self motivated, independent and ambitious. I am not just going to hire her, but offer her even more money!” (It could happen).
  • Builds your confidence.

Six-week writing course structure

1. IDEAS

My advice would be: come with an idea you want to develop for this course. Just because, if you don’t have an idea already you can waste time chopping and changing throughout the weeks, rather than developing something fully and getting the most from the course. The main theme of this week was: write what you know!

2. CHARACTERS

This was my favourite part of the course, and my favourite part in all storytelling. You can go mad with spider charts, spilling out personality traits, quirks, jobs, looks, dress sense and much more. The possibilities are endless. Just be careful not to base your character too closely to anyone you know in real life – it’s unlikely to go down well. 

3. STORY

Here you get into the plot of your story and consider popular story lines such as rags to riches, a quest of self discovery, a tragedy etc. You really need to decide what events and conflicts are going to spur your character on, as well as making it a real page-turner for your reader. 

4. STRUCTURE

Now wasn’t this something to behold when reading one of my favourite books, Gone Girl?! The structure was so well planned out that the story continuously revealed itself in a surprising and extraordinary way. Author Gillian Flynn said she had hundreds of post-its covering a wall in her basement to create a timeline – just to help her keep track of the plot. Twists and turns in storytelling doesn’t come without a planned structure of scenes and sub-plots. Just make sure you don’t leave it up when you have friends over – they might get the wrong end of the stick and call the police on you. 

5. STYLE

Developing a unique voice is what separates good writers from great writers. It’s definitely something you can work on (I’m trying!) but some people are just born with a natural flair. This week was about finding your authentic voice and being confident about it. Try different extremes of voices before settling into what feels natural. Knowing what you are not gets you much closer to knowing what you are. 

6. EDITING

This is something I do ALL THE TIME. I even go back and edit my texts and Whatsapp messages. If I had to rely on a first draft of anything I don’t think I would have got very far in life. The rewrite is when your work starts to have style, personality, maybe an added surprise. If you have the time, sleeping on it can work miracles; there has been many a time a fresh pair of eyes the next day has lead me to think a moron wrote my work the day before. 

how to write a novel

Cost: Is it worth it?

Writers’ Workshop: How to Write a Novel Beginners  Six-Week Course – £365

Personally, I would be happy with the cost is it was a face-to-face classroom environment. As it was an online course I think it was overpriced. If you get a group that are up for critiquing each other’s work you will get a lot more out of it. My group was quite quiet so it felt like working solo unfortunately. 

What are the value benefits?

  • An experienced course leader who is a published author. 
  • Video introduction each week. 
  • In-depth notes for each week – almost 4-5 pages that I have kept and still refer to!
  • Suggested further reading so you can go off and continue to learn independently.
  • A forum for discussion amongst your class peers (as long as people are chatty!)
  • The structure and discipline of deadlines – making you think, write and learn regularly.
  • Individual feedback on each of your assignments. 

Learn a new skill and feel happier in 2017

There are now courses you can do in almost anything – ever considered Surf Science or Viking Studies? Maybe you should. Why not make a fresh start in 2017 and learn a new skill that makes you feel good?