What did last year teach me?

I’ve been thinking about last year and what it taught me. Its already the end of February and the year is racing by, full of opportunities and unknowns.

So what did I learn in 2019? I learnt a lot but if I had to condense it down to 10 points I’d say…

Downs always lead to ups

In March 2019 I was made redundant (again) unexpectedly. The company involved treated me pretty shabbily and I limped away very low and anxious. I found a new role a few months later – one that pays a lot more and is a much bigger and better job and its a real reminder that theres ALWAYS light at the end of the tunnel.

Travelling is great but home is where the heart is

Last year I took some great trips with my favourite travelling companion – my fiancé Russ. Portugal, Turkey, London and some fab day outs too. But nothing beats getting home – it really is our calm from the storm and I love that this year we’ve also made our home even better (with more to come in 2020). Spending money on trips is nice but I truly believe improving your home and surrounding yourself with lovely things is the thing that gets you through the mundane day to day slog…

My body, my rules

I ran a lot in 2019. I dieted hard this year. I lost some weight and I toned up. I ran almost 950km. Its funny how lots of people have strong views on how we should look, what we should eat and opinions on other peoples bodies. I actually stopped posting my Strava runs on Facebook due to some snarky comments (and even an unfollow!) and made a rule for myself that no-one gets to tell you how to look and feel. The only person that matters in this is you. In 2020 I am relaxing this as I am finally starting to feel happy with myself – a lifelong battle for me.

Growing up is hard to do

So my son turned 13 in 2019. We’ve always been really close but I can feel it beginning. The gap forming. Theres a strange feeling, like experiencing a slow motion break up with a really loved boyfriend but you know it has to happen.

I look at him each day and can see him changing, growing, transforming into the adult he will someday become. Teenagers aren’t meant to be easy, and I’m sure it will get harder but for now I’m hanging on to all the cuddles and kisses I can get…

Know your worth

During my period of having no job in the Spring last year I suffered from a deep feeling of inadequacy. I have always been very hard on myself and when I was offered a job with a very (pretty much insulting) salary it hurt me deep in my soul. I suffer from low self esteem so any knock-back often makes me feel extremely agitated and critical about myself. I wondered if I should take it, try and make the best of it, almost thinking that was all I was worth but my ever supportive fiancé reminded me of who I was and what I offer. And you know what? A month or so later I was offered by current role on nearly double that salary!!!

Mental health matters

Exercise, self care, getting toxic people out your life and learning to recognise the behaviours that lead to repeated problems. Pretty standard but very hard to actually do. In 2019 I exercised a lot but also gave myself permission to relax which is something I find very hard to do. For me, little things really make a difference – having a good beauty routine, eating something yummy, reading a great book or just taking some time for myself away from the kids. I have started to learn I must always protect what is precious and my own wellbeing is key. It is not selfish to regular check-in with yourself and make sure you are feeling ok.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to look great

I shopped a lot at Poundland in 2019…in fact I was borderline obsessed! This something that definitely wont change in 2020 – its an amazing shop! A zebra vase for £1 instead of £55 via Quail Ceramics? I’m in!!! Seriously though I’ve learnt that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a great look…

…which leads me to :

Creativity feeds the soul

In 2019 I let myself be creative again. I created craft projects, undertook DIY projects, made things for the children, watched documentaries and arts programmes and visited museums and art galleries. I didn’t always get it right, but I did have a jolly good go! The more I found outlets for my creativity the better I felt. It took my time and energy but I really did enjoy what I achieved.

Work hard, then work a bit harder

I had to really push myself in 2019 and worked very hard. I had to step up in to the biggest job I had taken since I had stepped back from my career to be with my son after my marriage ended. To be honest I always have been a hard worker and find it hard to rest but this year showed me to get what you want you have to work your ass off! I read a quote somewhere that said ‘theres is no such thing as luck, only hard work and perseverance’ and I have to agree… I have a lot of plans for 2020 so it looks like theres no relaxing for me yet!!!

Social media is a lie

One of the things that has caused me the most anxiety and ups and downs in 2019 is social media. As a marketer with a specialism in digital, I should know better but seeing peoples highlight reels constantly filled me with feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem and jealousy. I know much of this is photoshopped (often obviously) or faked but it still has a huge effect on me, especially when its via people I know. I know – stupid right? This year I started to manage this once and for all by unfollowing a lot of accounts on Instagram and blocking accounts I had a tendency to obsess on (exes, ex-friends, companies I used to work for, ones where the girls Facetune/Photoshop a lot etc). It hasnt been plain sailing, I’ve had some relaspes but I feel a lot better and am following professional advice I found on the internet about how to deal with unhealthy use of social media. Since I started talking about this, so many people have told me they feel the same/have been suffering from this too and I feel a lot less alone.

I dont expect you to agree with all of these, or even any of them, but these are some of the things I have come to realise over the last year. I personally don’t subscribe to the whole ‘new year, new start’ rubbish. No resolutions or a ridiculous idea to change my life because its January for me – I continue as I always do – pushing forward.

Ever forward. What an adventure…

Heres to 2020, the new roaring 20’s, a completely new decade… whatever it may bring!

Creating Peace of Mind with Smart-Will

Did you know in England and Wales, when you die without a will, the law decides who gets your assets and how your possessions are distributed. Pretty scary, huh?

Having a will, even a simple one, can help ensure that your partner can continue to live in your shared home, your children are looked after by the people you desire, sentimental possessions are passed on to those you wish to have them and your assets and finances are distributed according to your wishes. Recently I’ve been thinking about the past, the future and the responsibilities of being a mum. Its a lot to think about, so anything that can make life a bit easier definitely has to be a good thing.

We have quite a complicated family set up being a very loving and close, but blended family. We have four children between us, three who are still dependent on us and will be for some time, so getting ‘our house in order’ was extremely important. I have a will but it is very out of date and lists people in it I would definitely now not want to benefit from my estate and my partner has never had a will. I kept meaning to do something, wrote notes for myself, wrote down some ideas but never seemed to find the time to actually do it.

But where do you start?

When Smart-Will approached me and asked if I would be interesting in trying their app based will writing service, after checking them out online and looking at their reviews I could see this could be an easy and simple way to get wills in place for myself and my fiancé.

The aim at Smart-Will is to take the stress out of writing a Will and enable you to take control of the process, allowing you to easily produce a legally sound Will that accurately reflects your wishes on what will happen when you die.

The app itself is really easy to use. Once you register you go through a series of questions and choices to create the Will you need. You can create a single Will or a Mirror Will (these are virtually identical Wills where one person in a couple leaves their estate to the other in the event of their passing away. The most common type are when one spouse leaves everything to their spouse and then to their children). This was the type of Will my fiancé and I decided on.

The app has simple drop downs and tabs to select to make each step very simple. For a Mirror Will you go through the process twice, once for yourself and once for your partner.

The app itself is easy to use and free of jargon. The Will you create can be tailored to suit your exact circumstances, giving you the freedom to appoint the executors of your choice and divide your estate between your chosen beneficiaries as you wish. Leaving gifts of money, specific possessions or gifts of money to charity, is made easy using the menus within each step.

Some of the questions might make you feel a little uncomfortable, as its not easy thinking about death and dying but all all know we need to think about them. As well as the financial details of the Wills themselves, you will also need to think about some big questions such as choosing a guardian for your children and if you want to be buried or cremated.

If your funeral is something you want to sort out at the same time, Smart-Will is able to offer assistance with funeral arrangements, and even offers clients the choice to indicate they’d like to have their ashes scattered high above the earth, at the edge of space!

Once all the steps are completed you view a summary and check you are happy with all your answers and choices. Their online app means once you’ve created your Will on your phone or tablet you can choose to utilise their free secure storage so that you can be assured that your Will is in safe hands.

As well as all this, the help they offer extends beyond simply helping you create a Will; when you appoint them as professional executors, they will obtain fixed fee probate quotes from local solicitors, to ensure your family and loved ones benefit from the best value services available at no extra cost. Within the process they explain how to choose an executor and why you may want to have a professional executor which is the choice I made.

With this being a modern solution for both creating and managing your Will, Smart-Will offer free updates to your Will for life. This was important to me as we all know that our circumstances change over the course of our lives, and I wanted a Will that was flexible and could grow and change as my life did. However if you need something bespoke or more complicated they can do that too – find all the fees here.

All in all I found the process simple and stress free. The Wills we have chosen are quite simple but work for us right now. Plus the peace of mind I now have knowing we have something legally binding in place protecting our family is a great feeling. I am waiting to receive my copy of our Wills but in the meantime I know they exist and are stored safely as part of the Will writing service. So that just leaves the question – are you looking for some peace of mind too?

The Smart-Will app is available for IOS here and Android here.

*I was gifted this product but all views stated are my own. For more information please see my disclaimer section

What happened to Valentines Day?

Ok, lets get this out the way…I HATE the modern day version of Valentines Day.

I bet you’re thinking – well I guess she’s some super grumpy, unromantic person who hates all this love and fuss stuff? Ironically that couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me explain…

In an age before the internet, social media, Tinder, non stop advertising and the media trying to convince us we should all live/look/spend like the rich and famous whatever our income; a pretty paper card sent anonymously to a loved one was an adorable way to show that you loved/liked/wanted to court them. It was personal and coy and sweet and seemingly now something of a time gone by…Let me tell you a bit about me – I would describe myself as a very romantic person. I tell my fiancé lots of times through the day I love him (as he does to me), send romantic messages and notes, go on date nights, take time to look after myself and look nice/wear pretty lingerie etc (because it makes me feel good – making my boyfriend smile is an added bonus), spend time cuddled upon the sofa in the evenings and generally make time to do things that will make him feel loved, appreciated and wanted. I love being in love and couldn’t imagine living any other way. I don’t dislike the idea of Valentines Day…I hate what marketing and the media has made the day become.

I think because I am a romantic person who loves to make a fuss of the people I care for, it makes me hate the whole concept of the modern day Valentines Day even more. Let me tell you why…

Its fake – So who was St Valentine? The saint of Beekeepers and Epilepsy amongst other things. Why do we celebrate Valentines Day? Well that one is full of debate. One thing is for sure – the whole thing is a mix of other celebrations and twisted to fit in with a modern day event created to sell stuff.

It encourages people to spend money have on things they don’t need – Valentines Day is a marketing dream (I should know, its what I do!). Adverts begin weeks ahead, stores replace their Christmas stock with Valentines stock, magazines tell us instead of a £5 box of chocolates and a card, we should buy the person we love a £200 designer watch because bigger is better and we start to get brainwashed by it all.

A whole industry has emerged created fun ‘novelty’ gifts no-one in their right mind would want – Everyone loves a teddy with a heart on, pair of fluffy handcuffs or fabric rose don’t they? Oh right, they don’t. And don’t get me started on things like chocolate body paint…

There’s some women who use it to make other women feel like lesser beings – There’s always those people who want to show you their huge bouquet of roses, heart shaped balloons, diamond earrings etc. Good for them…but show offs are never fun to be around and there’s a competitive, nasty side to it that I just don’t like. Ladies we don’t need to be like this!

Men generally don’t like it – You know when another ‘special’ day exactly a month later is created (it involves steak and other things men love – see the cheeky details here) by men for men, that Valentines Day is not a thing men on the whole want to be forced to do. There is of course, lots of romantic men out there but who wants to be told when and how you should be romantic?

Its creates ‘the pressure’ – The pressure to buy gifts, the pressure to book an expensive restaurant, the pressure to send flowers, the pressure to have sex that night whether you want to really or not, the pressure to out-do your friends. If you’re single there’s pressure to be in a relationship as that’s what society tells us will make us happy…well, I know quite a few people in relationships who seem utterly miserable. Anything to do with love should feel free, not forced.Whether you are single or in a relationship we all know the truth – we are being manipulated. Don’t be told when to be romantic – in fact if you’re anything like me make an effort of be romantic EVERY day…and don’t expect a present because of it. Do it because you want to. Do it because being in love compels you to do so. For me that’s what true love should do…and the rewards are much better than getting a gift you’ve guilted your other half into buying you.

Personally this Valentines Day, I will choose a card, write a heartfelt message and that night have dinner, watch TV, kiss and cuddle and then go to bed with the man I love just like I would any other night.And you know what? Life is about freedom of choice – if you truly love the whole idea of Valentines Day then go for it – the candlelit dinner, expensive gifts, rose petals on the bed, slow-mo sex; whatever says ‘love’ to you!

But do it because you want to…and don’t share it all over your social media for the attention and likes – the odd pic might be cute but your whole evening?  Intimate moments of love should be for 2 not 200. True love is the most precious thing we can have in our lives – lets not cheapen it – its worth far more than that.All photos via my Instagram – to follow me (its not all romance I promise!) click here.

Hello 2019 – pleased to meet you!

So you’ve probably noticed – it’s a new year! Now, I am not a believer in the whole ‘new year/new me’ stuff but I do like to have goals, I like to constantly try to do better and I thrive on the feeling of being proud of myself and my achievements.

So I decided to use the rolling over of ’18 to ’19 to come up with 10 manageable (and that’s the key word here) things to keep me on the right track for moving onwards and generally achieving my goals over the next 12 months.

Lets be clear though, these are NOT resolutions. I am not a believer in New Years Resolutions. Over many years I have set myself ridiculous goals – started strict diets, tried to force myself to do things I didn’t really want to do and unsurprisingly I failed. And then the excuses would start, the guilt would come, which was often followed by some self loathing. And then usually I would forget all about it all and not really achieve anything over the next 12 months!

But what are my 2019 aims?

Face the fear (and maybe do it anyway)

My biggest enemy is anxiety. For as long as I can remember I have been a worrier and at times I have suffered with panic attacks and illness due to anxiety. I have worked very hard to control my demons and during 2019 I want to make sure I am as self-aware as possible remember to always put my mental health first. One of the biggest challenges for me is telling people when I feel anxious but I know if I share my worries and seek support the easier it is. Part of this is also looking after myself physically, so I need to get enough sleep, keep away from alcohol, exercise regularly and not eat too much junk food as I find if my weight goes up so does my anxiety. I will not allow my worries steal my happiness.

Stay ‘present’

One of my worst traits is being easily distracted. I have a very busy mind and often find it hard to focus on just one task as I am always thinking ahead. This year I am going to work really hard to stay in the present particularly with my loved ones and put that phone away and keep my focus where it needs to be. I want my children to feel they are the centre of my world not Facebook or Instagram. Plus I am going to try ‘seize the day’ where I can (someone often harder for anxious people) and be more spontaneous and hopefully have more fun!

Be the star of my own story…

Family first

Start a new (mini) business

Last year I had the idea to launch a new Etsy business. I already have an Etsy shop selling vintage items (find it here) but I wanted another a business that was a bit more creative. I did quite a lot of work on it but life got in the way and I never got to launch it. This year I want to bring that business alive so watch this space!

Be real (aka don’t just ‘do it for the gram)

This year I am going to work hard to remember social media is definitely NOT real life. Working as a social media manager for a large retail company, I really should know to not judge myself against the 1000’s of curated, photoshopped or stylised images out there but I still do. This Christmas I realised I had hardly taken any photos but had a lovely time which was a real eye-opener for me. Everything doesn’t need to be recorded digitally and immediately shared…memories are really all you need.

This year I am going to work hard to not believe everything everyone else is doing/living/sharing is perfect and that sometimes an outtake photo is a better representation of the moment than a stylised Instagram worthy shot as seen below…

Silly faces – thought = I dont look pretty enough

New Years Eve – thought = laughing and bent over is unflattering

Bonfire night – thought = no make up and too dark

Re-do our lounge

Last year we made some real progress doing up our house. This year I want to tackle my favourite room – the lounge – and create a really lovely space to relax in. Theres a lot to do as everything needs changing but I can’t wait! Look out for updates as we progress…

Continue to run

I’ve now been running regularly for over 4 years and last year I ran 750km in total. I run every week, 2-3 times a week and it has really changed my life. I ran over Christmas, on holiday, in the cold and rain and when injured or unwell. I don’t always want to run but I always am glad I did. In 2019 I don’t want to run further or faster, I just want to keep making myself proud every week about the level of exercise I do because it is really hard to run every other day, EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

Thinking of adding regular exercise in your life? Why not have a read of the blogs I have written about it – find them here and here I cannot recommend it enough.

2-3 5km runs EVERY week

Karrimors on…

Read more

I buy a lot of books but they just mount up by the side of my bed! I read on holiday but that’s about it, so this year I am going to try to read a book a month. I am going to read them at night and allow myself the time to do so. I also think it will help me wind down before sleeping which can sometimes be hard for me.

Keep on exploring

I love to travel particularly with my fiancé Russ. Last year we visited Venice as a couple and Majorca as a family as well as taking some great days out in the UK and I want to make sure we achieve that again this year as it makes us so happy. I’d better start saving again as we all know sadly holidays aren’t cheap!

Venice

Copenhagen

Budapest

Be kinder to myself

Now this one is hard. I am my own biggest critic and this year I want to try to be kinder to myself. Self care will be key to this – I need to give myself permission to relax and spoil myself whether it is a pamper session, allowing myself some chocolate or just having a lazy Sunday.

Work hard, Play Hard, Love hard

I am very lucky. I have a partner I adore (and he feels the same thankfully), a beautiful family of loving, healthy, beautiful boys, a nice home and most recently, a job I love. In 2019 I am going to make sure I remember to be thankful for all these things and never take them for granted, as well as working hard to make sure things stays that way. I want to excel at work, be the best girlfriend and mum I can and have fun as I go along.

My soulmate xxx

My beautiful boys

What are your plans for 2019? Are you going to push yourself harder or just enjoy the ride? Whatever you choose enjoy and be part of 2019 – we are never going to get this year again!!!

Visiting Venice

My fiancé and I recently returned from the most lovely trip to Venice and I wanted to tell you about it! Venice had been on my bucket list for a while (I had visited for a day as a teenager on a school trip to Italy many moons ago but that was it) and I have to say it didn’t disappoint.

It is definitely the most unique place I have visited on my travels so far and the no roads/all boats took a bit of getting used to.  It’s so iconic you spend a lot of time gasping and ahhing at all the sights you’ve seen in images over the years – its really quite surreal. After landing, we took a pre-booked bus transfer from the airport and then walked into Venice from the mainland via the main drag.

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We stayed in a lovely hotel in walking distance to all the sights – the beautiful, opulent and very romantic Hotel Ai Mori D’Oriente and found the cost per night for 4 star hotel quite affordable. Venice is pretty small so you really can cover a lot of it on foot and by water bus but its always good to have a central base I find. The hotel and its rooms are beautiful and the staff couldn’t do enough for us so I would definitely recommend it.

So Venice…where to begin?

I always think theres two parts to a mini break – the sights and the experiences so lets starts with the sights we visited…

Places to visit

Piazzo San Marco (St Marks Square), St Marks Basilica, Doges Palace and the Campanile Bell Tower

It is said that Napoleon called San Marco “the drawing room of Europe” and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place. Busy and filled with tourists it is one of the main areas to visit in Venice – probably number 1 on most peoples lists.  There are queues for both the Basilica and the bell tower, expensive restaurants with musicians playing on the square, streets of designer stores and LOTS of pigeons.  The stunning, multi domed Basilica is free to enter and is dark, dramatic and rather solemn with no talking (and some shushing!), but you do need to pay to see the Pala d’Oro – a magnificent golden Byzantine icon of 4,240 square meters of gold mosaic.  The Bell Tower is a must – take a lift (there no access via stairs  – my boyfriend was furious!) and admire the views of Venice – your wont find a better place to view the city or in our case, share a kiss.

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The views from the Bell Tower and breath taking…

Rialto bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. Connecting the Sestieri districts of San Marco and San Polo, it has been rebuilt several times since its first construction in the 12th century, and is now a significant tourist attraction.  It is huge – breath-takingly so, with shops running down the centre of it, it is so wide.  Again it is VERY busy with tourists so it is easier to see from a boat than on the actual bridge. As well as walking it, we went underneath it in a gondola and it was really something – definitely recommended.

Bridge of Sighs

This enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, has windows with stone bars and passes over the Rio di Palazzo, connecting the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.  The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment and the bridge’s name, given by Lord Byron comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

Island of Murano

This was a lovely treat – a free trip provided by our hotel which we travelled to by water taxi (more of that later).  A 15 minute speedboat ride takes you out of Venice and on to one of the various islands – Murano, famous for its glass production.  Anyone that knows me, will tell you I LOVE glass and collect vintage Murano pieces mainly from the 1950’s and 60’s.  The island of Murano is renowned for its long tradition of glass-making and visitors come to explore the Museo del Vetro, which tells the story of glass through the centuries, and to shop for locally crafted souvenirs.  We were lucky enough to visit one of the main glass producers and see how the glass is made which really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.  There is a bit of hard sell to encourage you to shop but we politely excused ourselves as bespoke pieces cost up to 100,000 euros!

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Glass shops

There are a lot of glass shops in Venice.  Image the weirdest thing you can…they will have it made of glass.  Prices start at a euro so anyone can treat themselves though.

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Things to do

Take a Gondola ride

We couldn’t of visited Venice without doing this – yes its expensive but totally worth it.  Gondola fares are set officially, these are the minimum fares for a standard gondola ride but rates can go higher (most fares are higher at night).  During the day it is 80 euros which is what we paid. Gondolas hold six people and can be shared without affecting the fee so you can save money by sharing a tariff with other people if you want to – personally though I wanted the love seat (the main decorative seat) and it feel romantic so there was no sharing for us. I didn’t get to eat a Walls Cornetto on one, but this was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.

Take a water taxi

Want to feel like Sophia Loren in the 1950’s?  Beautiful speed boats with leather and walnut interiors are the taxis of Venice.  Fantastic fun but not the most affordable way to travel so we also made good use of the water buses which you can ride all over Venice for 24 hours on the same ticket for 20 euros. But for glamour? The taxis (and their drivers who seemed to want to go as fast as possible) had it all!

Eat and drink…alot!

Pasta, Pizza, Gelato, wine, butter biscuits… Italy is the home of great food and drink. Alongside the usual Italian fare, Tramezzini, also called Venetian tea sandwich was a must for me. These triangular sandwiches (starting 1.50 euro per piece) come with many different filling.  My favourite? A whole boiled egg surrounded by tuna – utterly delicious.

Buy a mask

There are mask shops everywhere in Venice with lots of street sellers selling cheap Chinese version from market stalls and discount tourist shops.  Visit one of the traditional artisan shops where you can see the masks made by amazing craftsmen and women.  It really is amazing watching the creations be made and discovering the many different types of masks many that have been used in film and TV.  As well as the traditional masks you can now pink SteakPunk versions, ones inspired by 50 shades of Grey and fashion pieces intricately cut out of metal and leather. My boyfriend fell in love with them and we ended up bring one home with us which now has pride of place in our bedroom.

Look at Art

There’s a lot of art in Venice.  As my taste is more contemporary, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection of 20th-century masters was my dream visit, with art by Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Magritte, Max Ernst, Andy Warhol and an amazing outdoor collection of sculpture and experiences.  It was founded by one of Venice’s most colourful expat residents, Peggy Guggenheim, whose father went down in the Titanic, leaving her a fortune.  Admission is 15 euros a person and well worth it.

Visit a supermarket

We always like to find a nearby supermarket whenever we travel (who wants to pay mini bar prices, right?) and Venice did not disappoint.  Want the most dramatic, glamorous SPAR ever?  That’s Venice…

Add a love lock

A tradition for us, Russ engraved a padlock before we left.  In our usual way, we added it to one of the many bridges in the city (there were quite a few locks there already) and threw the keys in the canal.  Another Sarah & Russ love lock left in Europe xxx.

Do some exercise

OK, OK I know we are annoying.  Another ‘me and Russ’ tradition achieved though as we ran a 5k route round the city.  We had eaten a lot of pasta and pizza by this point so it was probably needed!

All in all Venice was an odd, amazing, tiring and slight surreal trip.  It is small enough to do via a mini break and can be done on a variety of budgets.  It definitely is the strangest place I’ve been so far and loved seeing views and sights I’d seen in photos for so many years.  Yes it’s busy.  Yes its touristy.  Yes you have to pay for every toilet. But overall?  It is just amazing.  Oh and I got that Cornetto at the airport before we left!!!

All photos via my Instagram – follow me here.

Letter to my 13 year old self

Today is International Women’s Day, a day that commemorates the movement for women’s rights. It is celebrated on March 8 after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia on that date in 1917 and it became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

This years theme is #PressforProgress. In a statement for 2018 they said “With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and more – there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity. And while we know that gender parity won’t happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day. Plus, there’s indeed a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support. So we can’t be complacent. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. A strong call to #PressforProgress. A strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.  International Women’s Day is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let’s all Press for Progress.”

Recently I have been musing on how hard it can be to be a woman. In the light of the #TimesUp movement much has been spoken about about the challenges and inequalities of being female and although things are changing they still have a way to go. I have had my fair share of harassment and in my younger years had to stop a man trying to force me to do something I didn’t want to do on more than one occasion. It amazing how charming and funny you can be while trying to not get assaulted… Since having my son it has been very hard to maintain any consistency in my career (in fact even have a career), and its clear that women with children are still discriminated against quite openly and it is still a very male orientated world.

I wondered, if I knew then what I know now what would I tell myself? Here is the letter I would write to my pre-womanhood self…

Sarah,

You are just about to become a woman. Urgh, I know, periods are rubbish right?You’ve always been female, but you will soon learn you now have a whole new set of skills to use and issues to deal with. It is sad, but you will be judged on how you look – and even though you are a feminist you will use those looks when you can. Remember all the ‘look pretty’ and ‘be a good girl’ comments? It going to get worse…but now you will be judged on your body too. There nothing wrong with revelling in your femininity, but make sure it is not all you are.

Talking about bodies, do not compare yourself to others. Not your face, your figure and definitely not your personality. You will blossom and grow and by the time you are 40 you will look pretty good. It will take a ton of hard work but it will be worth it. You will always be short though, sorry.

Do what you love. You wont want to follow the same path as your peers and that’s ok. Try as many things as you can both in your career, in life experiences and in bed (sorry mum). Give everything you try your all but if you do fail just dust yourself off and start again. Don’t worry about the applause, the applause won’t do for you what you think it will. Never, ever, give up.

You have your whole life ahead of you and you do not need to rush into anything. You are beautiful and talented and there is only one of you. Wait for a lover who knows what a gift he’s getting to get to have you in his life. You are not easy, but you are definitely worth it – don’t ever let a boy define your happiness.

Talking about happiness – let yourself be happy. Really happy. That can be harder than it sounds. You won’t always be perfectly happy – you’ll have to learn to find happiness, to fight for it sometimes. You’ll have to learn that no matter how sad you get, you can always fight your way back. It is always there…and in the meantime there’s always music and pick n mix.

Listen to yourself. You have an amazing instinct – it will save you again and again. Listen to advice when it is offered, but when it comes to taking it not all advice is created equal and you need to know this. Even those with the best of intentions might be unaware of how they are guiding you to the place that is best for them – not necessarily for you. You’ll know what’s right, trust me.

Learn to say no. No I would not like to go out with you. No you may not have my phone number. No I do not want to have sex with you. No I will not text you a picture of myself. No No No. Consider saying No about lots of other things too, but those no’s will be especially important. You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do. Those girls that are doing it all now? Its ‘tortoise and the hare’ I can promise you.

Find some friends. You don’t need a lot of them but nurture the great ones. As you get older you will realise how important true friends are. That girl in your class Veronica? She is going to be your bestie for life – you will see each other get married, have babies, even get divorced (sorry – spoiler alert).  Loving people makes you a better person – fact.

Learn to stand up for yourself as soon as you can. One of your best traits will be your bravery – you are so brave it amazes me. Family, friends or lovers might stand in for your own courage sometimes, but that there is no feeling the world which compares to standing on your own two feet. Earn your own money, buy your own things and own your own life. Always speak up if you think something is not right.

Be a proud feminist.  You have come from a long line of strong, intelligent, independent women.  Make them proud.  Make all women proud. 

You will be hurt. Anyone who lives a brave life gets hurt. So learn to forgive. Forgive your parents for not being perfect. Forgive the ones who tried to love you but couldn’t. Forgive friends who let you down. Forgive (but don’t forget). Try and remember that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can. Try and be kind…its not your natural style but you will get better at it.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. You can be a little self-obsessed. Learn to laugh at yourself more than just about everyone else.

Look after yourself.  Health is everything.  You wont sort yourself out properly until youre about 40 and you will waste so much time before that hating yourself.  Love yourself whatever your size – you are the same person inside, remember that. You think you hate sport currently…try and change that mindset as it really will change your life – by 45 you’ll be running 3 times a week.

Spend as much time with your dad as you can. You’re going to really miss him when he’s gone.

You don’t think you want kids at the moment but becoming a mother will be the greatest thing you’ll ever do. In the meantime, learn from your own mum – she will show you how to be a truly great mother (and definitely use birth control till then – you wont believe how many people you know will have ‘surprise’ babies). She is and will always be, your greatest fan.

Try not to worry. You worry a lot. About everything. It really doesn’t change anything.  Fight your anxiety.  You will beat it.

And finally, that thing you think about the most – you will find true love.  However it wont be with Ben from Curiosty Killed the Cat, sorry.  But that love will make you truly love yourself finally…even if you tummy is still a bit fat and your nose is still a bit big.  Be brave in who and how you love – life is not a dress rehearsal. 

Can’t wait to watch you shine.

Love
Sarah xx

Oh and your fashion sense will get much much better…

Me and my mum circa 1986.

Gloria Steinem, once explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” So make International Women’s Day your day and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women. It can be hard being a woman. It can be unfair. But at the same time it is amazing.

Oh hello again weight loss journey…

For the last 3 months I have been signed up to Weightwatchers and following their new Flex program to lose weight.

I had put on a bit of weight this year (about 2 stone) due to too much snacking and too many treats as well as an issue with my contraception which meant I had to go on the pill for 6 months which changed my body shape/weight completely. I was unhappy with how I looked, was struggling more and more while running and knew my issues with food were rearing their ugly head again, so in September signed up with Weightwatchers for 3 months.

My start was a little slow but after 4 weeks I had lost 7lb and got my first ‘silver 7’ sticker. It took me a while to get used to points rather than calories but I soon adjusted and was tracking my food every day.

While I was on my 3 month subscription, the Flex program was launched – this is where my weight-loss really sped up. This new system builds on the existing SmartPoints system, but has expanded the zero point foods to include more than 200 different foods. You do get a lot less points per day though – mine dropped to just 23 but I have to say it worked for me. According to Weightwatchers in a six-month clinical trial, WW Flex produced better weight loss results among participants than in clinical trials of previous Weight Watchers programmes.

As always with Weightwatchers, no food or drink is off limits and now members have the freedom to eat many more foods without tracking or measuring, including eggs, all fresh fish and seafood, skinless chicken and turkey breast, fat free plain yogurt, beans, peas, sweetcorn, lentils and tofu. For even more flexibility up to four unused SmartPoints each day can be rolled over into your weekly points to use however you wish (for me usually on something sweet!).

Find out more about Flex here – I definitely recommend it.

My next milestone was losing a stone…and you get a little certificate! They say a stone is a dress size and my this point my clothes were definitely starting to feel loose on me plus some bits that had got too tight now fitted again.

Once you achieve a loss of 10% body weight it is also marked with a certificate as its an important milestone in health. According to Weightwatchers losing just 10% of your body weight is scientifically proven to lower your cholesterol and reduce your blood pressure, and high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure are two major risk factors for heart disease. Also if you’re overweight, you’re at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, which means your body can’t make enough, or properly use, insulin, a hormone that helps convert food to usable energy. By losing just 10 percent of your body weight, you’ll improve your body’s ability to use the insulin it makes, possibly preventing the onset of the disease. My blood pressure and cholesterol were already fine but its still great to be keeping an eye on these things particularly as I am now in my forties.

Exercise was a key part of this process for me – I ran in the snow…

I ran at night…

I just basically ran a lot!!! I have been exercising regularly the whole year anyway, running 5km three times a week, every week currently adding up to about 725km/450 miles in total – but weight loss is 30% exercise/70% diet so sadly the weight still crept on. If you’re interested in starting running but don’t know how to start, I’ve written some blogs about running as it has been a lifesaver for me – find links to them at the bottom of this post.

My last weigh-in was this week and I lost another 2lb taking me to 1lb over my goal of losing 1.5 stone by Christmas. I am so proud of myself as it has been really hard particularly as it got closer to Christmas.

So what have I learnt? After losing over 6 stone about 5 years ago I really thought my struggles with my weight were over…sadly I was wrong. I realise now this is something I am going to have to manage my entire life and must always be aware of.

So at the end of 2017 I am 22lb lighter, off the pill, my running has improved again and I am back to a size 10-12. For my work Christmas party I wore a heavily sequinned top which I would never of worn 20lb heavier…and I felt fantastic!

Always a blue sky girl 40 plus fashion blog blogger Sarah Gorlov blueskygirlie very sequin party christmas top

Always a blue sky girl 40 plus fashion blog blogger Sarah Gorlov blueskygirlie very sequin party christmas top

Losing weight has not been easy, but it definitely has been worth it. I realise not everyone wants to lose weight but for me the bigger I am, the more unhappy I am.

I enter 2018 much more aware of how easy it is to put weight on and feel I am back in control of my body and mind again. I feel healthy and strong but most importantly, I feel the best version of me again. I still have about 7-10lb to lose but for now I’m going to enjoy Christmas (although not go mad, I’ve worked too hard for that!) and then continue my weight loss journey in the new year, knowing I only have a few pounds to lose. Most importantly I am going to do what I have always done for the last 3 years – keep my running up (3 x 5k a week), walk as much as I can and generally be as active as possible…it really makes such a difference.

This is going to be a life-long struggle for me, but I am never going to give up. People throw around the phrase ‘lifestyle change’ but thats sadly what it has to be. This change has to be for life…of course every day cant be perfect, but as long as theres more healthy days than unhealthy ones, thats what matters.

Find previous blogs on my weight-loss journey here and here.

Find previous blogs on my running here and here.

10 things that have made me happy this month

Its October, theres a chill in the air, the leaves are on the ground and Halloween is nearly upon us.  I love this time of year and this month has been filled with some lovely stuff.  Want to know whats been making me smile this October?

Starting Weightwatchers (again)
OK, so starting a diet isnt making me smile but getting back in control of my eating is. I had a few months (well about 6 🙈) of no calorie counting and although I kept up my running some weight crept back on. I’m not happy bigger and I knew I needed to get my eating back on track.  I lost the bulk of my weight about 6 years ago with Weightwatchers (probably 3 stone) then went in to lose another 2 on my own so it felt right to re-join for 3 months to get back to a weight I’m happy at.

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Getting organised on Etsy
My ‘Always a Blue Sky Girl’ Etsy shop is my business baby. I favour it over other selling areas I have (sorry Ebay) but when I’m busy it seems to fall by the wayside.  This month I’ve made a conscious effort to get my best vintage stock listed, add some great photos and curate a really stylish selection of items.  

If you want to check it out click here

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Park running
As I mentioned I’ve still been running my 5k three times a week, every week. I pretty much never miss a run and this time of year is perfect for it. If you’re thinking of starting a fitness regime don’t wait for New Year, start now!  The scenery is stunning, its not too hot and you can wrap up if its chilly.  When I need to de-compress I pop in my headphones, zip up my jacket and take a route through my local parks and it totally de-stresses me…

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Reuben’s 11th birthday…in fact just Reuben generally!
My son Reuben turned 11 on the 11th and it really was a fantastic couple of days. After asking for some totally random presents – a 1990’s Gordon the Gopher puppet and a pie in the face (not a game or anything, the actual action) for example, we all had fun as a family and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself.  He’s growing up so fast and this month has been filled with secondary school open days as secondary school places have to be applied for by the end of the month. He, as ever has been a total star and we also got the news he passed the 11+ too (the banding test to determine the 20% of children who can apply to a Grammar school). He had to work very hard for the last 12 months and I am incredibly proud of him.

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Ebay China
I do love a bargain and we all know the real bargains lie many 100’s of miles away in that far off country…China.  I dont often buy from China due to the long delivery times and the hit and miss quality but this month I took a few chances buying accessories and the results were amazing.   This Vivetta inspired cat design false collar? Yours for about £4 including shipping!

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Creating wish lists
I’m a pretty organised fashion lover. When I see something I love, either in an ad, featured in a magazine or on a blogger, I save a photo of it for later. On Instagram you can save any image to your own personal area and create different areas for them to be put in. The rest I save on my phone to look out for when I’m shopping…and as we get nearer to Christmas? Well a traditional gift wish list is perfect. Always wonder why some people get EXACTLY what they want each year? Yep…Amazon have a great one and you can add items to it from any website and then email it out or go old school and print one out like the example below..

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Decluttering

Now, its OK writing wishlists for new season products but you’ve got to fit it all in. I try and follow a strict ‘1 in 1 out’ system so if I want new things other stuff has got to go!

I sell many of my unwanted items on Depop cheaply to get rid of them quickly as I hate having piles of stuff around I dont want anymore. For those not familar with the site, Depop is a great app for buying and selling, is safe and money changes hands via PayPal.  Alot of bloggers sell through there so you can often end up buying stuff from peoples whose style you love which is great. The rest I bag up and take to the charity shop…where I usually end up buying more stuff! Ah well, baby steps…

If you want to check out my Depop shop click here.

 

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Halloween
I’ve always enjoyed Halloween and was having parties way back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Halloween wasn’t really a thing yet in the UK.  A few days ago we went back to Fright Night at Thorpe Park with our older boys and enjoyed getting scared to (almost) death by zombies via the AMC Walking Dead experiences.  We went last year and its now become a date in our diaries we will keep repeating.  Halloween is something you can dip in and out of depending on your life stage but for me now its a chance to dress up, watch horror movies and of course eat the sweets the trick and treat’ers don’t take!  This is me last year…


Sale shopping
I love a bargain, and this month I have found some brilliant ones…all at 70% off (or free – the shoes were a buy 2 items get the 3rd free!). Look for transitional pieces you can layer up for winter and you can wear them straight away.

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Netflix

Netflix makes me happy every month to be honest, but this month?  Stranger Things is back, their ‘made for Netflix’ films continue go from strength to strength and are as good as anything in the cinema (check out Stephen Kings ‘Geralds Game’) and their documentaries are amazing. If you havent watched ‘Five Foot Two’ on Lady Gaga do – its beautifully made, honest and very interesting.

All that and then I watched the first episode of the reboot of Dynasty.  I’m obsessed!!!

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Whats made you happy this month?  Take time to think about it and enjoy the little things – I know I do!

The Strange Case of Self Doubt & the Confident Girl

Have you been watching the new series of Sherlock on the BBC? Well I’ve got a case for you to investigate mystery lovers…

This is me: at 43, I’ve studied hard, I have been travelling, I’ve worked at some of the best places in my profession; I have been married, I’ve been divorced, I’ve done it alone, I’ve created a blended family a fantastic new partner; I’ve forged a great career (although its now taking a backseat while I do the whole primary school thing), I’ve owned my own business; am a mother and step mother, bought and sold houses, chose to change my life and drop 6 dress sizes and generally aim to embrace life and all it offers.  I travel, love having new experiences, care deeply for those I love and am always the life and soul of any party.

But I am still wracked with that pointless emotion…self doubt.

Self help doubt mental health blog via Always a blue sky girl blog

Maybe you suffer from it too? Its definition is this –

SELF DOUBT [self-dout] noun

lack of confidence in the reliability of one’s own motives, personality, thought, etc.

It is a strange thing to be seen as so confident and bubbly by everybody, as they seem to think you are never not confident as if you are a non-stop fun machine. I myself am a person of extremes – put me in front of a crowd and ask me to perform and I am in my element, but looking at a person on Facebook who has ignored my friend request will reduce me into a state over-thinking.

“They must hate me” I think.

“Maybe I’ve done something to upset them?” I ponder.

Is it because I’m too loud / odd / fat / fit / obsessive / dreamy / pretty / ugly / bullish / fussy / common / snobby / ethnic / funny / miserable ? etc etc – delete as necessary.
I have always been a worrier.  I will worry about anything and everything and again those niggling little thoughts can creep in – the ‘what ifs’… Suffering from any form of anxiety can be crippling at times but I believe telling people about it is half the battle, particularly if you’re good at hiding it. In my 30’s I suffered quite badly with anxiety and panic but ultimately I had to acknowledge that the only thing holding me back from living the life I wanted was me. It was a watershed moment and I changed my life – big time…but thats for another blog. I still get anxious about things of course but I do not and will not let it control me. (as an aside I’ve found regular exercise key in making this change to my mental health)

Being a mum can make self doubt rear its ugly head far too often too. “Am I doing the best I can?” I ask myself as I rush from work, via the school run to after-school swimming then rewarding my son with dinner out as a reward as he passes into the next swim group. Of course I am, but its easy to look at people around me particularly via the rose-tinted glasses of social media and think – “Wow they’ve got it all under control…activities every night after school and perfect children, maybe we should start violin lessons and I should stop letting the kids go on the computer so much”. However once you start comparing your life to others lives you will never stop…and probably total madness would follow!!!  My mantra is now “I am doing the best I can and I am good enough.”


Ah social media. As someone who works in marketing and uses it everyday in my role, I can see the good it can create but I also think social media is a particular issue our parents did not have to deal with; whether its the Facebook show offs, the people trying to tell you how to parent or the general taboo of admiting that sometimes life and motherhood is really bloody hard, I’m learning to take it all with a pinch of salt and remember… however much it is presented as reality it is not actually real life!

I was recently picked for a fabulous opportunity – to film an advert for Garnier Olia hair dye and be the face of their Intense Red shade 6.60 for 2017. All the attention, praise and compliments was really quite humbling and its really nice to see yourself through other peoples eyes…in fact it is quite amazing.  Not only was I feeling good about how I looked, I was suddenly being told how well I had done, how proud I should be of myself, and you know what, the more they said it the easier it was to feel it.Garnier Olia hair dye commercial via Always a Blue Sky Girl Blueskygirlie fashion beauty blog blogger

Garnier Olia hair dye commercial via Always a Blue Sky Girl Blueskygirlie fashion beauty blog blogger fearne cotton

I compliment people all the time but find it hard sometimes to accept a compliment or praise graciously, as if I am embarassed by the fuss. I wonder why that is, why it feels like showing off when it is, in fact, just being proud?  It is one of my proudest moments so far and has definitely helped me stop telling myself “you can do better!” quite so much!

Garnier Olia hair dye commercial via Always a Blue Sky Girl Blueskygirlie fashion beauty blog blogger with fearne cotton

Being in a TV advert definitely helps you get used to really focusing on how you look which is usually the time when that self doubt can creep back in for me. When you photograph yourself all the time for your blog it seems strange to say you suffer from worrying about how you look, after all how I look is a big part of the blog. It is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation as one of the reasons I started blogging was to help my self esteem and it has been very good at helping that – generally people are very kind and supportive and I have not come across many trolls.  But do I look in the mirror and love what I see? Well lets just say I am working on it…

Primark Atmosphere sequin top outfit via Always a Blue Sky Girl Blueskygirlie fashion beauty blog blogger
So what has this bubbly, mainly extravert; worrying, sometimes introvert actually learnt?  I have realised I am far too hard on myself and really need to give myself a break – we all do. We were the generation that was told we could ‘have it all’, but that is pretty much impossible. We must make our choices and pick our battles and celebrate each success however small.  It is ok to not get everything right, in fact to learn and develop it is a very necessary thing. The key for me is to keep trying, to never give up and to try and be the best version of me I can be.

So I continue on my lifes journey trying as best I can to banish this pointless, undermining emotion and remember the amazing journey I have taken to get here – to this exact point, with all its ups and downs, its failures but also its many successes – it is this exact journey that has made me, me!

Self help doubt mental health blog via Always a blue sky girl blog

I’m realising I am the only me I’m gonna get and you know what, I’m pretty damned good at all this life stuff.

I’m still wondering my that person on hasn’t accepted my Facebook friend request though…