30 December 2016

Happy New Year!


I am writing this blog to you sat in my room in a house in Kendal with the same friends that I go on holiday with each New Year.

Times change, the world turns, lives move in different directions but in the end, we all remain the same to each other.  Friends that have stood the test of time.  We are all different in many ways, but the bond we have holds us together and I hope always will.

I am never more myself than I am with these people.  This time together at New Year is like a long slow exhale, my shoulders relax to a point where I realise how tense they were before; I am silly and happy.

We all revert to the same college years mentality, despite never actually all going to school together.  Sharing a meal, arguing about what film we want to watch next, throwing death stars at each other after one too many beers.



Death stars by the way is a game we came up with during our New Year break a couple of years ago.  Freezing the chocolates of the Quality Street box that you don't like and then throwing them at each other.  Like I said, reverting to college years mentality.

These people accept me for who I am.  They do not want to change me nor want me to change.  

Every year we hear so much about New Years resolutions.  They all revolve around changing yourself in some way.  Whether it be stopping smoking or losing weight; changing our character and resolving to be "a better you".  What is a better you exactly?  What is wrong with the way you are now?

There is nothing wrong with making these resolutions but it is important that you are wanting to make these changes for the right reasons.  Are you happy in yourself or it is society or those around you that think that these changes need to be made?

Changes have to be made when you are ready to make them, should they need to be made in the first place.  I plan to stop smoking next year.  This is not a New Year resolution.  It is plan that I intend to implement at a point that I am ready to do so.  

There is nothing like the pressure of feeling like you have to accomplish or start something by a certain date to put you off completely.

How about this for for New Years resolutions that we all need at some point?  Be good to yourself.  Remind yourself to put yourself first more.  Realise that although bad things can happen, you have been through bad times before and you have got through them.  You will get through them again.

Cherish your family and friends.  Bring yourself closer to the people who love you for the way you are, not the ones who wish to change you.  Realise that some relationships cannot be saved and move on.  

I wish you all a very happy New Years Eve and a very happy 2017.

Vicky xx

20 December 2016

You Are Not Alone

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time of year.  Time to spend with family, friends and loved ones.  Christmas dinner, presents; sitting in front of the TV watching The Snowman.  

For some, Christmas can be the worst time of year.  But there are things that we can do to help.  Make sure our elderly neighbours are OK, maybe visiting them on Christmas Day for an hour to make their day less alone or even inviting them for Christmas dinner.

Remembering that depression is not miraculously cured at Christmas and that people still need your support, or even just your understanding.

If you need help at Christmas, there are people that you can turn to, even if you just need someone to listen.

MIND



Samaritans


Tel No 116 123

Alcoholics Anonymous



Tel No 0800 9177650

Stonewall


Info line 08000 50 20 20 


London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard



SANELine


Tel No 0300 304 7000



Papyrus, Prevention of young suicide





National self-help body for the Transgender community

Beaumont Society

Website http://www.beaumontsociety.org.uk

Information Line 01582 412220


Childline



Depression Alliance



Refuge





Beat
Beating eating disorders.


Help line 0345 634 1414
Youth Line 0345 634 7650

Shelter



NHS Direct

1111


No Panic


Tel No 0844 967 4848

Youth helpline 01753 840393



Tips for Saving in 2017

We all have many New Year's resolutions that we hope will lead to a better life, but so often those goals fall to the wayside only to pop back up for another failed attempt again and again. 

Things like "Dry January" is the obvious one but let's face it: saving more money has to be a close second. If you have health and wealth you're in pretty great shape, but the problem is that often too many people try to make huge, sudden, and massive changes and it proves to be just too much. 

So what types of small, easy, and basic tips can help to make sure you actually make your financial goals in 2017 instead of having to make the same resolutions for 2018?

#1: Plan Your Savings Goal

Without a plan, you have no chance. If you don't know how much you want to save in a year, you're not going to make that number. If that's the only number you have, you can't break down what you need as monthly and weekly goals. Choose a reasonable goal, give yourself a little bit of leeway (but not too much - like planning out 48 or 50 weeks instead of the full 52), and set up a spending and savings plan that can help you reach that.

Self discipline is much easier when you have a clear path and plan to follow.

#2: Get Rid Of Temptation

You can't be tempted if the temptation isn't there. One of the best ways to save is to have part of your check sent to an account in another bank, one which you cut up the debit card for or don't set up online banking - meaning it would take a lot of extra effort to go and raid your savings. The harder it is to do, the less likely you are to do it.

#3: Track Expenses For One Month

Two months is a little better, but one month is generally enough. This is tracking, not budgeting (though that is also a good idea). You want to see where every single penny of the money you're spending is going so you can make a realistic accounting of what your actual expenses are.

Use this to trim the fat and make small changes for big savings.  I tried this earlier this year and found to my shock just how much I was spending on my morning coffee.



#4: Set Up A Budget

This is generally best done after tracking expenses for a bit so you're not underestimating expenses or overestimating your resolve. There are plenty of resources for creating and sticking to a budget so take advantage of them!

#5: Take Advantage Of Small Adjustments

Using coupons for the first time, buying stuff during sales, or even making small adjustments like "the cheapest soda" versus "brand X at full price" are all little changes that can make life altering differences when all the savings are added up over the long term.

#6: Use Technology To Your Advantage

This could mean finding great deals online that are better than what you can get in person. This could also mean activating rewards programs for a credit card (although not using one at all is better if you can manage that) or there are even high quality saving apps that can be set up to make saving money relatively painless and much easier than using good old fashioned resolve, there are also a lot of money saving apps, aswell as finding freebie and free sample sites.

#7: Reward Your Momentum

You know what makes willpower much easier? The occasional reward. If you track your momentum so you can actually see yourself gaining on your goals then you are going to be encouraged and keep going with that. Don't completely starve yourself of fun. There's no reason for it, and that is often counter productive. Check on your progress every so often, make corrections or increases as you see fit and give yourself some small little celebration for making a goal.

Whether that is an ice cream during summer, one meal at your favourite bar, or something else entirely, you have plenty of options.


Follow these 7 tips and you will be far more likely to reach your savings goals!


*Collaboration Post

17 December 2016

The Benefits of E-Cigarettes When Quitting Smoking

One of the least things I am proud of this year is that I am still smoking.  This is especially irritating considering that only a short time ago, I quit for two years.

When I quit smoking the last time I stopped completely.  Right away, cold turkey.  Although this was very, very hard, I managed it.  This time though I think I am going to need some assistance. My life now is very different to when I quit before and I cannot rely on will power alone. 

According to a major report that was done by the Royal College of Physicians, E-cigarettes can be beneficial to those and should who smoke should be encouraged to use them in lieu of regular cigarettes.

The report, all 200 pages of it, has sifted through all of the various devices and made an effort to clarify the conflicting advice on their usage. The conclusion is that in spite of the myriad of concerns regarding e-cigarettes, they don't work as a "gateway" to smoking for those who aren't smokers and those who are using them had already had a long established habit of being a smoker.



It goes on to further suggest that those who smoke may fail if they don't wean themselves off of tobacco products by trying something like an e-cigarette. It may help them in the long run, to successfully cease smoking. In this fashion, the e-cigarettes work as a gateway to help them quit.

According to the report, the conclusion is that an electronic cigarette are quite likely to be more beneficial in helping the public stay healthy and helping a smoker to stop smoking. They are by and far much safer than regular cigarettes.

According to John Britton, Professor of Royal College Of Physicians Tobacco Advisory "Group, the growing trend of e-cigarettes works well as a substitute for tobacco smoking and has long been a controversial topic with a lot of speculation regarding the risks and the benefits of e-cigarettes.

The report goes on to lay to rest nearly all of the concerns over e-cigarettes in comparison to regular cigarettes. It is believed that e-cigarettes have a great potential to give a major contribution toward preventing premature death and disease due to smoking. Smokers should understand that the use of an e-cigarette in lieu of regular tobacco products may go far in helping them to stop smoking forever.

According to Jane Dacre, Professor, The report builds on the current and existing work and has concluded that the risks involved are far less for e-cigarettes than for regular tobacco cigarettes. This could, in turn, hasten the potential for a tobacco free society. By using careful management and proportions, those who do smoke can greatly reduce the amount they smoke when they select e-cigarettes over regular cigarettes.

It's estimated that 2.1 Britons currently choose e-cigarettes over regular cigarettes. This figure is on the rise and since 2007 when the e-cigarette was introduced they have been successfully marketed as a method to help smokers wean themselves off of their nicotine addictions. The e-cigarette delivers a lower dose of nicotine and helps to reduce the cravings of a cigarette. By moving to lesser amounts of nicotine the person is weaning themselves off of harmful cigarettes.


Thus, cigarette use is in a slow decline for the UK. At present 18.7 percent of all UK adults are smokers and the rates are continuing to drop.




*In  collaboration with Simply Liquid

12 December 2016

Where the Heart Is

Memories.  They are the most precious thing that we have.

One way that we remember our memories is through photographs.  Now that we are in the digital age, photographs can be taken by their hundreds, edited to enhance the clarity and be uploaded to the world. 

When I was growing up, photographs were taken with film.  Something about having something physical to hold and put in a photo frame means so much more than looking at a photograph on a screen.

One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was a photograph album of me, my dad and my mum from the first seven years of my life, before we lost my dad.  It is precious to me beyond words.  

I thought that I would share some of those photographs here today.












Whilst I have shared some of best kept photographs I have here, unfortunately, these photographs taken decades ago can degrade and fade; as have many in my photo album of memories.  With this in mind, one of my ideas for a Christmas present for my mum (who isn't too internet savvy as and such, only sees the posts I show her) is to restore and blow up some of my photographs.  I want both a restored original and also a digital copy so that these photographs will last a lifetime.    

I decided to contact and hire local professionals in order to make my idea a reality and I decided to use the internet to find the best professional in my area and received several quotes back within a few days.  

I cannot wait to get my photos back and give my mum a surprise that I know that she will love.  On a side note, just how beautiful is my mum!!

8 December 2016

2016 - What the Hell Happened?



In years to come, when they look back at 2016, people will ask “What the hell happened”.

It has been the year that the celebrities died en masse.  David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Terry Wogan to name but a few.  Some of the brightest and well loved lights of the music and film industry who will be missed by so many.

The year that the UK shocked everyone, including themselves, and voted to leave the EU by a tiny margin of just 4% of the vote.  The year that saw hate crimes rise by 300% after the referendum.  A year where half a nation believed lies and one racist, sexist, bigoted man over facts and common sense.

The year that America went mad and voted Donald Trump to be their president.  A man who has the attention span of a two year old and is so easily irked that he tweets insults at three in the morning.  As I am writing this, he has just been made “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine.

It is interesting to note that that same accolade was also given to Hitler in 1938.

The year where woman in the UK campaigned to remove tax from tampons, only to be told that the money would be reallocated so that they could pay for their own domestic violence support.  The year where a woman is being sued by her own embryos.  

The year where some states in the US are forcing women to bury or cremate the remains of an abortion or miscarriage.  A year where just yesterday, Ohio put the abortion limit down to six weeks; when most women do not even know that they are pregnant.

The year where millions of refugees have been forced to leave their homes relocate across the Middle East and Europe.  A year where the far right (and the Daily Fail) have got such a hold in some people's minds that they were wanting to check the teeth of migrant children for their ages.  A year where people like Katie Hopkins said "Rescue boats? I'd use gunships to stop migrants".

The year where mass shootings at schools and colleges seemed to happen every other week.  Yet the shooters were not called terrorists, but simply misunderstood and troubled.

The year when a certain footballer's retrial was successful for him, purely based on other men's testimony who were not there on the night, but merely testified that the girl in question liked sex.  

A well loved and brilliant MP, killed by a terrorist of the far right.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  You know.  You have lived it, as we all have.

Looking back, I cannot see much good in 2016, but there has been.  A little.

The campaign on GoFundMe for the rape victim mentioned above that raised over £26,000 to be shared between Rape Crisis and the victim herself.  The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement that is successfully highlighting the prejudice faced by black people by the police and society in general. 

The safety pin movement, started after the UK referendum and continued after the Trump win.  More people standing up and objecting, speaking out against what is wrong rather than watching from the sidelines.

The 2016 Paralympics, where Paralympians for the first time achieved more medals than the able bodied Olympians.  When the world, finally, started to realise that disability is not something that has to be hidden and felt sorry for.

We are better than the year we have just experienced.  We can behave better, we can learn, we can change, we can stand up for what we believe in.  I still believe in people.  We have to stand up to hate.  We have to stand up for the people that need our help.  We have to show compassion.  

To quote Winston Churchill:


"Never, never, never give up."

Luxury Gift Guide

This post is the first in a set of two blogs I am writing about giving gifts.  Today I am talking luxury presents and what to buy for the person who has everything.  Tomorrow I will be writing about the kind of personalised gifts that you can make and create yourself.

Today however, we are talking luxury.

"For the Man Who Has Everything"

Men can be hard to buy for when you are looking for a special present and of course it all depends on the personality.  Are they into gadgets, do they like cars, what are their hobbies?  One thing we do know is that men seem to universally love watches.

With this in mind what could be more stylish and sought after than a watch, one that you cannot just be bought off the high street and is a little more rare,

With this in mind I have been looking pre owned Omega watches.  To buy a new one would cost you a few thousand pounds, making it a very, very special present!  You can buy pre owned watches for much cheaper however and I particularly love this one.


This particular watch is from 1944 and costs £775.00.  I love the understated elegance.  It has a classic look that timeless.  I have popped the link above if you want to have a look at the range.

"For the Woman Who Has Everything"

I admit it, women are hard to buy for.  Not because there are a limited amount of things that you can buy us, but because we all like different things and our tastes widely vary.   So for this section I am thinking about what I would like for a luxury gift.

For me, from a great friend or relative, nothing could be better than going away to a luxury spa for the weekend.  My favourite one when I am from (up North!) would be the Titanic Spa. They do a brilliant Mother/Daughter package for £385.00. If the present was coming from a partner, I would love a weekend away in an amazing hotel, perhaps something with a spin like a murder mystery weekend?



"The Couple"

So you are looking for a special present for a couple.  Couples can be hard to buy for as you are buying for two different personalities in one present.  What to buy them?  Vouchers are boring and you cannot buy them furniture!

So what about a wireless speaker system that lets them play music in any room of the house?


These Panasonic Wireless Speakers cost £379.99 and you can use it both for your CD collection but also many other sources such as online subscriptions like Spotify.



"When you really can't decide"

So you have to buy somebody a special gift but there is nothing really singing at you. Perhaps they don't have any main hobbies or perhaps you just can't put your finger on what you think they would like.

When it comes down to this, I do not think that you can go far wrong with a luxury hamper.  They can be personalised as to what you want, they work for any time of year and there are so many to choose from at different price ranges.

I love this Start the Party Hamper from Selfridges which has lots of biscuits, confectionery and alcohol to keep anyone happy!






*This is a collaborative post

6 December 2016

Planning for Christmas

When it comes to planning for Christmas, I like to be ahead of the game and start my organising by the end of October.  I usually start putting money away for presents in September.

Whilst this may sound a very long time to be planning for Christmas, believe me, the alternative of buying everything last minute is not something you want to experience.

I have only done this once.  A few years ago I spent the last three days before Christmas buying all of my gifts and Christmas cards.  It was hell.  A twenty person queue in the card shop, daggers at dawn with the person who wants the same gift as you with only one left on the shelf; your bank balance telling you that you cannot afford to buy all of the gifts that you want.


I swore that the next year I would be ultra organised and I have been sticking to my plan ever since.

So what are my top tips for planning for Christmas?

"Have a Budget"

First things, first, before you even start to save up to buy gifts for people, plan your budget.  Decide how much you are going to spend on someone and stick to it.  Work out how long you will need to save for and add another £20.00 to it, for that one person you always forget to buy for.

"Print Your Recipes"

If you are going to be the one cooking on Christmas Day, why not print out some recipes ahead of time so you can start planning your food shopping.  This link for the BBC Good Food is brilliant.

"Be Savvy"

Once I have my budget in place, I tend to start looking a couple of months ahead for ideas of what I want to buy and for whom.  I create a document on my laptop with links to potential presents and check the sites regularly for any sales or discounts that appear.  For toys, electricals and beauty I tend to wait until Black Friday to get a potential bargain.  

"Post Early"

Did you know that accordingly to a recent study done by Datalabel, almost £750,000.00 worth of cards go missing every year?  In the study, found here, 15% of the respondents had had cards go missing that they had sent out.  So always label as clearly as you can and ideally, factor in postage costs into your budget so that you can sent parcels by Special Delivery to give you some insurance if anything does go missing.

"It Ain't All About the Money"

You can always tell when someone puts real thought into a gift.  It is the thought that matters, not the price tag.  A last minute "that will do" gift screams lack of thought a mile away.  Like buying bath oil for someone who you know doesn't have a bath (me).  

If you have a very small budget, how about making some Christmas cookies or making something that is personable to both you and the person receiving the gift?  The best present I have ever received is a homemade photo album filled with photographs of myself and my dad who died when I was young.  I will always cherish it.


How do you plan for Christmas?


*This is a collaborative post 

5 December 2016

Drive Safely in Winter

When I started to learn to drive I was a very cautious driver.  Very cautious.

It took me about a year and a half to learn how to drive because I was so scared about being on the road with other drivers and what could potentially happen.  The reasons why I feel like that can be found in my blog post THINK

Over the years my confidence grew and I became, much to my surprise, a pedal to the metal kind of driver, but safely.  I loved speed, but on  a motorway, with a clear road; no traffic in sight.

That said, one thing which, in highsight, probably lead to the fact that I sadly, no longer drive, is an incident that happened when the country was enveloped in snow and ice.  


I remember the day very clearly.  I had successfully negotiated the 30 minute drive to work without incident.  I was feeling proud of myself for not slipping or sliding on the roads and was, looking back, feeling a little cocky.

The road leading to my car park at work ended with a hard corner and a downward hill.  Feeling (overly) confident in my abilities I took the corner faster than I should, hit black ice and as a result, completely lost control.  The car span 360 degrees about seven times down the hill, narrowly missing a brick wall and stopping, luckily without collision at the entrance to the car park.  I was lucky.

Whilst recently doing my Google magic (as my mum calls it) for her, I recently came across the car insurance from Chill website.  In their blog, they talk about driving in Winter and give tips in how to stay safe.  You can find the link here

One of the most important advice tips that they provide is about black ice and keeping your distance.  You cannot see black ice so have no idea if you are speeding along and suddenly hit a patch.  

Driving slower and more cautiously when ice and snow is on the road is so important.  Remember, when on the roads, you are not just responsible for your own life, but also others if you are driving irresponsibly and end up causing a collision by driving too fast or not maintaining a proper distance.

I hope to return to the roads soon.  I missing driving so much and hope to overcome the fear that enveloped me by the end.  Driving provides so much freedom and independence.  There is nothing like being on a clear motorway, your favourite song coming on the radio and that speedometer rising a bit.

But we have to be safe.  A risk you take on the roads is not just a a risk for you, it is a risk for everyone around you.


1 December 2016

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

In the spirit of a "Getting to know more about you" type post, I am inspired today to tell you a funny, but embarrassing story about myself.   I would love it if you would share one of your stories in the comments.  So here goes.

When I was 17 I was working for a small law firm.  Whilst I was a simple office junior, often crawling around in cellars and attics for files or making a coffee for everyone in the building; working in a office at 17 for me felt amazing.

You did of course have to dress smartly for this position and as a result, I decided that a new pair of shoes was in order (some things never change).  They were a tiny bit too small and needed stretching so I asked for some advice of what to do.  

This was before Google.  Before Youtube videos that explain how to do everything.

I was told, from someone who used it in his Doc Martins, that washing up liquid around the edge you wanted to stretch would do the job perfectly.  You simply wore the shoes as normal and the leather would stretch to fit your foot.

I can see how this works and indeed it did.  I could feel the leather stretching slightly as I walked.  But then.  You know what is coming don't you.  It started to rain.

I was walking from the bus station to my office which was a 10 minute walk.  The rain began to pour and at first, I did not even connect the dots in relation to the washing up liquid lining both my shoes.  I simply hurried on to my office to get out of the wet.

Then I received the first double take by someone passing me by.  Then another.  Both seems to be looking at my feet.  I looked down and to my horror, bubbles were pouring, and I meaning POURING out of both of my shoes.  Picture what a bottle of coke does if you shook it and then opened and you would get a fairly accurate representation.


I quickly swept away the bubbles and rubbed at my shoes in vain to try and get rid of the washing up liquid which by now had rubbed off on to my tights too.

I spent the next ten minutes of the walk having to stop every few metres to wipe the bubbles away.  I cannot tell you how many people stopped and stared at me.  Either in disbelief or just laughing at me.  I was utterly mortified.

One shopkeeper who saw me that morning proceeded to call me "Bubbles" for the next year.  He would without fail ask me what my feet were growing this morning.

Looking back now I laugh so much about what happened.  I more than likely used far, far too much washing up liquid and would definately not have looked at the weather forecast.

We live and learn!