Sunday, 30 November 2014

How to have a conscious Christmas


When I talk about a 'conscious Christmas', I mean one which is conscious of social justice and the environment, conscious of the things that matter in our lives - family, friends, simple living - rather than getting into debt. I love Christmas with all of my heart, but I'll be the first to admit that every year the 'noise' surrounding it becomes more and more focused on capitalist consumption, with all the exploitative practice that implies. So I thought I'd put together a few ideas to help make your Christmas more conscious.

Have an Amazon-free festive season
Amazon don't pay a living wage. They evade tax to the tune of billions of pounds. They don't respect the rights of their workers, don't engage with unions, and use zero hours contracts. And yet, because they're convenient to use, we continue buying from them even though we know it's wrong. This Christmas, think before you click and look elsewhere. eBay usually has similar prices on many goods you might usually buy from Amazon. For online book shoppping, Hive supports independent booksellers and you can arrange to collect your orders from a local store. Record Store are comparable, price wise, to Amazon and are excellent for niche, indie releases.. This Christmas, there's no excuse to keep giving money to a company that contributes nothing to the British economy.

Handcraft to your heart's content
Every Christmas I try and make a few gifts by hand, and they almost always turn out to be the ones that are most appreciated. This year I've been making personalised tote bags and teacup candles. Home-baked biscuits, chutneys or jams are always well-received, and Lily also wrote a good round-up of handmade gifts last week. Or, instead of more 'stuff', think about giving something more precious: time. Make a voucher for an afternoon tea party round yours for your friends; pick up tickets for a play or gig for your hard-to-buy-for brother; treat your mum to a slap-up dinner and cocktails.

It's all in the detail
Andrea's lovely post about her festive to-do list reminded me that it's the small things that matter at this time of year: an open fire, listening to some Christmas music (my favourites are Ella Fitzgerald, Sufjan Stevens, and She & Him), or baking up a storm. The small details, often cheap or free, are what really make the festive season special. How about going out for a winter walk foraging for evergreens to make a beautiful Christmas wreath? Watch out for a how-to on the blog later this week.

Give a gift that matters
2014 is the third year that John Lewis have partnered with Refuge to run their gift list, providing Christmas presents for women and children in shelters around the UK. Other local charities run similar projects, enabling you to buy toys for children in care or children from families who otherwise couldn't afford anything. If there's one thing I will encourage you to spend you money on this Christmas, it's this. And thanks to @OddSocksAlex who reminded me about foodbank donations. As criminal as it is that one of the richest countries in the world has so many foodbanks, do think about giving something to help them provide for people over Christmas. Fareshare are currently collecting in Tesco stores around the country, so why not add a little extra to your weekly shop.

Shop local; shop independent
This year, make your Christmas shopping count by spending money at local and independent businesses rather than handing it over to exploitative multinationals. Here in Leicester we're lucky to have a whole quarter - The Lanes - housing small businesses, as well as fabulous food shopping at the famous market. But Leicester isn't unique; every town or city in the UK has independent shops crying out for your custom. From gorgeous handcrafted jewellery, to toys, homewares, and clothing, there's often no need to grace the big chain stores with your presence at all this Christmas. Or visit a maker's mart or craft fair: I'm looking forward to hitting up the Bust Craftacular in London on December 14th, but there are events around the country in the run-up to Christmas, giving you a chance to buy directly from makers.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Hungry Vegan is here!

The Boy and I have started a blog focusing on vegan food - recipes and reviews - and vegan politics, called The Hungry Vegan. I'll still be blogging regularly here, but we fancied having a joint project (and an excuse to eat insane amounts of delicious vegan food).

We went live yesterday with an updated review of The Lansdowne here in Leicester. Coming soon will be delicious vegan cake recipes and some recommendations for vegan food UK-wide.

I'm so excited about this new project and hope to 'see' some of you over on The Hungry Vegan from time to time. You can also follow us on Bloglovin and Twitter.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

November reads

Nine books this month: nine or ten seems to be the number I can comfortably read during school terms. It also takes my total for 2014 to 114 books so far, smashing my target of 100 books this year, with a month still to go. And there were some great reads this month too...

1. I thoroughly enjoyed Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boy Boys*, the autobiography of 70s punk and guitarist in The Slits, Viv Albertine. She pulls absolutely no punches, launching into a treatise on masturbation on the first page and from there on discussing everything from yes, clothes music and boys, to abortion and her failed marriage. Each chapter take the form of a short vignette, which makes it ideal to dip in and out of. There is a tendency to name-drop, but when your mates included Sid Vicious and your teenage boyfriend was Mick Jones, there's not really a way to avoid it.

2. With reproductive rights constantly under threat, Every Third Woman in America* is a timely reminder of the enormous benefits of legal and accessible abortion: benefits to women, yes, but also to children, families, employers... all of society, essentially. The author is a doctor and abortion provider, and he writes persuasively that America has "lost its collective memory of the 'bad old days' of illegal abortion," leading to increasingly stringent restrictions on women's reproductive rights. Author Grimes makes no pretence at being unpartisan, and why should he when opponents of legal abortion make no such effort? Instead, he forcefully lays out the scientific, social and cultural arguments for keeping abortion access open and easy for women. Scattered amongst the statistics and science (which was nevertheless easy enough for a layperson to read) are the words of the women and families themselves. The details of the illegal procedures are stomach-churning, leaving the reader in little doubt that those "bad old days" truly were terrible.

3. I read Sarah's thoughts on This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage and immediately put it onto my library request list. A collection of essays from novelist Ann Patchett's long history of writing for periodicals such as Vogue and Granta, ranging across subjects as diverse as her writing process, her failed first marriage, her attempts to join the LAPD training programme, and her friendship with the nun who taught her to read at primary school, this was never less than well written and engaging.

4. The Miniaturist was beautifully written and I was quickly captivated by the story of teenage bride Nella, arriving in Amsterdam to take up her position as wife of leading Dutch East India Company trader Johannes Brandt. There is so much that's great about this novel: the sense of secrets bubbling under the surface, the tension in the household as Nella attempts to assert her authority as head of the house, and especially the vivid descriptions of 17th Century Amsterdam and the way in which Burton precisely pins down the Dutch national character. However, I was left with a sense that the book - so close to perfection - hadn't quite attained it. Some narrative elements felt forced and the reader was sometimes told rather than shown. I am holding it to a very high standard here: The Miniaturist is better than the majority of what I've read in 2014. I just believe it could have been even better.

5. A Song For Issy Bradley was also one of my favourite books of 2014. Written by an ex-member of the Mormon Church, it tells the story of a family: mum Claire, a convert to the religion, dad Ian, a Mormon bishop, and their children, Zippy, Al, Jacob and Issy, who dies suddenly within the first few chapters. The rest of the book is taken up with looking at how the remaining members of the Bradley family come to terms - or fail to - with her death. Each character comes alive on the page, each has a distinct voice in their point-of-view chapters, from teenage Al, constantly needling Ian about his Mormon teachings, to seven year old Jacob, who believes in miracles and is just waiting for one to happen. The mundane details of grief are vividly and movingly described: the hollow in Issy's beanbag taunting them when they return from the hospital; the stench of Claire's skin as she retreats to bed with her sorrow. Fascinating, too, are the insights into the Mormon religion, and the ways in which their faith both helps and hinders them as they struggle to recover from Issy's death.

6. I usually love Jennifer Weiner's novels, and I think what stopped me enjoying All Fall Down as much is that it very much focuses on an unhappy marriage and the struggles of motherhood, which I just can't begin to imagine myself. As a result, I found myself getting a bit frustrated, rather than empathising, with heroine Allison, who takes to painkillers to help her through the stress of a demanding job, a cold husband and a highly-strung child. As always with Weiner's novels, each character feels fully rounded and believable, and at time of writing I haven't quite finished the book, but it's one I'd recommend to mothers rather than those, like me, who are childfree.

7. I've enjoyed each one of Susan Hill's crime novels featuring DC Simon Serrailler and this was no exception. In many crime thriller series, the reader can relax, rest assured that their favourite long-term characters will be safe no matter what carnage goes on around them. I quite like the fact that Hill provides no such reassurances, lending a tension to the reading of each book: who might be harmed next? What I also enjoy is the fact she gives equal billing she gives to Serrailler's family: his sister Cat, a GP, and their cold, unpleasant father Richard (who becomes even more repellent this time around), lending the books an extra human dimension that many thrillers lack. The Soul Of Discretion is not for the faint hearted, containing a disturbing rape scene and a stomach-churning plot based around a child abuse ring, which Simon must go undercover to try and infiltrate. But it's brilliantly written, as always, and well worth a read.

8. The End Of Everything was the third book by Megan Abbott that I've read in as many  months, and I think in retrospect I would have left a longer gap between them. She evokes girlhood brilliantly and all three novels are tensely plotted, however they are all similar in terms of their themes, and this made The End Of Everything a tad predictable and repetitive for me.

9. I had read rave reviews of David Almond's new YA novel, A Song For Ella Grey, so when a free copy arrived in our department at school I leapt at the chance to take it home. It is undeniably accomplished, with a poetic, lyrical quality to much of the prose. However, I sometimes suspect that Almond is an author who adults 'get' more than his target audience. With frequent classical allusions and Blakean references in his previous novels, A Song For Ella Grey continues the theme, being based on the Orpheus myth. As an English teacher, I'm not convinced that kids appreciate these elements, and as an adult familiar with the story, it makes the plot entirely predictable. That said, he perfectly conjures the madness and beauty of being 17 years old and in a gang of friends.

* These books were kindly provided for review by the publishers via Net Galley, but all opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Giving thanks

As family and friends in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, every year at the end of November I like to spend some time considering that for which I too am thankful.

This week, I've mostly been thankful that Oftsed came into school on Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning that for the third time running I've only been present for half of the inspection (2014 - day off; 2011 - school trip; 2008 - sports day).

I'm thankful to have the most kind, considerate, silly, cute, intelligent, feminist, funny, foolish guy crazy in love with me (and of course, I'm crazy in love with him too).

I'm always thankful to my pupils, who make me laugh and work so hard for me. If you could have seen my Year 9 class this morning when we got observed... they were so desperately trying to be perfect and show the inspectors how good I was, bless them.

I'm thankful for my blog. This year it has become everything I set out to achieve: a space to discuss everything from the frivolities of fashion, to my own fears and dreams, to books I love and feminist thought. I'm also endlessly thankful that through blogging I have met so many amazing people: 2014 was my year of blogger meet-ups and I'm proud to now count them as friends.

I'm thankful that this year has been one of joys for our family - an engagement for my brother, a new half-brother for my niece, visits from Canadian family - after the losses of 2013.

I'm thankful to have a lovely home with an affordable mortgage. As I sit writing this, curled up on my huge sofa with a fire roaring in the log-burning stove, I can hardly believe my luck.

I'm thankful that I'm taking measures to become debt-free, the first step in achieving my dream of going back to university to study for an MA.

I'm thankful that after a frankly terrible start to 2014, my health has improved steadily, with both my chronic pain and my IBS easing over the past few months. I'm sure it's made me a more pleasant person to be around, now I'm not constantly taking painkillers and complaining.

I'm thankful, most of all, to finally be in a place where I feel comfortable and confident with myself.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Good stuff: Links & likes

Roxane Gay and Lindy West on the Bill Cosby rape allegations are righteous and brilliant, as always.

Sarah's piece on loss and family is amazing and moving and you need to read it now. Out of all my friends who aren't childfree by choice, I know of only one who hasn't experienced either infertility or miscarriage. It's an issue that will affect the majority of couples at some point, yet it's hardly ever discussed. Kudos to Sarah for putting it out there.

I sort of rolled my eyes a little at all of the talk of 'community' and 'inspiration' in this post (I'm sorry - I'm a misanthropic loner and and Englishwoman, I can't help it), but these ideas for creating and giving thoughtful gifts with friends are excellent.

Andrea once again hitting it out of the park with this superb rant about benefits 'scroungers'. There is something profoundly wrong with a society that thinks its weakest and poorest members need punishing while handing billions upon billions to the rich.

One of my bugbears is when dads in charge of their kids are said to be "babysitting". Nope nope fucking nope: if they're his kids, he's not babysitting, he's performing the most basic of his duties as a parent. And on a similar note, this is a great post on why the washing up is a feminist issue"If you do exactly half of the housework and you never moan about it or expect unnecessary thanks, then you are good. But not ‘good’ in the sense that ‘you get to sit on a moral high horse and shout at women who are frustrated by the traditionally unequal split of household chores’, just ‘good’ in the sense that ‘you meet the minimum standards of human decency.' " Warning - the post is on Girl On The Net, which contains NSFW content.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The magazines I've been reading lately

It's not always easy to find decent print media if you're after more than the diet tips, high end fashion, and articles about botox that seem to proliferate in mainstream women's mags. I do quite like Oh Comely and Frankie but they can be a tad hipster at times, and I've always found their focus on young, skinny white women in their fashion spreads disappointing.

There are, however, alternatives out there if you look hard enough...

When B, E & I visited Laura in Nottingham last month, we popped into Ideas On Paper, which specialises in esoteric mags and journals from around the world. I picked up a copy of Things & Ink, which I hadn't heard of before. A quarterly magazine aimed specifically at women and covering tattoo culture, I loved the interiors shoot (I'm always up for a nosy at other people's houses) and the stunning images of - what else? - tattoos. An article on the current trend for Disney tattoos was thought-provoking and explicitly addressed it from a feminist perspective. At £6.95, Things & Ink isn't cheap, and obviously has a fairly niche audience, but I'll certainly pick up another issue should I see it in future.

I quite understand why someone who doesn't identify as lesbian, bi or queer might not think to pick up a copy of Diva, but I honestly think they're missing out. Diva provides the only truly radical, left wing, feminist voice in mainstream women's publishing. Recent issues have included articles on the Health At Every Size movement, the history of squatting, why more women are freezing their eggs, and a brilliant piece on privilege. If you're interested in critical feminist perspectives or queer politics, it's a must-read.

Bitch began as a Riot Grrrl fanzine back in 1996 and has grown over the years to encompass an entire non-profit organisation running out of Portland, Oregon. The content skews slightly towards more academic writing - it's accessible, yes, but it'll make you think. I especially loved a recent piece on how food trends are a form of gentrification, often taking foodstuffs that poorer minorities have as a staple, making them trendy and thus pushing prices beyond the means of the original buyers. Their book, music and film reviews are always a great starting point when I'm seeking out new media and their frequent subscriber offers make it affordable to have the quarterly issues sent directly to you.

Bust is of a similar generation to Bitch (it started in New York in 1993) and explicitly apes the look and content of a mainstream women's magazine, but from a feminist perspective. When a friend visited us recently, he flicked through it for a while before exclaiming, "Hey! This is a feminist mag not a trashy one!", which is both the strength and weakness of Bust. If, like me, you love traditional print media and want a decent alternative to Glamour or Cosmo, then Bust is great. However, it can sometimes feel just a tad too glossy - being a subscriber to Bitch at the same time offers me the balance of more in-depth analysis along with the pretty photoshoots, travel articles and celeb interviews. Bust is also particularly strong on craft, cooking and fashion (all with an alternative perspective, such as their regular food contributor being vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz).

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Christmas wish list

What I'd really like for Christmas is the destruction of patriarchy, a Green/SNP coalition at next year's General Election, and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels. But other than that, I'm a simple soul: cool prints, feminist anything, a pretty dress, or a slogan tote bag will always be on my list.

1. I so, so want this ace 'Smash patriarchy' t-shirt from Cafe Press. I'm already planning my SS15 wardrobe, which if I have my way will mostly be this tee teamed with a rotation of midi skirts.

2. I already have the Sugar & Vice 'Feminist' necklace but would love this cute brooch to match. It's a mere £7 from Kate's Little Store on Etsy.

3. I'm crazy in love with this lace dress from H&M. How perfect would it be for Christmas Day dinner?

4. The totes from Alphabet Bags are all amazing, but I'm particularly taken with this Hello Sunshine design. Or perhaps I should continue the feminism theme with the Riots Not Diets tote bag from Miss Harry on Etsy, which would go perfectly with my necklace.

5. One of The Boy's nicknames for me is 'Plan It Janet', so this Ok Here's the Plan notebook would be ideal for my lists. And it's 25% off at Debenhams at the moment (thanks to Hook, Line & Sink Her for alerting me to this news - I do love a bargain).

6. Having for years relied on sagging Primark pyjamas, last winter I treated myself to a pair of Fat Face pj trousers and it was a revelation, I tell thee. The quality and comfort is well worth the price tag (particularly as I spend at least 80% of my free time in pyjamas during the winter months). These reindeer ones would be a lovely to wear on Christmas morning.

7. I've had Steal Like An Artist (a guide to creativity) on my book list for ages, and would love to find it in my stocking.

8. Art for my walls is always a good bet - I love black & white photography or anything featuring text and typography. This print from Red Bubble would be perfect in our bedroom.

What's on your Christmas wish list this year?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Weekend scenes

At this time of year, a common image heading up 'what I did at the weekend' blog posts is a misty field, or a beautiful woodland walk. But me? I lead with a Lego castle. Because instead of spending our weekend taking blog-friendly snaps of autumn leaves or pumpkin spice lattes (yuk), The Boy and I did something far more fun. We spent our time visiting my mums*, playing with my niece and nephew, and watching my step-mum's choir. She's a member of Gay Abandon, Leeds' LGBTQ choir, and their annual performances are well worth the trip up the M1.

* That's mums plural, not a missing apostrophe

The wonderful Gay Abandon: image source here

Our weekends recently have been pretty hectic. Last week, The Boy's parents came to spend the weekend with us and we took them to Stratford-upon-Avon for a visit to the Shakespeare birthplace, a wander around the beautiful town (and a random visit to Poundland).

I was equally intrigued and creeped out by this straw gardener at the Shakespeare birthplace house.

And then, in a complete contrast to the quaint beauty of Stratford, we spent the first weekend in November in Manchester, visiting vintage shops and design emporium Fred Aldous, taking photographs of street art, and eating great vegan junk food at V Revolution.

We were celebrating our second anniversary, but don't think that means we were out partying till dawn. In reality, a sudden IBS attack left me feeling rubbish so, after an amazing dinner at Ning in the Northern Quarter, we headed back to our hotel  and spent the rest of the evening in our giant bed, watching Midsomer Murders and swigging Cava from mini bottles. Rock n roll.

After three weekends of travel in a row, we're both feeling pretty wiped out. But how special to be able to spend so much time with family and the dude I love. I'll take the tiredness any day.

Friday, 14 November 2014

What I wore: Riots not diets necklace

A while ago I got a yearning for a necklace featuring the classic Riot Grrrl/Fat positive slogan 'Riots Not Diets'. I knew the awesome Sugar & Vice Designs would be able to help me and, sure enough, after a few emails my beautiful custom necklace was in the post.  It's the most glorious saying and one I like to remind myself of whenever I have a body confidence wobble. No diets for me, I'll concentrate my energies on revolution, thank you very much.

A striped Breton top and skinny jeans are my weekend staples at this time of year, teamed with either ballet pumps or brogues. I like the fact that the necklace - together with my lipstick - adds a pop of colour to an otherwise monochrome outfit.

* Striped top: H&M * Jeans: New Look * Tote Bag: Alphabet Bags *
* Shoes: Clarks * Necklace: Sugar & Vice * Lipstick: MAC Ruby Woo *

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Made: Personalised tote bag

It's safe to say that I adore anything personalised, and I recently had the notion to make some personalised tote bags as gifts for Christmas this year. I found a great deal on plain cotton bags on eBay, so they worked out at less than 80p apiece, and raided my fabric stash for small, colourful scraps, to make gifts that are not only pretty and personal, but thrifty too.

I can't say that this make was simple ('What I wish I'd realised' below), but even allowing for my panics and mess-ups (I had to unpick the first section a couple of times) it only took an hour from step 1. to completion.

You will need...
- A plain tote bag
- A letter template (I used Commerce SF in font size 700)
- A scrap of patterned fabric
- Iron-on interfacing
- Contrasting cotton thread

1. Using a hot iron, first iron your fabric flat and then affix the interfacing (shiny side facing up) to your fabric.

2. Pin the template to your reinforced fabric and cut round neatly using fabric scissors. 

3. Carefully pin the fabric letter to the front of your bag (not through the whole bag, as I initially did!). I used a measuring tape to ensure it was exactly centred.

4. Set your sewing machine to the correct setting - you want very tight stitches for the applique to look neat and tidy.

5. Placing the edge of your fabric in the middle of your presser foot, begin sewing slowly. You may, like me, panic that your fabric isn't moving. Don't worry! The tightness of the stitches means it moves through the machine very slowly.

6. Take extra care around corners. The straight lines are simple but I struggled with guiding the fabric neatly around curves and in the corners where two lines met. Remember: less speed more haste.

7. Once the sewing is finished, give the bag a final press with the iron to neaten it up. It will have been squashed and folded while sewing.

What I wish I'd realised...

- That maneuvering the bag around the needle - and ensuring I didn't sew it shut - was going to be a tough task. But persevere - it is possible. This could be solved by making your own bag in the first place, which is a longer - but not difficult - process. That way, you could sew the letter onto flat fabric before assembling the bag.
- That sewing curves was going to be such a bitch: I apologise now to whoever receives this one for Christmas as the bottom curve of the J is a hot mess. I think in future I'll stick to letters with entirely straight edges!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Good stuff: Links & likes

The deadline for sign-up to my Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap is fast approaching - email me by next Sunday to take part.

I was initially skeptical about this article on fictional characters who should have had abortions but actually I can't disagree with any of them. Lane Kim did deserve more than she got on Gilmore Girls. And a hearty "Hells yeah," to the inclusion of every Thomas Hardy heroine, ever.

And while we're on the subject, I agree with everything in this powerfully argued piece.

Here's Sarah being characteristically brilliant in her post: Ten blogging rules you can break

Nova alerted me to this, about misophonia (or, hatred of the sound of people eating). I have this pretty badly so it was an interesting read.

Lindy West being brilliant in The Guardian : "being fat and happy and in love in public is still a radical act".

Also on the topic of larger bodies, I enjoyed this piece about how hourglass figures have become an 'acceptable' form of fat. This actually goes a long way to explaining to me why I have no problems with being body confident despite being a size 16: I'm lucky enough to have a pretty classic hourglass figure.

And on the flip side of body policing, Keira Knightley recently said some pretty cool stuff about Photoshop, small boobs and body ideals.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

How bad outfit photos taught me to stop fearing the camera

Two years ago, I'd never shared a photograph of myself online (no, not even on Facebook. They existed on there, but only because other people had tagged me). Today I'm going to share the very worst pictures of me that exist. That's what I call progress.

1. I have no idea. And no words
2. Demonstrating the section of my midriff that I want photographed
3. It cracks me up how much like a stroppy toddler I look here

One of the main reasons I started doing outfit posts was to force myself to become more comfortable both in front of the camera and with looking at photographs of myself. I know there aren't many people who actively like being photographed but for years I had something akin to a phobia. At the mere sight of a camera, I'd tense up. Often I'd try to leave the room or move out of range, occasionally I'd end up in tears. I have so few photographs of myself between the ages of 14 and 34, because I either avoided having them taken or destroyed them afterwards.

It's a weird fact of life that we can never know what we truly look like. We become used to the mirror-us and seeing the 'real' us in a photograph can come as a shock. In our minds, we don't really look like that at all. And of course, because I was so terrified of the camera, what I saw in photos probably wasn't how I actually looked: it was the most tense and freaked out version of myself. I talk when I'm nervous, so in a lot of those pictures I also had my mouth hanging open like a simpleton. I never really hated myself, I just hated how I looked in photos.

I'd read lots of fatshion bloggers talking about how taking photos of themselves had been a huge contributing factor in their journey to self-love and body acceptance, and it was something I wanted to try. And when a handy volunteer came along - in the shape of my partner - to take photographs, it seemed as good a time as any to begin.

And you know what? It's been a success so far. I even volunteered to be in some photobooth shots at a wedding recently, which is massive progress for me. However, that doesn't mean the process of actually taking the photographs always goes smoothly.

1. The 'Single Ladies' dance? An attempt at flamenco? 
2. The ever-popular 'going paddling' fashion model pose
3. Really not convinced by the 'bend one knee and tilt head' fashion blogger pose

For every outfit The Boy generally snaps off 20-30 pictures of which, if we're very lucky, I'll deem two or three usable (usually, you may have already noticed, ones in which I'm covering my face or at least my mouth and chin, which are my most hated body parts). I'm terrible at posing, so generally The Boy and I chat while I move around a bit, and he snaps away hoping that he'll capture something vaguely decent. Luckily he always does, but there are usually also some stunningly bad outtakes, which I'm (against my better judgement) sharing with you today.

It turns out that what people had said was true: appear in enough photographs, take enough versions of each one, and eventually you'll learn to cope. Even to like it. I can look at these terrible photographs and just laugh; two years ago I would have cried and felt like crawling into a hole to die.

Even better, becoming more comfortable in front of the camera means that The Boy and I now have a record of our time together and the trips we take. I used to refuse to appear in photos, now I'm the one encouraging him to snap a selfie of us when we're out and about. And that is what I call a very happy outcome.

1. A very Italian pose 
2. & 3. I love that pretty much every outfit has a version of this pose, best described as, 'I don't know what the hell else to do so I'll stare at the sky as if it's done me wrong'

Monday, 3 November 2014

Spending ban update: Month two

Can I just say that month two hasn't gone very well, and leave it at that? No? Damn.

October was always going to be a tough month, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, this was the first pay cheque since I reduced my hours at work (from 0.9 to 0.8), so I had less to spend in the first place. Secondly, October is the month that both my car has a service and the biannual payment for my water bill comes out of my account. And finally, it was half term and, in the original rules of the spending ban, I'd cheekily given myself a week off as I knew I'd be going away.

So now I've given my excuses, shall I go onto the hard sums?

At the start of the month I went to Nottingham for a blogger meet-up. All my spending was 'legal' (secondhand goodies or food and drink) but put together with the cost of the train ticket, I spent £32.60 in one day.

The Boy and I had three date nights (two cinema trips, plus an evening in the pub for our anniversary). We also ate out a few times when we were in Norfolk, which brought the total damage to £108. Ouch.

I spent a total of £56.50 on birthday and Christmas gifts, plus an extra £18 of vintage homewares shopping in Norfolk.

At book group I paid £9 for my pub meal and drink.

I bought a pair of new winter shoes, using a 20% discount code at Office, for £38.40. I'd written into the rules that I could buy a new pair of shoes or boots, as my need for something that could withstand icy pavements was pretty dire.

And finally, in my week off the ban I treated myself to two ASOS dresses, both in the sale, which were £25 and £15 respectively.

Bringing my total spend for October to £284.50, which really doesn't sound too bad.

However, add in three tanks of petrol for all the driving I did, plus £239 for my car service, plus another £100 for my water bill, and that was all of my disposable income for the month. So, total saved last month was a big fat ZERO.

It's hard not to feel a bit disheartened when, after trying really (well ok, pretty) hard not to spend too much, you can't save a penny. And the problem I seem to have is that ok, the car service and the water bill are not monthly occurrences, but every month seems to have one of those big expenditures that I don't necessarily plan into my budget. Last month it was my gym membership renewal, now my phone has broken and needs replacing. Then December and Christmas, January brings three big family birthdays... and so on and so forth!

I'm still not prepared to cut spending on going out for cinema dates, meals or drinks: those evenings keep me sane when work is crazy. But looking at my expenditure for October, and realising that by justifying the dresses as being "just £15" and the shoes with "well, I have a discount code", I've spent almost £100 that could have gone into savings. 

So, this month's goal is: absolutely no unnecessary spending whatsoever.