The Happy Mail Club…

Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that there are two things that I am just, quite simply, terrible at doing. I am ALWAYS late (take away an extra half hour to the time before you really want me to there and I’ll be bang on time) and sending birthday cards, Christmas cards, invites etc; the invites for my own wedding didn’t get sent out until about three weeks before!

It’s not that I don’t care or don’t think enough of people to do it; I do and I always have the intention of doing it until something always crops up… There will always be some blockade which prevents that card being received, let alone posted on time… In short, 9/10 times, even if I have bought you a card, the chances of it making it into the post is still pretty slim…

This is why I am so thankful to the subscription box gods who have heard my cries for a solution to my birthday card woes (not Moonpig, unless your vision is bad and need a large font) and have led me to the simply wonderful Happy Mail Box company.

This beautiful little brand (another bonus; always support small) are an independent little brand who have recently established their monthly subscription boxes for all things stationery.

I love stationery; always have done since I was a child so imagine my joy when I opened the box for July – theme of which is Beautiful Botanicals (who in the 21st century doesn’t love a cactus or succulent?!) to discover a perfectly packaged little box containing not only a birthday card, a non message specific card, a pretty pink pen to write said cute cards, some gift wrapping tape, botanical themed wrapping paper AND a lovely little print with the quotation: ‘no rain, no flowers’. Not only this, but a sachet of Rose Lemonade infusion by Taylor’s of Harrogate is included for you to sip on whilst effortlessly filling out your cards and wrapping your present or maybe pop in the card itself? (Unlikely). Thank you subscription box gods.

What do you get?

So, the box costs £12 a month plus postage & packaging. You can opt for a one off box, or subscribe to a 3, 6 or 12 month service – which you can cancel any time if you change your mind. For me, this is an ideal service as there is usually at least one birthday a month within my family! The one off box would also be ideal if you have a specific month with a number of birthdays creeping up… order the box and you’re covered!

Each month there will be a different theme and all contents will be related to it – I love this month’s theme, it’s cute and current without being ‘too much’. I also love that you receive a non specific card as well as a birthday card as it means it can be used for a variety of reasons (RSVPs, an invite, new job… or even to dump someone?!) or you can keep it for yourself, perhaps even frame it as suggested by @kateballamy (great idea).

Every item that arrives within the box comes from what the brand describes as ‘Indie Designers’; these are all independent brands which adds a little touch of originality and uniqueness – or, as the recipient will think, thoughtfulness on your part, they will be clueless that someone else has done the hard work sourcing these pieces for you! Another reason why I love this little box so much… but all jesting aside, it does make the gesture of sending a card so much more thoughtful than an e-card or automatically printed card made to look like it has a ‘casual/ handwritten’ font when we all know it’s come from an automated computer system…

Not only is this a great little time saving gift to yourself, but it could also be a great little gift to someone else; I can think of quite a few people who would feel all warm and fuzzy and loved if they received this in the post – mainly other fellow stationery fans… but, nonetheless, I think this would make a wonderful little unexpected gift to receive in the post whether it be a birthday present or just a little ‘I’m thinking of you’ gift which we know I’m rubbish at… Maybe next time I’ll order one for me, one for a friend…?

The products themselves are of a good quality and would probably cost around £3.50 (estimate) if you were to purchase them from a store and the fact that you get a ‘themed’ pen or pencil, and gift wrap tape in each box just really adds to that feeling of a ‘personal touch’… Pretty gift wrapping delivered to your door; perfect for someone like me who has the intentions but never the time or opportunity to see them through…

In short, this little box has pretty everything you need to cover a couple of birthdays a month which is ideal for me… Now, the only thing it is missing are the stamps but perhaps that’s an ‘ask’ to far…

Head over to their website or Instagram for more details on the box for this month… Use code HAPPYMAIL20 to receive 20% off your first, one off box, order…

Happy Gift Wrapping!

K xx

Life is a roller coaster…


Throughout my first pregnancy I thought I was totally prepared for motherhood- not in the sense that I was prepared for my entire life and relationship to be turned upside down (I was clueless about that) but in the sense that I would not become one of these mums who paws over their babies, who fusses when they cry, who sits up all night holding a feather under their nose to check they were still breathing. I was adamant I would be a calm mum and people would say how I seemed to just take everything in my stride; a ‘natural’ who was completely in control of the screaming and the poo storms and the tantrums, all the while looking flawless because I had a newborn who slept for ten hours solid overnight… yeah, right…

I felt like I was ‘mature’ enough to handle whatever parenthood would throw at me with a swift and rational backhand. I would have the ability to sit back, take stock and react accordingly. After all, I have three nieces and a nephew, I’ve worked with children for ten years, I had a fairly high pressured job; I was fairly confident that I had the necessary qualifications to tackle motherhood with sanity and clarity. I would not become a wreck of my former self.

I was wrong; what I hadn’t factored in was that being a parent is pretty f*cking hard, pretty f*cking unpredictable and pretty f*ucking crippling on your sanity at the best of times. What I also hadn’t factored in is that I have always had a of history with anxiety. I’d always experienced it, I don’t know why; I just know that at various stages in my life, anxiety has leered at me from around the corner and decided to make itself an unwelcome visitor in my head for a home. I never regarded it as a condition with a label; it was just a factor of my personality, an idiosyncrasy.

I’d never really given my ‘history’ of anxiety much thought until I sat down to write this because I never really acknowledged it, but it began just as I became a teenager (typical teenage angst years) although I didn’t know what it was at the time. I would sometimes get that awful sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and be overwhelmed with feelings of self-doubt. It would often manifest itself in the feeling that I’d ‘done something wrong’ or I would say to my mum ‘I feel like I’ve forgotten something’ constantly and she would reassure me that I hadn’t. As I got older, (it somehow skipped my Uni years?!) it progressed to writing lists, worrying about embarrassing myself, panic attacks, that overwhelming feeling that I was just about to lose it and, on a couple of occasions, even being physically sick.

But, when I met Jonny it pretty much disappeared, he flatly refused to indulge the feelings of anxiety and I simply felt like I had nothing in life to ever feel anxious about. He made me feel like I just did not need to worry about anything; I’m sure a psychiatrist would say there was something deeper to it, but to me, life was just good. On the odd occasion when it did creep in and I’d start asking silly questions for reassurance like: What time did we get home yesterday? Do you know where I put that piece of paper I had the other day? He just refused to answer, always replying: ‘Kaz, you know the answers’ and leaving it at that. Best thing he could have done, it subsided almost completely.

Until Elisabeth was born, she was perfectly healthy, the perfect baby. I had no reason to worry. None. I was genuinely the happiest and most content I had ever been. So why now?

Why was I now necking a very large glass of wine and screaming at Jonny that he ‘very clearly didn’t give a shit’ that our daughter hadn’t done a poo for two days like it was some huge life-threatening condition that he just didn’t seem to acknowledge the gravity of. I found that I didn’t worry about things that would be considered rational for a new mum like ‘Was she still breathing?’ throughout the night, that very rarely crept into my mind because I had so many other irrational thoughts going on: What if I hurt her? What if I just snapped and hurt her? What if someone I knew hurt her? Could I trust anyone other than me to look after her? Could I even trust me to look after her? What if she had some mystery life threatening illness and I didn’t know? What if a car ploughed into us on the motorway? What if she had some lump or bump or internal illness that I couldn’t see and wouldn’t be able to spot? What if she drowned? What if I drowned her? What if the cat suffocated her? What if she fell down the stairs? What if I threw her down the stairs?

I knew it was irrational, but the thoughts crept in anyway, there was nothing I could do stop them slinking in, but the more Jonny told me they were irrational, the more I believed they were completely justified concerns. In my mind, he was the one with the issue because he was the one who, very clearly, was not concerned about our child’s survival. And what I couldn’t understand the most was, why wouldn’t he listen to me? I was telling him there was something wrong and he was telling me I was wrong. I was certain that disaster was sure to follow and I had told him and I could have stopped it. It was at this point that I’d feel like I was in some kind of horror movie where I was screaming oh so loudly about some monster in the corner that nobody else could see or hear and I just looked insane… it was also at this point that I would completely lose it, engulfed in irrational thoughts and not being able to stop my fears from flooding out.

I have many, many stories from those early days which seem completely bonkers now, but my fears would range from nearly being in tears as we got on a plane with Bets because I’d convinced myself we’d put her in completely unnecessary danger to missing the wedding of some good friends because she’d developed a life threatening rash (she hadn’t) to checking the colour of her poo constantly…

In hindsight and with clear sight, I can see that all of these thoughts were completely and utterly irrational…

The anxieties did eventually begin to disappear, but only after lengthy conversations with Jonny, my sister and sister-in-law about how I was feeling and their ability to reassure me that what I was feeling was not really ‘real’. I had to learn to understand it was a much higher form of the anxiety I’d experienced for most of adulthood. However, trying to convince your own mind that what you are absolutely certain of isn’t real is no easy feat and it took some time to rationalise with myself.

But why did it happen? I’m lucky that my sister-in-law has worked with new mums in many roles for many years and, after a while, Jonny encouraged me to talk to her because my anxieties were not fading into oblivion. I sat and chatted to her and was relieved to hear that I was not a (complete) psychopath, she told me that it was hugely common in new mothers, some older, some not, and one of the big contributing factors to this is that some (not all) much younger mums don’t have that ‘scare’ factor yet, they are fearless, whereas us more ‘mature’ mums have learned to be apprehensive about some of the curve balls life can throw at you.

I likened it to a ‘Rollercoaster Effect’; when I was kid, I loved rollercoasters, I loved the thrill, the fear, the anticipation, the life or death feeling. As a woman in her mid-30s, I do not like rollercoasters one bit. Why would I want to queue for two hours to get a headache, feel sick and desperately cling onto my shoes with my toes through fear they are about to fly off at any second? Life has taught us to be cautious, anxious even.

This chat prompted me to do a bit more research into anxiety in mothers and what came back made me feel quite sad. Recent research suggests that up to 89% of new mothers – not exclusively first time mothers – experience some form of ‘normal’ anxiety after the birth of their child and they are able to suppress or manage those feelings in time, but for 11% of those women, me included, it spirals into something far more consuming and it would seem that in today’s modern world, we expect to fail, or at least, we expect to feel huge pressure in life; mortgages, jobs, promotions, living up to expectations, successful relationships, paying bills, fear of failure; survival.

Further research studies indicated that women in their late 30s and early 40s are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety throughout pregnancy and after birth and women between 40-44 were FIVE times more likely to experience anxiety and depression throughout and after… But why?

Again, the research just kept bringing me back to the same old reason: LIFE. We are told as we get older that the biological risk of having a child increases the older we get, that the likelihood of even falling pregnant with a child decreases the older we get, let alone if we actually manage to make it through a complete pregnancy. We worry about maternity leave; about job security (will that whipper snapper have pulled the rug out from underneath me while I am gone?). We worry about our partners; will he still love me if I’m not the same person anymore? Will I be left alone? What if I’m no fun? For many of us, our friends have already had children or made the decision not to have children and we feel like we’re out on a limb, flailing around without mum friends.

Statistics show that more and more women are choosing to have babies later in life, me being one of them, with numbers rising from 51,905 to 115,841 for women aged 35-39 over a twenty year period and along with that comes the pressures of life that we simply did not factor in during our ‘carefree’ 20s. That, mixed in with the fact that estrogen and progesterone levels increase 10- to 100-fold during pregnancy, then fall to essentially zero within 24 hours of delivery makes for the perfect atomic anxiety bomb.

There is also the extremely sad reality that as we grow older we see more of our friends, friends of friends, social media friends, colleagues and acquaintances struggle to conceive or experience tragedy; all things we just didn’t pay attention to nor long for when we were younger and saying we might have kids ‘one day’… There is the old joke ‘when do we start saying ‘congratulations’ instead of ‘oh shit’ when somebody says they’re pregnant?’ But as you get older you realise that every baby is precious and it’s a miracle that they even made it here and the manage to stay here. The more anxious you become that it is all just about to be taken away from you somehow.

For whatever reason some of us women experience it, postpartum anxiety is very real and for some, luckily not me, it can be absolutely crippling and really take away those first precious weeks, even months with your baby. Those newborn weeks become an uncomfortable memory of feeling isolated, anxious, fearful and even crazy when you envisaged a time of absolute tranquility and calm with your little one.

What you have to try to remember is that it is manageable and it is resolvable but you have to take the first steps in tackling the invisible mountain. These are just some strategies that really helped me; it may not work for everyone, anyone… but a little bit of advice never goes amiss…

* Rationalise – take some time to sit alone and go through what you are feeling step by step in your head. Break it down into small chunks and rationalise the likelihood of these thoughts coming to fruition one bit at a time, it will make the monster more manageable.

* Don’t Google it! Ever. It will surely point to certain tragedy. Call a doctor if you are genuinely concerned and reassure yourself that if you are certain they need to see a doctor, it is not a waste of time… Equally, don’t fail to take them to a doctor because you have convinced yourself you are crazy.

* Speak to a friend – tried and tested method – two way conversations are always better than ones with your irrational self.

* Be honest with your partner – don’t hide it, share your anxieties, be truthful and make them listen to your thought process behind your thinking, they will be able to ‘negotiate’ with you.

* Don’t transfer one feeling of anxiety to another – don’t manifest another one to replace an old one…

* Talk to your partner when you are calm – don’t isolate yourself further through arguments and door slamming. Walk away if you are frustrated that they are ‘not listening’ and speak to each other when the dust has settled.

* Speak to your Health Visitor or doctor – it’s what they’re there for and it may be what you need.

* Rest and look after yourself – being frazzled will only heighten your anxieties – Get sleep, sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason…

* Take time out – see your friends without your baby and without your partner – they will survive and taking yourself away from the responsibility for even a short time will make you see that they can cope without you.

* Share the responsibility – I felt like I had to do it all myself or I was a failure; this is not true. Your partner is just as capable as you and will most likely (not surprisingly) want to take responsibility for their child.

For whatever reason, postpartum anxiety can creep up on absolutely anyone for a multitude of inexplicable reasons; it can be miniscule in its form or the most all-consuming monster for a period of time; don’t let it grab hold of those first few precious days, weeks or even months. Even now, I still get those awful heart palpitations where I can feel myself on the brink of complete anxiety over something which has built and grown in my head and I have to take myself back to those early days to jolt myself out of it.

You don’t get that time again and as hard as it may seem, try to face whatever anxiety it is you feel and confront it head on. You will win.

K xx

It’s all about the kids…

One of the things I’ve always had somewhat of an internal battle with when it comes to Instagram is: How much should I feature my children? If at all?

In the beginning I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of posting a picture of baby Betsy online; I have always been a super private and wary person when it comes to posting online – I’m a teacher so I have to be anyway, but the thought of posting pictures of my child, my house, my life and letting complete strangers into my world was something I was utterly ill at ease about.

However, I wanted to begin my blog – about becoming a mum after working for so many years in a professional industry; the first post I ever wrote was titled ‘The Professional Housewife…’ And I felt that it was impossible for me to reach out to other mums, like me, without letting down the barricades, even slightly, and having a little bit of a Willy Wonka moment and inviting people into the factory and I knew that that meant opening up some of my life, child included…

I actually felt physically sick in the moments after I first posted a picture of Betsy on my public profile; I was terrified of who would see it, which sicko was lurking in the instashadows just waiting for a picture of a cute baby. I said to Jonny, probably 50 times, ‘I’ve got to take it down, I can’t expose her to this kind of thing, you just don’t know who’s looking at this. What is the bloody point of this anyway?’ And he replied, quite rightly, ‘Love, if you want to do this mum blog thing, you’ve got to let people see who you are…’

And he was right. As always… I didn’t take the picture down. I let my stomach lurch, felt like the shittest mum ever for putting my baby on such a public platform, questioned myself over and over and over whether it was the right thing to do; Was I exploiting her for likes??

And every time I came back to this: I want to meet other mums like me. I want other mums to know that there’s other people out there too. That we’re all in the same boat, that it’s hard being a parent, that we all question our sanity and make some questionable fashion choices more than once, but hey: ISN’T SHE BLOODY WORTH IT?! THIS LITTLE CREATURE RIGHT HERE?! LOOK HOW BLOODY PROUD I AM OF US!!

And so I kept on posting, not often and mainly pictures of me, but every now and then pictures of Bets and then Harlowe when she came along. They feature more frequently now but they still don’t dominate the grid and to be honest, I still think often about removing their pictures. To this day, I still feel uncomfortable when I post pictures of the girls; I scrutinise every picture for every possible way in which it could be used for something else by someone else and over the last two years I have learned how to keep them as safe as I can; mainly through listening to great advice and becoming a little bit smarter in what and how I post when it features the girls… So I’ve written a little (quite long actually) post on some of the things that I really think about when posting…

Location – One of the most important, and most obvious, aspects you need to think about is: How much information do you want to give away about your location? Where you live, your house, pictures of your street, your children’s school, their uniform logos, your place of work. These are all things which I don’t feature on my Insta; our house is really distinctive so I would never take a picture on my doorstep or with the front of our house in view. I don’t ever tag us in places where we go regularly and I never tag us in pictures or on stories in places which give the actual name of our hometown or where you would be able to pinpoint our home location. I don’t think I’ve ever actually revealed the name of my hometown on Instagram. I never post or tag us in anywhere near the girls’ nursery… All of this may seem extreme, but it’s a way to keep some privacy and keep us safe.

Photos – This seems obvious to say, but I give great consideration to what is in the content of the photo and what is visible. I often post photos of the girls in black and white because they’re harder to edit and for people to photoshop things into the image. I think about positioning, as awful as it sounds, which angle their bodies are positioned – can they be edited to make it look like something else is going on in the scene? If children are pictured face on with their full bodies in view and with little else in the frame the photos become more editable because there is little else in the frame to work around and there is a full body. So try to include other objects, items or people in the picture so that they are not so easily editable; often my children will be covered with a blanket, swaddle cloth or carrying something to cover their bodies, or pictured from the chest up or an angle where their full bodies aren’t in clear view.

I try to post photos where the girls are not the main/ sole focus of the image, I also don’t post them naked – any pictures of them at bath time I make sure their bodies are covered or unclear; they are usually part of a larger scene or their bodies are not in full view and they are not posed. They are very rarely pictured full body and/or face on or as the only thing in frame; if they are the main feature of the picture, it’s black and white. This is not just because I’m fearful of anyone lurking who would try to edit them for something more sinister, but also for people who would take and use your photographs without permission – to sell a product, promote and event, or discuss a subject. For example, recently The Sun used the photo which Fearne McCann posted to announce the birth of her daughter, Sunday, in an article about preventing SIDs. I imagine it must be pretty upsetting to see one of your loved images being used for something without your knowledge.

Keeping yourself safe – think about who follows you and don’t be afraid to BLOCK! I block anyone who I feel is inappropriate to follow me or show an interest in a ‘mum’ account… I once posted a picture of some sandals and a guy messaged me asking about my feet and shoes I like to wear and if I’d send him a picture of just my feet wearing heels. BLOCK. I also block anyone who likes or writes comments that you shouldn’t be sending to a married mum of two. Obviously, I’m not saying I am inundated with offers of sordid love affairs and promiscuous rendezvous, or that everyone has wrong intentions, not in the slightest… but I am more than happy to block anyone whom I feel crosses the line. And I don’t block all men – dad bloggers are very welcome, I like the alternative perspective on parenting!

Bot accounts, or accounts where the person behind the screen isn’t immediately obvious, such as private accounts where they have zero posts, few followers, no profile picture or bio and only follow accounts similar to mine are also blocked. Every few weeks I will also go through my followers and block anyone who has slipped past.

Hashtags – I never used to give too much thought about hashtags but now I’m really wary which ones I use; think about who they attract and who will be searching for tags such as #shoeporn #babygirl #toddlers 99% of searchers will be genuine, but why take the risk… which reminds me that I need to go back through and delete some… I think about the hashtags I use for myself these days, as well as the girls.

My last and most important point is: Common sense and only post what you are comfortable with… it really is whatever makes you comfortable. For me, I’m not overly comfortable posting pictures of the girls, I don’t think I ever will be, but that’s just me… I love seeing the pictures of everyone’s kids and sometimes I wish I was as brave as others when it comes to sharing the girls in their natural habitat…

And… let’s all take a step back for a moment, I really don’t want this post to be a modern day equivalent of the ‘Stranger Danger’ campaigns or to be a scaremonger… It’s highly unlikely that any ‘unsavoury’ character has ever seen your profile, let alone stalked it for material… On occasion, I do go against all that I have said above and sometimes I want to delete all images of them forever. I use my judgement and that’s what it comes down to. Sometimes I ignore all of the above and I do tag us in specific locations, I do post colour photos of my kids, I have posted pictures of them semi-clothed, but, I am always respectful to my babies – I don’t post things that I could use as embarrassing ammo in later years. I do my best to keep them safe and I’m so very proud of them that I don’t want to hide them away…

K xx

The (not so) Ordinary…

Like many women my age, as you approach a certain milestone, which you can’t quite believe is just around the not so distant corner, you begin to curse your much younger and wrinkle free self for not taking such good care of your skin in those carefree 20s where it was all about sun tans and late nights… Now that you’re ticking the 35 and over box, those late nights, sun soaked, booze filled holidays and summers don’t seem like they were such a good idea…

We all know, sadly, that there is no fountain of youth and you can’t reverse time, but what you can do is try your god damned hardest to save what you’ve got left… I’ve never been one of those to buy into the whole ‘use this product and you’ll wake up 20 years younger’, but I will sit up and listen when enough people begin to murmur about a particular brand or product… Enter The Ordinary… a no nonsense, non animal testing, vegan friendly, more than reasonably priced brand who just want to provide you with the best skincare for the best price that actually makes a difference. So what’s the catch? As far as I can see, none…

Now, I’m no beauty blogger or expert, in fact I’d describe myself as less than a novice, I’ve come from a family of ‘your nan used Atrixo and coal soap her whole life and barely had a wrinkle’ so I’m going to share the most basic breakdown of who and what The Ordinary do/ are in the best way that I can so bare with me…

Who are they?

The Ordinary are an offshoot brand of a much larger company called Deciem, Deciem describe themselves as an ‘umbrella of brands focused on advanced functional beauty’ whose main aim is to provide really good skincare with integrity and ‘honourable prices’. Brilliant. Not only are their products affordable; they range from around £5 to £20, but they also uphold their promise of integrity. None of their products are tested on animals (they don’t sell in China for this reason) and they are all completely safe.

What do they do?

The Ordinary have a huge range of products which, to be completely honest as a novice in the world of beauty, I found really intimidating. I had no idea where to start or what I should be looking for so I went back to basics and thought about what it was I wanted to target and achieve. If you go onto the Deciem website they have an online chat service where someone will guide you to the right products, you can also email, I didn’t use this service though as I wanted to try out a few products.

What are their products?

They have a whole range of products from serums, moisturisers, retinoid and acids all the way through to primers and foundations. Below is a short(and very very basic) breakdown of what I consider to be their ‘main’ sellers and most popular products:

• Retinoids – chemically related to VitaminA designed to target anti-aging, acne and hyper- pigmentation. NOT recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

• Vitamin C products – Anti- aging, collagen enhancing, potent antioxidant.

• Direct Acids – Sounds scary but can be really beneficial for improving appearance/ texture of your skin if used properly. The Ordinary’s range of acids cover targeting areas such as hyper pigmentation, redness of skin, acne and blemishes,signs of ageing, radiance and exfoliating. Again, there is a variety; an acid toner which can be used daily for exfoliation and radiance to a ‘harsher’ weekly acid peel.

• Antioxidants – Designed to restore skin appearance, texture and tone. Rejuvenation is key.

• Hydrators and Oils – lots of products to target dry skin, redness, UV damage, as well as being suitable to use on hair and address a variety of skin conditions.

Even just looking at what I’ve written here has the ability to leave me feeling a little bit confused, so the oh-so considerate folks at Deciem have provided customers with a table of potential Regimen Guides which tell you what you should be using for which areas. There is also an online chat service or you can email them to ask what products they recommend.

What have I been using?

I specifically wanted to target the dark circles under my eyes, fine lines around my eyes and the general appearance and tone of my skin.

As part of my routine I use the Caffeine Solution for my dark circles; this product is AMAZING and, until recently, was sold out everywhere! I use this both AM and PM and saw a dramatic change in the puffiness and darkness under my eyes within a matter of days. This is definitely my No. 1 recommended product.

I then use the Argireline Solution on my forehead and crows feet. The aim of this product is to target areas prone to ‘dynamic folds’ which, put simply means the wrinkles on your forehead and eyes. Again, I use this as part of both my morning and evening routine and have seen a significant improvement, especially around my eyes.

Next up is the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, this is an oil-soluble derivative of Vitamin C and leaves my skin feeling really soft and smooth without feeling greasy. Deciem describe it as being an ‘effective antioxidant to brighten the skin tone and reduce signs of ageing’ and it does exactly what it says on the tin. I do not use this product in the evening, however, and replace it with a heavier feeling Retinoid Solution. The Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane is a water free solution which, again, is designed to target all signs of ageing. It is much heavier than any other products I use so do use sparingly, but as with all the other products, it leaves my face feeling really soft, hydrated and rejuvenated…

I’m aware that this is quite a lot of info to take in so I shall leave it here and will say one final time… This brand of skincare products really are THAT good, their ethics behind the products and price is great and their products really do deliver on the promise. If you have any questions about my routine or any other products, please ask and I will try my absolute best to help out!

Enjoy!

K xx

Beat the system…

Are you there Instagram? It’s me, Karran…

Coastal dwelling mum of two, aged 36. Loves fashion, socialising with friends and meeting new people. Good sense of humour, doesn’t take life too seriously. Would like to meet other like minded people who share the same interests… Nope, not my ad for a dating website, but I was starting to feel like perhaps I needed an Instagram ad to ‘put myself out there’ lately as people, me included, seem to be getting lost a little in the abyss of Instagram.

I can say, with quiet certainty, that I am not the only Instagrammer/ Blogger/ photo taker/ life documenter who is starting to feel a little like Instagram has become some version of a social media dating app where people are competing (with themselves mainly, well the algorithm actually) to just get seen amongst the crowd. There seems to be some sort of weird Tinder-esque ‘swiping left’ going on at the moment which is leaving people feeling not part of the ‘in crowd’, not down with the cool kids, not visible and, to be frank, a little left out, Instagram is a huge platform but lots of people seem to be saying the same thing; what is going on? Followers are stalling, views are decreasing, comments are evaporating and you can’t help but sit there and think ‘Where have I gone wrong?’

I’ve seen more and more people say they’re ‘taking a break’ from Instagram because they’ve ‘fallen a little out of love’ with it, they’re bored of it, they’re fed up of seeing people with apparently amazing lives which leave them feeling shitty about theirs, they feel under pressure to post a certain amount every day, at a certain time of day, with a certain kind of content just to keep people interested. They’re feeling under pressure to ‘get it right’, they’re trying their damned hardest to be interesting and relevant… and they just keep getting knocked back.

I like Instagram, I’m pretty lighthearted and relaxed about my Instagram activity, but I can relate to some of these things… I can take Instagram for what it is; a platform to share pictures, meet people, develop hobbies, explore your interests. I have an Instagram account because I like it, I enjoy posting about fashion, my girls and whatever else I fancy, but I have noticed that somebody seems to have thrown some sort of bloody Harry Potter invisibility cloak over me lately, and I wasn’t really too sure why… My content hasn’t changed, I haven’t started throwing in really whacky or offensive captions which would switch people off, I haven’t confessed to any heinous crimes… I even did a poll a while ago asking what I should change. The main response I received via the poll and DMs was pretty much ‘nothing, don’t change’, except for a few more blog posts… (ahem, you ask, I deliver!) So why am I now lurking in the Instashadows?

Sound familiar? Wondering why you have disappeared or people have disappeared from your feed? Believe me when I say, it’s not you, it’s the f*cking algorithm.

We’ve all heard of this ‘algorithm’ but what is it and, more importantly, how can you get round the bloody thing?

In short, an algorithm (in the Instagram sense) is a list of factors which they take into consideration when featuring your posts, such as: Engagement – how quickly are people reacting to your post, the more reaction, the more they promote it… Relevancy – the genres of content you interact with will dictate who appears on your feed… Relationships – the interactions between you and followers/ would be followers… It sounds like a really great way of filtering what you want to see without much effort, but what it also means is lots of people are getting lost in the system and disappearing into Instagram limbo…

How can you get around it?

I did a little more research into how you can emerge from the Instagram flames like a phoenix (ish) and have narrowed it down to the main and simplest things you can do to make sure you are still visible…

In a nutshell, this is how it works (based on my research!)… When you post it will be shown to 10% of your followers, if the post immediately gets a good reaction, it will then be shown more visibly (ie, higher up their feed) for the other 90% which is why some posts fly and some don’t… So, how can you get noticed amongst the crowds?

Engage

You gotta give to receive. It’s no use whacking out a post, people comment on it and you do nothing in response. Comments are Instagram gold, every time you respond to a comment or engage in conversation with someone it gives the algorithm a little Ping! which sends off the signals to show the post is getting engagement… Plus, it also shows your follower/ blog readers that you are actually interested in them and what they have to say which is kinda important… if the comment doesn’t always require a verbal response, acknowledge it with a heart or emoji… it’s the nice thing to do anyway!

As if Instagram haven’t made ‘beating the system’ hard enough as it is, your response time will also make a difference… if you respond in the first hour, you get it… Ping! Ping! Ping! The algorithm clocks it, you get more exposure… in short, the longer you leave it to respond, the less engagement you’ll get… I’ll hold my hands up and admit I am AWFUL at responding to comments because I usually have a small child dangling from each wrist who wants to dribble on my phone… Post at a time when you will have the time to respond, and post at different times of the day to reach new people.

Be Authentic

At the end of the day, Instagram actually does want to promote authenticity and originality which is why the algorithm has incorporated ways to weed out the Bots, or those accounts which appear to be Bots… We’ve all seen the random accounts that have paid for comments or likes to be automatically doled out… Someone has posted something really sad, or deep and meaningful and then there’s some random comment saying ‘Hey! Great feed! Keep up the good work!’ Eh? I’ve just announced that Cecil, my forty year old goldfish has just died, a little compassion, please…’ Instagram want to put a stop to this so ‘token’ comments like this or ‘nice pic!’ Are being picked up and your account could potentially be recognised as a fake, even though it’s not… Make your comments genuine (obviously), original and longer than four words – Instagram doesn’t count comments with less than four words as ‘real’ engagement (apparently) and you will not get more exposure, in fact, you may end up making yourself look like a Bot and end up getting Shadow Banned… which leads me seamlessly onto…

What is Shadow-banning?

Basically, being Shadowbanned by Instagram means that your posts become undiscoverable by people who are not already following you… the aim of this, again, is really to stop the fake accounts or paid for Bot accounts BUT genuine accounts can very easily fall into this trap… One way to get Shadowbanned is by using the same hashtags repeatedly, and lots of them… I am guilty of this as, to be honest, I’m lazy and just copy and paste… which is rubbish, I know and I thoroughly deserve to be Shadowbanned for it… so, for example, if I use #fashiondiaries or #mumblogger for every post, eventually my posts will not show up when people search for the hashtag if they are not already following me… in essence, you become undiscoverable…

Will you be forever banished if you get Shadowbanned? No. All you need to do is lay low for a while, ditch the old fave hashtags you’ve been using and be more specific about the relevance of the hashtags you do use. This is something I really do need to think about as I will throw in as many hashtags as I can but don’t give them any thought at all #iusetoomanyhashtags; be more selective, three relevant and specific hashtags are better than thirty… and you won’t get Shadowbanned… And, needless to say… halt all/ any fake engagement if you have paid for the service…

Captivating Captions

Think about what it is you are going to say and why? The more engaging your caption (mine are pretty dull) the more likely people will engage with your post… It’s also a way that you can incorporate hashtags into your post without reeling them off in a long list at the end hidden under some full stops… again, I am (now ashamedly) guilty of this…

If you do use hashtags, make sure they are relevant to the content of that picture and the caption specifically… do not be generic… Again, I am very guilty of this…and I was wondering why my account isn’t getting seen… Duh… I’ve committed every sin so far!

Another great way to encourage engagement is to ask questions, ask opinions, offer and ask for advice, start a debate, introduce a topic… Basically, start a conversation, after all, isn’t that why we’re all here?

You can also use the caption as a way of doing a little bit of ‘micro-blogging’. I am definitely going to start trying this as I just don’t have the time to write full on blog posts anymore now that I have two little ones (I’m writing this one at 12.49am…).

Tell us a story…

Instagram stories now have a huge part to play in the algorithm so, if you can, try to regularly add to your stories… you will get exposure in the same way you do with a picture post… Use hashtags, add locations, elicit a response, engage with your viewers… the same goes for Live stories… Engagement is key here which really is the whole point of the algorithm; Instagram want to encourage authenticity!Incorporate polls and questions/ conversations into your stories… You see a theme developing? Create conversation and ENGAGE with would be followers and followers.

And finally…

Be real, be you, be present…

It’s all well and good throwing a post out there and then doing nothing to follow it up, lots of people use Instagram for just that, what is important is that you need to be posting when you want, however frequently you want, with content you are sincere about. Don’t post for the sake of posting. If you aren’t really that interested in it, why would anyone else be?

The whole point of Instagram in the first place was to have a visual platform where we could catch up with old friends, see what people were up to and talk to them… Engage with your followers and the people YOU follow… it shouldn’t be about signing in, looking to see how well your last post did, and then signing off. Instagram want us to be acting like real people, because we are. They want to see us conversing with each other not just scrolling swiftly through that feed…

Remember, it’s not all about who has the best pics, or the best life or the most followers, but it is about being genuine and posting what YOU want, when you want… I think it’s so easy to lose your way along the Instagram road (I’m guilty of many of the Instasins) which sees you get lost in the algorithm for no real reason because you ARE a genuine account, with genuine posts, with genuine followers and a genuine interest in them, but sometimes we’ve got to manoeuvre around the algorithm shaped potholes as best we can to get the most out of Instagram. I’ve been one of those people who have felt a little deflated by Instagram and when I think about it now, it’s much more to do with the way that I’VE been using MY Instagram account, not anybody else’s… I’ve been uninspired by own content and disengaged and disinterested.

I have definitely given my approach to Instagram a little rethink as a result of my research and have tried to re-evaluate and banish some of those ‘bad’ habits I’ve developed over time and I feel rejuvenated. I’ve enjoyed posting more, I’ve thought more about what and how I’m posting and the most refreshing thing has been engaging in more conversation with people and discovering new (and old favourite) accounts. I didn’t need an Instagram break, I just needed a little re-jig!

In terms of statistics, I have gained more followers, my posts have reached more people and they’ve had more responses… not that the stats matter, but by reaching more people, I’ve found more accounts that I like and take inspiration from and my ‘relationship’ with Instagram no longer feels stagnant.

If you’ve been feeling a little lost or confused by Instagram lately, maybe try even a couple of these things, as as they say, a change is as good as a rest… Happy Instagramming all…

#beatthesystem

Bloomon lovely…

As much as I’ve always loved the idea of having a house full of beautiful flowers, you will very rarely ever actually find any flowers anywhere in the house. I always have the intention of buying flowers… but then find myself in the supermarket (I don’t have time to go to a beautiful florist with two menacing children in tow or have one near me) staring at the soggy flowers with a ‘Five Day Freshness’ promise plastered on the packaging and I feel completely uninspired. Nine times out of ten, I leave without the flowers because either I don’t like the colours, they look limp, they want £15 for ten soggy daffodils or, quite simply, I have a hungry, screaming child under each arm and five carrier bags and just can’t carry them…

I’ve thought about plants, I’ve bought plants; I kill plants… I even kill cacti. I’d resigned myself to the fact that we were destined to not have a single living piece of foliage or pretty flowers in our home, apart from the yearly birthday flowers or a very poorly looking fern which currently lives in the bathroom and I’m desperately clinging onto in an attempt to bring it back to life after my failed ‘Succulent Shelf’ attempt.

Until we got married. I’d never really given much thought to what my wedding bouquet would look like and, in all honesty, flowers were quite far down the list of things to get organised; I had a rough idea of what I wanted and had a very quick chat with a florist about what kind of colours, style, blooms and size of bouquet I wanted for me and the girls. I left happy, very happy that I would get what I’d asked for on the day. The day arrived, the flowers arrived with it and amidst all the rushing around I found a second to have a glance at the bouquets, they were truly beautiful and in that moment I knew that I was going to be sad when they withered and died in the following days. In hindsight, I really regret not putting more thought into finding a way to preserve my wedding flowers. A week later, the flowers were all but dust and Jonny told me that it was time for them to go. Very begrudgingly, they were thrown into a bin liner and shoved in the bin. I’m a sentimentalist anyway, but I didn’t think I’d be so gutted to be throwing away some dead flowers, but they symbolised a very, very happy and important day.

Our wedding inspired me to try to find a way to incorporate some beautiful blooms into our home that required minimum effort from me but reminded me of our special day. I didn’t want to scour the shops for them, or spend ages trimming the stems to the right length or make do with wilting supermarket flowers. Cue the wonderful service provided by Bloomon.

Bloomon are an online flower subscription service (although you can choose the frequency of deliveries) who deliver the flowers straight to your door in a very carefully packaged, cared for and secure upright parcel. They are beautifully wrapped in brown paper and cut to exactly the right length to form a natural but stunning display in one of their own vases.

Every delivery of blooms are different, perfectly seasonal and set to reflect the time of the year. What I really love about this service is that the website tells you exactly what kind of flowers you can expect in your delivery and a little bit of information about each selection for the coming month. In addition, you also receive a little card within the package telling you more about the specific flowers included in your delivery and their origins.

If you’re a little more creative than I am, or have a little more time on your hands, they also have an ‘Inspiration’ section on the website which provides you with alternative suggestions on how to arrange and display your flowers, or other ways to get visually creative. They also include ‘at home’ activities which you can do; they give you the low down and ‘how to’ instructions on the website along with a list of ‘what you’ll need’ items; all you then need to do is acquire the equipment and flowers and follow the instructions and pictorial guidelines.

The flowers themselves are long lasting and mine have only been in the bin for a couple of days before the next bunch arrive. Bloomon also have a ‘tips and tricks’ section on the website dedicated to showing you how to preserve the life of your blooms for as long as possible and how to get the best from your bunch.

The blooms in each delivery are stunning and unlike any you’d be able to find in your local supermarket if, like me, you’re not lucky enough to live near a beautiful florist and I love the surprise of opening the box every fortnight to see what treat awaits me; it’s almost like you haven’t sent them to yourself! Having said that, a subscription would be a great alternative gift for someone who already has everything or if you’re just looking for a gift which is a little different.

In short, if you’re anything like me, and love the idea of having a little colour, nature and beauty in your home but are useless at perfecting the arrangement yourself or simply do not have the time to be fussing over flowers, Bloomon is perfect for you. What I especially love about having flowers in the home as a regular fixture is that they just add a little freshness to your home, mix up the setting a little and add a touch of something new… not to mention the fact that Bets appears to be somewhat of a keen florist and likes to get stuck in with a little midweek rearranging and then announces to me that ‘Mum! I’ve sorted the flowers for you!’ As she runs into the kitchen grasping a bunch swipes from the vase…

At Christmas time…

Christmas. The one and only time of the year where we all put aside our differences, regardless of wealth, race, political views and beliefs and come together in the goodness of humankind. That time of year when we’re all a little kinder, give a little more to charity, eat a little (lot) more, relax more and curse a little less at the increased traffic because Chris Rhea is on the radio and he’s also Driving Home for Christmas… Or, at least, trying to get the dreaded Christmas shop done…

Christmas, a time of peace and goodwill to all men, of The Grinch, A Christmas Carol, Scrooged (the BEST Christmas movie), Santa Claus the Movie (also, the best) , Home Alone, cheese and crackers, red wine, elasticsted waistbands, nuts nobody can crack, cosy fires, Bloody Marys for breakfast (because it’s acceptable) and Snowballs… a time for togetherness and love for your fellow man, woman and child…

I love Christmas, I love ALL that it does to people; the Christmas effect – the generosity, the kindness, the traditions, the relaxed vibe, the love, the laughter… I’ll always remember every Christmas with good memories and bad hangovers…

Christmas when I was a child was the BEST… tacky decorations, dodgy tinsel and that weird shredded shiny paper on the tree, eternal beau dinner set, wine with dinner (watered down with lemonade) Christmas anticipation, waking up in the night to see dad in the room with pillow cases full of gifts, chocolate oranges and gold coins and pretending he was just checking on us when he got rumbled trying to do the ‘drop off’. New outfit for Christmas Day, playing in the street with new toys, Only Fools and Horses, paper hats, round after round of food, sitting at the end of the day and observing the pile of goodies and then taking the haul up to your bedroom to look at some more. Playing Game of Life, grandparents coming from Canada, looking out of the window into the night sky to see if you can see the lights on Santa’s sleigh… an early night and the anticipation in the morning of ‘has he been? Has he been??’

I’ll also always remember the devastation I felt when my parents told me as a teenager that I was no longer going to receive a pile of presents the size of a small shed each year… All of my christmases came crashing down at once and I just could not imagine how Christmas was ever, ever, ever going to possibly be fun or good, ever again! (I was a dramatic teenager) My parents explained, quite rightly, that we were too old and it was too unnecessary; Christmas had got out of hand… I actually cried and then spent the following weeks pleading with my parents and arguing my case that I deserved ‘three more big christmases’ at least because I was the youngest and had had three less christmases, but my parents would not budge. Christmas (large scale) was cancelled. Scrooges.

And I’m so glad they didn’t. Christmas changed for us that year, and it was the best. We’d always had lovely, family christmases where we played games,had an amazing meal together with crackers, silly hats and crap jokes and a big bowl of nuts that nobody ever ate because somebody always ended up with a blood blister on their palm from trying to crack walnuts but, in all honesty, as a kid I was usually thinking about what CD and perfume I’d get in my stocking and what my ‘big present’ would be, not about what a fabulous day I was going to have with my gorgeous family and how lucky I was.

Since that year, our christmases have only gotten better and that’s something I really want to pass on to my girls; Christmas is not about the goods, it’s about the good company, the good food, good games, good laughs, good hugs and a good family smothered in love and gratitude. That’s not to say our girls won’t get some lovely presents, they will, (most of them will be things they need)and we all know first hand that there is nothing more exciting as a little kid than the anticipation of Christmas Eve and then waking up, seeing that full stocking and whispering: ‘He’s been! He’s been!’ to your sibling and hammering it down the stairs to see the flood of presents awaiting you. I just don’t want it to be alllllll about the presents because, to me, it means so much more than that and it is a HUGE reminder that the majority of us are very, very, very lucky. We have our health, we have family, we have the funds to buy gifts for love ones and spoil each other a little, we are loved and cherished, but that’s not true for everyone.

I’m a secondary school teacher and it’s always achingly obvious at this time of year which kids will not be getting that new bike, or fancy new trainers, a mobile phone or even a bar of chocolate. Those kids who will be spending the day surrounded by family, laughter and love and those who will be spending the day sat in their room on their own. Those kids who do not want to get involved in the build up to the end of term because, for them, ‘tis not the season to be jolly’… it is a massive reminder to me to be thankful and grateful for all that I have in my life. I wish that I could give them all that they wish for, not just at Christmas time. In reality, I most probably can’t even come close to fulfilling that wish for them…

Christmas comes but once a year… but perhaps we could all be a little more thoughtful in the small things we could do to make a big difference, starting with Christmas…

Create an Alternative Advent calendar… put something in a box every day to give to an appeal. Donate a gift to a children’s hospital. Volunteer. Take part in the Shoebox Appeal. Give food to a food bank. Donate to charity. Give clothes to a refuge. Put a penny in a collection box, let someone know you’re there and care… no matter how small, we could all do a little something… And it’s never too late to begin these traditions, why not do them after Christmas?

I’m not saying for one second don’t enjoy all you have, suck it up and indulge in it for every second of the Christmas period, spoil your children, spoil yourselves, eat alllllll the food, drink gin for breakfast and have a tin of Rose’s chocolate within arm’s length at all times because we all deserve a break, some time together, some indulgence, to be spoilt… I just think that we could extend our gestures of peace and goodwill to all men a little further beyond the Christmas period in some way… Unlike Scrooge, we don’t need visits from three spirits to pass on the allegorical message that we could maybe do a little more to show kindness towards our fellow man, woman and child…

I LOVE the good spirit Christmas brings out in everyone and I, for one, am going to try to extend peace and goodwill beyond the Christmas period… And as Tiny Tim said, ‘God bless us, everyone!’