Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Getting Festive

This post is a little late due to the busyness of the Christmas holidays, therefore please attempt to transport yourself back in time, imagining yourself as you were about a week prior to Christmas day. The food shopping is yet to be done, as is that last minute gift shopping while you’re still pondering who you may have potentially forgotten or whether or not to get 'x' anything. There's still plenty of time for the anticipation of the festive period to build up, and most of us students are only just thinking of travelling home for the season.

My little family of three, being made up of my mother, sister and I, don't have many traditions but as with many, the Christmas holidays mean the practise of a few. One of these is going to some form of carol service, usually not the same one each year. Although I was raised as a Christian, going to church and Sunday school every weekend, I no longer follow the religion. However I do still admire it to a point from a far and feel almost a sense of homeliness or belonging in a Church. I am aware that Christmas means the return to Church services and some forms of Christian practises for many in the UK, my family is not a part of this - We simply enjoy a good sing song and feeding nostalgia. (Not to cause any offence to anyone! I do offer the most sincere apologies if the blasé approach to Christianity or most religions in general. Please feel free to comment on this post or message me via any other platform if this is something you wish to discuss as I appreciate I may a tad naive when it comes to such a topic.) I don't really discuss religion with my mom (although I know she holds the Christian faith dear to heart) or sister so it is quite wrong of me to speculate their views and can only really speak for myself.

Anyhoo, this tradition is different in the way it is implemented each year, we visit various concerts and occasionally go back to the ones we really enjoy. A little variation stops things from getting dull, I guess. This year it was decided we would travel up to Exeter, the nearest city to home, to watch the Cathedral choir's Christmas carol concert. (Nice alliteration there) What broke my heart a little was the fact that my sister was unable to join us when the date came around due to commitments at university. Unfortunately, this is just a fact of life sometimes but all was not last as my mother and I were joined by a very close family friend, basically my grandmother except for the blood relation.

We arrived in Exeter a couple of hours before the performance was due to start leaving us a good amount of time to grab a coffee and have a stroll around the Christmas market. After the journey a little walk was definitely needed before having to sit down for the duration of the concert. While Christmas markets may not be a strict family tradition, they are one of my favourite things about the holiday period as well as being something I enjoy all year round.  So many pretty treasures to be found! So many original gifts to discover! Then of course you have the generally heart-warming atmosphere as groups of people huddle round the light and warmth radiating from each hut or stall, or maybe it's just me that gets that fuzzy feeling from these kind of things. All the fairy lights and tinsel helps with the cuteness of it all too.

For once I didn't buy anything, which shows a huge amount of restraint on my part. I must apologise for the fact that I only had my phone with me to take photos, not that makes a difference from usual, but obviously the quality of photos suffers as a result. I haven't been able to include a lot of photos as some simply wouldn't have been worth it. I am sorry about this, as it seems a shame you miss out on some of the beauties that stalls had to offer.  But maybe that's a good thing as there's less for me to ramble on about! Gotta look at the positive side!

Everyone has a need for a notebook, whether they realise it or not. My addiction to pretty notebooks and stationary was something I managed to curb last year, but I felt that old demon rise when I spotted these! Leather bound, all original designs  with a little clasp lock... My hearts beating fast. Whether it's blog organising, journal writing or.. well I could think of a hundred and one reasons for why I need another notebook.

If you do not know my love of crystals and silver jewellery then you do not know me at all! Once I spied this stall you couldn't drag me away, the collection of amber was gorgeous. It just so happens that although being a stone I've always admired, for it's beauty and healing properties, I'm still missing a piece of amber in my crystal collection, be it in rock or jewel form. (although amber isn't technically a stone, but a fossil) I must have stood there admiring every piece for a good half an hour before I was dragged onwards without a single purchase. *sob**sob* (spoiler alert: it turns out my mom had bought me a gorgeous pair of amber earrings for Christmas!)

The Concert

Due to safeguarding issues (the participation of children in the choir) I was unable to record any of the performance to share with you - but again maybe that's a blessing, considering the quality I would have been capturing in! Look at me with all these silver linings!
No matter your religious perspective, churches are places of peace and sanctuary (or at least they should be). Cathedrals give a very similar vibe, only bigger and more detailed and beautiful architecture.

Regrettably the performance didn't really meet my expectations. The choir may have sounded beautiful but they simply weren't powerful enough for the space they were in. Usually I find it quite an uplifting, almost spiritual, experience yet not this time despite my heightened expectations. In all honesty I found the whole thing a bit amateur, something that was definitely not reflected in the ticket prices! But look at me being a negative Nancy, I'll stop myself before I go any further, complaining about the song choices (most of which were unheard-of carols written by the local choir master, not quite what I had in mind...). Oops, too late!

Let's get back over to that brighter side of life, shall we? The children were adorable, and my little family tradition was kept up another year. Family time is always nice, especially at Christmas and after going my longest time in Cardiff without a home visit (5 weeks). For someone who really struggles to get into the Christmas spirit, it did warm my heart a little and prepared me to smile through all the rest of the exhausting social expectations and celebrations. Plus I got to belt out Rudolph the Reindeer, Walking in a Winter Wonderland and Ave Maria in a public place without being stared at for once!

How did you start off your Christmas celebrations? Do you have any traditions you keep up every year? Let me know in the comments! 

And if you enjoyed this post why not check out:

Saturday, 26 December 2015

App of the Month: Monument Valley

It’s that time again, but instead of the usual lifestyle phone applications I tend to promote. . This month I’m reviewing a game *shock horror*! Unlike a lot of people I very rarely indulge in games on my phone, with the only exception being the odd Sudoku session. To this day, I have never downloaded or ever played candy crush, temple run, flappy bird or any other of those supposedly addictive games. So those kinda trends are always lost on me.
However on stumbling upon Monument Valley when it was free as part of an apple promotion, this all momentarily changed, and suddenly I completed all the free levels in a single train journey – instead of doing my usual reading or bit of uni work. And to my dismay I couldn’t help myself from parting with the £1.49 it cost to unlock the next set of chapters. I think that must be the first time I have ever spent money in the app store ever. So surely this game must be amazing right?

 Name: Monument Valley
Price: £2.99 (In game purchases)
Available On: Apple, Android, Kindle and Windows
Category: Games

If you haven’t heard of Monument Valley you’re behind the times. This game, made by Ustwo Games, has won a multitude of awards over the last couple of years including ‘2014 Apples iPad Game of the Year’ and ‘BAFTA 2015 Best Mobile and Handheld.’

The general aesthetic is just beautiful, and the music/sound-effects? Well they're chilled to match. This is one game where the first thing you do will NOT be going to the settings to turn off all sound. It makes a nice change, I'm sure. For some reason I want to compare Monument Valley to a form of meditation, as playing is like taking time out.

Your aim is to navigate the character, Ida, through a stunning yet challenging world of architecture. I would say it basically tests your logic and creativity through a series of puzzles, with the architecture being the pieces! The paths you can take from A to B all depend on perspective, as you can turn and twist the buildings to find new doors and pathways. This game operates on that age old saying that no everything is as it seems. 

After having conquered the initial chapters of Monuments Valley, it took me just over an hour to complete 'Forgotten Shores' (In-app Purchase) and 'Ida's Dream' but after a few days break I was only too happy to go through and reply all the levels again! With fresh eyes it does take a while to figure out each level again, but things do get easier as you get to know what kinda hints to look for.

As always there's only so much I can say in one of these pieces, and the screen shots do really speak as to the prettiness and fluency of the game. Obviously I got the game for free when it was on promotion, but it's now back to costing £2.99 on the apple app store and most other platforms. If we're contemplating value for money, I'm never going to guve a good review as I just never see the point of spenind the money on apps or phone games and would always rather go without. But, saying that I know many people who will happily spend money of apps, and a few who aren't as frivilous and all of them love and have therefore purchasd this game! 
Let me know what you think about paying for apps in general, but games especially! & ofcourse your opinions of Monument Valley. 

Check out my previously highlighted phone apps:

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas: For Him

As Christmas draws closer, stress levels tend to rise - there's so much to think about after all! Can it really be helped if someone is left off our gift shopping list, or we just put everything off until the last minute? So, I've covered some gift inspiration for the ladies in your life, now for the men!
(Organised from lowest to highest price)

Grooming Kit For Men, Bulldog Skincare £15.00
 Cruelty-free and vegan skincare designed especially for men's skin, not a bad gift, ey? This is my boyfriend's favourite brand of skincare (when he bothers to buy it that is). So there's a trustworthy review there!

Blue Dragons Breath Incense Burner with Cones, Shamans Crystal £17.99
 Who doesn't love incense!? Plus most guys room's could do with an improvement in smell... (or at least a good deal of the ones I know could!) Dragons are cool, fact. So there's two birds with one stone!

Desktop Arcade Machine, Men Kind £19.99
 I feel like this one needs no explanation.

Round Window Hip Flask, Not on High Street £26
 A hip flask is a kinda classic idea, and personally I think it's one of those golden oldies. Obviously you might want to check that the person you have in mind actually likes to drink, and likes to drink something that will actually go in a flask. But this one is a steal, and you can have it personalised!

Lucifer Belt, Religion £30

The Bluebeards Revenge Deluxe Kit, Bluebeards Revenge £34.99
Another cruelty-free pampering kit! Well, not really pampering, but guys deserve to be able to look after their skin and appearances too.

Leather Bracelet in Black, Fossil £39
Men's jewellery is now a thing, something that I am completely cool with - unlike the god forsaken man bun. That rock star look gets me every time, so a couple of years ago a got my guy something very similar to this. He loved it, and now has an antichrist style necklace to  go with. But ofcourse just double check that the boy/man/fish or whatever you have in mind is into it.

Positive Vibration On-Ear Headphones in Rasta, Marley £49.99
 A pair to match the purple ones in my other gift inspiration post, because as I've said before Music deserves Marleys.

Tommy Hilfiger Eton Mini Billfold with Keyfob Giftbox, House of Fraser £60 £48

Neon Jellyfish Lamp, Men Kind £59.99

I have one more gift inspiration post, then it should be back to some more 'talkative' posts. Hope you're all enjoying the festive period!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas: For Her

I must start off this post with an apology for letting my blog content slip, unfortunately it's that time of the year where exam revision and essay writing is taking over, and what little time I have free I want to spend doing festive things with the family and/or boyfriend, or just getting some me time! I'm hoping the holiday season may give me a little time to get writing 'real' content again, as I do miss it! Till then I'm doing what I can to keep everything updated as regularly as possible, so please bare with me even if these wishlists and gift inspiration posts are starting to drive you mad!

So as christmas is getting almost too close for comfort, some of us may be needing a bit of a nudge (if not a very sharp elbow) to push us out into the cold, wet weather and finally get the christmas shopping sorted before it's too late! My shoe wishlists seemed to go down well so I thought I'd try out something similar for Christmas. The below are all ideas as to what to get that lady in your life, whether she be friend, family, lover or secret santa. (Organised from lowest to highest price).

 Bonsai Tree Kit - Grow two Bonsai Trees, findmeagift.co.uk - £7.99 + P&P

Bonsai Trees are gorgeous so what could be more fun than growing your own, whether the person you have in mind is a green thumb or not it doesn't really matter! They're quite low maintenance plants and can add a much needed element of 'zen' to your life. I bought my sister one of these as a house warming present and she was over the moon, but due to her perfectionist nature is yet to plant hers yet.  All the meticulous research that she conducted led her to the realisation that apparently although you can plant them any time of year, spring is best.
Can you think of a sweeter stoking filler? Or a more perfect secret santa!?

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book, Waterstones (Available at other retailers) £9.95 £7.46

Adult colouring books have been getting a lot of attention over the last year, and seem to be the 'in' past-time of 2015. I love the idea of having a soothing yet creative outlet.
The Enchanted Forest is more than just a colouring book, there's hidden objects and symbols to find as you go through the book, which makes it a bit different. Plus the outlines are just mesmerising!

Daisy Street Sleepy Sheep Slippers, (Available in sizes S-L), ASOS £11.99

Us girls are relatively simple beings, contrary to popular beliefs. When out and about we will generally sacrifice all to look our best but at home that goes out the window as comfort becomes key. But then again if we can look cute at the same time, we're not going to say no!
Now in my mind, slippers are an essential item; I don't know how I'd survive without mine! I can't help but pity anyone crazy or naive enough to be living without them. So as sleepwear tends to be a kind of traditional Christmas gift, and while some of us can be fussy about what we'll wear to bed (if anything) slippers can be relatively straightforward present! Plus even if the person you're thinking of usually prefers booties to slip-ons I'm sure they'll be too happy to compromise for these adorable fleeced sleepy sheep ones!

Springtime Fae Flower Ear Cuff in Brass, Jynxsbox on Etsy £13.65 + P&P

Not sure what to get a girl? The usual advice is to get  perfume, chocolate or jewellery, but to be honest I really don't think they are very good suggestions. I find perfume to be something quite personal and therefore only people that really know me can succeed in picking out the perfect scent. On the other hand chocolate just says that you either couldn't be bothered or didn't think hard enough which isn't really a very nice message. Finally jewellery, now actually this isn't too bad an idea, as long as you can actually see the girl you have in mind wearing it! I, for one, will only ever wear silver jewellery (with the odd exception) so anything else is a waste of time and money plus I'll think you're an idiot.
Saying all this it is the thought that counts, but if you haven't really put much thought into it can you blame your gift-receiver for being disappointed.
Taking the time to find something different and original from an independent store or business is a great way to avoid that disappointment. Plus you can find such gems, like this gorgeous ear cuff!

Wooden Jewellery Box, HappyFlying on Etsy £17.05 + P&P

So maybe you can't afford to buy that special girl in your life the shiny or sparkly item she wanted this year, so how about a beautiful hand carved jewellery box?

English Garden Gift Bag, Northumbrian Candleworks £17.50

I'm pretty sure everyone has a weak spot for candles, whether it's the mood, aesthetic or scent they give off. These soy candles smell and look gorgeous at no expense to the environment!

It may just be me but when it comes to gifts you can't go wrong with homeware or stationary. I can be a little obsessive at times, especially when I see a mini tea set as badass as this!

Whether you're makeup savvy or not, I'm quite confident that you will have heard about Gwen Stefani's latest venture with Urban Decay. The birth of the above palette caused quite a stir and has had great reviews all over the interwebs. The fact that the palette is cruelty-free (important fact!) has had me debating whether to put it on my own Christmas list or now, unfortunately I feel it'd be a step back in my quest to go all vegan but that doesn't mean somebody else can't enjoy this beauty! Damn my principles for depriving me.

 Positive Vibration On-Ear Headphones in Purple, Marley £49.99

One of the best things my boyfriend has ever bought me is my Marleys. I struggle to remove them from my head, the quality is amazing and for the price! Everyone should really have a good set of on-ear headphones in their life - they can bring so much happiness. Music deserves Marleys end of. 
Night Sky Openwork Charm, Pandora £55 

Finally, Pandora has released a set of Christmas 2015 charms my favourite of which is this one. 

I would always encourage trying to support independent businesses all year round, but especially over the festive period, and really thinking about what you're buying! This time of year creates so much waste, I'd rather not be promoting anyone adding to it. 

I shall very shortly be uploading variations of this list for the men, or fluffy creatures in your life so stay tuned!