How to Survive the Commute

Discovering Audible has given me a silver lining to life in the commuter fast-lane. A personal account of audiobooks changing my reading habits.
From one cosmopolitan city to another, you wouldn't think that life in New York vs. London is that different. I swapped living along the River Thames in Hammersmith for views of the Hudson and spent a year navigating one of the busiest cities in the world. For this once-upon-a-time West-Londoner, the biggest lifestyle change from moving back across the pond was the commute. Turns out, there's nothing quite like a bump back down to earth than uprooting your life and moving from Manhattan to... Essex. 

I left behind a super quick and easy twenty minute subway ride, come blizzard or heatwave, from Battery Park City to the Flat Iron District. Today, living in Zone 6, BOOM! there goes 2 hrs 30 mins of my day to hopping on the commuter belt (and expect delays if it rains, snows or someone sneezes). I appreciate that as commutes go, it's pretty moderate, tame even, compared to some. I grew up in Zone 4/5 but on an exceptionally quick train line into Victoria in 15 minutes so, this is a shock to the system. For me, Zone 6 feels like Outer Mongolia! 

With this new-found time on my hands, here were my options as I saw it:
1) Sleep - and risk being that person with the embarrassing head bobbing or dribbling onto your shoulder,
2) Netflix - I managed to get through all 7 seasons of Suits in an ashamedly short space of time,
3) Read...or should I say 'Listen'? Enter: Audible. 

What's Audible? An Amazon company selling and producing spoken audio entertainments (digital audiobooks, ad-free TV and radio programmes, audio magazines and newspapers)

I love me a book. Reading is literally a sanctuary I escape to from the world outside my front door and, having discovered the enjoyment of reading somewhat late in life whilst at University, it's something I struggle to now fit in around life of a 9 til 5-7. But, tell me I can 'listen' to books whilst taking a bath, cleaning the kitchen or to distract me from the sweaty armpits of London's commuters, and you've got my attention. Initially, I had my reservations; Will being read to aloud spur on a childlike response in me to fall asleep? Can I really count it as 'reading a book'? Will I feel the same investment and fondness for the characters? Will my imagination still create the world I'm reading hearing about? After five months testing it out, I have come to an opinion for what works for me.
Choice.
My first dalliance in the world of Audible was Some Kind of Wonderful by Giovanna Fletcher. I had subscribed to a free month, as anyone can, some point back in April this year and four days later, I was buying my second book. I am now enjoying a monthly direct debit of £7.99 and receiving one new credit a month; a credit which buys you one new book from an extensive library. My wish list has grown over the months thanks to Audible's clever profiling of the genres of books I like and crafty recommendations, combined with their semi-regular '2 for 1' sale opportunities. In my five month membership, I've downloaded 11 books in total; read 8, have 2 on standby, 1 on the go and a credit in the bank! My annual goal of twelve books in March seemed ambitious, but fast forward five months and I've smashed it. Total game-changer.

Non-fiction vs. Fiction
I am, historically, a fiction kind of a girl. In fact, I admit it, My name is Rose and I'm a chick-lit fan-girl. Give me a parallel (but, ultimately, relatable) universe where there's some light humour, a heart-warming and endearing female protagonist, a romantic storyline (which obviously has a bump in the road before the happy ever after) and you've got yourself one avid reader. Reading is my escape so I want warmth, cosiness and comfort when delving between the pages. My first Audible experience was, as the name suggests - Some Kind of Wonderful - basically everything I look for in a good read right there in the title. As my first experience of listening to a book aloud, I was relieved to find I developed the same compulsion to, metaphorically, rush to turn the page to keep the story unravelling. When you find yourself wishing your commute longer, you know you're onto something - I even discovered the function which increases the pace of the audio by up to twice the speed!

Voices.
The biggest game-changer for me in terms of listening to different types of books over the past few months is how well I resonate with the voice artist and whether he/she fits with the image of the character in my head. For instance, I'm currently reading Three Things About Elsie and finding it hard to decipher between two particular characters (both elderly women); Elsie and Florence. I've had to spend a fair amount of time skipping back to the start of chapters to make sure I'm following, else I end up as confused as the characters in the plot! However, I LOVED hearing Charlotte Ritchie and Josh Dylan bring to life 'Eve' and 'Bram' in Eve of Man. I am literally counting down the days to the second instalment in the trilogy. The voices are so perfectly matched to their characters, it's almost like they're the voices I would have heard in my head reading the words from the page. Similarly, Sharon Small's accents in Never Greener by Ruth Jones was utterly captivating. I would genuinely hunt out audiobooks she has recorded for her pure class performance!

Better still is listening to non-fiction (a genre I never much delved into before now) and the authors themselves reading their words aloud; Rhonda Byrne for The Secret, and Adam Kay in This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor. With the former, a self-help style book, it felt utterly compelling to be told, almost convinced by hearing Byrne's voice (and that of her advocates), to truly believe in what she is saying. Having read the book a year before, I was refreshing my memory but it felt like I absorbed it on a whole new level. Now, I  often go back to hear and be reminded of particular chapters thanks to the compelling way it is read. Similarly, listening to Adam Kay and Alex Jones' in their 2018 book releases this year, I have literally gobbled up their recordings and loved hearing their own inflects, telling their story like I'm a friend they're over-sharing with over a pint in the pub.

Freebies.
If you're not already tempted to try Audible yet, I should probably mention the free audio shows available on demand for all subscribers. Pick from a vast array of genres and a whole host of topics are covered. Thanks to The High Low, I have just discovered Where Should We Begin by Esther Perel, a relationship therapist who bares the raw, intimate details by inviting you and 10 anonymous couples into her office for a session. For something completely different, I also have bookmarked Earpedia by Sue Perkins and Fry's English Delight by English delight himself, Stephen Fry.

Reasons to love Audible:
  • It doesn't demand a roomy handbag to carry the paperback (or worse, hardback) from your reading list. It doesn't require shelf-space or smacking yourself in the face if you drift off to sleep mid-sentence.
  • You'll never have to turn down the corner of a page as you walk between platforms or stations, this reading experience maximises literally every moment of your commute!
  • Your virtual bookshelf is more extensive than your local library, not to mention, equipped with an awesome algorithm that makes stupendous recommendations (and never requires dusting!)
  • Hack the speed of the audio to make every minute 1.25x or 1.5x faster and, therefore, more efficient. Twelve books in a year? Pah, you're laughing!
  • Regular promotions allow you to boost your listening potential on a monthly basis. I've made the most of 2-for-1 and 40% offers that land in my inbox on a semi-regular basis!
I can offer anyone a free audiobook to trial Audible, just send your email address to MrsAtoB@hotmail.com and I will pass on the offer! Next on my reading list is:

Sally Rooney Normal People
Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere
Holly Bourne How Do You Like Me Now?
Mary Ann Shaffer The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Catherine Price How To Break-Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life
Libby Page The Lido
Nora Ephron Heartburn
Heather Morris The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Mark Manson The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Happy reading listening!

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Goodbye, Summer. Hello, September.

Hello, Autumn. I couldn't be more excited to be writing this in a jumper and slippers. I've embraced the arrival of September like you would coming into a cosy, warm home with a fire crackling closing the door on a cold, windy night. Although, a more timely analogy would be walking into an air-con apartment escaping the sweltering heat of the summer that has been - and gone (thank goodness). Adios to the daily dilemma of 'What do I wear?' only to be greeted by an unresponsive rail of clothing that was either far too casual (not to mention creased) holiday-wear or, simply, climatically inappropriate. So long sweat dripping down my back, chaffing thighs and sweat-tache. You do not bring out the best me. I literally skipped onto the platform on Friday wearing TIGHTS! All hail a 40 denier!

This may, in fact, be my favourite season of the year but before I unpack all my jumpers, light a candle and skulk under a blanket for the next 13 weeks of Strictly, I wanted to have a moment to talk about what I've loved this summer. Maybe in the hope that come next year I can be reminded of the things I've enjoyed (whilst being a sweaty mess!).

August Highlights

River. Escaping to our little haven in Hammersmith, I spent as much time as possible by the river. I literally love it so much I would consider living on a boat there (frankly, it's the only thing we can sensibly afford!). Sunset drinks by The Blue Boat or dinner at The Dove, it brought back many happy memories of our pre-wedding years when we made pretty much every big life decision (travelling, wedding, etc.) overlooking the river at one drinking establishment or another.

Parkrun. Successfully completed my second ever 5k run thanks to the volunteers at Parkrun. My goal was to get around the course without stopping or walking. I didn't care what my pace was, I just wanted to prove to myself I can run. Turns out, I can! I didn't get a PB but, hey, I'm three years older and three years more unfit. What I hadn't anticipated was what followed...Aching muscles and feeling stiff? Yes I'd expected that and had the foam roller at the ready. Sore toes? Sure. Maybe even a blister? Fine. Stress fracture? You have GOT to be kidding me. In one week, I had gone from new, aspiring 'I-Can-Do-Anything-I-Put-My-Mind-To' 5k runner to... Minor Injuries clinic with the diagnosis to rest up.

Staycation. A little time off work is always a good idea and three months on from our escape to the Spanish sunshine, I had booked off a few days to spend the week with my favourite people....and on trains. Luckily, that meant more down-time reading Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love, catching up on the BBC's The Bodyguard, and listening to This Is Going To Hurt; Adam Kay's humorous yet eye-opening memoir as a Junior Doctor. In other news, I spent an entire day planning an Instagram revival, buying smoked garlic from a French market feeling utterly grown up, and baked a Christmas Cake (not realising it's a Christmas Pudding that needs feeding and Nigella's cake recipe only needed baking 3 weeks before! I just hope all that expensive dried fruit isn't mouldy by the time I open the tin again. I added an extra slosh of brandy for good measure!)

HAVE YOU READ: WHY I HATE INSTAGRAM? HOW TO ESCAPE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH INSTAGRAM AND EMERGE UNSCATHED...

Newcastle. On a mission to see more of the UK for myself, Ryan and I had a little mid-week trip to the Toon. I was given a walking tour by the husband who studied there and shown all the places that, admittedly, we feel far to old to step inside now (e.g. a nightclub, or loud bar after 9pm). Cue lots of drinking, eating, and more train journeys when we popped over to Durham for the day. The Harry Potter fan in me squealed with delight when I realised I was on the set of the corridors at Hogwarts! Magic touch to the trip, you might say (I wouldn't though...far to cheesy).

Five Things I Want To Try In September...

Alarm Call. My least favourite moment of the day. Isn't it for everyone? I've read a lot over the summer, and heard it first-hand from my good friend, that setting your alarm for the same time every day and actually getting up then is really good for you! It helps regulate your body clock and get better quality of sleep amongst other things. My work-week can be a little all over the place and especially as we're now back in Zone 6 with a longer commute, an earlier start is necessary. However, it's currently a mad panic to get out of the door on time. The alarm clock is getting set for 6.15am and the kettle should be switched on by 6.17am. Wish me luck.

MRS A TO B: HOW TO DE-STRESS FROM WORK...

Hello Fresh. I have recently got a taste for - excuse the pun - a spot of home-cooking. I was once told, "Rose, you don't cook, you just heat things up!" and that left me a rather scorned anti-domestic goddess. However, having become utterly bored by the same five meals on repeat, I ventured to Hello Fresh in a bid to improve my skills and repertoire in the kitchen. There are many offers around offering 50% off your first box(es) so a handy introduction. In other news, I ticked off my 2018 goal of baking a cherry pie and went very Desperate Housewives on my friend when I actually turned up her doorstep with said warm pie fresh from the oven! Next month, I'll be trying more home-cooking and I still have a rack of ribs and Nigella's mer-cookies on my 2018 list!
Juicing. Unlike most, our Wedding Season is about to kick off and to get 'dress-ready' I'm on a morning juicing plan with key ingredients being ginger, grapefruit and turmeric to set me up for a healthy start to the day. I've also recently subscribed to Holland & Barrett's Healthbox with daily supplements to boost hair and nail nutrition.

Capsule Wardrobe. Feeling slightly out-of-love with my clothes, I'm on a mission to streamline into seasonal collections with only items I love. The idea being to get excited each season when I rotate and refresh and unpack clothes to a "OMG, I forgot I had this!" style-gush. Blogger Anna Newton is my guiding star as the absolute Queen of The Capsule Wardrobe. I just love her geeky excitement for the organisation and planning that just speaks to me on such a level, I bloody love this woman. I recommend you check out The Quickie Guide To Starting A Capsule Wardrobe.

ClassPass. I've given up the gym. Yes, I admit it. My name is Rose and I've quit the gym. I hate it. Even when I actually went to the gym, I never went into the gym. I'm an exercise class kinda girl. Yep, trap me in a room for 60 minutes being told what to do and I'll do it (for the sake of not losing face by running out the studio!). Remembering the New York days of Physique 57, I've hunted out another Barre Class and also trying out some new classes on offer at Frame. The aim? Three workouts a week.

What have you got planned for September? 

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Hormonal Breakouts: How to Fight, Tackle & Eliminate

Ever wondered why you get a spot on your chin every month? Or that a spot on your forehead means something different to a pimple on your cheek? In the last few years, my battle with hormonal breakouts has hit a new, infuriating high and here are my (now sworn by) tried and tested blemish solutions.

During my teenage years I was fortunate to have mostly avoided the evil force of puberty’s pimples, except for the odd one, so rare that I bestowed a name upon him each time 'Dave' appeared. Whilst many of my classmates were enduring train-track braces and ferocious pubescent skin, I had been one of the 'lucky ones' in the complexion stakes. I made up for it with a dodgy fringe I had cut in around my 14th birthday party but, luckily, it grew out just as my friends emerged from that phase into clear-skin, straight-teethed young women. So, aged 26, it was my turn for a chin-full of sore, large spots each month that has become a regular battle of the hormonal breakout.

Working in the skincare industry by day, I asked one of the trained skincare therapists about these spots and this is when I learnt something fascinating: our skin is, in fact, the largest organ of the body and it reflects on the outside what is happening on the inside! Like Reflexology, where the foot is a map of the human body, areas of the face represent what is going on within. I have to admit it’s rather clever when you think about it... 

Forehead? A map of hydration so expect boozy nights to show up like a beacon. Throughout university, the alcohol spot needed its own seat in the lecture theatre!

Cheeks? You are what you eat...especially if that’s fatty, dairy things! Damn that Brie. Overindulgence rules the roost here and whilst they are generally easier to conceal (hallelujah makeup) they don’t half hang around for a while!

Jawline? That’s your large intestine's activity personified.

Chin? Hormones...hello ovaries of my chinny chin chin.

Whilst you might be glad to read that the solution could so easily be clean eating, higher water intake and sensible lifestyle tweaks to put most of those blemishes to bed, there's one area which Mother Nature retains control and that is where I struggle the most. Given the whereabouts of the breakouts along my jawline, I can tell which ovary is in production that month based on its activity upon my chin! I’ve also tuned into the fact that every other month is worse - oh, the joys of womanhood! The aftermath of the havoc my hormones have wreaked is a graveyard of scars (yes I, like the rest of us, could not resist a squeeze/pop/burst!). Now it’s time to share the cavalry I call upon to help defend against the hormonal war raging upon my skin.
La Roche-Posay’s Weapons of Puss Destruction
Known as one of the laboratory brands, this French cosmetic company make blemishes quiver in the face of its topical treatments. 'Effaclar Duo' is one of the most talked about spot solution products in the market and for good reason - I can't be without it! I’ve added it into my routine twice a day as a serum, applied after cleansing and toning, before I apply my day or night cream. It could be used as your primary moisturiser, but I choose to layer it so I get added anti-ageing benefits from my day and night moisturisers (nearly 30 after all)! It’s such a lightweight formulation that you don’t feel like you’re clogging up your pores or that it’s heavy upon your skin, instead my skin drinks it up without knowing it will be keeping those vicious outbreaks at bay.

Whilst my breakouts revolve around my menstrual cycle, my biggest insecurity is the scarring that is left behind - something which this product is proven to reduce in just four weeks.

"Specifically formulated for oily and acne-prone skin in both ADULTS and teenagers. A DUAL ACTION gel moisturiser for every day that MINIMISES the appearance of SPOTS and blackheads, CONTROLS SHINE and helps PROTECTS the skin from the CAUSES OF REDNESS and brown coloured marks that are often left behind by spots. Keep skin hydrated for 24 hours. Suitable for even sensitive skin." - Extract from product description on boots.com

It gets even better that La Roche Posay have taken this magic recipe and developed different variations for our other skincare requirements: for example, with SPF30 protection mixed in - perfect for this hot summer we've had or for taking on holiday - or, with a tint for colour correction which lives in my make-up bag. 

The original formular for day or night - Effaclar Duo+, 40ml £16.00
For extra SPF protection - Effaclar Duo+ SPF30, 40ml £16.00
For makeup bag - Effaclar Duo+ Unifant Tinted Moisturiser Light (also available in Medium), 40ml £16.50 

It works. Whether there's a placibo effect going on here, I can't be sure, but both my skin and I have been calmer since this was added to my skincare routine. I still get the odd spot but I think it would be unrealistic to expect them to cease altogether. However, what I have noticed is that it has become isolated incidents whereas before there would be a couple of Dave's mates coming along to the party. The recovery time is also significantly reduced to a couple of days when I’ve been treating any outbreaks with Effaclar A.I applied topically. This is a “targeted imperfection corrector” delivering a strengthened dose of blemish-be-gone. This is one small but mighty product and in the six months I’ve been using it, I’m not even halfway through the 15ml tube despite using most days.
These are without a doubt my knight’s in shining armour when it comes to spot solution skincare. However there are a few other tricks I’ve come to live by...

Professional Facials
The difference it makes to be in the hands of a professional is the difference between the car wash and a bucket and sponge. Sometimes you do need to treat yourself as I found the benefit whilst I was on my skincare journey to my wedding day. I get that this isn’t an option for everyone’s budget but there are some great 4 for 3 deals out there and 30 minutes in the middle of a shopping session is the perfect amount of time for a deep cleansing, circulation boosting and skin-treating facial. Check out Elemis at Debenhams or John Lewis for their blemish solution 30 min facial. 

Double Cleansing
This isn’t a “fad” this is a fact that skin needs every ounce of makeup and dirt removed from your face before you go to sleep. I think most of you reading this will know that nighttime is when your skin gets to work recovering from the day, replenishing and rejuvenating.  If it’s suffocating under leftover makeup and pollution from the day, it’s going to do a half-arsed job under those circumstances. In fact, I wouldn’t blame it if it went on strike altogether! Don’t see double cleansing as a chore, see it as a moment of reprieve from the day, peace and quiet to treat yourself and your skin to a relaxing facial massage and a hot cloth to melt the day away. My favourite combinations are:

ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm + ELEMIS Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Wash

Or

OMOROVICZA Cleansing Foam + CLARINS One-Step Exfoliator

Make-Up Free Days 
I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t always possible but where you can embrace the #SundayScaries approach, do! I find it so liberating to have a bare face of a weekend, when I’m popping to the shops or the gym. I’ll admit, I’d never practice this at the office - if only my confidence levels in my own skin were that high - but to have even half a day off from the makeup bag will make all the difference. Besides, it truly feels like my skin is breathing.

Good Hygiene
Make sure you’re regularly cleaning your beauty tools, such as foundation brushes and beauty blender sponges. At least once a week, minimum. I tend to do this on a Sunday morning when I know I’m going makeup free that day and they can air dry and be ready for Monday’s game-face. 

Breathable Bases
Whilst it feels natural to reach for a heavy coverage foundation, make sure this isn’t at the expense of your skin getting worse. I’ve found that whilst heavier textures achieve that more air-brushed finish, particularly erasing those red marks, my overall skin health seems to suffer. It’s like it can’t breath and as a result more spots pop up! I’ve been loving It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream for a lightweight formulation that gives you colour correction without over-clogging. Add a powder to help it set and you’re good to go! Read my full review of this product here  I can’t wait to try their new matte formulation that’s just launched!

I hope you have found this blog post helpful. Spots aren’t really something I felt comfortable talking about even though they’ve been an issue for me for a few years now, but I hope this helps you or maybe a friend/sister/cousin to equip themselves against the hormonal horrors we face as women!

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Why I Hate Instagram


Instagram and I have had a troubled relationship of late #hatersdonthate. My urge to curate photographs and write captions has fallen to an all time low and, instead, I’ve become a sitting tenant not paying my dues and just free-loading off the Instagram Stories for entertainment’s sake.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the pressure to churn out beautifully crafted flatlay after flatlay, look #nofilter-beautiful in every selfie and be all #housegoals with the perfect Farrow & Ball painted walls, natural light, and rose gold props of dreams, just gets TOO MUCH. The reality is somewhat different 'unfiltered', to say the least.

Despite completely falling out of love with Instagram over the last few months, I've just spent about 8 hours and 100% of my iPhone battery organising, archiving and planning the way forward for my @MrsAtoB_ account. Those are 3 things I love to do, so, when combined, I am hoping the tables can be turned.
Star shirt, Marks & Spencer, Rose necklace, Beaverbrooks
But first I think I should explain my main reason for going off the boil with Instagram in the first place…

Feed Envy
Despite being told by @EvaChen212 herself at an Instagram-hosted event in New York last year, that having a beautifully crafted, dare-I-say colour-coded, feed does not deliver higher engagement (generally speaking).

SIDE NOTE: Eva Chen is basically Mrs Instagram – the mother of the ‘gram past, present and future working at HQ.

Account visits, and what I mean by that is clicking onto a person’s account to scroll through all their previous posts, is not a popular behaviour as most of us digest our content through the homefeed. But! Try finding a perfectionist that will listen to that! (Plus, those perfectly curated, tonally beautiful, consistently lit accounts are the ones I like admire the most!)

Like me, like me!
Flashbacks to my school days when being ‘liked’ was the currency of the playground, IG has become in my eyes *that* kid who makes the popular kids more popular and those below the radar just don't exist. That’s quite a melodramatic metaphor for saying that the statistics became an obsession of mine and like weighing scales for someone trying to lose a few pounds, the results never quite pay off for the effort involved. In short, the algorithm that everyone loves to moan about (even when they have +10k followers) wore me down. 

Not enough time Рthat old clich̩.
Living back in London has generally left me time-poorer than I was in NYC and I do miss that Sunday focus of writing, editing and blogging when we were living in Manhattan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so much happier being back in London but I am less inclined to carry my camera with me than I was in NYC where everything was a novelty (and as much as I’ve gone on about the novelty of supermarkets, I don’t think a pic of a Tesco Metro will cut it!).

If you want it so bad, make time!

It feels like a cop-out of an excuse when I write it down, but even the Bloggers of Class 2010 (@lilypebbles @theannaedit @icovetthee) have spoken about how much time things take to produce. Which takes me back to the point above… after all the time and energy put into a post, if you don’t get the likes, where’s the satisfaction in that? With the likes of @mariajblogs who is storming the Insta-game over the last year or so, there is hope that you can make a success of it.

Of course, there’s always an excuse for those of us who don’t have IG running through our veins…

Stories.
Total game-changer. Despite not posting on IG for months, I still interact everyday sharing Beagle pics with the husband and watching (hours of) Instagram Stories. I take my hat off to anyone who can be normal / entertaining about their lives in front of a video camera. It’s a hurdle I’ve yet to jump over (or, more likely, run at the hurdle, get winded, fall over and curl up in a ball). Favourite people to watch: @carlyrowena @mrsgifletcher and @lindseykelk


Q: What’s the Plan?
A: Playing to my strengths.
My ‘a-ha’ moment yesterday was literally just a case of identifying my strengths – so simple, it’s embarrassing really. What do I love to do that I can utilise here to make my Instagram account less tumbleweed and more #goals? Firstly, I love to plan. I love to be efficient. Combine these two traits and I’ll never have to feel the guilt of not posting in a while thanks to the help from Mosaic – an Instagram planner with the (apt) tagline ‘Plan, Perfect & Schedule’. It’s like being 27-steps ahead in a chess game. #Winning

Secondly, I must deal with the fact I’m a perfectionist and whilst striving for ‘perfect’ is so old Instagram, it doesn’t have to be a negative for me here and now. Let’s face it, until I own a mansion with several marble bathrooms, White Company styled bedrooms, a mirrored walk-in-wardrobe, sweeping staircase and @lydiaemillen style kitchen, who am I kidding? Perfection just ain’t gonna happen!

‘Spontaneity’ isn’t a word you would use to describe me...

As the saying goes, ‘good things come in threes’ so that’s what you’ll be seeing from me going forward in the horizontal form should you be one of the minority who click through to my page. It may not mean you get ‘off-the-cuff’ updates in photo-form but, a bit like blogging, I’d rather put my effort into the captions and writing than being behind (or worst, in front of) the camera on a daily basis. Any of that ‘of-the-moment’ stuff will live on stories as and when I feel the urge!

Let’s see where this #adventure goes but, for now, I’m three steps forward.
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Five Highlights from the month of July


How we have flown through this last month? In fact, it feels crazy to believe I started this year living in New York! I have now been back in the bosom for over four months - four glorious months - and I think my rose-tinted spectacles are firmly fixed upon my nose and life in the UK has never felt better. I can't tell you how many moments I've just been overwhelmed by happy feelings; dinner with friends we haven't seen in over a year, moments spent by the river and, yes, even popping to Tesco on the way home (still a luxury)!

If it weren't for all the talk (read: borderline moaning) about the heatwave, the nationwide shortage of electric fans and air-con engineers being in hot demand, you could be mistaken for thinking the UK had moored up in the Mediterranean. Yet, if it weren't for the hard-to-avoid scorcher of late, I can hardly believe how quickly summer has come around. As a way to capture this year before it's over, my first blog post in a while is capturing the 'best bits' from this month just gone by.

Where did that time go?
July is one of my favourite months of the year, especially now the 1st of July commands champagne and happy memories as we celebrate our wedding anniversary. Before 2016, I was never really a fan of the summer months owing to the challenges of a summer wardrobe, permanent sweat 'tache and a complexion that was either ghostly white or lobster red. I've been particularly grateful that we even had a little rain on the morning of our wedding day to ensure I wasn't a sweaty mess on our big day!

As the novelty of wedding anniversaries hasn't worn off yet, we like to make a little effort with marking the happy day. Last year, for our first anniversary, we gave each other paper clues of places to see on a day adventuring around Manhattan. This time around, we went back to the scene of the crime and spent the day chilling (read: walking, napping, eating) around Kew Gardens. In fact, I realised I have never walked all the way to the end of The Mall which was glorious not only for its dappled shade, and I also got to see the newly renovated Pagoda. I just love this place so much, it really is a little sanctuary in London!

What a world cup.
Don't worry, this will be short and sweet - football is not a topic that lives on this blog. But, didn't our boys do well! I have always got behind our England football team (well, approximately every two years) but this year, they really did us proud. I personally think huge credit for the morale boost among us (fickle) supporters, particularly my generation, is the man at the helm who we all cried with in '96, Gareth Southgate. The man who brought back to life the love of the home-team and drove sales of waistcoats (well played, M&S). Whilst there were tears at the semi-finals, I don't think my nails could have taken another 90+ minutes of tension. Plus, the pub-drinking action has definitely taken it toll!

Weekend pleasure.
One of the perks of being home in London is, of course, that we can spread our social butterfly wings again! After spending much of June unpacking, sorting, redecorating our two-bedroom apartment, we are now happily hosting most weekends! As we are based nearer to Liverpool Street / Shoreditch way, I've come to know this area a lot better and whilst we (mostly Ryan) show our out-of-town friends around London, I'm feeling as much a tourist as they are! July 2018 was the first time I have ever been to The Breakfast Club - I know, shocking for someone who loves breakfast, particularly when I saw they had a 'Cabbies Breakfast' - oh em gee - and took a trip up The Shard for London's very own skyscraper views. Plus, not to forget I wasn't totally defeated at a game of crazy golf at Swingers. Ryan was victorious, if not a little shocked I wasn't far behind. As per the aforementioned hot weather, it has called for drinks, drinks, and more drinks. We're not picking where...by the river, on a rooftop, on our balcony (with a side of Dominos).

Seeing some sights.
Almost six weeks since our little jaunt across the continent for some much-needed R&R, last weekend we hopped on the train to my parents for a spot of country respite! For years, I dreaded going back to their country pile because it was, quite literally, a pile of rubble - bugs everywhere in the summer, freezing cold the rest of the time and that's without mentioning the caravan phase! Ugh! But, we made it through the wilderness (aka. the building years) and now their home is nothing short of a sanctuary. Late afternoon, we popped down to Hastings for a breath of sea-air and were quite literally breath-taken by an impromptu aerial display courtesy of The Red Arrows. Growing up, I would hear them fly overhead near to Biggin Hill but this was truly a spectacular sight to watch. A full twenty-five minutes of jet-plane acrobatics. Mind. Blown.

To end the night, it was a trip down memory lane to see my Dad back where he belongs on stage behind a drum-kit. He was playing at the White Rock theatre with The Quo Experience. It's been a five years since my Dad took his final bow at the 02 Arena with the actual Quo after thirteen years of smashing it all over the world (or I should say "rocking"). It was quite incredible how knee-twitchingly, head-bangingly and scarily accurate the mannerisms of the band members were to make you believe you were watching the 'real thing'. If you're a fan of the music, I cannot recommend the show highly enough as a night out!

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So, here's to a lovely August ahead! It feels rather French of me to say we'll be spending the month in West London in a (sort of) summer city break. Basically we've migrated from Zone 6 to Zone 2 in a bid to enjoy more of our beloved river, shorter commutes, a spot of house-hunting and trying to find my London-equivalent to Physique 57!

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Pale Skin Summer Saviours

How to be an English Rose and survive the sunshine with these pale skin SPF saviours.
English Rose by name, English Rose by nature. Since my childhood, my pale skin has forever been a source of frustration and sensitivity (emotionally, physically...). I was the pale, brown-haired girl with freckles opposed to the beautiful fair-haired flawless beauties in my year at school. For some reason, the beauty of freckles hadn’t started trending in my suburb at this point in the ‘90s. But, alas, come those tricky teenage years and Collection 2000 full-coverage concealer, I erased my freckles for almost a decade (along with the late night under eye bags and alcohol blemishes). Back to the present day, it’s all hail the “no make-up make-up” unleashing our “natural” complexion. 

For me, the summer months are a battle of head over heart. My heart dreams of a sun-kissed golden glow that my instagram feed is tantalisingly oozing with, but my head knows there is no alighting at the station of Bronzed Goddess for me. No, I’m stuck on a fast train between Pasty Pale and Lobster Red. I’ve been the subject of laughs amongst my friends as they assume I’ve over-embellished the sunburn stories over the years. There was the time in Tenerife, aged 10, when I had insisted to my parents I had applied my SPF 50 - having detested slathering the white paint-like suntan lotion c.1999 onto my already white limbs. I spent the next six hours playing in the swimming pool, only have very clearly been caught out later in the day as the burn lines smoldered! I had to sit in an ice cold bath for the whole evening and was banished to the shade-equivalent of the naughty step for the rest of the holiday (with a bucket for a nasty dose of sunstroke). Another time, aged 18, I was in Australia and spent ten minutes atop a catamaran in the Whitsunday Islands eating breakfast...all I can say is thank goodness it wasn’t an all-you-can-eat-buffet because one course was long enough! I part-blame my stupidity and part-blame the damn ozone layer. My legs were so burnt I couldn’t actually straighten them for days! Walking was a serious challenge. Waking up a few days later in a dorm room (bottom bunk...luckily), still in agony, I pulled back  what had been a bed-sheet soaked in cold water to help ease the sting so I could sleep, only to take a layer of skin off with it! 

It’s not big and it’s not clever, kids, always use protection. 

Ten years on, I still have a yearning for having a tan - a fact that after six months honeymooning around the world in some of the hottest climates I’m not sure is humanly possible for me! The extent of my progress was realistically moving from Very Fair 01 to Fair 02 in the foundation stakes! These days, there are more anti-ageing products gracing my bathroom shelves assembling a line of defence against the highly-documented fact that sun damage is a cause of accelerated skin ageing. Pale I might be, but I’m hoping I’ll be seeing the benefits in my 40s and 50s as I truly have learnt the lessons of my careless, sun-cavorting youth!

Along with the now essential fake tanning session required on the eve of beautiful weather, here is my skincare toolkit for keeping pale skin safe in the sunshine (and one to relieve skin SOS!)

La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo(+) SPF30
A brand I am loving at the moment for its blemish-solution skincare, I have become so obsessed Effaclar Duo that I now own all three iterations available: #1 the original; I use this as a serum before day/night cream to really sink into the hormonal nightmare on Chin Street, #2 with SPF30; great UVA and UVB protection to work into your everyday routine, especially if your day cream doesn’t, and #3 with B.B. blur; a great light base with a hint of tan-like coverage to let your skin breathe instead of slathering it in foundation (guilty, Serg).
La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF 50+
Giving a mighty SPF50 protection, the higher the better when it comes to protecting your face from the sun. This product is incredibly light, non-sticky, non-greasy and available with and without tint. I picked up this one after hearing great reviews over on YouTube and was so pleased to have had the added colour to help warm up my skin tone for poolside antics. This Anthelios product is perfect for all skin types (even oily, combination as tried and tested by yours truly). Converted. 

What I’ve come to love is mixing it with the Effaclar Duo BB Cream which has a slightly thicker texture (containing those spot-hating ingredients) and slightly more coverage and I’ve got one hard-working, beautiful base.
Dry-Mist Sun Protectors
Gone are the days of white, chalky, sticky creams and lotions. Now, the texture library for SPF protection has blown wide open. I can remember experimenting with a shimmering suntan lotion on a holiday to Mexico a few years ago...pretty sure I looked like even more of a sweaty mess than usual! 

I’m an advocate for applying my bodycare SPF totally butt naked (...just the first application of the day, I might add!) - it’s a trick passed down from a family friend to avoid those nasty slices of red from where your swimwear moves throughout the day and a streak of unprotected skin gets you caught out! Whilst I still practise this, I’ve gained 10 minutes of my day back thanks to these new formulations, without having to wait for the lotion or cream to sink in! This summer, whilst away in Europe, I used three different brands who all promised “non-greasy”, “non-sticky” “ultra-light” dry protection mist. Total game-changer.

Nivea Sun Protect Lip Balm SPF30 
Very rarely do I go anywhere without a lip balm (work meetings, loo breaks), I have so many dotted around (night stand, coat pockets, desk drawer, every handbag I possess) and Nivea and EOS are my brands of choice. Whilst red lips can be great painted in Mac’s Ruby Woo, mother nature’s versions of sun-red lips is horrendous. I highly recommend you keep one of these in your beach bag and top up regularly! I find dry lips the perfect alarm clock for topping up all my SPF protection!

Elemis Instant Refreshing Gel
I carry a little travel size of this in my in-flight skincare bag of tricks. I find it the perfect aching foot relief and it’s tingling menthol action super invigorating on a long-haul flight. I’ve also now added this to my list of sunburn hacks for soothing any redness, especially when that skin-hotness is prohibiting you from sleeping!

Whether you are trolley-dashing Boots ahead of an imminent summer holiday or lapping up this glorious British weather (did I actually just write that??!), the time for beckoning some serious sun protection skincare is now to ensure the only thing in the ice bucket are the drinks (and not my legs!)

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What To Do in New York City

New York is the holy grail of city breaks; the ultimate shopping expedition, romantic trip for two or girls weekend away. With incredible flights across the pond being enviably more affordable thanks to the likes of Norwegian airlines, check out this list to fill a short break to the city that never sleeps.

PLACES TO DRINK.

Bathtub Gin, Chelsea, is an amazing hidden speakeasy. You'll be forgiven if you walk back and forth along the block looking for the inconspicuous cafe entrance. Once behind the hidden door you'll be plunged into an ostentatious speakeasy. The cocktail menu is incredible and yes, there is an actual gold bathtub in there! www.bathtubginnyc.com
Apotheke, Chinatown, is a hospital-themed speakeasy. A great place to grab a cocktail before/after dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlour, the oldest restaurant in Chinatown.
www.apothekenyc.com // www.nomwah.com
Tao Downtown oozes New York social scene as per Sex and the City. It's the kind of place where you look around the dimly lit restaurant and wonder who's at the next table. Also the scene of Carrie Bradshaw's 'Last Supper' pre-wedding to Big. www.taodowntown.com
Dead Rabbit, near Wall Street, for an olde world cosy drinks spot. Watch out for the cobbled street in those heels. www.deadrabbitnyc.com
Mr Purple, Lower East Side, is on the top floor of Hotel Indigo and has incredible views of the city. Perfect spot for an outdoor drink watching the sunset. www.mrpurplenyc.com

BRUNCH SPOTS.

Nomo Kitchen, Soho, is the perfect spot for a girls get-together. Having first seen this place in the final scene of The Other Woman, I was on the hunt for the location of an incredible glasshouse ceiling, chandeliers and long bar clad in fairy lights. Oh, and a table of girlfriends sipping Champagne. www.nomosoho.com
Two Hands Cafe, Tribeca, is an Australian healthy cafe. You'll find lots of brunching yogis here. Highly recommend the Smashed Peas. www.twohandsnyc.com/tribeca
Locande Verde, Tribeca, is a Mediterranean restaurant with incredibly tasty rustic Italian takes on brunch. Do not forgo the Banana Monkey Bread. www.locandaverdenyc.com
Jack's Wife Freda, Chelsea & Greenwich Village, is the cutest spot with checkered table cloths. Prepare to queue but it'll be worth the queue time. Grab a Mint Lemonade whilst you wait on the sidewalk in the New York heat.  www.jackswifefreda.com
Tavern on the Green, Central Park, is perfect pre or post stroll, row or horse-drawn carriage ride. This restaurant has an incredible courtyard if the weather is in your favour and beautiful big windows if not! Given the stereotype of American meal sizes, the pastry basked is enough to feed a family of four!  /www.tavernonthegreen.com
Sarabeth's, various locations, is an upmarket American chain, the perfect family-friendly restaurant with an incredibly huge menu to fuel a big day of exploration. www.sarabethsrestaurants.com
The Brooklyn Diner, Times Square, I've been going to this place since my first ever visit to New York and it's the most amazing retro diner. Look for the name plaques around the room whilst you enjoy the unlimited coffee and best goddamn pancakes in New York! www.brooklyndiner.com
Clinton Street Bakery, Lower East Side, it'll be worth the wait when you taste the twice-voted best blueberry pancakes in New York City. I went here for my birthday breakfast and after popping our name down on the door, walked to nearby Alphabet City for work up an appetite. www.clintonstreetbaking.com

EATING IN THE BIG APPLE.
Julianas or Grimaldis, DUMBO, Brooklyn. If you have time to try both places, it's tasty pizza from two ex-best friends who ran a successful pizzeria for years and then, after a massive falling out now run rival pizza restaurants right next door to each other! Both have long queues at peak time. The liquor license and ambiance of Julianas wins in one respect but I personally preferred the casual vibe and delicious pizza from Grimaldis. I recommend burning off some of the calories afterwards by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan - stunning! www.julianaspizza.com // www.grimaldis-pizza.com
Chelsea Market, Chelsea, is an absolute must on your to-do list whilst in New York and this has the roof over a huge array of eateries of sushi, lobster, Mexican. Stroll around the arcades and follow where your nose takes fancy to, especially if it's the Doughnuttery. www.chelseamarket.com
Smorgasburg, Brooklyn & Williamsburg, is a seasonal outdoor food market where the crowds draw in from afar between April and October. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the incredible choice and - friendly tip - the longest queues tend to lead to taste bud heaven! www.smorgasburg.com
Levain Bakery, Upper West Side, you smell the cookies baking before you see the blue awning and it will sure get your mouth-watering in the queue. The best double chocolate cookies that $4 can buy! www.levainbakery.com
Alice's Teacup, Upper West Side, is a quirky, whimsical tea house which makes for the perfect pit stop from exploring nearby Central Park. www.alicesteacup.com
Katz Delicatessen, Lower East Side, is home to the famous When Harry Met Sally scene which, frankly, you can re-live yourself once you take a bite of their pastrami sandwich. Big enough to share between two... make of that what you will. www.katzsdelicatessen.com
Do, Greenwich Village, pronounced 'Dough'... as in cookie dough. This place is worthy of its own Twitter feed informing fans of the queue status! Considering itself "gourmet edible, bakeable, customisable cookie", its a truly fancy New York take on licking the spoon! www.cookiedonyc.com

THINGS TO DO.

Skyscrapers...One World Trade Center has a very slick, theatrical experience which as the newest kid on the block you'd expect it to have! This may be the best views to grab a seat at the bar and take in the far-reaching views of New Jersey, Brooklyn, Long Island and Queens. The Empire State Building is the classic, and most romantic, experience thanks to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The art-deco interior is appearing a little worn these days but its the Empire State so the magic of it still makes this hot on your list! The Rockefeller is best at sunset for the more photography view of the Empire State, Times Square glowing far down below and 360 twinkling lights.
Grand Central Station... Standing on the central concourse in rush-hour is a sight to behold. There are some seriously awesome photograph opportunities here. Take an onward journey to Connecticut, New Jersey or anywhere from the other fifty tracks.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island... book up in advance to join the 'official' tour and I recommend getting 9am ferry slot to enjoy people-less pictures as you arrive at the statue. For a cheaper option, grab a pretzel and hop on the free Staten Island Ferry for passing views. There's not much on Staten Island itself but fabulous views of Manhattan and Liberty Island before completing the loop.
Central Park...a piece of green to escape from the concrete jungle and you can choose to explore it by foot, by bike or horse-drawn carriage. If you're there in winter, take to the ice and there in the summer, take to the lakes.
Chelsea High Line...a perfect walking route above the beeping horns that used to be an old trainline. I recommend walking the direction from North to South as there's so much more to do once you end in Chelsea, e.g. Chelsea Food Market, The Whitney Museum and the shops of Meatpacking.
The 9/11 Museum, Financial District, allow at least half a day. As to be expected, it's incredibly moving but touchingly delivered.
Bleeker Street, West Village, is the central hub leading to Carrie Bradshaw's stoop (66 Perry Street), the Friends building (90 Bedford Street), and Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake!
Dylan's Candy Bar, Upper East Side, is the largest candy store in the world (apparently) and can sort any sweet cravings in between floors at nearby Bloomingdales.
Madison Square Gardens, Midtown, is the location to grab a bucket of popcorn, beer and take in the entertainment of the Knicks (Basketball), New York Rangers (Ice Hockey) or gig.
I hope this gives you food for thought in planning a trip to the Big Apple! The reality is, this is little more than a bite size offering to give you a taste of what New York has to offer.

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London: First Impressions















Touchdown was two weeks ago. 

How does it feel to be home? 
Strange. 

Does it feel like New York never happened? 
Kind of…
I’ve been asked so many variations of these questions over the past few days and I feel like I’m still figuring out the answers. Yes, of course, I’m happy to be home. Seeing loved ones, speaking on the same timezone and buying halloumi for less than $16 is AMAZING. But do I feel like I’m home? … that’s not quite so easy to answer. My home has been Apartment 23M for the past year - the location of my bed, sofa and Netflix account. We are incredibly fortunate that we were able to move back to Mr A’s flat that had been sat waiting for our return. We haven’t lived here together before and apart from a handful of nights somewhere back in 2013 we haven’t found ourselves in this part of Zone 6 for a long time. So, needless to say, I'm finding myself back in a 'transition mode' which given it’s only been a year since we were last here, shouldn’t be so unfamiliar in itself.

So long, New York.
If ever you’ve wondered if a 5ft 3in woman could shift a king size mattress down 23 floors, I am living proof it’s possible. The to-do list was pretty epic in the last 72 hours, especially when so much depended on me doing it in the last few hours. I literally finished hoovering the apartment, handed back the keys and was in a yellow taxi to JFK within minutes. Throw in a leaving party the night before of drag queen karaoke and you can imagine exactly how ‘epic’ it was to complete. Funnily enough, I slept the whole flight home.
If only all my packing fitted into this little beauty...
Touchdown.
I’ve never felt so happy to land back to grey, drizzly Blighty than I was on March 15th. I had been operating on adrenaline for the last few days and my smiling parents at Gatwick Airport was just the tonic. I was super excited to see them yet equally excited when I glimpsed the signage of Marks & Spencer. Hello hot-cross-buns!

No rest for the wicked.
Thank you, Global Warming, for bringing snow in March. Seriously, where is Spring?! In a bid to avoid being snowed-in or carrying boxes through a blizzard, we had to change up our moving plans. So, after much sorting and packing in New York, I was thrown straight into more sorting and packing to do here that jet-lag had no time to register! It’s crazy how much stuff we have - the majority aboard a ship somewhere on the Atlantic, some in my parents garage and even more in Lincoln. With the amazing support of our parents, two van hires and gallons of cups of tea later, we had moved in! Within 48 hours, we’d already got two coats of paint on the walls. Who needs sleep?
New start.

A week after landing, a lot of painting, life admin and growing back broken nails later, we had time to celebrate and kicked off Ryan’s 30th birthday celebrations with an incredible family dinner at Hawksmoor. Turns out we couldn’t survive without a Mac’n’Cheese fix, and seriously it is the most incredible steak ever! The novelty of being so close to our friends, family and having a fridge stocked full of Prosecco is far from wearing off. Roll on April and with it a diary full of plans proving exactly what we were so excited to be 'home' for. 

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