The Future of Blogging & How I Feel About It

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash
Since I started this blog back in 2016, I have fallen in love with writing again. But blogging is now so much more than just words on a page. It's about web templates, brand logos, followers, analytics, social media presence, colour schemes, professional-standard photography and much more. I go through phases with my blog; sometimes I love it and other times I forget it exists. Some days (most days) I dream of growing this into a full-time money-making machine, and other days I consider sacking it all off. I remember feeling in a super positive space last summer, planning lots of content when I reached out to my friend to ask, 'What kind of blog posts would you want to read?' and her response was, 'I think blogs are over, it's all about video these days'. It was a crushing response, but is she right? In this post I'm delving into my personal experience of blogging and the future of MrsAtoB.com, how the blogging-boom has hit our (double) screens and whether being a Content Creator, Influencer, Blogger, YouTuber, Vlogger or Instagrammer is as rosy as it seems.

In the beginning.
I remember being sat in a lecture theatre in late 2008 and told by my course leader to start a blog. Cue eye-roll. My initial thought: as if I need more work on top of all the other coursework! But heed his advise I did, and I set-up a Blogspot with a crappy free design template (block red, I believe, which haunts me!). My first blog was called 'Through Rose Tinted Spectacles' and sat in a fairly redundant little corner of the Internet without much love or affection. I churned out blog posts sporadically with no other agenda than to tick the box for my semester module. At that point, I was too embarrassed to share posts with Facebook friends and incredibly aloof to even signing up on Twitter and Instagram. Little did I know ten years later I'd be kicking myself for not riding the wave with the enthusiasm I now have for writing.

Biggest doubts.
Fast forward five years to 2015 and the blogging industry has boomed. Brand budgets have switched away from traditional print media to investing in this new-fangled "influencer marketing", and the online world has become a haven for Brand Blogger. The Class of 2010, an alumni including Zoella, Fleur De Force and Lily Pebbles, have graduated with (metaphorical) first class honours, creating a new industry, a prosperous career and full-time salary. Having watched and admired this transformation take place, it's hard to not feel overwhelmed (read: put off) by the crazy competition and saturation of the market. With murmurings that brands in the present day aren't seeing the same results from influencer marketing as in their hey-day (and pointed fingers at the Instagram algorithm for its demise), has the bubble popped? Is trying to crack this market now like flogging a dead horse? If my peers are anything to go by than it feels like it is. However, Victoria McGrath from InTheFrow wrote a great piece about why blogging isn't dying and her definition on what makes a successful blog today:

"
The sites that inspire me are the ones that encompass innovative designs, great quality content and the ability to connect with me through their passions and insights into topics that keep my attention. A perfect mix that is unique to each blogger and another reason why the blogosphere surely isn't at saturation point.
"



Time, precious time.
How do I fit writing blogs around the day job? I'm not one to preach as consistency is most definitely not my middle name... but definitely the name of the game. There's something about trains that gets my writing flowing, similarly a late night glass of wine can also do the trick. I've heard of people who have written books on the daily commute or in between their baby's naps, so anything is possible with a little discipline. And then there's the (shameless) self-promotion and community building that's required alongside to get a blog off the ground - that really is a full-time job in itself and can be a time-vacuum with little reward. There are many apps around today geared at helping you be more efficient in this department but, time is money. And by that I mean, invest more time and (hopefully) make more money.

Perfectionist's Problem.
I have massively battled with perfectionism which has road-blocked so many posts over the years that will never see the light of day. I look back and wish I'd been less judgmental and let the blog posts flow so I can look back on the different periods of my life and re-live it through those words. Similarly, I have ummed and ahhed about setting up a YouTube channel and even received all the lighting equipment from Mr A several Christmases ago but have been too scared to do anything about it. I wish I'd bitten the bullet and could now look back on the crazy few years we had with wedding planning, travelling and moving to New York but carpe diem I didn't!

Picture Perfect.
My perfectionist issue runs deeper still and has delayed publishing *so many* blog posts striving for the perfect photography to accompany the article. My problem? The words flow but the camera collects dust. Across the blogosphere, blog content evolved from the early days of iPhone snaps to hire-a-photographer or spend-£2k-on-a-DSLR-camera. I remember being wowed by the quality of the bloggers' photography but equally surprised the subject of the images would have nothing to do with the post itself, apart from, perhaps, featuring the author. Whereas I would try to artfully style a pile of books on a sofa or summer skincare products in a sunny garden, other (more successful) bloggers would literally just have photographs of themselves (of course, looking immaculate in a banging outfit) but still, I'd been over-complicating things thinking that everything must compliment the theme.

Whilst I've never hired a pro, I've been tempted by the idea (fake it until you make it, right?) but instead I took advantage of my husband who likes being behind the camera (ironically, he hates photographing people but he grins and bears it for me!). After many failed attempts, bruised egos (mine) and short fuses (his), trying to plan and execute photography as frequently as my blog ideas demanded, it became unachievable. Plus, it felt so self-indulgent. I gave myself permission to get over the expectation of having incredible photography (only so much you can do about the model...) and get back to enjoying blogging, and that meant focusing more on the writing than the pouting. For the moment I'm swapping out my mug for stock photography. It means I have less delay getting my words on the web and wince a lot less at the sight of my site.

Haters gon' hate.
One thing that is totally unappealing about the industry yet seems to be par for the course of being a content creator is the amount I hear about hate and trolling. Whether it's nasty comments on a YouTube video, evil direct messages on Instagram or (worse of all) purpose-built websites for people to congregate purely to bitch and moan about specific Influencers. It's totally unacceptable and really does show off the worse of human nature. When you see people getting free kitchens or a brand new car as part of partnership, or *even* a trolley-dash of Boots the Chemist, I would be lying if I said I had never felt pangs of jealousy. But that's why businesses do this #gifting malarkey; you want what they have and buy it for yourself. Subconsciously, it's the lifestyle of that Influencer that we're hoping to attain, it's the perception of the status they're selling that we are being seduced by, yet this isn't new by any means, it's just plain marketing. Hats off to those who have grafted to build an engaged audience and have brands come to them with discount, gifts or paid-partnerships. Rather than send hate, why don't those few spoil-sports just unfollow anyone they don't want to see. Remember the lesson Thumper taught us all in Bambi?

"
 If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.
"
I, for one, applaud the Influencers who 'out' these haters and lift the veil on the barrage of abuse that happens behind the scenes or in the comments section. The industry needs better regulation and anyone wanting a piece of the action needs to be prepared to have a thick skin.



Rant over. That's the inner workings of my head for the moment on the topic of blogging. I'm taking myself off the hook from my 2019 goals (to move to WordPress, grow my social media following (bloody impossible, I swear) and a site redesign) and I'm stripping it back to just the words on the page. And if you made it to this final word on this rather long blog post then, thank you, because you must be a fan!

**Coming Soon: Under the Influence. My favourite Content Creators of 2019 (and what they've made me buy!)**

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Bake Off | 4 Cake Recipes to whet your appetite

The newest group of bakers are set to land on our screens in the infamous tent for this year’s series of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4. I’m anticipating the urge to don an apron and get baking, which happens only once a year and not surprisingly in conjunction with this show. My culinary skills leave little to be desired so, rather than sitting in awe drooling at the TV screen, I’m getting in the kitchen this year for a little practise. Sharing with you four recipes I can’t wait to try my hand at baking.

Lemon & Lime Poppyseed Cake
I’m not going to lie; the icing is 100% what sold me on this one! Plus, I know that for my husband who loves all things sour, this citrus combination is going to be a hit! With poppyseed in the title, it basically sounds healthy too (kind of). Here’s the recipe I will be following by Lorraine Pascal.

Banana *and Chocolate* Bread
This is an attempt to ‘freestyle’ a little with my mother’s infamous, well-thumbed recipe. I have forever known there to be a Banana Teabread in the cupboard at all times. Perfectly sliced on the side of a cup of tea as a mid-afternoon snack or for guests who popped around. Oh! the quaint ol’ days.When I think about the fact my mother used to bake a cake almost weekly, I really do wonder what I do with all my free time?! This recipe can make use of those browning bananas in the fruit bowl along with a bucketload of dried fruit that is (let’s face it) collecting dust in the cupboard. My favourite bit has always been the banana sponge (and least favourite bits the dried fruit) so I’m deviating off-recipe to create what I’d like to find mixed in the batter: chocolate.

Ingredients:
450g/1lb ripe bananas
100g/4oz butter or margarine
150g/6oz castor sugar
2 eggs
225g/8oz self-raising flour
Grated rind of 1 lemon
50g/2oz glace cherries, chopped
100g/4oz raisins

Method: 
Whack it all in a bowl, mix it with an electric whisk (or prepare for some arm ache if you’re mixing by hand) and pour it into a lined baking tin and bake until brown on the top. Do the kebab skewer test to check it’s cooked all the way through! There seems to be an etiquette of ‘allow it to cool’ but, frankly, I think the warmer the better. Serve with a cup of tea. 

Nigella’s Merookies
When I was living in New York, I basically craved all the home-cooking. American food is incredible don’t get me wrong, but nothing beats home comforts. My particularly sadistic habit of watching British cooking shows did nothing for the home sickness pangs but it did make me fall in love with Nigella. Literally every recipe had my mouth-watering and looked incredibly easy to achieve (whether this is true or not, I’ll find out!). A mixture of meringue and cookie (hence the name) with chocolate chips and pistachios require very little cooking (more warming). Visit BBC Food for the full method.

Ingredients:
2 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch fine sea salt
100g / 3.5 oz caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
¼ tsp ground cardamom
75g/2.5ox mini dark chocolate chips
75g/2.5ox pistachios, finely chopped

Christmas Pudding
After last year’s success of a Christmas Cake which fed both sides of our family and poisoned exactly zero of them, I want to up the stakes with a Christmas Pudding this year which I believe requires some prepping in advance (although only 6 weeks according to this recipe). I’ll spare the risk of a dentist trip with the traditional silver coin that used to be added as a token of good luck to the recipient (or to go towards the dental bill!) There’s some commitment with this recipe which requires ‘feeding’ in the countdown to Christmas Day. Let’s hope this fairs better than my feeding the house plants! I own the Nigella Christmas recipe book but found the exact recipe to follow online.

I still have the biggest wish to learn to make croissants from scratch (thanks Nora Ephron & Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated for that one!) and also attempt to recreate these amazing pork guac nachos we used to get from the sports bar down the road in New York. At least I’ve still got a few months left of 2019 to give the kitchen a good run-out, assuming I don’t burn it down before then!

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The Highs & Lows of Buying a House

Where's the script to follow a failed house purchase? I'm familiar with the one for a failed relationship, a failed job application even, but what's the etiquette for dusting yourself off and moving on after the dream home you'd set your heart on gets torn from you? Having experienced it twice in the past six months, I am struck by how devastating it can feel. It’s bricks and mortar, not flesh and blood, yet it feels like we need time to recover and heal. It’s like the excitement of seeing someone propose, only to witness the crushing blow of the answer 'No'.  It’s like we’ve called off the wedding and now we’re having to call all the suppliers to cancel the cake, the DJ, (instead it’s carpet and Sky home set-up). And then there’s telling everyone. After sharing excited pictures/plans/designs, I feel like Carrie post-jilt in Mexico with a phone full of voicemails I can't face. I’ve transcended from the highs of bar stool shopping, meandering around show kitchens in John Lewis and carrying swatches of carpet in my handbag to feeling tired, deflated and blue. My Pinterest-filled bubble has burst and now I’m left with egg on my face rent... and a solicitor’s bill that, insultingly, still requires paying.

In the beginning, I remember the butterflies of 'playing grown-ups' calling estate agents and booking appointments to view properties. For anyone a touch nosey, it's a dream opportunity to see what's behind closed doors. And for a while, like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, it was fun. It reminded me of playing a fantasy game like the one when I was a child, wanting to dress up in a pinny and pretend to cook a roast dinner in my new EasyBake kitchen with plastic chicken legs and fruit. 

Then the reality sets in when you have to ask serious questions like, 'Is it gas or electric?' 'When was the boiler last serviced?' and questions which, frankly, I don't even know the right answer to hope for. My parents did their best to equip me with basic knowledge in an attempt to conceal the naive girl beneath and avoid a situation where I offer on a property with subsidence and dry rot (I'm still genuinely unclear how to spot the latter...)

Having hopped over those hurdles and talked the talk, thanks mostly to the wisdom of my formally flat-owning husband, we managed to actually find a property we loved. In fact, after eight viewings back to back on one drizzly Saturday in March, I'm not entirely clear if we did love it or were just desperate to end the torture, put up our feet and find our nearest soon-to-be local pub to neck a glass of red. To be fair, this apartment was gorgeous. Beautifully decorated, open-plan (a tick on the wishlist) and who doesn't fall in love with a TV at the end of the bath?! The open hallway made this two-bed flat feel palatial, just one small snag... Of course there has to be when you have a finite budget and wish to live in West London. A compromise is to be expected... Who needs outdoor space, eh? You have Richmond park on your doorstep* (*20 mins away). Who needs a car parking space, eh? Well we don't have a car and we travel by public transport so... yeah we don't need a parking space! (Like we could even afford one on top of the eye-watering mortgage repayments!) Great, well here's a lovely flat just for you... did I mention it's on the south circular? I mean, I can sleep through anything (thanks Mum for hoovering when I was a baby. Best. Gift. Ever.) Pollution, you say? Well it's London after all!

OK, so maybe that one wasn't The One. But the next one surely will be...

Hello, two balconies. Hello, car parking space. Bring on 1000 sq. ft. of space, two spacious bedrooms and two bathrooms. Not to mention a walk-in utility! I was in love. We both were. Having seen this flat separately, Mr A and I both agreed it was worth offering. On the cusp of a bidding war, we offered the asking price with a 24 hours expiry date and HOORAY, it was accepted. Fast forward a few weeks later, mortgage offer in place and it's with the solicitors to conduct searches and get the paperwork in order. I've spent a morning in May with all the parents to show (off) and ensure I had their approval and enjoyed lapping up their oohs and aahs on the south-facing, sunny outlook and far-reaching views over Richmond. Luckily, all parties were chain-free so we were looking at an expedited lead-time of 6 weeks from offer accepted to being handed the keys. We had already mentally moved in to this apartment; I'd already planned my new exercise studios on ClassPass, sussed out our Saturday brunch place, we'd picked out carpet swatches, and designed our new kitchen island we wanted installed. We had even booked time off work for our anticipated move date UNTIL... an unsightly discovery: 400-flat residential development in the plans according to Richmond Council's website to be built directly opposite our flat blocking all views from every window. Disaster, darling.

I can only imagine this discovery is a similar feeling to learning you've been cheated on. You feel a bit sick, a bit teary and then VERY. BLOODY. ANGRY. The only thing that can be done (once you've paid the sodding solicitor's fees) is block every estate agent's number, unsubscribe from every email newsletter and delete the RightMove app. 

Six weeks later, the anger and resentment has sloped to a 3/10, we've had a mini (and cathartic) makeover of our apartment and my energy is redirected to having and planning holidays. 



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The Four Phases of a Relationship...

...with a book.
I posted on Instagram earlier this week that books have taken over my life. Literally. In every aspect.  Physically; the pile of books on my bedside table that wobbles taller, collects dust and never seems to diminish. Socially; conversations with friends and colleagues than transpires with more books I *have* to read right away! And financially; the Kindle receipts that keep landing in my inbox (whoops). I am literally binging on books. The thrill I get from buying them has replaced the thrill of buying a new lipstick. I know I shouldn’t, I know I have enough, but I *can’t* not!

Having just been lost in the ebook pages of a crazy, intense love story (The Hating Game, for those interested), I’ve realised how predictable I am in different phases of reading a book. Does anyone else join me on this roller coaster? 

Phase 1: Overwhelm. In relationship terms, we’ve all heard the old adage ‘plenty more fish in the sea’. Well, in book terms, I’m awash. I’m literally lost at sea drowning in the tide of never-ending recommendations. My Kindle wishlist on Amazon now stretches to six pages. The list on my iPhone is so damn long, I’ve had to take extra notes to remember who recommended what before categorising all those 'books to read' by ‘Kindle', ‘Bookshelf’ and ‘Audible. At present, I have ten books downloaded waiting on Kindle, seven books purchased on Audible (plus one credit spare) and don’t get me started on the stack of physical books on my bookshelf in my flat… and at my parent’s house. I often fantasise about my full-time job being reading. I think my husband has the same fantasy (so I'll clear some shelf-space). 

Phase 2: First Hurdle. I find starting a new book can sometimes be bit overwhelming. Will it be better than the last? Will I like the characters? The writing style? Will the ending leave me satisfied… or pissed off? With literally forty books to choose from (aka: spoilt for choice), picking one can be hard enough but I find having a good portion of time to dedicate to the start is key. That’s why on holiday, I can fly through four books in a week because I have zero interruptions.  In normal life, I am definitely guilty of getting a few pages in, my eyes start to droop and before you know it I’ve fallen asleep and I struggle thereafter to get into the swing of the book. The Hating Game being case and point. It sat at the difficult 3% mark for a good couple of days before a little bout of insomnia gave me a two hour block to break into it. Carving out time; a long journey, a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, are my prime opportunities.

Phase 3: Infatuation. I often say the main benefit of Audible is that you don’t have to stop reading when you're walking to the station or changing lines on the Underground. Well, the truth is with a bloody good book that’s not true. I love seeing Londoners wander nose-down in a book attempting to navigate the crowds with peripheral vision only and a sixth sense to stop you face-planting a lamppost. My train broke down this morning on the way to work and I was overjoyed at the legitimate excuse for more minutes to stay lost in the story. Sign of a good book, for sure. It's equally responsible for making me an antisocial hermit who will cancel plans, feign sickness and wish for rain just so I can selfishly sit in solitude with only those characters for company.

Phase 4: Mourning. The problem with infatuation is it never lasts. The more infatuated I am, the sooner I find myself in Phase 4 feeling bereft that the author selfishly stopped writing. I lap up those indulgent epilogues which jump into the future and give you the sugar-coated, chocolate-dipped strawberry of a ‘happily ever after’ just to leave you feeling truly satisfied. However, next comes the book-blues. I just raced through the final 40% of the book in the last 24 hours and I’m now sat contemplating, well, what now? Half of me wants to keep on the reading bandwagon and dive straight into another book. The other half of me feels emotionally attached to Lucy ‘Shortcake’ Hutton and Josh Templeton that, surely, no one can compete (for at least a few days). 

Perhaps that’s why you’ve got this blog post - "book-reavement".


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Travelling with Your Husband 101

'For better, for worse... in sickness and in health' 
Things you should really know before you go travelling with your husband. 
After the whirlwind of wedding planning and the Big Day itself, it's very common to feel like you crave a bit of  'normal life' to resume where you sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and talk about anything that doesn't involve seating charts, RSVPs or Order of Service. Hard to imagine, right? Despite a wedding being all about the new Mr and Mrs, quality time isn't really top of the agenda with suppliers, bridal parties and guests all around. Back in July 2016, shortly after our 'I Do's', we had the chaos of packing up our house and finishing our jobs before we departed for our six-month honeymoon. The single most aspect of the trip I was most excited about? Having my new husband all to myself. Totally selfish I know but quite normal newlywed behaviour I'm told. Going from one extreme to another, we were used to seeing each other briefly in the morning before work and a few hours in the evening, to suddenly living in each others pockets 24/7. That can probably be a test of any relationship. So, I'm pleased to say we passed that test! I was apprehensive going into it though as I've travelled with family/friends in the past and know that those little annoying quirks can become monumental when you endure an intense period of time in each others company. 

My advice to couples or newlyweds on travelling together is to set some ground rules - a bit like when you first move in together to establish what your 'normal' is going to be. Ours are pretty simple but they made for conflict free travelling for us and coming home after six months even more in love than when we left.

Alone time. 
  • Say if the other is doing something to bug you. Don't let it fester.
  • You don't have to do EVERYTHING together. Time apart is normal and do the world of good.
  • Silence is a virtue. 
  • Any whiff of a disagreement (invariably involving a map and directions) diffuse with a joke, it's not worth it. You're on holiday!!
  • Take time to chill, it doesn't have to be all go go go.
  • Don't wake the other up if they're succeeding in sleeping on public transport. Even if you're not.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff, this is a once in a lifetime experience so don't ruin it with tension, bottling things up or being grumps*
*exceptions being: when suffering sunburn or on after an overnight bus, then grumpy you can both be. Together. 

Dirty talk. 
This is the shit part of travelling (excuse the pun). Conversations around bowel movements will become a regular part of your day-to-day life. Each to their own but this was a new thing to bring us, ahem, closer (I have known of couples who would keep each other company whilst doing their business but this horrifies me to the core!). The fact of the matter is you're likely to have some "concerns" whilst your away and 'for better, for worse', you're there to look out for the other. That may be actually looking out for the next 'banos' in the case of Delhi belly, running out to the shop for toilet paper or simply scheduling regular loo stops along the way. Soon you become anaesthetised to the crap-chat a bit like I'm sure new mothers feel when monitoring a baby's nappy activity. Soon you just get passed caring. But in my experience running the tap, playing music and pocket tissues can make some situations more bearable. 

Home sickness.
When I was travelling, I was asked if I felt home sick. A common question among backpackers I guess and I'm sure if I were travelling on my own it would be a different story but it occurred to me that I wasn't the least bit homesick. That's because, put simply (and prepare to gag) my husband is my home. Wherever we are I have all the comfort, support and love that I could need.  Missing the occasional home luxury? Yes. Marmite, in fact, most mornings. Whilst it's great keeping up with the folks at home via our mass WhatsApp group and FaceTime when wifi allows, my bottom lip doesn't wobble at the end of a call or my heart feel heavy at the thought of them. I'm more excited to head off and make some more memories so they can live vicariously through us. 

Sharing is caring (or more room for shoes) 
When travelling with a partner, the likelihood is you're going to be sharing a fair amount. Now I've already covered the too-much-information aspects and I'll avoid the lets-not-go-there, so here I'm talking technology. Cameras, iPads, GoPros...however you're choosing to capture your trip, the good news is it's half to carry. Like most men, I imagine, Mr A likes to take control of the technology stuff so whilst he hunts for plug sockets to recharge the umpteen batteries and stashes them in his daypack to carry around whichever city we're in that day, I get the good end of the deal: more room in my luggage for extra clothes and shoes!

Your Personal Photographer
Not everyone will be blogging on their journey but photography is such an important keepsake from all travel. Therefore prepare for become your wife's photographer and in my case, be grateful for your husband laying on a dusty floor, bare knees on the unforgiving concrete and patience in working out your best side. Make sure you capture each other living the trip and get pictures together. We have surprisingly few which aren't selfies and don't feature my double chin.

Bed Wars
Most couples have a side of the bed each, the side where your phone charger resides and bedside drawers consist of old receipts and hand cream (in my case). But when travelling, routine goes out the window and whether you prefer to sleep near the door/bathroom/window* (*delete as appropriate), flexibility is required. Plus prepare for thumb wars over the window seat on the night bus. 

Anyhow, the point really is that two weeks with your newly betrothed can be rather intense. Let's face it, we spend at least ten hours away from them at work, sleep for anywhere between 6-8 hours a night so that leaves a minimal portion of the day to being together. When you commit to six months of travelling, in each others pockets every living minute of every day, you'd think that would get a bit much. We managed to avoid an argument the entire trip although barbed comments were made thanks to tiredness, hangry-ness or heat of the moment. There were far more unsanitary moments when the 'in sickness and in health' clause was called upon.
I remember we met a girl in Iguassu Falls who was travelling alone but her boyfriend was flying out to meet her in various places along her route using his holiday allowance. She had asked how we were finding travelling as newlyweds as her friend had done a similar trip with her new husband, and returned to say: Would I do that again with my husband? No. Would I have done that if I'd known what it would be like? No. 

Guess it depends on the couple because I’d spend the rest of my days travelling with my man and a backpack (plus plenty of loo roll!!) 


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Weekend Reading List, Vol. 3

Last weekend I had the most gloriously relaxing weekend, starting each day with a lay-in reading until around 11am. That is the beauty of being totally in love with a book that you can't tear yourself away... and the husband even resorted to making coffee in the kitchen to coax me into starting the day! I hope this weekend, with its mix of city, country and sea air, will be equally as restorative. Here's a selection of articles I enjoyed over this past week...

Dolly Alderton has finally outgrown her self-consciousness about exercise
This embodies my entire relationship with exercise from being picked to run trial for Kent in the 100m sprint at school, to wearing a leotard in dance-class almost seven days a week as a teenager, to having a total phobia of spin classes and the weights section of a gym in my 20s. Having recently discovered the Couch to 5k app and signing up to a 10k, I'm finally trying to crack the idea that "I  can't can run".

Why Barre Workouts Are The Missing Link In Your Fitness Routine
On the subject of exercise... have you tried Barre? If you followed my New York adventures you'll know I became hooked on Physique 57's barre classes whilst I was living there and reading this reminds me how much it helped my mental health (and counteract the pizza!)

Why Aren't More Women Investing?
On the cusp of new decade, a welcome letter from my company's pension provider landing on my doormat and now this... it's all pointing to getting my financial act together and I'm sure there's pointers in here for you, too!

Robert Pattison Interview: The High Life Star Talks Dating and Privacy in Hollywood
One to read to feel grateful for having your freedom. There really is a price to pay for fame.

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Weekend Reading List, Vol. 2

The one consistent thing in my life right now (which definitely isn't regular blog posts) is reading. In fact, I've realised my last three blog posts have been all about this topic. But, I've recently been learning more about Ayurveda (an ancient Hindu system of healing holistically) and understanding the different ways in which I can bring balance into my life (the age-old work/life conundrum again), I've concluded that reading really is my self-care. So, here's five articles that have grabbed my attention this week which I think you'll enjoy reading. Whilst you're doing that, I'll be either be scrolling through If You Could Go Anywhere by Paige Toon on my Kindle or listening to the final chapters of Period Power by Maisie Hill on Audible. Hormones and a love story... balance, eh?

Hannah Rose-Lee // Meet Emerald Fennell, the brilliant woman making the new season of Killing Eve so great
Lock your doors and set your alarm for the return of Killing Eve this Saturday evening at 9pm BBC One. Having binged Series One in a day, I am very excited to see what Villanelle gets up to next! The writing reigns have been passed over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge (love her) to her friend, Emerald Fennell. The name I wasn't familiar with but the face I realised I was as the actress who played Nurse Patsy in Call The Midwife. If you missed her there, watch out for her portray of Camilla Parker Bowles in series 3 of The Crown our later this year.
Read online at Stylist.com

Hannah Rose-Lee for Stylist // Why are we people shaming Rose Leslie for living her life while Kit Harington is in rehab?
Read online at Stylist.com

Ellie Austin // The Interview: Priyanka Chopra on racism, her close friend Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and marrying Nick Jonas
Read online at TheTimes.com

How to have a good marriage: say yes to sex and split the housework
Read online at TheTimes.com

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Book Club for One

I've been largely off-grid owing to the fairly large life changes afoot: starting a new job and buying a new house. I don't recommend it. Why is it that these monumental shifts have been coming in twos recently? Get married + move country. New job + sell house. I keep wondering when a "quiet year" is around the corner. Bring on a fixed-term mortgage dictating we keep those moving boxes away! In a bid to not combust, have a breakdown or burst into tears in public, I've had to cut myself some slack on what I'm managing to do in a day. Taking on a new job is no easy feat, getting to know new names, new processes whilst simultaneously making that great first 90-day impression. Throw in some estate agents, solicitors and mortgage advisers and that's my capacity shot to pieces. Something had to give. Bye bye posting on Instagram. Adios scheduling posts. Adieu writing them too *sad face*. But one thing that is keeping me sane(ish) and entertained in my cherished down-time is my ready supply of reading material. One of my highlights of last weekend was browsing for over an hour in an Oxfam charity bookshop (Yes, I came away with 4 new additions to my bookshelf... not ideal for the impending packing up task to come I agree!) Everyday, without fail, I tune in to an Audible story, a Kindle page-turner and, on special occasions, actually pull out a hard-back (yup, Easter is deemed 'special occasion').

These are the five books I've finished most recently and, incidentally, recommend them all!

The Wrong Knickers - A Decade of Chaos
Bryony Gordon
If you loved Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love then this is for you! Written a few years earlier, London-based journalist Bryony Gordon manages to capture the grittiness of living in London fresh after uni with that inner party-girl instinct living off a tiny graduate salary with the encounters and stories worth dining out on! The name of the book is the situation Bryony finds herself in the opening chapters. A hilarious read that is scarily familiar but at the same time makes you appreciate not being that age anymore!

Bryony Gordon survived her adolescence by dreaming about the life she'd have in her twenties: the perfect job; the lovely flat; the amazing boyfriend. The reality was something of a shock. Here in the Sunday Times bestselling THE WRONG KNICKERS Bryony busts open the glamorised myth of what it means to be a young (perpetually) single girl about London town, and shares the horrible and hilarious truth. The truth about picking up a colleague at the STI clinic; sinking into debt to fund a varied diet of wine, crisps and vodka; and how it feels when your dream man turns out to be a one night stand who hands you someone else's knickers in the morning.
Hinch Yourself Happy - All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul
Sophie Hinchliffe 
What I'm about to say will be, to many, controversial: I hadn't heard of Mrs Hinch until the eve of my 30th birthday. However, if ever there's a time to get to know this cleaning guru, it's the milestone of "proper" adulthood. I must have been living under an Instagram algorithm rock! And I can confidently say that as when I started reading the her book she had 1.4m followers, by the time I finished it five days later she had 1.9m and now, at the time of writing, over 2.4m followers. Sophie Hinchliffe is literally wonder woman! 'Hinchers' - a fond term for her followers - have adopted her passion for cleaning, hoovered up her tips better than a Dyson and introduced 'freshnup Fridays'! I am now a resolute fan of her Insta stories and on the hunt for my very own Minky... you have to know to know!

Cleaning - aka hinching - doesn't have to be that job you dread, not when Mrs Hinch is here to show you her sparkly ways. She has taken the nation by storm with her infectiously addictive charm, clever tidying tips and passionate belief in cleaning. Mrs Hinch invites you into her home and while inside you'll discover how a spot of cleaning is the perfect way to cleanse the soul. She'll even share the story of Mr and Mrs Hinch and their 'dorgeous' boy, Henry.

Vinegar Girl - The Taming of The Shrew Retold
Anne Tyler
This recommendation is courtesy of Coco's Tea Party Book Club which I highly recommend signing up to for a monthly newsletter that will have your Amazon or Goodreads accounts getting a lot of action! I had totally forgotten the storyline of The Taming of The Shrew so I enjoyed this modern-day adaption.

Kate Battista is stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and infuriating younger sister Bunny? Dr Battista has other problems. His brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, his new scientific breakthrough will fall through… When Dr Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Will Kate be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to win her round?
Feminists Don't Wear Pink (And Other Lies)
Scarlett Curtis
This has been on my reading list for AGES and I'm so grateful for the Easter weekend to enable me to get stuck in. I call myself a feminist but the F-word does get a lot of bad press. This book is an incredible library of essays from inspirational women including Keira Knightly, Jameela Jamil, Bridget Jones (written by Helen Fielding), Lolly Adefope and so many more, which articulates what being a feminist means it its many guises (and yes, men can be feminists too... I'm married to one!)

This is the must-read book that every woman needs. We asked 52 women: what does the F word mean to you? The result is extraordinary.
"Brilliant, hysterical, truthful and real. These essays illuminate the path for our future female leaders." - Reese Witherspoon
Queenie
Candice Carty-Williams
Hot off the recommendation of the Queens themselves - Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes - this is an incredible story of a 26-year old British woman of Caribbean descent living in London as she battles mental health issues, relationship woes, race and gender discrimination. You'll find yourself wishing this book never ends whilst simultaneously rooting for Queenie as she braces herself through denial to self-destruction and out the other side.
Queenie Jenkins can't cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That's definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there's her boss who doesn't seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don't seem to listen (if it's not Jesus or water rates, they're not interested). She's trying to fit in two worlds that don't really understand her. It's no wonder she's struggling. She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

What's in your Kindle wishlist, bookshelf or Audible reading list? I might make this a monthly thing (if I don't make anymore drastic life decisions that is... what do you think?)
Photo by Aung Soe Min on Unsplash

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(My very own) Weekend Reading List, Vol. 1

A new spot of reading activity for me is away from the daily commute and one I have been savouring in the comfort of my own bed on a Saturday morning. I've recently discovered one of my favourite lifestyle bloggers - Coco's Tea Party - posts a Weekend Reading List every Friday and in the last month I've been heading there for some brilliant & interesting articles. I can easily lose an hour discovering new publications, journalists and points of view that otherwise in my day-to-day life I don't get the time to explore. Another great source of reading material is my absolute fave podcast, The High Low. Between these sources (and a few others), I wanted to share articles that have, in one way or another, made a lasting impression on me. I've shared each of these with at least one friend or family member, so they're collated here for your easy weekend scrolling...enjoy!

Dolly Alderton // We All End Up A Bit Like Our Mothers 
Read online at The Sunday Times Style

What Do You Do Outside Of Your 9-5?
Read online via LinkedIn

How Millennial Became Generation Burnout
Read online at BuzzFeed

Is An Obsession with Achievement Holding You Back?
Read online at The Sunday Times Style

The Tyranny of Hen Parties: 5 Traditions We Wish Would Disappear
Read online at Harper's Bazaar

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6 myths about living in New York

Is it all sipping Cosmos, eating cupcakes & running around in stilettos in the city that never sleeps?
City of Dreams. Big Apple. Concrete Jungle. The home of skyscrapers, yellow taxis and pizza slices. Credit to the silver screen for making me fall in love with this city before I'd even touched down on the tarmac at JFK. I grew up on an appetite of Friends and Sex and the City, dreaming of visiting New York and after my first bite of the Big Apple aged 18 thanks to my Fairy Godmother, I fell in love with the idea of living there too. Aged 28, that dream came true and I packed my husband, Manolos and rose-tinted spectacles to set-up our life in New York. A year to the day since I returned to London, I can still say it's one of the most magical cities in the world but the reality of living there is quite different to the HBO version. I'm here to dispel the myths and misconceptions of living in New York City. 


“So maybe it won’t look like you thought it would in high school, but it’s important to remember that love is possible. Anything is possible. This is New York.” - Carrie Bradshaw

1. You Speak The Same Language
It turns out Americans and Brits really don't speak the same language! Seriously. 

If, like me, you thought the main difference between American English and British English was a bunch of 's's and 'z's, I'm here to tell you that spellcheck won't help you navigate this cultural shift! I realised the seriousness of the issue when my new American boss began a glossary of my "Britishisms". Turns out, I'm more colloquial than I thought and became acutely aware of the bizarre habits I had picked up. For someone who doesn't even watch University Challenge, my saying 'starter for ten' confused the hell out of my Vice President! Turns out I couldn't turn over a new leaf either and my punishment was recording the New York office's voicemail message for being the "most British".


"That's another reason I love New York. Just like that, it can go from bad to cute." - Carrie Bradshaw

2. You can write a weekly column & afford to live in a New York apartment!

 "I've spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!" - Carrie Bradshaw

The entire island of Manhattan is, by London standards, like renting in Mayfair. And it's either that or hop across the river to Queens or New Jersey where you can pay the bargain, pinch-free, on-par-with-Islington prices! Unlike Carrie, I didn't have a bathroom with two doors or a walk-in wardrobe or even two dimes to rub together after I'd paid my rent every month! Yep, it's eye-wateringly expensive and 'rent-controlled apartments' are just like the Mary Jane shoes, an urban myth!  

While the cost of moving anywhere is high, New York has the same effect on prices as the word 'wedding': everyone just adds on a couple of zeroes! I bet you didn't know that literally everything stocked on the shelves in Manhattan has an 'Island Tax' added to the price tag which is effectively the cost of getting the produce over the bridge and onto the island!

"When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more." - Carrie Bradshaw

The biggest shock is the cost of everyday life and the fact that after six months, I was having dreams of walking into Tesco or Superdrug and almost trolley-dashing at the (by comparison) low pricesWhere is a dollar store when you need one? We swapped Sainsburys for Whole Foods because the only affordable food store in the whole of Manhattan, Trader Joes, only has three stores in the entire island and the savings would have been gobbled up by the taxi fare home (please don't suggest the subway home, you know they pack things in paper bags, right?). Plus, the queue for the checkout literally begins at the entrance and the best tactic is to shop from the queue as it weaves up and down every aisle! Certainly makes me appreciate Ocado, Hello Fresh and being closer to European-sourced food now! 

[Side note: I'm now Hello Fresh's biggest advocate and you can get £20 off your first box with code ROSEANDRY]

3. The City Never Sleeps
Well that's a lie. I can't tell you how many times I had been disappointed by the pizza shop closing at 10pm. What is this?! I lived down by the Financial District so the weekends were pretty quiet around there and the shops certainly didn't operate on a 24/7 policy. I know many other districts did though. Along with the thousands of bars and restaurants that are open 'til all hours, the average New York dinnertime was around 10pm and you could easily catch a movie at gone midnight. 

4. I'm staying in tonight to 'do laundry'
Carrie Bradshaw did more airing of dirty laundry in her column that actual laundry but many American films and sitcoms are guilty of glamorising this mundane chore. The reality is most apartments in New York aren't fitted with washers and dryers (aka. washing machines and tumble dryers to us Brits) so be prepared to either lose an entire evening (don't dare attempt this on a Sunday) riding the elevator to get your whites glistening or swap the "I'm washing my hair" excuse with the very real "I have to do laundry". Living on the 23rd floor and having to hoik your bags of dirty washing down 22 floors to use coin-operated washing machines feels (a) way behind the times and (b) completely unromantic compared to the John Hartnett version.

5. Bright Lights, Big City. 
Or not as the case may be. Unless you're in Times Square...in which case, prepare to be dazzled and watch out for retina damage. Though generally it's cooler to eye-roll at Times Square, avoid it like the plague and pity any visitor who suggest going there (then you're almost a bonafide New Yorker!). But the real point here is the bizarre observation that ceiling lights in New York apartments are few and far between (like chip & pin card machines or ATMs that don't charge you for withdrawals). Or was this just my apartment?? You can completely forget lighting in your bedroom, too! How weird, right? Having sold my last two bedside lamps three weeks before leaving the city, I was plunged into darkness from 6pm onwards every evening. Apparently the reason for this is to keep costs down for developers... if only the same could be said for the electric bill when you have lamps in every corner.

6. You'll holiday in the Hamptons. 
"One of the best things about living in a city like New York is leaving it. My friend, Patience and her husband invited me out to the Hamptons for the weekend. Patience and Peter were the perfect married couple. They were fun, smart, and they looked like they fell out of J. Crew catalog. If their house wasn't right on the beach, I would've hated them." - Carrie Bradshaw

The Americans may only get 10 days holiday a year (and they don't even take all of those!) but you are sure guaranteed a trip to the Hamptons. New York has a great summertime rule of closing the offices early on a Friday - aka. Summer Fridays - and the weekend away culture is a big thing. Prepare to network to find out who you know in your social circle with keys to a house in the Hamptons. The truth is, I didn't venture far enough afield to experience the Hamptons first-hand. I had a mixed bag of opinions from colleagues at to whether it was worth it; my conclusion is you need a 10-bedroom mansion on the beach to experience anything quite like the movies portray! So for now, the bubble hasn't burst on this New York dream of mine!

"After all, seasons change, so do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart, and if you're very lucky, a plane ride away." - Carrie Bradshaw

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The Truth About Laughter Yoga

When your mother tells you she’s becoming a Laughter Yoga Leader, that in itself may conjure a laugh. Or a raised eyebrow. Or a furrowed brow of confusion. What is a Laughter Leader?! It turns out, there’s a whole community that is turning to laughter to improve wellbeing, combat stress and get those endorphins flowing. I didn’t know until I was stood in my first ever laughter yoga class on a Saturday morning, that the brain can’t detect the difference between a “real” laugh and “fake” one. If I’m being honest, I have required fake laughing before now and recalled how incredibly exhausting I found it - perhaps this Laughter Yoga was going to feel more like a workout that I thought! Not surprising for an introvert that the notion of standing in a room full of strangers and being asked to do a series of exercises (most of which require eye contact and bellowing laughs) was my idea of hell. However, I’m all for trying things once...and I told myself, even if I didn't find the experience funny, the anecdotes would no doubt be worth the £10 to attend (cheapest ‘Yoga’ session in London I might add!)

Before I get into the detail, I'm aware there's a little myth-busting required so you all understand what exactly Laughter Yoga is... 

The first misconception about laughter yoga is you’re required to own exercise gear. Wrong. You can turn up in whatever you feel comfortable to move in, but you certainly don’t have to don Sweaty Betty’s latest collection to fit in here. This is a judgement free zone.

The second misconception is you’ll be going red-faced in downward dog with, God forbid, your arse is in air and asked to laugh. That’s enough to make my very clenched little bottom run in the opposite direction. But nope, it’s not yoga in the traditional sun-salutation sense, it’s yogic breathing that features here: in through the nose, belly expands, out through the mouth (with a ha ha haaaaaa on the outward breath).
The 90 minute session is comprised of 60 minutes of laughter exercises and 30 minutes of mindfulness and meditation. The warm-up starts with an exercise sharing names and getting familiar with making ha-ha and hee-hee sounds. Okay, easing me in gently. Then comes the science, which is pretty impressive:

FACT NO.1. Did you know between childhood and adulthood we “learn” to stop laughing. As children we don't have the filter to think about laughing, we just do it when something humours us! But something about growing up causes us adults to become more reserved, filter ourselves and, sadly, laugh less. Nothing funny about that. 

FACT NO.2. The brain cannot decipher the difference between real and fake laughter. Hence why you all need to hang out at your local Laughter Yoga session regularly to get your fix of giggles. It's so dull to say but day-to-day life, especially in a high intensity or isolated job, can mean laughs are not a-plenty. Time to meet like-minded people, have a laugh and feel great!

FACT NO.3. At any time, laughter can help release a D.O.S.E of these 'happy hormones' - Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin - which is basically kryptonite to those stress hormones. 

Then it comes to granting permission. You are asked to give yourself permission to laugh. Ah, right, there are my inhibitions being confronted. Yes I’m feeling awkward about the whole thing. Yes I’m slightly dreading it. But there we all are being asked to be equal and find the benefits of laughter together, without judgement. I would hazard a guess that everyone is feeling the same trepidation if they’re a first timer but you have to be in it to win it, I guess. In fact, as the session unfolds, you can feel the reservations melting away from all those around you get more used to the scenario before them and the laughter rises in volume.

A few examples of the exercises you’ll do are analogies for the trials and tribulations of modern life and so, incredibly easy to relate. All those thoughts from the working week whizzing around your head? Floss them away. All that worry and stress that’s in your pockets, empty them out. That never-ending to-do list burdening your shoulders, throw it away. The metaphors combined with breathing and laughter, giggling and chuckling has an addictive and enlightening effect. It also teaches us a much more significant lesson and that’s to use laughter therapeutically to keep balance in our life; next time you get stuck in a traffic jam, laugh at it to diffuse that adrenaline and nasty hormones flooding your body with stress. There’s a saying I often use when in a stressful work environment - If I don’t laugh I’ll cry - and it’s that, but done consciously. With Brexit upon us, there’s never been more need for us stiff upper lipped Brits to crack a smile, laugh at the political ridiculousness we’re in! Ho hoo ha ha haa!

The third misconception is people are laughing at you. Not true. There are times that hearing other people’s laughter helped me create more of my own, and sometimes the over-exuberant Laughter Leader cracked a joke but there’s certainly no laughter at someone else’s expense. I often did think throughout the session that if my husband could see me now, he certainly would be laughing AT me, but even I found vividly imagining that to my benefit when we were asked to free-laugh FOR FIVE MINUTES!!
Believe it or not, sixty minutes of laughter does feel like you’ve had a workout. Your core has been active, you’ve been moving/miming/walking around so by the time you get to lie down and meditate, I was basically asleep. The lasting feeling was certainly happy one. We were asked to share a word for how we were feeling at the end of the session: relaxed, energised (and relieved) were among them. The effects for some were so profound they felt compelled to share their delight at how they now felt; admitting their nerves at the beginning but that the laughter yoga served as a perfect antidote to bigger issues they were dealing with, such as depression and anxiety in their everyday life. When the results are that strong after one session, why aren't all of London doing this?? 

Valerie Letley - Laughter Leader & Life Coach - is celebrating International Women's Day with a session in East Sussex. Contact Valerie to find out more information about upcoming Laughter Yoga events.

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