Wednesday, 29 May 2013

My morning ritual

I wake up at 6:45 and steal a few precious moments snuggling with my guy before I get out of bed, drink a glass of water and throw on my running gear. I do a few warm up stretches before heading out for a 5k run around my neighbourhood and I switch my route up a lot so no two days are the same.

When I get home I shower, moisturise, style my hair and put on my make-up. I dress in the outfit I selected before I went to bed last night and go through to the kitchen to eat breakfast. Most days I'll have muesli and fruit but some days I'll go for eggs on toast. I always have a fresh fruit smoothie with plenty of green veg packed in.

I always make lunch the night before so I can save time in the morning. I head out the door at 8:15 so I can have a leisurely walk to work and be at my desk before 9.

Now would that really be so hard to achieve?

It would certainly be my ideal morning ritual but for many reasons I just cannot make it happen. For a start, my guy lives away so he's only here at weekends. I am not a person who can exercise in the morning, I have tried and it makes me want to throw up at the side of the road (6:45 is not so early that people don't witness this). 

I am extremely good friends with my snooze button so normally sleep for just a bit too long and therefore my true morning ritual is frequently hurried. I do use this snooze time to check the weather and decide what I'll wear. I check my emails, Twitter and message my guy to say good morning. I shower, dry shampoo my hair (coloured hair requires fewer washes), moisturise if I remember and apply my make-up in less than 3 minutes (years of practice).

I try to eat breakfast at home but if I'm short on time I'll eat some fruit on the way to work or some muesli once I'm at my desk. Our blender makes so much noise it would be frankly rude to make smoothies in the morning though I do always at least have a glass of water.

Historically I have sucked at taking home made lunches to work but I am improving. It happens about 4 days out of 5 and most of that is prepared the night before so that's one good thing.

I leave at 8:25 and have a brisk 35 minute walk to work so that I can be at my desk at 9. I suppose this technically counts as exercise but I do wish I was able to get up and feel able to be active as soon as I get out of bed.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bad advice and how to avoid it

I thought about titling this post 'The time I my Mum convinced me to get a perm' but then I realised it was 1998, it grew out quickly enough and I've blocked almost all traces of it from my memory.

It speaks volumes about the company I keep that I am sorely lacking in bad advice anecdotes. There is no time my friends told me it was a good idea to send my boss a Valentine's card, no 'lime green looks so good on you - buy that!' and no misguided investment suggestions.

I used to counsel young people and learnt a lot about what it truly means to be in the esteemed position of advice giver. When someone wants advice, what they usually need is someone to listen, someone to acknowledge their situation and their feelings about it, and to help them get to a place where they decide for themselves what the outcome should be.

To me, the worst advice is unsolicited, based on what another person would do in your situation and crammed full of clichés.

Unless someone asks you for your advice/recommendation/opinion, don't assume they want or need it. If you've got advice you want to give, ask some probing questions and see if your input will be appropriate.

Unless they ask 'What would you do?' don't get all 'Well if I was in your situation, which I'm not, but if I was, I would definitely quit my job/cancel the wedding/order the fish'. People handle situations differently, encourage them to think about how they'd feel about the possible outcomes. Which option will make them happiest, safest, most proud of themselves?

And please, I implore you, don't say the grass is always greener on the other side (possibly the most pointless comment of all time).

Having said all that, this didn't stop me from accosting a women in the book aisle in Tesco two days ago and telling her that she should definitely pick a copy of Gone Girl. So maybe not all unsolicited advice is bad. Unless she hates it, in which case I am the worst!

What's the worst piece of advice you've ever received?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Sunday, 26 May 2013

My fantasy dinner party guests are all strangers

I do love a dinner party, whether I'm hosting or attending. There are few things as rewarding as getting people together for food and drink and conversation. Bonus points if there are card games and take home baked goods.

Ask most people to name their fantasy dinner party guests and they'll have a well crafted list of heroes and idols, living and dead. Ask me, and I struggle to put even one person on that list. I feel rather nervous at the prospect of meeting celebrities, particularly people whose work I admire. I would no doubt bore them to tears with incessant fawning  and ask them inane questions they'd been asked a thousand times.

My ultimate dinner party is a mix of old friends and new. I love getting to know new people and find a dinner party facilitates that so much more easily than drinks in a bar. But what would a dinner party be like where I didn't know anyone? No preconceptions, no shared history, no need to impress. "Hi I'm Holly, do come in, let's eat!"

A few months ago I heard about a new movement in dinner parties called Six Dinners Later, which seemed like the perfect way to get to know some new people over food. Once you sign up you get added to a guest list and wait to receive an invite from a stranger. You accept, go to dinner and make five new friends. In return, you then host your own dinner party and invite the person whose dinner you went to previously. You pick another four guests from the list, get together at your place, eat, drink and become best friends forever (if the testimonials I've heard are anything to go by!) Your four additional guests then host their own dinner, inviting you and another four guests of their choosing. By the end of the process you'll have had six dinners and met 25 new people.

As you no doubt know, I am a big fan of food, and a huge champion of meeting people online so Six Dinners Later seems entirely my thing. I'm going to my first dinner in a few weeks and then hope to have mine a few weeks after that. Can't wait to tell you all about it!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A tune to rock your bank holiday weekend

I love a bit of Lionel Ritchie, this song is my favourite of his and the video doesn't disappoint. Man got moves!

This song always reminds me of a particular group of friends and the camping trips we take every year. Inevitably at some point in the evening this song will be played and we'll all have a wee sing-song and a shimmy.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Thursday, 23 May 2013

18 ways to pay a killer compliment

There is a phenomenon that I frequently observe, whereby two women cannot greet each other without exchanging a compliment. All good you might think. Except that those compliments are almost always based on looks. 

Recently I've had "your hair looks so vibrant" (just recoloured), "that lipstick really suits you" and "ooh I love your coat". At a whisky festival last weekend I spoke to a man who said 'Your outfit is really well put together and I love your colouring'. I'd had rather a lot of whisky and momentarily wondered exactly how he knew that I'm so good at colouring in and staying inside the lines. I'm still not entirely sure what he meant.

Now, of course, I am grateful for compliments and they are graciously received, but ones based on my looks make me feel like shouting "HEY! SEE ME! I am more than my hair and my lipstick and this coat!" What's more is that these compliments always seek out the new, the material, the exciting and if it's a normal day, I need my roots done, there's no make-up on my face and that gorgeous coat is nowhere to be seen, there is nary a compliment to be found.

There is a wonderful scene in The Help where Aibileen tells Mae "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

It's this time of compliment that stays with you. The positive affirmations, the recognition that you are something, you make a difference. I have a fabulous colleague who often excitedly declares "It's Holly Smith!!" when I walk into a room. It's not even really a compliment but it makes me feel like "YEAH! HOT DAMN I AM HOLLY SMITH AND I HAVE GOT THIS!"

So with that in mind, here are some compliments I'd love to see paid more often:
  1. You are so smart, wise, insightful, interesting (any quality you admire)
  2. You handled that perfectly
  3. You are right (because everyone likes being told they are right, and it means so much more if it means admitting you're wrong)
  4. I learn so much from you
  5. Your presence/feedback/blog post had a powerful impact on me
  6. You make me belly-laugh
  7. You're doing a great job
  8. Being around you makes me feel positive/energised/excited
  9. I love the way you carry yourself
  10. I am convinced you can do anything
  11. Life is never boring when you're around
  12. I aspire to be more like you
  13. You ooze confidence
  14. I value you
  15. Your team is one I will always be on
  16. I believe in you
  17. I'm so happy I met you
  18. My life is better with you in it
Next time you stop to tell someone you like their shoes or their bag or their nail-varnish, give them a bit more. See them for who they really are and tell them what that means to you. I promise they'll never forget it and the world will be a better place.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

13 year old me looks ridiculous

I was 13 in 1998. 

I looked like this:

Actually, I think I might be 15 in that photo. In which case at 13 I looked like this:

I hadn't yet started to dye my hair so these are probably the last au natural photos in existence.

I LOVED that Kickers jumper and wore those hideous camouflage stretchy trousers (which hung from my skinny frame) far more that I like to admit. I believe that in this photo I was wheeling around on my little sister's trike waiting for my nailvarnish to dry. No I don't understand my motivations either. Nice scowl, huh?

I loved Joshua Jackson and Leo DiCaprio but hated boys at school who just did not understand me AT. ALL.

I mainly listened to Now That's What I Call Music... compilations on tape but I was just starting to buy CDs. 

My favourite shows were Dawson's Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I was quite moody and argued with my sisters a lot but had good friends. My response to every request for help around the house was "IN A MINUTE!"

In school I liked English, Drama and French. I really enjoyed Woodwork and Metalwork but ditched these for Textiles in year 9.

I read a lot but don't recall what other than Judy Blume, Point Horror books and magazines with quizzes in them.

I hadn't kissed a boy yet but hoped I'd meet one like Wolf from Tiger Eyes (not Wolf from Gladiators).

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In a school careers test I came out high for cable installation technician. Didn't quite feel like my calling.

I hated my ears because they stuck out for miles and dreaded P.E. or any occasion where I'd have to tie my hair up. Luckily I grew into 'em.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Does a 'dream job' truly exist?

When I was five I decided I wanted to be a vet and my Mum told me that I’d have to put my arm up a cow’s bum.

So when I was five-and-a-half I decided I wanted to be a nurse and my Mum told me that I’d have to clean up blood and sick.

So by the time I was six I decided I wanted to be a waitress. On reflection, I think I just enjoyed going out for food and wanted to be a permanent part of that process.

Twenty-something years later I have never been a waitress, although I did serve popcorn in a cinema for several years. And then picked it up again off the floor roughly the length of a feature-film later.

I digress. I struggle a bit with the concept of a ‘dream job’ because, despite my childhood proclamations, I've never really had my heart set on any one role. I have lots of varied interests and skills, am curious about the world and all the things I don't know about it. I'd rather be adaptable and adept at many things than choose one particular career. So how can I possibly know that what I like doing now will be what I like doing in 5, 10, 50 years time?

For me, I think are a ‘dream job’ is one that has the following features:
  • Enables me to make a difference in the lives of others
  • Provides plenty of opportunity to grow, develop, get involved in new things
  • Has no strict hierarchy. (No matter my place in the company, I want to be able to share my knowledge, insight and experience with anyone and have it taken seriously.)
  • Doesn't always feel like a job. There's got to be moments where you think "I can't believe I get paid to do this!"

Writing this made me feel great because these are all features of my current organisation! I do think it's important to reflect and review though. What a person studied and trained for might not turn out to be their life's calling after all, and that's OK to admit.

What are the features of your dream job?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Monday, 20 May 2013

Newflash! I'm off to Australia

Whilst it's not exactly a huge announcement, I haven't spoken much online about my trip to Australia later this year. For a long time it seemed so far away and now it's only six months away!

Our plan is to spend a day in Melbourne (very short, but sadly all we could accommodate) before driving along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. We've planned 4 days for the trip and once we arrive in Adelaide we'll fly to Perth to spend 9 days with my sister and her fiancé.

I like to do lots of planning and research before a trip so I can be sure to get the most out of it, see all the must-see sights and eat the best local food. We've never taken a trip this far before and absolutely want to make the most of it so I would love recommendations from any of you who have been. I'm particularly keen to hear about things to see along the Great Ocean Road and places where we could do a bungee jump or skydiving.

Also food. Always tell me about the food. Over to you!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Sunday, 19 May 2013

My favourite tradition: avocados and eggs for breakfast

My guy lives a couple of hours away on the south coast so we can only see each other at weekends. That time is really precious to us so we try to make the most of it and get lots done, see lots of people and eat good food.

One of our favourite things about weekends is breakfast. We didn't set out to make it a tradition but almost every weekend we're together we eat the same thing; toasted seeded loaf topped with mashed avocados, sprinkled with lemon juice and sea salt flakes with scrambled or poached eggs on the side. My guy likes a healthy dollop of sweet chili sauce with his too.

I don't appear to have any photos of this wonderful breakfast. Evidently it is scoffed before the thought would even occur to me. Fortunately I have a wonderful local fruit and veg manny where I can buy 5 or 6 avocados for £1. This is one of the easiest and tastiest breakfasts ever and much healthier than a fry up - give it a go sometime!

Do you have any breakfast traditions?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Best friends - do we need them?

As I've grown older I've become more and more convinced that 'best friends' are a thing of the past. Growing up I had several friends but definitely one very best friend.

When my parents announced we were moving from Hampshire to Scotland I was 15 and bereft. My friends had been my friends almost my entire life and I didn't know how I would cope without them. As I expected, making friends in a new school, in a new country, aged 15 was really tough. I remember my Dad telling me that moving would be great because I'd end up with friends all over the country, and possibly even the world. I didn't buy it.

But he is a wise man and, naturally, he was right. Although I didn't make friends at my new school (hated it and left after six months), I have gone on to make lots of new friends, in lots of new cities, in various ways. Which is why I no longer really believe in 'best friends'. In college, most of my friends were guys I met through the local music scene. I found it really hard to make female friends and so in my early twenties I worked hard to get better at doing that. Some of my greatest friends are the girls I used to work with in Aberdeen, all a few years older than me and wonderful role models.

Through Twitter I grew the confidence to meet strangers and in turn that made me feel like I could handle a move to Glasgow. And so I did! That paid off massively, I joined a book club and though we are now fairly disparate (London, Manchester, Melbourne), the friendship of those people still means a lot to me and we stay in regular contact. Those women are so smart and funny and I learnt so much from them about how to be myself.

And now that I'm in London I'm making new friends all the time. Through work, through my guy, through Twitter and then in real life. My sector is full of lovely people who can't get enough of meeting up and I recently joined a book club in London which is attended by some of the most exciting people I've ever encountered.

And while I wouldn't call any of these people my 'best friend', I know there are many people I could call right now if I needed advice, a moan, a cry, a quick coffee or a long lunch. Indeed just two weeks ago I met some book club girls for cocktails and straight-up demanded a pep-talk. And you know what, these women who I'd met just a handful of times did not disappoint! I left feeling smart and strong and capable of anything.

With multiple friends like that, I don't know why anyone would single out a 'best' one because, to me, all my friends are great and when I see them, they're the absolute best people in the world right then.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Friday, 17 May 2013

My walk to work

I live fairly centrally in London and am lucky enough to be able to walk to work. This is a huge bonus for me because I save about £100 a month by not having a travel card and I don't have to deal with being on a packed tube every morning.

My walk is about 2.4 miles and takes me about 35 minutes. Some people in London just wouldn't walk that, and indeed I see plenty folks getting on a bus only to get off a few stops later, their journey no quicker than mine. I walk briskly and on my journey I listen to podcasts, so that by the time I'm at my desk I've had a good bit of exercise for my body and my brain.

I'm very lucky that I get to pass some of the most impressive parts of London along the way.

The Shard

I moved to London before the Shard was completed and thus had to walk through a building site almost every day. It's been great to see it finished although there is still a lot of construction on in the area including Guy's Hospital which you can see reflected in the Shard in this image above.

The Shard

I walk through London Bridge Station along with hundreds of others who have commuted in from the South and are making their journey into the city. I'm a fast walker so I duck in and out of people but usually try to keep to one side so I can make my own pace. Sometimes I find walking amongst this crowd a bit depressing. Everyone is dressed in black or grey, most people look miserable. On Fridays they all drag wheelie cases because they clearly can't wait to get out of the city the moment 5pm hits (I personally love London at the weekend). Often I am the only flash of colour I can see on the bridge, my yellow trench or red pea jacket stand out a mile. Occasionally a film crew pitches up on the bridge making it harder for everyone to get through. I've lost count of how many productions my face must appear in.

London Bridge

As I walk over London Bridge every day I see this view of Tower Bridge and it still amazes me even 18 months after moving here. I've seen this view in all weathers and lights and it's incredible how different it can look. In winter the HMS Belfast (seen in front of the bridge) is often lit up with coloured lights and I can always see the flashing light of One Canada Square in the distance (the pyramid topped skyscraper to the left).

Sometimes I find my route incredibly exasperating, particularly due to being pushed free newspapers and magazines by various people all along the way. On most days I pass 10-12 but I've seen it be as many as 17 along the entire route. Often religious preachers make London Bridge their stage and, despite my headphones, it can feel really aggressive to have someone yelling at you that you need to be saved before you've even eaten breakfast.

Closer to work is Spitalfields market, a place that I loved to visit as a tourist before I moved to London. Even though it's nestled in between some of London's tallest buildings, the trees make it feel like a much more relaxing space so by the time I get to my building any frustration from the walk is long gone.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Just a quick one today. I'm writing this from a hotel room in Blackpool where I am for a work conference.

When I travel I tend to spend as little on accommodation as possible without putting my health or safety at risk. So a stay in a reasonably upmarket hotel is quite a treat.

My hotel in question has a pool, sauna and steam room so I was really looking forward to getting up this morning and having a spot of pampering before workshops. However, two days ago I became very suddenly and violently sick at work and spend the best part of 9 hours cowering in bathrooms. Hideous.

Fortunately it seemed to be gone by the next morning and I made it to conference without incident but my body feels tender and weak and in no fit state to go swimming, sauna-ing or steam room-ing.

I'm not much of a pamperer and don't shell out on beauty treatments. I can give myself a good mani/pedicure but I do like the occasional massage. Writing this has reminded me that I haven't had one since I moved to London so I think I'll look for somewhere to book soon. If you know a good place, let me know!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Life's a lesson

Last week I came across a wonderful piece written by a man who turned 30 and wanted to share 30 life lessons with his younger self. I couldn't share with you any life lessons that would top it so please go take a look at his post on Bookmark it, share it, read it repeatedly and live it.

Here are 3 of my favourites, but seriously, go read the whole thing.

People should hear nice things about themselves. Do not assume that everyone does. Give more honest compliments.

Unless you have finished writing a book, it’s probably best not to tell anyone that you are writing a book.

Placing a ripe, soft avocado in a refrigerator will extend its life by two days, give or take.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Three foods I can't get enough of

Today's theme for Blog Every Day In May is Food Glorious Food. This is probably the hardest thing for me to write about because I love all kinds of food, cooking, eating at home, eating out, food blogs, cookery shows and culinary writing. It's hard for me to know where to start so I'm going to share three things I've loved eating in the past 12 months.

I'm not really a fan of burgers so the fact that this London restaurant is now one of my favourites is really saying something. They have a few locations across town and there's almost always a queue but it's worth the wait. Their burgers are about £7-8 and a bowl of fries is big enough to share. Have the deep fried pickles with blue cheese dressing and don't plan on doing much afterwards except rolling home. They also have a horribly named cocktail called The Time of the Month which (if memory serves me correctly) is gin, red wine and strawberry juice. GET THIS DRINK, it is lush!

My guy found this recipe for individual cupcake style brownies and, honestly, I'm not sure I could ever go back to a tray bake. The addition of a ganache, drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of maldon sea salt flakes makes this one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. Make them for friends and serve warm with cornish icecream (but be sure to keep a few back for yourself after your guests have left). 


As a kid I hated mussels and only started to really like them a few years ago. Last summer my guy and I went to the Mussel Inn while we were at the Edinburgh Fringe and shared a kilo with fresh bread and fries. Now we make them at home every couple of months and it's always a treat but really inexpensive, a kilo is about a fiver from a local fishmonger. We often do half moules marinière and half Thai Style served with fresh crusty bread and a bottle of white wine. Feels really fancy, actually very easy - those are the best kinds of meals!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Monday, 13 May 2013

A book and a film to help you go green

If you're anything like me you like to shop locally, recycle where possible and try to buy environmentally friendly products but you probably also feel like you could be doing more. Too often convenience and cost (in my case, the lower the better) win out over the greenest option so I wanted to share a book and a film that changed my thinking and my behaviour.

A Life Stripped Bare - Leo Hickman

A Life Stripped Bare - Leo Hickman

I read this a few years ago but a lot of it has stuck with me. It follows Leo Hickman's attempt to live a normal life but make all of his decisions ethical ones. He does an 'ethical audit' on all areas of his life including food, home and travel and looks for ways to live and shop smarter. It's a great book for anyone who wants to live more greenly by making simple changes and very funny too. I read this in a couple of days.

No Impact Man

This documentary follows Colin Beavan and his family who attempt to spend a year living their life with no environmental impact. They live in Manhattan so naturally it's a rocky year and some of the lengths they go to are fairly extreme. It's a great reminder that the lifestyle choices we make aren't always the best for our planet and left me thinking for a long time afterwards. Worth watching even if you're not interested in the environmental aspect solely for the fascinating insight into the way Colin and his partner Michelle handle the challenges the year presents them with.

Do you have any tips for living a greener life?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Simple ways to stop hoarding

Today the theme for Blog Every Day in May is collecting. Throughout my teens, whenever I bought new clothes my Mum would always say "Oh I used to have something just like that!" and I'd think "WHAAAAT?! Why did you get rid of it?! That would be vintage now and I wouldn't have just bought this thing instead!!!" And so it began... 

I believed that things should never be thrown away because they would always come in useful at some point. Convinced I should keep clothes I now hated because "fashion always repeats itself" and I'd be able to give things to my someday-kids. I hate waste (still do) and so for years I'd hang on to ill-fitting clothes, books I'd read but would never read again and insane amounts of what could only be described as household tat.

When I started my year without shopping my tendency to hoard only grew stronger. I knew I wouldn't be able to buy things for a year so I became convinced that I needed absolutely everything I owned. I wanted to save money but also find ways to make extra money so I decided to do a carboot sale with my sister. It wasn't hard to find things I didn't mind getting rid of. The (one and only) carboot sale we ran was actually a bit crap. I made £32 but lots of my stuff hadn't sold. I couldn't bear the thought of taking it all home again so we drove to a charity shop and dropped it all off there. I felt great!

From then on everywhere I looked in my home I just saw stuff. The meaning and value of money was becoming clearer to me every day. I'd spent years frittering it away, accumulating things that didn't really make me happier and now suddenly they felt like a burden. And so I sold all the books I'd read and CDs I never listened to on Amazon (I didn't even own a CD player at this point) and made about £500. I eBayed various random items, took clothes to the recycling bank and donated more stuff to charity shops.

Getting rid of things became my new hobby and the more of it I did the more I loved it. Some weekends my sister and I would make a game out of it. LET'S SEE IF WE CAN GET RID OF 100 THINGS we'd say before skipping through the house gleefully pulling tired dresses from the wardrobe and embarrassing DVDs from our bookcase (D.O.A. anyone? Certainly not mine!) Did we really need 25 mugs? 50 pieces of Tupperware? I had one bed but 13 duvet covers! 

Our home became cleaner and tidying took less time. We didn't realise it then but within a couple of years my sister and I would both move away to London and all our decluttering made that process much easier. When I moved I was able to transport ALL OF MY THINGS in one van. Sure, we drove for 8 hours with my sewing machine on my lap, but knowing that was possible felt incredibly freeing.

4 years since the stopping shopping challenge ended I still hate having lots of things and try to have two big clearouts a year. I give books away when I've read them and I'm careful about the new things that I bring into my home. Here are some of my favourite ways to stop hoarding.

Is it beautiful, is it useful?
When you buy anything new ask yourself these two questions. Do you absolutely love it? Does it serve purpose? If you answer yes to either of these then go for it. If both then it's even better!

Have I used/worn this in the past 12 months?
Can you think of a reason you'll use/wear it in the next 12 months? If not, get rid.

Can I make three outfits from this?
When you buy new clothes take a moment to picture three different outfits you can create with it. If I'm struggling then I know it won't get worn often and it stays in the shop.

Hang items in reverse
Go through your wardrobe and move all the hangers to hang from the rear. When you wear, wash and put something away again, hang it from the front. In 6 months you'll have a good picture of what you don't wear often.

Give things away
Trust me, you'll get a lot more pleasure from passing something on to someone who will love it than from keeping it in a cupboard. Take a box of books to work and watch your colleagues faces light up. Give old magazines to your local GP and toiletries and make up to an organisation like Give and Make Up.

Decide what is always a good investment
For me that is board games, cosy throws and winter coats. Think about which purchases you consistently value. Remember these can change. I used to love cookbooks but now almost every new recipe I try is found online.

Question your sentimentality
Why are you really holding onto things? If some of that stuff gives you negative feelings or bad memories, chuck it and move on with your life.

Review anything in storage
Got stuff that you still haven't unpacked from when you moved 3 years ago? What's shoved away under your bed? Chances are you don't need it. If you're paying for storage make it a priority to get rid of it!

Ooh this has got me all fired up for a mini-clearout now. What are your favourite ways to avoid collecting and hoarding?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Three books I've recently loved

I've always been a big reader but in the past couple of years I've barely managed to finish anything I pick up. My attention span seemed to wane quickly or I'd spent the evening reading articles online rather than going to bed early with a book (a favourite activity of mine).

When I lived in Glasgow I had a great book club and though I wasn't reading lots, I was at least managing one book a month. In February this year I joined another book club in London and since then all I've wanted to do is sneak away a billion times a day and read a few more pages. This pleases me greatly! Here are three books I've recently loved and highly recommend.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

From Amazon: 'What are you thinking, Amy?' The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: 'What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?' Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war...

A genuine page-turner, I finished this book in two days and everyone I've spoken to has agreed it was a brilliant thriller. I love a mystery and the best thing about this book was how wildly my opinions of all the characters changed as it progressed. Definitely worth picking up! 

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

From Amazon: Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summers at Tiger House, the glorious old family estate on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As World War II ends they are on the cusp of adulthood, the world seeming to offer itself up to them. Helena is leaving for Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is to be reunited with her young husband Hughes, due to return from London and the war. Everything is about to change. Neither quite finds the life she had imagined, and as the years pass, the trips to Tiger House take on a new complexity. Then, on the brink of the 1960s, Nick’s daughter Daisy and Helena’s son Ed make a sinister discovery. It plunges the island’s bright heat into private shadow and sends a depth-charge to the heart of the family. Summer seemed to arrive at that moment, with its mysterious mixture of salt, cold flesh and fuel. Magnificently told from five perspectives, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut: a simmering novel of passion, betrayal and secret violence beneath a polished and fragile facade.

This was an easy read and I loved how effortlessly the writing conjured up a feeling of Massachusetts in the 60's, I could almost taste the air the characters were wrestling with. I loved the way the story progressed with each person's story revealing new insight and I was fascinated by how Nick and Helena's friendship developed. It made me want to sit on a doorstep drinking gin from a jam jar. No bad thing! 

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

From Amazon: Seymour isn't cool, but he isn't a geek either. He's a lonely, obedient 8th grade loser at Glendale, a second tier prep school in Manhattan. His chubbiness has recently earned him the nick name "Chunk Style" and he has resigned himself to a life of isolation. All of this is about to change.After successfully getting himself expelled from every reputable school in the country, Elliot Allagash, the arrogant heir of America's largest fortune, finds himself marooned at Glendale. Try as he may, Elliot cannot get expelled this time; his father has donated too much money. Bitter and bored, Elliot decides to amuse himself by taking up a new hobby: transforming Seymour into the most popular student in school.An unlikely friendship develops between these two loners as Elliot introduces Seymour to new concepts, like power, sabotage and vengeance. With Elliot as his diabolical guide, Seymour gradually learns about all of the incredible things that money can buy, and the one or two things that it can't. Hilarious, ingenious and tightly plotted, Elliot Allagash reminds you what your teens were like, and why growing up is so hard to do.

We read this for Book Club in March and (almost) universally loved it. The front cover doesn't do the book justice but Simon Rich is one of my favourite writers around at the moment, having loved several pieces he's had published in The New Yorker. This is young adult fiction but it's incredibly smart, funny and sensitive. The book has been optioned for a movie so I eagerly await more news on that one. 


This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Friday, 10 May 2013

Travel Dreams: Our Swedish Kayaking Adventure

I haven't always had the means to travel and most of my big holidays have happened in the last couple of years. In the next 12 or so months I've booked trips to West Coast Scotland (my happy place), Australia, Les Gets and somewhere in Spain for a week long wedding celebration. I've definitely caught the travel bug!

I was lucky enough to fulfil one of my travel dreams last summer when my guy and I went kayaking in Sweden. For five days. All alone. Just us. And a boat full of stuff. It was AMAZING.

We flew to Sweden and spent a night in Stockholm where we explored a lot of the city centre, ate at a great Cajun place, slept on a boat hotel and got confused by it being light all the time (we went over midsummer for my birthday).

The Red Boat Hotel, Stockholm

The next day we travelled south to the St Anna archipelago where we were given a kayak, a tent and all the things we'd need then sent off out to sea for five days. We'd ordered all our food for the week which was there on arrival.

Internet, no word of a lie, this was the most incredible trip I've ever been on. The St Anna archipelago is made up of thousands of islands and you can camp wherever takes your fancy. You are literally the captain of your own ship (on reflection I wish I'd taken a Breton cap) and free to paddle off in whichever direction feels good in your gut (a quick navigation lesson beforehand didn't hurt). 

During the day we paddled for a few hours, stopped for lunch on a bank somewhere then paddled off again to find a good spot for the night. The front person navigated while the back person took control of the rudder and steered. Sometimes we paddled in silence just soaking up the surroundings, other times we talked about our childhoods or other trips we wanted to make. We talked about Lost A LOT and how sad we both were that it ended so badly. We climbed a hill and found a geocache which hadn't been found all year (PRIDE).

At night we quickly fell into a routine, I'd set up the tent and all our things and my guy would collect wood and built a fire pit. We made amazing dinners around the campfire and went to bed well-fed every night. One night we made pudding from dough that we wrapped around a stick and cooked over the flames. We were never bored and life moved at a deliciously slow pace (upon our return to London I'd forgotten how to walk in crowds). We had no internet but did make a video diary. We listened to old Adam and Joe podcasts and giggled away in our sleeping bags. This was our first holiday together as a couple and we were just so damn happy and content (still are, hasn't gone downhill since then!)

On our first night we accidentally camped near some wild sheep who were rather inquisitive about us and lurked around all night - not so great when you have to wee in a bush and are worried that a ram is going to come along and, quite literally, ram you over. Yes internet, I wee'd in a bush, this is the wilderness we're talking about. I also learned that there's no subtle way to disappear into the woods with a spade. ROMANCE.

On the last night we camped on an island so tiny that you could walk around it in less than ten minutes. There was a wild storm and I had to fashion extra guy-ropes out of string to keep us safe. We barely slept and both worried our kayak would float away (it didn't) but it was such an adventure. I don't think I've ever felt so powerful and confident and capable. We made a great team and were really proud of ourselves, and I still am actually.

We booked this trip with Do The North who we'd highly recommend and we're definitely planning to go back again. Go with your lover or your friends or your parents, just GO! I love to talk about this trip so if anyone has questions just ask.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Thursday, 9 May 2013

5 Ways To Be Happier On Twitter

The theme for today's Blog Every Day in May post is Favourite Social Media Channel and without a doubt mine is Twitter. You can follow me at @hollyjunesmith.

I've been on Twitter for over 4 years now and it literally (correct usage) has changed my life. It has brought me love, copious incredible friends and lots of opportunities. It has helped me gain insight into my industry and meet a huge network of people doing wonderful work for charities. It has found me two fantastic book clubs (at different times, there's no book club cheating going on here!) It has informed me of events, restaurants, gigs, markets, book launches and comedy nights. It has made me smarter and more insightful, I'm reading a broader variety of articles than ever before.

It has made me confident. Twitter gave me somewhere to say what I really think and a tribe of people to nod and go 'yep, me too!' It gave me the courage to move cities, twice, because I knew I'd make friends through Twitter. It has my back.

And yet at times Twitter can be the absolute worst place in the world. Sometimes days go by and I feel negative every time I look at my feed. On big news days (like when Thatcher died), the noise becomes so overwhelming that I log off for a few days and don't even miss it. Sometimes it all feels a bit pointless but I've been through enough of these phases now to know how to deal with it. If you've fallen out of love with Twitter, here are some ways to get the magic back.

Have a mass unfollow session
Head to your following page, scroll through and unfollow any accounts you can't remember following, any you always scroll past without reading and any that regularly make you angry/upset/jealous/irritated etc. You don't need that negativity in your life. Unfollowing can be tough, but don't feel guilty, doing it in bulk definitely takes the pain away. Remember you can always re-follow (but you probably won't).

Follow several new people
Your oldest friends on Twitter are probably some of the greatest people you know, but it's nice to have new ones to follow too. When I first joined I'd search for bands/films/books I liked and follow whoever else talked about them but with so many members it's much harder now to find the diamonds in the shite. A good way to find new people to follow is to look at the accounts your favourite people regularly talk to and follow them too. This is Twitter, that's totally normal and acceptable.

Quit lurking
Are there people who you really enjoy following but never actually talk to? Say something! If I want to feel more engaged with Twitter I try to reply to two people a day who I normally don't speak to.

Get a client with a mute function
I use Twicca but there are plenty third-party Twitter apps with this feature now. It's extremely handy for muting tweets about TV shows I don't watch, football chat and even people who I like to follow but who temporarily are talking about something irrelevant to me (conferences etc).

Check yo'self before you wreck yo'self (or, a little self-assessment never hurts)
Are there online behaviours that you really loathe? The constant complainer, the brand that is SUPER FRIENDLY GUYS, the mate who posts 50 baby photos a day, the oversharer, the one who dictates how we should think/feel/act, the frequent #ff-er (HOW is this still a thing?) and the bossy one who tells you how to 'do' Twitter (IRONY ALERT). If there's a type of behaviour that you hate, best make damn sure you don't do it yourself. Glass houses and all that!

I want Twitter to be a place that makes me happier, smarter, funnier and more inspired. If you want that too, do yourself a favour, follow these steps and watch the negativity just disappear.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Looking Back (not so fondly) on my First Job

As a teenager I racked up plenty hours babysitting for local kids but my first real, actual, on-the-payroll job was in a shoe shop. Heaven for girl of 16 years and 3 months right? NOPE, think again.

This shoe shop wasn't Kurt Geiger or Schuh or even the footwear department in Topshop. Oh no, this was one of those crappy stores where are the shoes are on the shelves in their pairs already and if they're not on a shelve they're hanging on a rack or stuffed in a bucket near the door. Nothing cost more than £15.99 (knee high boots) and our bestseller was crushed velvet slippers, literally flying off the shelves with the over 80s crowd.

Shoplifting was rife. Sometimes people would steal shoes but leave their old rancid pair on the shelves for us to dispose of. Sometimes they'd replace our shoes with shoes from another crappy store leaving a trail of unsellable goods across the city like some weird shoplifting version of Hansel and Gretel.

One time a drunk man wondered in and shouted at me to get on the counter and dance for him. At the time I thought this was hilarious but looking back I'm all, EWW GUY!

Internet, I saw a lot of disgusting feet.

I stayed for 8 months until shift where head office called in the middle of the day and told us to close the shutters and pack up all our stock. We were told we weren't going to get paid for that day so I just walked out. I do wish I'd stayed to help. Everyone lost their job that day, it wasn't just about me.

I worked 2-3 days a week around college and earned £3.33 an hour. At the time that felt like loads but I've just looked up minimum wage for under 18s in 2013 and am sad to see that in 12 years it's increased to just £3.72 and is even lower for apprentices. I don't really do regrets but reflecting back, I do wish I'd started saving some of my earnings from that age. I've always worked from that day on but didn't put a penny into a savings account for another 5 years.

What was your first job?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


We've always had animals in the Smith household. My first word was 'Sybil', our cats name, and throughout my childhood we had a rabbit, a guinea pig, several hamsters, some mice, budgies, stick insects and LOTS of fish (Romeo and Juliet were my first two goldfish. I think they died after a pancake accidentally ended up in the tank).

When I was about 11 Andy joined our family. He was a beautiful Whippet who we rescued after he'd been abandoned as a puppy. After we moved to Scotland a few years later we acquired several horses, multiple cats and two Border Collies, Chloe and Millie.

Oh, I should probably mention at this point that we seem to have an unspoken family tradition that all our pets have people names. Daniel, Megan, Charlotte, Sybil, Phoebe, Morag, Roslin, Fiona, Tabitha, Margot, Alby, Billy-bob... the list goes on and on. I'm not really sure how that became a thing but I suppose it goes to show how seriously my family take animal ownership.

As I mentioned a few days ago, three of our Highland Cows are pregnant and the family has now grown as April was born last week and Ruby was born on Saturday. Here she is just one day old and we've still got one more calf to come! EXCITING!

Ruby the Highland Cow

And yet, despite a lifetime of family pets, I've sort of come to the conclusion that actually, they're not really for me. You see, I'm allergic to cats and most other furry animals too (much to the dismay of my cat-adoring guy). As gorgeous as they are to look at, any time spent in their company is swiftly followed by frantic hand-washing and a fit of sneezes. I loathed cleaning hamster cages out when I was little and worse still was picking up dog shit in front of boys in the local park as a teenager! I'd hate to have to spent my money on exotic pet foods or keep dead mice in the freezer, as we did when my sister brought a snake home. I feel lucky that when I go away I don't have to think about whether I can take a dog or having to get home for a particular time to feed anything (other than myself).

Owning pets takes a special kind of person. Maybe that will change but right now I know I'm not one of them.

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bank Holiday fun

I am almost 28 and for the first time in my working life I get bank holidays off and LORD DOES IT FEEL GOOD!

For years I worked in customer services jobs where bank holidays were prime consumer time and I always worked through them. Although I did occasionally get time and a half, I always just really wanted to be outside having a day off.

I do feel that we have been a bit swizzed on bank hols this year. Last year we got an extra day for the Queen's Jubilee, the year before an extra day for the Royal Wedding but this year it's just standard. According to Wikipedia, before 1834 we got 33 bank holidays which I would be totally on board with bring back!

I'm not complaining though. Bank holidays mean a rare long weekend with my guy, lots of lazing about, eating and drinking and hopefully a bit of sunshine too.

I do always seem to forget however, that it doesn't mean less work, simply that you have to fit five days into four upon your return. I think I'll push that thought away until tomorrow...

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Fit and healthy

I've never been a person who has to watch what I eat or actively try to diet but as I get nearer 30 I have noticed I feel sluggish more often, my posture isn't great and I just know I can feel better. When I lived in Aberdeen I walked 3 miles to work and 3 miles home every day. I worked in a ski centre so I was on my feet and moving around a lot.

In London I still walk to and from work and almost everywhere that takes less than 45 minutes to get to. Except now I work at a desk so I sit down all day and within a year of living in London I'd put on almost two stone without making any real lifestyle changes. I think wine also played a part in this increased weight gain as in Scotland I rarely drank whereas now I have a bottle or two over most weekends.

So with all this in mind, in January this year I decided to do Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred workout. I had two motivations.
  1. Lots of people were banging out about doing the 30 Day Shred but most seemed to give up after less than a week. That seemed like a challenge to me!
  2. I wanted to do something that didn't cost me any money and that I could do at home.
To do the 30 Day Shred all you need is a floor mat, two small weights (about 1.5kg) and some clear space to throw yourself around a bit. Luckily I already had this stuff.

The 30 Day Shred is an intense circuit training workout that lasts about 20 minutes (30 with warm up and cool down). You do three circuits and each one contains 3 minutes of strength exercise, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs work. The DVD has three levels of workout and the aim is to do each level for 10 days before moving onto the next. The exercises do get harder as you go along but I actually found that the first level was hardest because I was so out of shape! Jillian's manner is quite tough, it's not like being barked at but she doesn't let up. However, there is a modified version of most exercises that you can do if they feel a bit tough. Generally I did the modified version for a few days before moving on to the full version.

I'm not going to lie, the first few days were BRUTAL. There was a lot of grunting and cussing. It hurt to walk up and down stairs but I quickly got into the habit of doing it as soon as I got home from work. Within a week I'd noticed a huge difference in my strength and cardio stamina. By the end of Level 2 I'd toned up all over and had noticeable abs for the first time ever. I took a few rest days throughout but eventually completed all three levels in 34 days.

I didn't take before and after pics, weights or measurements (I don't actually own scales) because for me this was all about how it made me feel. And I felt stronger both physically and mentally, proud that I'd finished what seemed like an impossible challenge. Naturally since finishing I've fallen a little out of shape again so I've bought Jillian's Ripped in 30 DVD which is a similar workout at a slightly more advanced level and will be starting this next week.

Support was a really big motivator and I was lucky that my sister did the 30 Day Shred at the same time so we could cheer each other on. If anyone is planning to do it let me know here or on Twitter!

I should mention that the three levels of 30 Day Shred are available on YouTube if you want to search it out and see if it's for you!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Five favourite blogs

I used to regularly read about 70 blogs but as I stopped blogging, I slowly stopped reading so many. My Google Reader would jump to 500+ unread posts and suddenly I seemed to have a lot less time to catch up on everything. Some of my former favourites are now defunct but there are also a few that I've consistently stuck with.

Beth's is by far my favourite food blog. She cooks a lot of my favourite types of food (we love Mexican and spice in our house) and every one of her recipes is simple and easy to follow with clear step by step instructions as well as photos - I adore this girl's commitment to great content! I've made several of Beth's recipes and they've always become quick favourites. Do check it out and make something, I promise you won't be disappointed!

Sarah's content reads less like a blog and more like a really great magazine that you get drip-fed slowly throughout the month. Her blog is really motivating, she shares great tips for bloggers and small businesses, as well as a mix of travel, real life stories, art and fantastic insight into being an adult in a modern world. I usually save up Sarah's posts and power through when I need a pick-me up!

Mrs M and I go way back as blog friends although we've yet to meet in real life! She's totally frank, hilariously outspoken and a proper what-you-see-is-what-you-get lady! She's a classic example of someone that I would never know were it not for blogging but her posts have brought me a lot of joy over the years. She also goes on some amazing holidays and her pics make me wildly envious.

The pop-up scene in London is HUGE with a myriad of temporary shops, restaurants and bars to choose from any day of the week. I hugely depend on this blog to keep me in the know and through it I've found out about some fantastic stuff - like a riverside street food festival, a Swedish forest built in a warehouse in East London (yes really! We drank cider on a picnic blanket), a Southern style crawfish boil in an old railway arch and various unbeatable markets. Sadly the nature of pop ups is that they're usually gone before you know it so I've missed out on lots of stuff but I do check this blog regularly to see what's new.

I am a relatively new reader having met Laura Jane Williams through my book club and discovered her blog later for which I CURSE THE HEAVENS that I didn't find it sooner. Mindblowingly honest (I don't know how some people write ALL of their feelings online), this blog has me literally lol-ing at my desk as well as frequently nodding along going "yep, yep, YEP!! That's exactly how I feel!!!" She just released her first e-book I'm Fat (And I Still Get Laid) which was a perfect Saturday morning read.

This was actually much harder than I anticipated and there are plenty others that spring to mind. Perhaps I'll need to give this another go next month! I'm really looking forward to discovering some new blogs through the Blog Every Day in May challenge - I think there are now about 200 participants! If you're one of them, do leave your blog address in the comments below so I can find out about your favourites too!

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge

Friday, 3 May 2013

Day in the life - the apps I love

At the moment my week days are generally very similar. Get up, go to work, get shit done, come home and study/exercise/eat/watch TV/read (delete as applicable, I certainly don't get them all done). I thought it would be fun to take a look at the apps that I use throughout the day, the stuff that I absolutely depend on and the stuff that sucks away my time. I have an Android phone so all the links below are for the Google Play store but most of these will be available on iOS too.

My alarm app goes off and I wake up and check the Met Office app for the weather forecast. It's a really reliable app which gives tells me what the weather will be like throughout the day. While I'm thinking about what I'll wear based on the weather I check any emails and Twitter updates that came in overnight. I use Twicca which can sometimes be a little slow but I love it because of the mute function and the ability to add colours to my favourite people, handy so I don't skim over them in my feed!

My guy lives away and we only see each other at weekends so I'll usually say good morning on Talk and if I've got time to kill I have a quick look at Google+, Instagram and Pinterest too. I also check my banking app every morning.

Once I'm at work I hardly touch my phone but I do use a couple of apps that have Chrome extensions. LOVE THAT STUFF! For productivity I use Springpad to collect and curate useful stuff. It's a great site that allows you to create Notebooks and within those you can store notes, links, to-do lists etc. I've been using it for a while now and absolutely love it. I have collaborative notebooks shared with my guy and we used them to plan Christmas and a trip to New York in March. It's also great for collecting useful articles and research related to projects I'm doing at work. Also recipes and restaurant recommendations, because, y'know, I love to eat.

I upload the odd Instagram pic here and there and tweet throughout the evenings when I'm distracted from studying. I generally plan my meals for the week in advance but if I'm looking for a bit of food inspiration I use Epicurious and when I'm buying groceries I check In Season so I know what will be fresh and cheap. I love longform articles so if I come across any during the day I save them to Readability then usually have a session storming through those at the weekend.

At 10pm I get an alert from Any.DO, a really handy productivity app that helps me plan my day. My mind is usually really busy right before bed so this is the perfect app for jotting down tasks and allocating a time to do them. I'll tick off everything I've done and add a few things.

On weekends I tend to use more apps, namely Maps, Tube map, Barclays Bikes and Yelp because we're often out and about in London and lots of it is still new and exciting. I used Feedly to manage blog subscriptions but rarely have time to check it during the week so have a good read through on Saturday mornings.

Sometimes I feel rather overwhelmed by how much technology I use. I estimate I spend about 12-15 hours a day looking at screens which is frankly ridiculous. Once I'm in bed I try not to use my phone and opt for a book or magazine instead. I used to think I wouldn't be able to cope without it but last summer I went kayaking in Sweden for 5 days with no phone or internet and didn't miss it once. I actively try to use my phone less at weekends just to stop bombarding my brain with information but, for the most part, I love the apps that I use and how easy they make my life.

What apps do you love?

This post is part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge