Afternoon Florals

Outfit Details:
Dress, Belt and Shoes: Primark

I recently made the decision to unfollow Primark on Instagram. Why did I come to this decision? I was fed up of seeing clothes on there that aren't actually available in UK stores! Without fail, every single time they posted something I would have liked to buy, it wasn't available here. One such item was the dress featured in today's post, so imagine my excitement when I saw it popping up on the Instagrams of a few UK bloggers! I quickly rushed to my own local Primark, just to be disappointed that I couldn't find it. Eventually, I went home to Yorkshire for Christmas, and was lucky enough to find it in the giant Leeds Primark. Hooray!

I love this dress so much that even though it's quite extravagant, I've already managed to wear it three times: Christmas, Boxing Day and for Afternoon Tea. Every time I wear it, I feel much more sophisticated and put together than I actually am. Maxi dresses aren't really something I've embraced in the past, but this is actually my second lace maxi dress and I think because they're sheer and I can wear a short dress underneath, I've finally found a way to make longer dresses work for me. 

Unfortunately, at 5 foot 2, this dress is incredibly long on me and it actually drags along the floor. Whilst this wasn't such an issue wearing it around the house over Christmas, I knew it was going to drive me mad when it got its first outing outside of the house. I'm sadly not handy with a needle and thread, so altering it wan't an option, and I've now completely given up heels that are more than an inch in height, so what was I to do?!

Eventually, it finally clicked that I could wear a waist belt and tuck the excess dress into that. I already owned three waist belts, so I tried them all on and sent pictures to my sister. I wasn't really sold on any of them, especially the one she said looked the best. 

A few days later, I was in Primark when I found myself in the belt section. There was an entire stand dedicated to reduced belts at £1-4ish each, around half of which were waist belts! As soon as I saw this velvet, corset style belt for just a quid, with just one size (my size!) left, I knew I'd found the one. I ran home and showed my sister, and she agreed! 

At first I was quite miffed about having to wear a belt with it, but now I'm happy, and it also makes it look like I put thought into my outfit rather than just throwing a dress on!

Do you have any dresses that just make you feel GREAT? What are they like?

Afternoon Tea at Ham Yard Hotel

A few weeks ago, I hopped on the train to London feeling very excited because I was on my way to my first ever afternoon tea. Despite being born in Britain, and living here my whole life, I'd somehow managed to go nearly 27 years without ever participating in this Great British tradition.

The chosen venue was the Ham Yard Hotel, tucked down a small side street close to Leicester Square tube station. I was lucky enough to share my my first ever afternoon tea experience with my fave blogger babes, Lauren, Nirvana, Jenny, Justine and Tanya.

Before heading to the hotel, me and Lauren headed into Kensington to take some outfit photos. Although very mild for a January day, it was still very cold once we took our coats off to get the shots we wanted so this didn't take as long as expected! As a result, we ended up at the venue very early but they were more than happy to seat us then and there while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

While we waited, the service was very attentive and friendly, and we were given nice glasses of iced water to keep us going while we chatted and browsed the menu.

Once everyone had arrived, a waitress explained to us how everything works and asked if any of us had any dietary requirements or allergies. One of us has a nut allergy and they were happy to work around that. We were also given a selection of drinks to choose from: besides a selection of teas, we were offered coffee and hot chocolate as well. I personally went with a mint tea. 

Our food then arrived shortly afterwards. There was a separate nut-free stand, a stand to serve two people and a stand to serve three people. Each stand had a lovely selection of extravagant desserts, cute little sandwiches and of course, scones! Our waitress explained what everything was and left us to dig in. 

Now here's a little disclaimer: although I am now eating a mainly vegan diet now, I deliberately did not ask for the vegan menu. The reason for this being that although the Ham Yard website says a vegan afternoon tea can be created if notice is given when booking, there is no indicator of what a vegan afternoon tea would actually include. In fact, there's very little information about the standard afternoon tea available beyond "a selection of sandwiches, cakes and scones" which you know, is obvious. Me and the girls all agreed we much prefer to see exactly what's on offer before we go out for food. 

Now, grumbling aside, I have no regrets about ditching the vegan diet for this day. I tried every sandwich except the ones with egg and they were great, which is weird, because I'm not a huge sandwich fan. There was a lovely pesto and mozzarella one, but I liked the chicken and salmon ones a lot too. The scones were still warm from the oven and the coffee and walnut macarons are the kind of dessert I dream of. I would have liked to see more chocolate-based desserts, but in all honesty, I was so stuffed on scones, sandwiches and macarons that it wasn't too much of a loss! 

All in all, I had a really good time at my first ever afternoon tea. I enjoyed the food and the lovely little conservatory full of quirky decor really added to the atmosphere. At just £22 each as well, I feel it was very affordable for central London, particularly because we ended up taking food home with us because there was too much to eat then and there! We were given little boxes and hotel branded bags to take our leftovers in as well, which really added to the positive experience. 

If you're ever looking for an afternoon tea in London that doesn't break the bank but still takes place in a cool location with tasty goodies, I'd recommend the Ham Yard Hotel. 

What I Read During January

For the past few years, I've set myself a goal to read 52 books in a year - an average of one a week. Each year, I've failed, but I also get just a little bit closer each time. In 2017, I managed 41 which is the most I have read since I finished university. If January is going to set the tone for the rest of 2018, I'm suddenly feeling very confident that this is the year I finally hit 52.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman
The Book of Dust is the long awaited follow up to Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Whilst the story does feature a baby Lyra, the original trilogy's heroine, the real star of this story is young Malcolm Polstead whose life changes forever after a biblical-style flood. 

When I first heard that Phillip Pullman was going to be releasing a new set of novels in the His Dark Materials universe, I admit I was sceptical. His Dark Materials is one of my favourite stories on earth. I've read it a few times over, most recently last year, and each time it leaves me open mouthed at how brilliant it is. There was a part of me that felt like it should be left alone - but in the end, my desire for more won out. I'm so glad I decided to give this book a chance because it was amazing. Each character is great - with likeable traits and flaws that make them seem so human. The fantastical elements are surprising and unusual. I am seriously looking forward to the next instalment.

The Kingmaker by Gemma Perfect 
Everleigh is the Kingmaker. On her 17th birthday, she will die and her life's blood will determine which of her two brothers will be crowned king...except Everleigh is different. She is the Kingmaker who will live. 

Funnily enough, I read this book completely by accident. There was a book with a similar title on my "To Read" shelf on Goodreads, but I kept seeing ads for The Kingmaker on Facebook. I assumed the ads on Facebook were for the same book as the one I'd seen on Goodreads because the plot line sounded so up my street but in the end it turns out it was a different book!

Despite the brilliant idea, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The story line had such great potential, but unfortunately I found the world the novel takes place in very two-dimensional and even the adult characters seemed really infantile to me. However, the book was so affordable I bought the entire trilogy at once and so I decided to persevere.

Seize the Crown by Gemma Perfect
The second novel in The Kingmaker trilogy 

Unfortunately, I found that this novel had the same issues as the one that precedes it. I continued to dislike all the characters and felt frustrated at how shallow the world in which it is set is. However, I did find my interest growing in what was going to happen next and I quite liked the cliffhanger ending, although it was slightly predictable.

Born to Rule by Gemma Perfect
The third and final novel in The Kingmaker series

After the shock ending of the Seize the Crown, I found myself curious to see how things were going to play out in the this final novel. At last, I felt like there was some character development in this novel and it felt like there was some differentiation between the different characters that tell the story - in the first two books, I would often have to double check whose chapters I was reading because they all sounded the same to me. Whilst the ending was predictable, I did read this final book much more quickly than the others as it was slightly more engaging. Certainly not the best series I've ever read, but I don't regret spending time on it.

Have you read anything enjoyable recently?

Keep up to date with my 2018 reading challenge: 

2018 Reading Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge
Emily Jane has
read 4 books toward
her goal of
52 books.

What I Watched in January

Goodness me, it feels like January is going on forever! Judging by social media, it looks like I'm not alone in that feeling either. The slowness of the month hasn't been helped by the fact that my last pay day was six weeks ago and for two weeks, I had a nasty cough and cold that would just not shift. The one good thing about feeling under the weather is that I've had plenty of time to watch TV...

Van Helsing Season 2 
One of the best things I had the pleasure of watching in 2017 was Van Helsing. A TV show based on a character from one of the greatest books of all time with a strong female lead? Obviously I had to watch it. I was delighted when I switched Netflix on during one of my sick days and noticed season two had landed and I managed to get it all done over the course of two days. Part of me is very sad I watched it so quickly because it's going to be a long time now before I get anymore!

For those not in the know, Van Helsing takes place in a post-apocalyptic Seattle. Vanessa Helsing has awoken from a coma to find her daughter missing and the US overrun by vampires after Yellowstone erupted. It's certainly not for the faint hearted, and it's not one to watch if you want to feel uplifted. It is however some insanely exciting, gripping TV and the plot has many intriguing twists and turns.

Grimm Season 6
Last year, I spent a good portion of my time watching Grimm seasons one to five. I'd started watching this show a few years back but for some reason it failed to capture my attention the first time round and I soon forgot about it. The second time round however...well. I became obsessed with this story of a fairy tale monster fighting detective in Portland.

Naturally, when the sixth and final season finally landed on Netflix, it was a bittersweet moment. I was ecstatic to finally watch it, but sad because I knew it was the last season. I watched it over the course of the week and spent the finale in floods of tears. The ending was incredibly cheesy, but I felt it was the perfect end to a show I thoroughly enjoyed.

Other things I'm in the middle of watching are Vikings season 5, Lucifer season 3 and Riverdale season 2 and, like everyone else with a Netflix account right now, FRIENDS! As usual, I like to wait until I've finished a season to give my thoughts - see you next month!

Why I've Ditched Planners, Organisers and Workbooks in 2018

Every year I buy myself a brand new diary and each year, I fail to use the diary. In the past few years I've also found myself purchasing a large number of workbooks - books I'm meant to fill in and then use to have "the best year ever." The theme is the same - I start with the best intentions, but I never complete them and by the end of the year, they're languishing in a drawer somewhere.

This year, I've decided enough is enough. 

2018 is the first year in a very long time that I haven't bought a diary. I have no calendars. I haven't purchased any goal setting workbooks. There are a variety of reasons I've made the decision to stop purchasing items like these, the first being it is incredibly wasteful to purchase things I don't use. This year I'm saving both my wallet and the environment.

That said, there's another reason behind my decision to ditch planners, organisers and workbooks in 2018.

Perhaps my biggest realisation in 2017 was that you have to get out there and live your life - organising and planning is absolutely no good if you don't go out and implement it. I've realised that my love for workbooks was playing a large part in the trap I'd fallen into, the trap of always planning but never taking action. I'd set aside an afternoon to write long lists of things I wanted to do and imagine I'd get round to them one day. List complete, I'd turn the TV on or start playing Stardew Valley. In a few months time, I'd remember the list, I'd feel bad that nothing was complete and then I'd write another list to rectify the situation. The cycle would then repeat.

Finding the balance between planning and action 

As is often the case, I'm learning that there is a balance to be found if I am to live a happy and successful life. It's incredibly hard to achieve anything without a good plan, but it's all too easy to spend too much time organising yourself and not enough time doing what needs to be done.

This year, I've recorded a handful of measurable and timebound goals digitally with some brief notes on how I could achieve these goals. I refer back to these goals at least weekly so they are always present in my mind, but the main focus is on actually carrying out the tasks in those notes.

Over the course of 2018, I'm hoping that this new approach will leave me feeling more content because I can see that I'm achieving things, even if it's just small victories each week.

Operation Supervixen 2018

In 2017, I became increasingly aware that my lifestyle was not in alignment with my values as a
person. I was eating a large amount of meat and dairy, I was using skincare and cosmetics both containing animal products and tested on animals, and I was buying clothes from retailers with questionable moral values. I also realised I was doing very little to ensure my negative impact on the environment was as small as possible. As a result, I was starting to feel very uncomfortable about my day to day life and towards the end of the year, I realised I was going to have to make some big changes.

Going vegan

Taking up veganism is actually an idea I have experimented with since 2016. For many years I’ve suffered with a lot of digestive discomfort and my research into this subject led me to believe that dairy could be behind this. I also suspected my love of processed meats, for example chorizo, was not helping. I’d tried to give up meat and dairy a few times, but always gave up very quickly, convinced I couldn’t live my life without cheese and chocolate.

However, going vegan isn’t just about improving my health anymore. The more I consumed animals and the more I learnt about the egg and dairy industries, the more I realised that my contributions to this just didn’t feel right anymore. I have also recently become more aware of the environmental impact that animal farming has, which has provided me with even more motivation to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

I am currently participating in Veganuary and I'm amazed that not only have I succeeded this far, I am both enjoying it and planning to continue my new lifestyle outside of January.

However, I suspect the reason I've been successful so far is because I haven't banned myself from non-vegan food forever. I'm going for afternoon tea later this month and haven't requested the vegan menu, and I suspect when I go to America my willpower to eat vegan will die a death. I personally believe that by eating vegan the vast majority of the time, I am already taking large steps to lead a more ethical life so I'm happy with this decision. I also think that over time as I get more comfortable identifying as a vegan and more used to shopping as a vegan, I'll find the idea of meat, eggs and dairy more and more repulsive and will eventually wean myself off it completely.

Going cruelty free in beauty

Removing animal products from my diet doesn't really make sense if I don't also remove them from my beauty routine as well. It makes even less sense if I also continue to use products that are tested on animals. In 2018, I will be phasing all animal tested and non-vegan beauty products from my makeup bag - even if I don't succeed with a completely vegan diet. Eating animals is one thing, using animals for vanity is another issue. I do currently own some products from brands that test, and products with animal products in them. However, I think wasting things I already own would also be a terrible thing to do so I will be phasing things out and replacing with animal friendly alternatives when I need to. 

I will also continue to buy from brands that are cruelty free, but their parent companies are not. I know this ultimately funds non-ethical brands, but it is incredibly hard to shop in a way that is truly ethical. For example, Superdrug's own range is very often vegan and always cruelty free, but it's owned by AS Watson which is not cruelty free. It also obviously stocks brands like Loreal which is not cruelty free. Supermarkets are another: they sell meat and dairy but I still support them by buying my vegetables there. The issue of "is there such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism" is one I want to explore in more depth at some point - but this post isn't the time. 

Working out how I can minimise my impact on the environment

Like thousands of other Brits, last year, I was traumatised by film footage of plastic floating in the ocean, narrated by national treasure David Attenborough. I'd always thought I was quite environmentally conscious, but ultimately thought that it was up to big corporations or cities like Las Vegas where the lights are always on, to do something about climate change. Of course, it's probably everyone having the "not my problem" attitude that has got us in this mess to begin with. 

One change I can say I've already made is I've stopped getting takeaway coffee in disposable cups. I've also finally started started turning everything OFF in my house when I'm not using it. I'm ashamed to say that since I've moved into a house where my bills are included in the rent, I have been very lax about my electricity usage in a way I wasn't when I had to use a pay as you go electricity meter. It's time for me to realise there's a bigger picture than my finances when it comes to electricity. 

The next step is for me to tackle the amount of waste I create. I depend too much on single use products like cotton wool and kitchen roll. 

Other non-Save The World! type goals

Whilst most of my goals this year seem to centre on not just improving my own life, but contributing to the betterment of the world as well, I do have a few that are purely selfish for me:
  1. Start exercise classes: I have a "Swim and Classes" membership at the local leisure centre but have never actually attended a class in the 10 months or so I've had it. Whilst I get my money's worth just from swimming, it'd be nice to get some variety in my exercise routine. 
  2. Start having driving lessons again: I initially believed I couldn't afford it this year but my calculations may have been wrong so I'm currently planning on starting my lessons again in February. It'd be nice to also pass my test in 2018 but we'll see. I also realise driving detracts from my environmental goals... 
  3. Other 30 Before 30 goals: other 30 Before 30 goals I'd like to make a start on or complete this year are my goals to visit new places in the UK, go to the Natural History Museum and keep growing my nails. 
Before I finish this post, I'd also like to note that I realise that I am in a place of privilege to be able to pursue these goals. This is not a post intended to guilt trip those who can't go vegan, or shame you into changing your lifestyle. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I personally was becoming uncomfortable with my own lifestyle and I needed to make some changes. If you feel the same, great. If you don't, carry on doing what you're doing. I just want to do the best that I can and you should focus on doing the best you can. 

What are your 2018 goals?