Environmentally Friendlier New Years Resolutions

My husband and I went vegan in June after months and months of mulling it over thinking it would be really difficult and hard to stick at...how very wrong we were. It's been the best lifestyle choice I ever made and along with this decision came a much more passionate attitude towards the environment and my health, not just the animals. I watched documentaries on Netflix and two that really stood out to me were Cowspiracy and A Plastic Ocean, both of which I watched around 4-5 times because I just couldn't stop learning about the mistakes we as humans have been making that are destroying the planet. So here's the plan:

1. Buy bars of soap packaged in cardboard boxes
I love my cleaning products as well as cosmetics and this year I have really opened my eyes as to how much plastic my household gets through and it's mainly my fault. At one point I counted four different shampoos in my bathroom and the amount of times I've cried out of sheer embarrassment and shame I've lost count of. One small yet effective way of making a difference is by swapping hand soaps in plastic bottles for bars of soap that come in cardboard boxes. Better yet, I will try to stick to buying the Lush handmade soap bars for body wash instead of shower gels because they come wrapped in paper AND they last for ages, plus they now have solid shampoo or conditioner bars of the same concept. Lush will also recycle the plastic containers the rest of their products come in - now that's what I call a responsible retailer.

lush daddy-o, lush, lush hair, lush conditioner

2. Stop buying Primark pyjamas
As much as I love Primark pyjamas, I get through A LOT and this isn't just because I see a new design literally every month (Pusheen...you did this). Primark pyjamas just don't last and I can't believe it's taken me so long to realise. Mine always fall to bits, the colour fades after two washes and I will try and get my use out of them by walking around the house looking like a tramp. Then I remembered in the back of my wardrobe I have a pair of Jack Wills lounge pants from when I used to spend a tonne of money there with my pay cheques as a teenager and would you believe, these didn't look like they were 6 months old let alone at least 8 years. So I started wearing these again in November and believe me, I used to live in these bad boys. The only down side is with me being quite short, I have to tuck the legs into my fluffy socks so they don't drag on the floor but overall they're of a much higher quality and you wouldn't know how old they are. Granted they're a little expensive, but I'm going to try and grab a spare pair for when these are being washed from the outlet website, not to mention I must have spent loads more money buying multiple sets of pyjamas from Primark so in the long run I'll be saving.

llama, llama pyjamas, llama tshirt, llama primark, primark

3. Buy loose fruit and veg
We've been putting this into practice a lot more recently so it's not really a brand new resolution, more like something we'd like to expand on in the new year. But once you take a step back and look at the way food is packaged it's a real shocker. Fruit and veg is wrapped with plastic whilst it's also laid into a plastic tray beforehand and whilst we try our best to recycle what we can, it's not really giving the supermarkets the message that this simply isn't good enough. The documentary A Plastic Ocean suggested taking the foods out of the packaging and leaving the packaging behind for the store to deal with but that seems a bit too rude for my liking. Another option would be to take your own paper bags in to collect loose fruit and veg, or if you must use the plastic bags provided for loose food, reuse them. We're trying to be more frugal in our house which basically means buying when you need it. For example if I'm cooking a meal, I'll go and collect one large carrot, two sweet potatoes etc and then I don't need any packaging at all. Give the fruit and veg a good wash as usual when you get home and job done. We get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing our shopping basket containing nothing but loose fruit and veg, the cashiers don't seem to mind one bit and it seems to be a little cheaper.

4. Recycle more containers
Custard and Vespa (our two dogs) got sent a big hamper of festive themed doggy treats to try back in October and the vegan lifestyle isn't something I put my dogs through simply because I don't know enough about vegan doggies, but they sure do love their vegetables! Anyway, a couple of the treats came in fair sized plastic containers with resealable lids so I washed them out and suggested to James that he could use them for things in the shed. Being new home owners, we're gradually collecting things like nails and screws and haven't really got any organisation for them yet but these tubs were perfect. So going forward, I'd also like to really think about plastic containers before they're rinsed and go straight into the recycling bin. We recycle most of our glass jars too which is becoming a bit out of hand I must say, but they work really well for things like nuts and seeds.

5. Continue to reuse mail bags
I've been doing this one for flippin' years because not only does it help the environment, you save a few bob as well on packaging. Pretty much everything I've ever sold on the likes of eBay and Depop have been sent in recycled packages; I just remove my address and as long as the packaging is in a decent enough condition so that it's going to keep everything safe and protected, I'll reuse it and I have a whole drawer in my office dedicated to recycled mail bags and wrapping.

6. Look into new packaging for Pastel Elixir
Running a shop means I get through a fair bit of packaging of various sorts and right now I don't have many options for when it comes to shipping my orders out. They all go in mail bags but in the new year, I'll be ordering in some letterbox friendly cardboard boxes to cut down on how much plastic we use and also hopefully better protect the bigger orders a bit more. Usually we sandwich easily damaged items between recycled cardboard anyway to prevent them from being ruined as they travel to our customers but boxes look a lot more professional and it's about time we upgraded! As for cards and things, they currently have cellophane sleeves to protect them but we've heard that there are eco friendlier options out there that we'll be looking into as well. It all helps and we will still continue to reuse and recycle as much as possible.

7. Take a tote!
It's taken some getting used to, but these days I always try to remember to pop a tote into my handbag when I leave the house. You just never know when you might need a carrier bag and I will do all I can to refuse a plastic one from the shops. We've been known to balance a whole shop between us in our arms because we just point blank refuse to buy yet another plastic bag to dump into landfill. I was queueing in Liberty's in London a couple of weeks back with a Christmas bauble and as I was in the queue on the Christmas floor, I heard the young man at the tills explaining to another customer that they only had plastic bags in that department. My guess was that the customer wanted a fancy paper Liberty gift bag (why wouldn't you?!) and he was told if you would like a paper bag, another department would happily give him one. I turned around and made my way to another till because I just downright refused to get a plastic bag and as I was buying a glass bauble, I didn't want to just chuck it into my tote. The rest of my shopping though, I happily bag together in one of my canvas totes and it feels so much nicer than coming home with hands full of plastic carriers.

8. Take a drink with you
I've got into the habit this year of taking a bottle of water with me where ever I go. I have a dedicated Voss bottle which I bought from Asda many months ago, but it came with water in it and is made of glass. The only plastic bit is the lid but it makes such a great reusable bottle for drinks and means you don't have to buy one when you're out or buy plastic bottles that just go straight into the bin once you've finished. Granted it means carrying around a drink all day, but think of that extra fitness and hydration!

These are just a few of the resolutions we've been working on and will be carrying over to 2018, but we're always on the look out for more ways to help the environment and reduce plastic in particular as much as we can. It's scary once you stop to think about just how much we as humans get through and did you know, every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still on this planet we call home in some form or another? It's such a bugger to get rid of so let's make it heard and reduce our consumption as much as possible!

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

I Took A Break

Christmas has been and gone in a flash. I don't know whether it always goes by that quickly or whether it just felt as though it never happened due to me getting over the flu still but spending the week leading up to Christmas bedridden was not exactly how I pictured things. You just know don't you, when you wake up in the morning and a storm is coming. I could feel it in my throat last Monday when I stumbled out of bed to grab some water, but I made my way back to the warmth of my duvet and fell back to sleep. When I woke up again at a more appropriate time, I felt like I had some sort of foul hangover but not being one to surrender easily, I got out of bed and started my day. That didn't last long. By lunch time I had retreated back to bed and only got up to let the dogs out, relieve myself or refill my water glass.

I'm not usually a wallower but I honestly couldn't think of anything to do but lie there feeling sorry for myself. It was the kind of illness where the slightest movement makes you feel like you're going to vom and you quickly become super fed up of trying to stay warm enough or cool yourself down with roller coaster-ing fevers. 

Time for some more honest truths; I don't think I like Christmas very much. It's not necessarily a hatred or loathing, I'm not about to sprout green hair and destroy everyone's stacks of presents but I really don't understand any of it. It's more the greedy and gluttonous behaviours that grate on me the most, the fact that you can't nip to the shops for one thing without being biffed about by various individuals all trying to cram as many Jaffa Cake yards into their trolleys as possible and it's that one time of year where the Bisto gets absolutely ransacked. The only other time I see shelves in this kind of naked state is when people go ape shit for Nutella over the Pancake Day season. We didn't go crazy with pressies this year, simply because we've spent so much on our new house and have plenty more to be spending our money on like fixing our bathroom and replacing the rancid carpets, that we agreed to not go crazy on presents this year for anyone. So why did I feel so guilty this year that I didn't spend a great deal on people? Why did I stress about the presents for the family I barely know and never see? As for the day itself, there's this huge build up and when nothing particularly exciting happens, it brings on a proper downer and almost a disappointment because after all, Christmas is the best day of the year, right? I couldn't disagree more to be quite honest, to me it's just another day and whilst I appreciate beyond words the gifts and my family being around, a huge part of me is still wondering why on earth we go so crazy for Christmas.

It took some real discipline but I stayed off my phone quite a bit over Christmas and the silver lining of being sick helped me along my way to having one of those social media detoxes that I've seen people raving about a lot recently. It actually helped that I wasn't able to look at my phone without feeling sicky again so that sure stopped me from aimlessly scrolling through the platforms but I noticed such a huge difference in my mental health after staying away for a few days. Instead of worrying about where my next Instagram post was going to be coming from, I decided to just lie in bed and mull over the ideas I have for my shop in 2018. I've been contemplating a few things but I've had so much going on towards the end of the year that I just decided to leave it all for the new one. But I have some projects in mind and a real kick of motivation to get cracking!

Happy New Year everyone and thanks for reading!

Lush Sugar Daddy Review

I waited for what felt like an eternity to use up all of my other shampoo that I had stocked up on before buying some more Daddy-O. Reason being, it is rather expensive for how much you get so in a way I was avoiding it for as long as possible. I stocked up on shampoo and conditioner when I quit my job to save having to put those items on top of our shopping bill...the thought of adding 'unnecessary' costs to the food shop made me raid Superdrug's special offers and stock up on other brands with one of my last pay cheques and the downside to this is, my hair suffered. I'm not a snob by any means, but I noticed for sure my hair didn't like using certain brands yet my determination was still there; to use them all up and start to buy from Lush again to reduce plastic and also, give my hair the nourishment it deserves.

Sure, Lush still use plastic to package some of their products but the silver lining is you can return these containers for them to recycle and better yet, for every 5 you return you get a free fresh face mask. My hair has never felt better after using the Daddy-O shampoo so in all honesty I don't mind paying the price, I just make sure I make it go as far as possible. Now I don't work with animals, I can get away with only washing my hair once a week which is an absolute dream because my hair really does feel better for it and I'm lucky enough to be able to go so long without having to use so much as a dry shampoo. Those days are long behind!

A few weeks back I was in Birmingham to see Our Last Night live and beforehand, I nipped into Lush with my friend Vikky to seek out a shampoo and conditioner for her. Since she's a nut allergy sufferer, she can really struggle to find a brand that is safe and for months I'd urged her to get into Lush and see what they could offer. They were kind enough to spend a decent amount of time finding something for her to try and also provided her with some samples to take away and see how she'd get on, to save spending a fair bit on products just in case her allergies flared up and so far so good. No bad reports yet! Whilst in there, I couldn't help but spot the Sugar Daddy conditioner bar and I don't remember seeing it before so perhaps it's fairly new. I refrained from buying one there and then, knowing full well I still had conditioner at home to use up but I kept it on my wish list. Then on my birthday a couple of weeks later, I popped into Lush in Leicester to treat myself with some birthday money. By this point I had used up near enough every last drop of the other products I had at home so I didn't feel any guilt whatsoever in buying new stuff and better yet, the conditioner bar has no packaging except a tiny sheet of paper that I'll be recycling into my art journal. Win win!

I couldn't wait to test out my new conditioner bar so the next day I was in the shower with it and to begin with I was a little skeptical. I had washed my hair with the Daddy-O shampoo beforehand and then tried lathering up the conditioner bar between my hands to apply to my hair. Not very much was happening, so much so that I had to get out of the shower, grab my phone and quickly Google how to use their conditioner bars, convinced I was doing something wrong. Nope, I was doing everything right so I did a crazy gibbon run back to the shower and tried again. Still not much was happening but I put the bar between my hair and palm of my hand and ran it down the ends of my hair a few times before deciding I'd tried enough and that I'd just have to wait and see what it felt like when it was dried. I wasn't especially happy about this since my hair is disgustingly dry if I don't condition it so I wasn't looking forward to it at all. I brushed my hair with a comb, plaited it damp and went to bed.

The next morning I was dying to give my hair a good feel and I was amazed at how soft it was. I honestly expected a really straw like feel to it but it was silky and smelt divine. Turns out the conditioner bar must have worked, it just doesn't feel like you're getting much product when lathering it up. The good side to this is I used barely any of the product so I'm hoping it lasts me quite a while and I'm super excited to use it again. One of my favourite things about the two products is the smell and how long it lasts. When I use any other shampoo, I can't really smell it on my own hair even straight after the shower but Daddy-O I can still detect three days later and every time you move your head, you get a lovely whiff of Parma Violets. What's not to love? Plus these two gems happen to be part of Lush's vegan range and of course, they're cruelty free.

Thanks for reading,

Photowall Personalised Canvas

A couple of weeks back I was preparing hard for my Christmas fairs and one thing I've wanted for my stalls for a really long time is some kind of banner or sign telling people who we are. It seemed as though Photowall* completely read my mind as they got in touch and asked if I would be interested in having one of my illustrations printed onto a canvas! I was so amazed that this came at such a good time that I jumped at the chance and using their personalisation service, was able to create a canvas with my shop's name and logo on it. Now I won't lie, I was a little unsure what the quality would be like with it being a design that I had sent off. I think the uncertainty is always there when sending designs off to the printers; will it look how you imagine it to?

Within just a few hours of placing my order, I got an email saying it had been dispatched that very same day and despite Photowall being located in Sweden, I got my parcel within a week. It arrived neatly packed into a long narrow box and inside was my canvas rolled up and protected with paper packaging, with the four wooden sides of my canvas and the screws to put the whole thing together. You can order your canvas as just a roll or with the DIY frame so that you also get the fun of putting your artwork together yourself...you bet your bottom dollar which option I went for!

The whole process was so easy to do. You start by laying face down your canvas onto a clean surface, each wooden panel has a sticky tab that you peel away and place onto your canvas along the edges as clearly shown in the instructions, then you fold each panel inwards and you see your new product taking shape! Then all that's left to do is use the metal brackets and screws provided to secure it all and make sure your canvas is stretched super tight, then you can flip it over and admire your handy work.

What I especially loved about the kit is you don't actually need any tools unless you're going to be putting your canvas on a wall and in that case they also provide you with the screw pieces to do so, but mine is going to be sat on some of my furniture or a shelf. And here it is, my wonderfully pastel canvas! I chose to keep it really simple with a nice baby pink background and white text in the font I always use for my shop and blog, I think it's gorgeous! It looked so cute sat next to my Christmas tree but it's now upstairs safely in my office, the perfect piece of decor that also doubles up as a big sign to take with me to craft fairs!

I was well and truly blown away by the quality of this canvas; it's super thick material and the wooden panels are extremely sturdy so I'm not at all worried about it sagging over time or loosing it's shape. Photowall can do lots of different sizes for you and I went for a 70x50cm piece so it was nice and big...punchy as they say! If you don't want your own work printing though, they have a gorgeous selection of artwork to choose from, even Disney pieces!

Photowall were kind enough to send me a discount code for my readers to use which is EllisWoolleyCampaign2017 and it will get you 20% off your order, valid for 30 days from 15th December 2017. Enjoy! A big thankyou to Photowall as well for allowing me to choose some of my own work to get printed onto a canvas and saving the day with getting a banner made for my next set of fairs! If you hadn't already realised, I'm chuffed to bits with mine!

Thanks for reading,

*Canvas was gifted to me by Photowall in exchange for a blog post reviewing their services and product*

It's Not A Real Job

It'll be no news to artists and creators the kind of comments that emerge when you disclose your profession. 

'But that's not a real job...'
'When are you going to get a proper job'
'How much money do you make' 
'You just sit drawing pictures all day'

I could go on for a long time. I am blessed to have someone in my family who is also self employed and has been for most of her working life - that person is my Mum. Can't rave about that woman enough on my blog clearly, but Mum is the only one who can relate to my triumphs, struggles, experiments, catastrophes and victories that go on in my home-based studio and even having her to go to doesn't always make it easy. 

The older generation especially, like grandparents, are very difficult to sway around to the idea that working for yourself is a thing. Then there are the people who haven't got a creative bone in their body who think it's okay to spout off their concerns for how you make money, accusing you of scrounging off your other half, not actually working at all but lounging around at home all day. Not to mention the really cheeky ones who feel the need to ask how much you earn. Balderdash. 

This is the kind of attitude that for years made me believe I would never be able to do my dream job, to work for myself, to manage my own time, be my own boss...I thought it wasn't possible more times than I thought it was. The negative assumption from so many people that doing something artistic isn't a real job at all but just a lazy lifestyle, an excuse to paint and drink tea all day, can be a very damaging outlook. Luckily, we live in a world where now more than ever, people are working for themselves or working towards just that. Whether they're full time artists, content creators, craftspeople, it's perfectly acceptable to have a creative job and be self-employed.

I used to really struggle in every job I've ever had because although on the outside I was a 'yes boss' kind of person, I only kept my head down most of the time because I knew it was easier than challenging things I didn't agree with. As time went on, the more and more I couldn't for the life of me understand how I could ever spend my entire working life slaving away as another little cog in someone else's empire. Why weren't more people saying to themselves 'enough of this, I'm going to build my own' and taking a huge leap of faith. I ended up feeing very ill mentally because of the strain I had put myself under trying to work out why I was scurrying around with all of my team mates, at the bottom of the scale, getting no recognition for hard work, not agreeing with the companies principles, demands and ethics and feeling as though I couldn't do anything about it.

Too often I read about people only plunging into self-employment because they felt they had been pushed to their limits health wise in their day job. I'm a little ashamed to say I was also one of those people but also very proud that I took the leap. It's never too late to start your own business, but I feel terrible that it took for me to become seriously mentally strained to realise I could jump for what I wanted and never look back. It took for me to no longer be able to recognise who I was, feel angry at the sight of my own reflection, feel like a suicidal mess on each commute to a place I really didn't want to be, to realise I had to regain control of my own happiness and where my life was going.

For the past few months, I've had the usual comments from family and some friends that I should be looking for a proper job by now, or will I manage to pay my bills or ever start a family on what they're assuming is a lousy wage. My anxiety is still lurking, I didn't expect it to go away, but these days I find myself questioning whether people think I pretended to be really ill just so I had an excuse to leave my old job. Did people think I just wanted to be a housewife, was that it now? I got married now people think all I do is sit at home, watching Netflix and doodling pretty pictures. I've even cried to James, apologising for leaving work, that I'll get a  new job and I wasn't doing naff all at home all day. He didn't need telling, he put me straight and reminded me of why I left and that it was with his encouragement that I did leave. It can be so damaging being told that what you're doing isn't a real job. A lot of my old job I can't even remember but I think that can sometimes happen with stress; the brain ends up blocking the stress inflicting events out.

Obviously self employment also isn't for everyone and we all dream of different things. Some will read this and think there's nothing they'd like less than being their own boss and actually prefer working for someone else and that's totally okay too! If you're dreaming of one day becoming self-employed, don't for a second give up. Work hard and have little goals and targets to reach, keep a journal, document your failures and achievements and do not let anyone dull your sparkle by telling you it'll never get you anywhere in life, cause it will.

Thanks for reading,

How's Married Life?

'How's married life?' 

I get asked this a lot and to be honest I'm not even sure what it means anymore. I've been married to James for nearly two years and in the beginning, we got asked this literally every single day. I guess it was the novelty for some people; for some reason they like to wind you up as if marriage is a bad thing. But even now, 21 months down the line, family members or even friends I've not seen for a while will ask 'how's married life?' rather than ask how you are...is that their way of asking?

I just find it to be a bizarre question. Should married life be any different? I'm here to tell you it's not. Some folk think that by getting married everything somehow gets better. There is also a lot of assumption for men that once a guy gets married, he'll be miserable for the rest of his days. Truth be told, we've developed and learnt a lot, but nothing between us has changed. Our family has grown; we now have two dogs as opposed to one when we got married but apart from that, everything is as it was before.

I find it strange that 'how's married life?' is even a common question because I've never been asked or overheard anyone else asking 'how's relationship life?' or even more rudely 'how's single life?'. It's exactly one of those Bridget Jones moments where Uncle Geoffrey asks 'how's your love life?'. It's just awkward, especially if you're quite happy being on your own yet the expectation is always slapping you in the face wondering when you're going to find someone and settle down.

Married at 24, that seems pretty young. Some people get married younger, some people get married in their 60's and some people never get married at all. Thing is, everyone is more than entitled to do things at their own pace yet society is somehow telling us that by your late 20's you should be married and thinking about having kids if you haven't already done both of those things. And by your 30's you've definitely needed to have found your dream job and bought a house. Pardon? Since when were there deadlines and cut off points for these things?

At no point do you have to grow up. That's something I've learnt as I've gotten a bit older...no one is there to tell me not to paint my walls pastel candy stripes or to not buy one more cuddly toy. Heck, we made a point of wandering around the new Toys R Us store in Leicester's Highcross a few weeks back because we wanted to check out the Lego, Shopkins and Hot Wheels. On days off together, we're more than likely playing on the Playstation, we play fight (which most of the time ends up in me getting injured because I've thrown myself across a sofa trying to tackle and I've landed on my neck, or worse, the dogs or the Crosley player...) but what's to say you can't make your own rules? 

I 100% appreciate that some like to have an idea of when they'd like to do things and planning is great. But another thing I've learnt as I've gotten older is these plans shouldn't be taken too seriously because you can't plan things like marriage, houses and babies. When I was younger, I used to think yeah I'll have had my first child by the time I'm 26 and now I am 26...that ain't gonna happen! I think it's very easy to feel as though you should have your life together by a certain age and it can look like you're falling even further behind if you're not in a relationship, have the job of your dreams or have started reproducing. It breaks my heart when I hear my friends telling me that they feel like they've majorly screwed up their own lives by not having done certain things when others have already done them, why do we feel this way?

The 'how's married life?' question makes me cringe because the last thing we ever wanted to do was make a big deal out of getting married. Sure, it's a big step but we didn't want the hullabaloo of organising a day for ourselves which would inevitably be about pleasing other people. We kept it small, still offending folk in the process and I got a lot of stick from work colleagues for keeping it a secret. Things have continued just as they were inside our relationship, time has made us stronger not the overnight process of changing your name and wearing a new set of rings.

Of course, it also seems a pretty harmless question but when it's all you seem to get asked it starts to feel a little dull as would most things being said on repeat. Now for the next typical set of questions - 'no kids yet?'

Thanks for reading,

Meeting Kerry Darlington

A couple of weeks back, Mum and I decided to head into Newark to visit a friend and explore an oldy worldy art shop. Whilst we were there, we thought we'd pop into the Trent Galleries to have a look at some of the Kerry Darlington pieces which were on display and despite having already seen Kerry's work and style online, nothing could prepare me for how truly beautiful and mind blowing her art really is. We got chatting to Charlotte the gallery manager and having been in a few galleries before where art is for sale, I have found some can have very pushy or snobby members of staff who don't even greet you when you enter but Charlotte was an absolute angel. Enthusiastic about the gallery, knowledgable about the artists and their work and we discovered that Kerry Darlington herself would be at the galleries that weekend doing meet and greets. I had already made plans to visit a vegan fair that day but bailed on that, swapping my plans instead to try and meet Kerry.

We returned to the gallery a few days later for the meet and greet and found the entire shop to have been completely taken over with Darlington works of art. Everything else had been temporarily taken down and in their places were the most breath taking paintings and prints I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. We instantly got offered Prosecco and there was an adorable display of sweet treats but the crazy vegan I am couldn't munch on anything so I grabbed a wheelpop as a photo prop...as you do! We had a wonder around the gallery as we were a bit early and very soon more and more people started flooding in, but before long Kerry walked through the doors and mesmerised us all. She is incredibly elegant, not a hair out of place and was also very chatty, friendly, approachable and exceedingly charming.

The thing is, after my first visit to the gallery a few days ealier, I had fallen head over heels in love with a huge print called A Mad Tea Party and went home with my head in the clouds not being able to get it off my mind. Never before had I ever fallen so deeply in love with a piece of art that I could see myself investing in it, having it in my house and treasuring it for a lifetime. Never in my dizziest daydreams did I think I could ever own one of these unique edition prints as they alone are very expensive and the original probably cost more than my house. I had gone home and told James all about the artwork which had stolen my heart and to my astonishment, he told me to go back and get it for my birthday when I returned for the meet and greet. Not very much has ever made my stomach churn with excitement as that moment did and for the next couple of nights I was restless and barely slept; the kind of butterfly sensation you got as a kid on Christmas Eve.

So upon arriving back at the gallery, I viewed the artwork once again almost double checking I was as crazy about it as I thought I was because after all, it was expensive and it's not the sort of money we ever go splashing around yet I knew I'd regret it immensely if I let it slip through my fingers. I found Charlotte again and secured the artwork just in time - it was the only one left! Charlotte explained the artwork would be delivered to me during the next week and that as I'd bought a piece whilst Kerry was there, she could sign it on the back with a special message, we got to have our photo taken with her which would be sent in the post and also got gifted a little trinket keepsake which was a replica of the resin pieces which make Kerry's work 3D. I pulled out a little portrait of a woman which can be found in the Princess and the Pea artwork which was such a special addition to the experience and better yet, I had two stuck together so I gave one to my Mum.

I nervously waited with the rest of the now huge crowd and one by one, those of us who had bought a piece were called forward first to meet Kerry and have our newly purchased artworks signed on the back with a personalised message. Kerry was such a lovely lady, open and honest when asked about her techniques and what was involved when creating her work and we weren't rushed at all. We got a few snaps and whilst I look like an absolute potato, I'm so very lucky to have had this experience and also even luckier to have a husband who bought me this print for my birthday.

The painting arrived on the following Wednesday evening, delivered by Charlotte herself and I just sat on my kitchen floor with it and cried. I was overwhelmed with adoration for this artwork and couldn't quite believe it was now sat in my house. James came down and took the work upstairs to hide in his man cave until my birthday the next week yet I didn't feel the urge to sneak in and look at it even more. I just knew that in a few days, it would be on the wall in my lounge to look at all the time and I wanted to save that special moment for my birthday itself. I have never felt such a strong, crazy whirlwind of emotions towards a piece of art before and hopefully my photos do it justice and you're able to see why.

Thankyou so much for reading,

Vespa's Story - One Year On

Having two dogs at one time was never a plan of mine. Nor was it something I ever thought I'd have to justify to other people or explain why I did what I did. James wasn't keen on having another dog; he wasn't exactly chuffed when he realised I had Custard when we first got together but luckily, the two of them are now inseparable and they love each other very much. We always joke that Custard is in fact James' dog and I'm just a third wheel within their crazy loved-up relationship. For reasons that will become obvious by the end of this post, I now feel able to talk about Vespa's story and how he came to be living with us and is now officially, part of the family.

I met Vespa at my old job; the one I left earlier this year where I was a dog handler. I wasn't originally based with the Yorkshire Terrier's but after landing myself a permanent position, I was put with them to develop my skills further and learn about a different breed. Yorkie's are infamous for being quite tricky, especially to train and gain trust in. I was working in a research centre and before anyone goes off on one about the word 'research', it wasn't animals rigged up to machines or testing medicines or cosmetics. The dogs and cats were literally just testing out new pet foods and they lived within a kennel environment. We were allocated dogs for consistency, to help build a bond with them and we were responsible for their day to day care. I was given two dogs within my first week and Vespa was one of them.

From the moment I met Vespa I knew he was going to be hard work. Very suspicious, fussy with food, lacking confidence and he had never learnt how to play. He never learnt how to interact with other dogs properly; he was confused, vulnerable and never 100% relaxed. I worked hard on building his confidence and his trust in me as his handler. I bought brand new toys into work to try and encourage him to play and have down time when he wasn't 'working' and I tried hundreds of different games with treats to try and stimulate his mind. I spent a lot of my own money bringing in new games and toys, all of which had to pass a test to make sure they were safe to use and each time, we failed at having fun with them. I put his name forward countless times for homing (basically if an animal didn't cope in the environment they could be homed) and each time I was told his case wasn't really bad enough. Months and months went by and despite my best efforts not to, I fell in love with him. We were always encouraged to not bond 'too' much with the dogs because after all, they weren't ours and could be reallocated at any time. My relationship with Vespa was never broken up and I was permitted to keep him each time a new allocation came around due to his reaction to a different routine with a new handler. We got on really well together and he built up a trust in me, a truly wonderful feeling when an animal feels they're safe with you.

Then back in July 2016, I injured my hand which resulted in me having to have 3 months off work. This was obviously short notice and Vespa was given another handler temporarily until I returned. I worried about him endlessly but looked forward to seeing him again and continuing our work, knowing full well we'd probably have to go back a few squares due to his suspicious nature. When I finally returned to work, the little dog I had worked so hard to build up was gone and in his place was a more nervous, on edge, terrified version of the animal I had grown to know. I immediately took things back to square one and whilst he recognised me and understood who I was, he just wasn't the same so I took things slow and literally lay on the floor so he was able to sniff at will and get closer if he wanted to. By the end of the first half hour, he was laying by my side and I didn't want to move. I wanted to stay there for hours comforting him and promising that I could somehow make him happier.

Then the bullying started. I say started, it increased as this 'lady' had already taken a dislike to me way before any of this with Vespa and she just so happened to be my senior who thought she was the queen of dog behaviour. She got repositioned onto my unit where I worked and it didn't take her long to notice Vespa's ways and blame me for the way he was. Anyway she could get me into trouble, she'd do it. I ended up having to be watched when training him, watched when interacting with him in anyway and I was forbidden to cuddle him anymore, to love him or enter his pen without a valid enough reason.  I remember being told off just for entering his pen to say hello to him. It confused him too. My anxiety went through the roof and I became very ill and nobody believed just how bad things had got between me and this other lady. Some even found it funny that she hated me so much for no apparent reason. All I was told by my manager was confront her about it but as anyone with anxiety will know, this is literally impossible. I started to resent my manager for not having my back, almost blaming me too and making me feel incapable of dealing with a workplace bully and I was so frustrated that the lady in question had been reported for bullying many times and nothing had been done. With the last bit of fight I had left in me, I put Vespa forward again for homing. This time it was taken seriously, but again I was told off for not flagging his situation sooner. I was furious. Not flagging sooner? I could count 4 times over 3 years that I had asked them to reconsider and was told he wasn't bad enough. Mortified, embarrassed and clutching onto any hope I had of changing this dog's life, I went home sobbing to James, crying for hours and hours feeling heartbroken. He knew full well of course who Vespa was and how much I cared for him, what his story was, the bullying and where we currently stood. Luckily, he understood what we had to do; we had to get him a home. I was prepared to get him a home with anyone, providing it was the right one. Being his handler meant I had some say in whether or not I felt the home was right when my workplace had found one, but Vespa's nature and the relationship we had and how much I had grown to know and understand what he really needed, made it clearer and clearer that his true home, was with us.

What made getting Vespa home so tough was the lady who was bullying me stood very firmly in between doing just that. She even put a huge programme forward for him meaning he had to be isolated and couldn't have any contact with any other dogs. I could go into his pen if I needed to do something with him like take him for a walk, groom him, health check or administer any medications he may have needed but nothing else. Some of the things she said to me were...

'you're no good for that dog'
'you've ruined him'
'I have never been more disappointed in anyone before you'
'he's a broken dog and it's your fault'
'he's bitten people and isn't safe'

I did the only thing I felt I could - prove her wrong. I wrote a huge essay to the head of homing regarding my history with Vespa and why I felt the right home for him was with me and my family. I had to have an interview and explain I knew exactly what to do should a behavioural problem occur, since I already had Custard at home and there was no knowing whether the two dogs would get on. Custard I wasn't worried about, we've yet to find a dog she doesn't love but Vespa is totally the opposite and doesn't mix well. I had virtually the whole of December off last year and the first week of December consisted of me waiting anxiously on a phone call telling me whether I had won his case or not. And I did, I was able to home my little boy and give him a brand new life.

Collecting him was bizarre and he was absolutely petrified. Everything he had ever known was changing and the poor little man didn't have a clue what was going on. Upon arriving back at Flat 4, I bought Custard outside to say hello whilst my Mum waited in the garden with him. I didn't want them meeting indoors because it was Custard's house and I had to consider how that might make her feel. But it was utter chaos. He barked non stop for ages and Custard didn't know what to do with herself. She kept looking at me then looking at him like 'what's his problem Mum?' and for a couple of weeks I barely left them alone together. Of course after the first day or so he mellowed down a bit, but he was still unsure of his new surroundings which I honestly couldn't blame him for but it was very unnerving as you wonder how long will it take for things to settle? Leaving the flat was hard for me and I had to separate them just in case anything happened whilst I wasn't there and one day I came home to find a note taped to my door from a neighbour saying he'd been barking non stop since I'd left.

Vespa's first day at home

The good news was that Vespa was home in time for Christmas. He got his own Christmas jumper and on Christmas day fell in the pond at my in-laws house (wearing the jumper I might add) which was bloody funny but it didn't seem to phase him too much. He had lots of nice treats and presents, met new family members which for him was a big deal and things started to improve. He was getting along with Custard, his confidence was visibly growing and before long the doubt I had in my mind disappeared. The reason I haven't disclosed Vespa's history before is until recently, he wasn't officially ours. He had problems with his legs that my old work place were paying for, so we were technically a foster family but he's now signed over and is an official member of the Woolley family.

Sometimes I look into his eyes and I can still see the same little dog I met nearly four years ago and every moment we have spent together flashes by like those cringy bits in films. He's wound me up countless times, especially when it comes to peeing up the coffee table and don't even get me started on when I need to trim his nails. Family members fell out with me when I said I was bringing home a dog with behaviour issues, after all getting a dog is a very big thing and usually when someone looks for a dog they don't want one that has issues. I got told I was making a huge mistake and had pretty much no support from anyone around me but James. Luckily it didn't take long before my Mum understood why I did it but even on the way to collect him, I remember pleading with her to just trust me as she asked yet again whether I knew what I was doing. I knew he belonged with us. Had I lost my mind completely or was there method in my madness? I didn't care what they thought back then, I had to help him. Even now, family and friends comment on how much he's changed from the dog I bought home that day who seemed like nothing but a burden.

A whole year later and this is where we're at. He's still not 100% confident with everything but then again there is something all dogs don't like. Custard for example isn't a fan of clattering cutlery but all you can do is try to help them become more comfortable. He's learnt to play, his manners are adorable, he loves cuddles and no, he's never bitten us and he's never bitten me in our whole time together. Custard really took Vespa under her wing and I don't think he'd have come so far without her teachings. You can see him watching her, assessing how she behaves and he will copy. It's a good job Custard is a positive role model and doesn't behave like an idiot because the last thing Vespa needed was to go even further backwards. She's been a real support to him and I don't believe he'd have come so far so fast without her by his side. We'd mentioned a couple of times before Vespa came home that Custard would really appreciate a friend yet we couldn't justify getting another dog. Funny how things turn out isn't it!

Vespa has now got a family and I know I did the right thing by him the entire time. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, I'm incredibly proud of the family dog he has become and it wouldn't be the same without him now. He's been at home with us a whole year today and I'm very happy to be able to call him our dog.

Thanks for reading,

Vegan Life Live - Tickets Giveaway!*

If there is one thing I'm loving above all else right now, it's embracing the vegan lifestyle as much as I possibly can. I really enjoy finding new recipes to try, new foods that for years I thought were nasty before even eating them, switching over all of my household and cosmetic products to be cruelty free and vegan too and doing as much as I can to make a difference. When Vegan Life Live got in touch and asked if I'd like to host a giveaway for two sets of two weekend passes for my readers you can probably imagine my excitement so here we are!

I believe the show is a fairly new thing but Hannah from Vegan Life Live was kind enough to send me over some photos of last years event to share with you all. There will be a huge variety of stands to explore, ranging from clothing to cosmetics, household products to food, cooking demos, workshops and lectures. Whilst it can definitely seem that being a vegan is all about what you can't have, the show is a celebration of everything we can have and also opens eyes to the wonderful world of the vegan lifestyle.

James and I will be attending for sure and can't wait to immerse ourselves in a show that is all about vegan food and living. I don't think he will know what to do with himself with all of the delicious food that will be there to try and I for one can't wait to discover more cosmetic brands and get plenty of snaps to share on my blog.

So for the nitty-gritty! I'll be giving away two sets of two weekend passes to two readers of my blog. Important dates for your diary are the 10th & 11th February 2018 so make sure you're free on either of those days, or both if you're feeling wild and want to be attending both days! There is accommodation close by and a train which runs directly to the Alexandra Palace where the event will be held. All information around travel, location, features and show guides can be found here.

I've tried to keep the entry rules as simple as possible; just fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a blog comment telling me why you'd love to go to the Vegan Life Live and for a bonus entries there are a couple of Twitter follow options. I will be drawing the winners on the 15th January 2018 and will be in contact asking for your email address so that Vegan Life Live can send you your free tickets.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Etsy Shop Gift Guide

It's no secret here that I'm a huge lover of other small businesses and will support them where I can. Over the past few months, I've really tried to stick to them more for little gifts and kicking off my first ever blogmas attempt, I wanted to share with you some of my all time favourite buys from my favourite sellers which I feel would make beautiful and unique gifts for your loved ones too.

I now have two floral crowns from Holly's shop Aurora Fawn but believe me when I say, I literally want every single piece that is listed in her shop. Ranging from Halloween to Christmas pieces, personalised custom crowns to one-off's that are made just for fun, there is bound to be a design for everyone and better yet, Holly can attach antlers, unicorn horns, ears and even Maleficent horns to your crowns for a really magical piece. Below is the crown Holly custom made for me and all I did was ask for a unicorn design with a white iridescent horn and then gave her my favourite colours to play with.

handmade floral crown

I'm a huge lover of candles but these days I'm much more fond of wax melts, especially from this gem of an Etsy shop. The only downside to this shop is I expect all wax melts to be the same in terms of quality and strength but these are without a doubt the best brand I have ever found. I picked a few up this time last year and I'm still using them now, simply because you can cut them up and the scents are so powerful and long lasting that using a whole pod isn't necessary. The range in the shop is fantastic and I've picked up some dupe scents like Snow Fairies which, you guessed it smells just like the famous Lush shower gel, Alien which smells exactly like my Thierry Mugler perfume and I'm also a huge lover of soapy smells like fresh laundry.

handmade wax melts

This Etsy shop is such an inspiration to me and there is a tonne of products to choose from meaning you're bound to fill a couple of stockings from this shop alone. I particularly love this unicorn design and I grabbed it on a coaster for my office earlier this year. The colours are so crisp and vibrant plus the quality of the coaster is awesome, no wearing away around the edges and easy to clean should you (inevitably) splash your drink. I also found Katie's shop to be very reasonably priced and will be returning for some Christmas gifts myself this year!

unicorn gift

Fran has been one of my favourite illustrators for a couple of years now and I adore her style. I treated myself last year to one of her prints and art prints are the perfect gift for fellow creatives, especially if you can find a cute frame for them too. Fran has also recently released a new planner which I'm dying to get my hands on...maybe one day!

frannerd artwork

5. Katnipp Illustration
Everything about Cathy's shop Katnipp Illustration makes me squeal with joy, I don't think I've ever stumbled across a brand who is more up my street and I absolutely adore everything she has to offer. I grabbed one of her moon badges earlier this Autumn to add into a giveaway and she kindly included one of her mermaid stickers with beautiful packaging and plenty of character.

mermaid gift

6. Pastel Elixir
A small business gift guide wouldn't be complete without a cheeky promo of my own little shop and I'm super proud of how far I have come with it this year and even more excited for next years adventures. I couldn't be more in love with my job and I'm so very grateful and ecstatic to now be doing this full time. As a little thankyou, I'm giving away little Christmas treat bags with all orders over £10 until the big day, which typically contain stickers, badges, discount codes, sweets and other cute surprises! The support received this year means the world!

Thanks for reading,

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