The Cosy Club - Leicester*

A couple of weeks back I was invited to review the vegan menu at The Cosy Club in Leicester and was able to pick a date to go along with a plus one. Since Abbey is my fellow vegan food gobbling fanatic, I asked her to join me and we went on Tuesday evening to try out their menu. We were booked in for 5:30 and when we arrived it was really quiet which was fine by me since I like a calmer atmosphere. We had a cute little table for two against a wall covered in quirky artwork and not long after sitting down, our waiter came to take our drinks orders.

Since it was girls night, we decided to get some mocktails (I don't drink very much at all) and I went for a standard mojito whilst Abbey went for a mojito with a passionfruit twist to it. They were both delicious and extremely refreshing, I wish I had ordered another one later in the evening rather than my second choice which was the Virgin Summer Sangria. The drinks took a little while to come out to us, but the waiter apologised for the time and explained the bar staff were busy making quite a few cocktails at that moment. He took our food orders when he came back and it didn't take very long at all for us to have our food sat in front of us.

I went for the falafel burger which was absolutely crammed with yummy and healthy goodness like avocado, hummus, sweet potato and of course the falafels. It came with a side of fries too and the portions were very generous so this place will be one to consider when eating out with James. He eats a lot and sometimes portions can be lacking in other places so it's always good to know how much food you get for your money at new places. Abbey had the thai burger and tells me it was delicious too. I'm not a fan of thai food but judging by the fact her plate was completely empty by the time we finished...I think that explains all!

We finished up our food and again it took a fair bit of time for a waiter to come over and take our plates away and then to order dessert and another round of drinks. I think there was a little bit of confusion as he was under the impression there was more than one vegan pudding option but The Cosy Club at this moment do only have one thing to choose from; the chocolate orange torte. I'm seriously not complaining however because this thing was insanely good and very much like a cheesecake. It came out very swiftly (although missing the raspberry sauce that it was supposed to be served with) and it was so rich and creamy that I couldn't finish mine. Instead, they kindly wrapped it up in some foil for me to take home and James was more than impressed that I'd bought him a piece of it home with me. Despite only having the one option, I did find it very refreshing that they weren't just offering a vegan sorbet which seems to be the lazy option in other restaurants and I usually skip pudding out of bordom. Safe to say though that this dessert was tip top and very tasty.

Overall, the timing's for our food and drinks weren't bad at all and the two waiters who we had looking after us were very friendly and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. I also appreciated that there wasn't a set uniform for the staff, they were all dressed really quirky and very independently styled. Still smart and presentable but it was nice to see they all had some freedom with what they wore for work. The atmosphere was brilliant and there was plenty of space in between tables so it didn't feel like you were sitting on other peoples laps. I also adored the themed decor the business has adopted and found the place to be really clean feeling (except the toilets...they stank a little nasty but this was local drainage works and out of the control of The Cosy Club) but our table was spotless and we had a brilliant time trying the vegan food from their menu.

A huge thankyou to The Cosy Club for inviting us along, no doubt I'll be back with James soon for more!

Thanks for reading,

*Our meals and drinks were paid for by The Cosy Club in exchange for a review of my experience on my blog

Vegan Chocolate Making Kit*

If there was one thing that stopped me from going vegan sooner, it was the thought of not being able to eat chocolate ever again. Of course, after doing even just a tiny bit of research I realised what a foolish assumption this was as there are tonnes of vegan chocolate options available, I felt very daft for thinking I'd have to say goodbye to my favourite treat forever. I'm a huge chocolate fan, especially during PMS week when my body craves nothing more than a big chunk to make me feel better, so when I discovered the chocolate making kit from Indigo Herbs I knew I had to give it a go.

When I was younger, one of my dreams was to be a chocolatier; I experimented a little during my teens with making my own chocolate but was always put off when it came to all of the science of chocolate and not really understanding what to do. Tempering for example, which is what makes chocolate have a funny frosted looking coating on it if it is melted then set again without a 'proper' method. It can get a little complicated and in all honesty I don't know enough about making chocolate from scratch.

With that in mind, I couldn't wait to get stuck into this chocolate making kit that came with clear instructions and all of the ingredients needed to make your own raw chocolates at home. I already had a button shaped chocolate mould from a previous project but I bought another one in a paw shape that I can use for dog treats later on. These are super cheap on places like eBay and are also silicone so it's very easy to pop things out once set. The method for this kit couldn't have been easier; you melt the cacao butter bain marie style, add the vanilla before giving it a good mix, add the cacao powder, mix again then add the agave syrup. It's recommended after adding the syrup you stir the mixture 100 times as recommended by the brand's chocolatier team and I found this to be just perfect!

I then put the mixture into a jug for easy pouring, filled all of my moulds and found that I had some chocolate left over so I chucked it into a cupcake tray. I put all of my moulds into the freezer (or you can fridge them, whichever you like!) and waited an hour before popping them out. I had added in some cheeky decorations to my moulds like edible glitter and gold confetti to jazz them up a little but even without, I think they would have looked so cute! The cupcake tray ones didn't come out of the holes as easy as the silicone...I told you guys, the silicone moulds will be your best friends! But even still, they're edible and kind of look a little bit like chocolate cakes so I'm not complaining!

These would make an excellent treat for friends and family - you could even bag them up with a bow as a little gift and better yet, they're vegan friendly. Anyone could have a go at making chocolates with this kit because it's so easy and you could get really creative with decorations...I'm thinking themed chocolates now with all sorts of colours and sprinkles going on!

Thanks for reading!

This chocolate making kit was gifted to me by Indigo Herbs*

A New Fitness Journey

A week before Christmas I got the flu and the only thing that made me feel even slightly relieved of all of the nasty symptoms was yoga. I don't quite know how this works, maybe it was more of a distraction but if you've ever had the flu you'll know it feels as though you just want putting out of your misery. I had stomach flu as well as the standard so I really did feel like I was dying and all I could stomach was plain Pringles or courgette and pesto wraps. I lost half a stone and started to feel really weak in myself, it wasn't fun at all.

I'd been doing a bit of yoga since last summer, on and off with no real commitment to it, but I started up again in December realising I needed to build some strength. After my hand accident in July 2016 I've lacked confidence in working out through fear of breaking my tendon again as they never fully go back to the strength they once had. Tendons almost knit together and once broken, they're always very fragile especially since I went straight through the extensor tendon in my right hand, which controls my ring and baby finger and it was already a very small tendon. Yoga has been absolutely amazing for teaching me to claw through my finger tips and spread the weight throughout my entire body whilst building up some strength in my wrists and arms and giving me that much needed confidence back. From here I started handling little 1kg weights and built those up to 3kg, 5kg, 8kg and sometimes even 12kg depending on what I'm doing. I have muscles in places that I didn't even know were there and feel so much stronger.

I've always had a fear of working out in public and for this reason never joined a gym. Having a fitness fanatic husband, he was always at the gym and is very into his health and keeping in a tip top condition. When we moved into our house, we were pleasantly surprised to discover some friends of ours were moving in that same week, on the same street just a couple of doors down. They're fortunate enough to have a garage at their place so James and his friend decided to turn it into a gym and each put money towards kitting it out and buying the equipment. This has saved money in the long run from gym memberships but has also opened a door to fitness I've never been confident enough to go through. I've been going over to the garage gym and they've done such a good job in there that you can do everything you'll ever need from the comfort of your own home. I never thought I'd see myself in a gym environment and even though it's pretty much all at home, I'm super proud of this first step.

I also suffer with exercise induced asthma so running for me is always a little tricky especially at this time of year when pollen is high and it contributes to difficulty breathing. I have tried taking a puff or two of my inhaler before a light run and again when I get home but it doesn't seem to help much. I live right next to a country park so the pollen seems to be even stronger around here but what I do try is to do a light jog when I take my dogs out with James and we have lots of breaks in between little stints. The way I see it is it's better than nothing and will hopefully help to build me up to a proper run.

Overall though I'm feeling great and I can't tell you how exciting it is seeing my body transform, slowly but surely. I'm also looking forward to treating myself to some Gym Shark leggings, I feel as though I deserve that treat for coming so far with my mentality towards fitness and creating a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks for reading,

Acrylics: It's A Love Hate Thing

Acrylic paints are without a doubt the type of paint I have the most experience with yet sometimes we're just not friends. Every so often I feel the urge to raid my paint box and create a new piece of art but I always experience the same feelings throughout the process which always stops me from using acrylics as my main art materials for my work.

Number one would have to be the consistency and I'm talking about when it comes to doing the fine details. I can't seem to work the paint comfortably and it's either too thick or I've watered it down too much so that it's gone all transparent and useless. For larger areas though I adore the consistency and blending colours together is one of my favourite things about this type of paint.

Alice in Wonderland

Next up would be surfaces to paint on. I used to enjoy painting on canvas but I much prefer the canvas material when it's not been stretched over a frame. I believe it's called calico but it's a method I picked up on at Sixth Form; it was so much fun and the paint has a wonderful effect on the naked fabric. I've never primed my canvas's however, so next time I get one I'll be doing this and seeing if it makes a difference to my relationship with painting onto them. The other downside to canvas that I don't like is how expensive they can be and also storing them once they're finished. I  much prefer to paint onto a thick paper designed for acrylics so that it can easily slip into my portfolio.

I do however love how acrylic paints layer up and the stunning range of colours. Mixing new shades is endless and I also love that I can save my mixed colours for the next day if I don't manage to finish my work, by sliding my palette into a carrier bag and folding the end over to keep it relatively air tight. The paint is a little more firm the next day but once I'd added just a drop of water and given them a mix they're good to go.

My favourite acrylic paint brand would have to be hands down, Winsor and Newton and I've been using their acrylics since I was around 14. I do need to be careful which colours I get however as a couple from their range (I believe it's a grey and a black) have bone black in them which is charred down animal bones and I'm making a big effort to stay away from art supplies that contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals. Out of everything I've encountered so far in the cruelty free world, it can be a little more tricky finding the information for art supplies than things like makeup and beauty but luckily there are sites like the Vegan Womble who collect information and pop it into one place for ease.

What is your favourite type of paint? I'd love to try gouache!

Thanks for reading,

A Desk Revamp

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that my desk space has had a huge update. Over the bank holiday weekend, we made the potentially foolish decision to go to Ikea on the Monday to replace our lounge rug. We got up early and set off for the Nottingham store and when we got there we were fist pumping seeing it so quiet and quickly got ourselves inside with a big yellow bag. We were in and out perhaps within 40 minutes and as we were leaving it was starting to get super busy. You can imagine how smug we were that we'd managed to slip in and out with very little agro. Of course, a trip to Ikea always results in you coming home with more than you planned, but at no point did I think I'd be coming home with a new desk.

It was something that had been discussed often in the Woolley household and as I work at home, having a good work space is a lot more important than you might think. I spend at least 8 hours a day in my studio room and whilst I'm incredibly happy to do what I love for a living, my desk was always a bit of a bugbear. We got this desk whilst living back at Flat 4; it went with our aesthetic perfectly and was a bespoke piece from a now closed Etsy store. It's an industrial style workbench with a reclaimed wooden surface, dark metal legs and a decent sized space to work on length wise. The downside was the surface was uneven, which made drawing on the desk or using a mouse (even with a mousemat) rather difficult. I always found myself having to pad my drawings surfaces out well so that the table levels wouldn't cause my paper to rock or my pen to slip. Width wise it always left me with eye strain as my computer screen wasn't able to sit back far enough, my keyboard always wobbled on the table too due to the unevenness and although it's a stunning workbench, it wasn't really a practical desk for what I do. We'd spoken about getting my office a new desk and using the old one in the spare bedroom where James does a lot of his own art and whilst we were in Ikea, we had a mooch around.

As soon as I saw the desk I knew it was the one. I remember watching Sex & The City the movie once and there is a scene where Carrie is shopping for a desk with Charlotte; she tells Charlotte that with the right desk comes the motivation to work and she was right. Whilst I have always been motivated to work from home, I have discovered a whole new love for the space I do my work in. We got the desk in white, since my studio is tiny and black would have made it look even smaller and it's a corner shaped design with a lot of storage surrounding it. There is a hidden trap door where I keep my candy stripe bags for orders, 4 shelves, a little cubby for my mini drawers and plenty of space over the top for storage boxes and trinkets. I adore it.

It's made such a huge improvement on how I feel within my workspace and I feel so much more organised with all of the storage it has to offer. I also grabbed some pretty boxes from Ikea too to put my paints and craft materials into and I think I'll be grabbing a couple more when I go back in a couple of weeks time!

Thanks for reading,

Beauxoxo - An Etsy Shop

Around five years ago I placed an order with an online shop I had randomly found through a Google search. I picked up a couple of glitter bows for my hair in different colours and still have them today. Then a couple of weeks back I thought I'd try space buns for the first time and fell in love with the hair style, all they were missing were a couple of cute accessories so I dug out my collection to experiment with. Since my two glitter bows were different colours however they didn't look right so I got myself on the internet, remembering a cute little small business I had once ordered from and was over the moon to see that Beauxoxo are still going strong and are bigger than ever.

Having had her pieces worn by Little Mix and Audrey Kitching to name just a few celebs who love the accessories as much as I do, Georgie has grown her little business into an empire and I was super excited to place another order with her again. Having turned to a vegan lifestyle just under a year ago, I wanted to check beforehand that none of the glues or fabrics used contained any animal products so I emailed the store and was pleased to hear back from Georgie within 24 hours. She was incredibly friendly and informative, explaining that the glitter bows were 100% vegan and that she was aiming to have her entire range following suit very soon.

I ended up choosing the glitter bows in the pastel shades again and this time I went for the pastel white, which is like a gorgeous holographic shade and super sparkly. I went for white so that I could wear them with any outfit and I'm so pleased with my decision. The bows come on a backing card and in a cello sleeve to protect them until you're ready to open them up and pop them into your hair. Georgie also chucks in some sweeties and everything is presented really nicely. Another huge bonus is the reasonable pricing of all of her products, especially considering they're handmade with love and not mass produced on a factory line. These small bows cost just £4 each and come in so many colours, I can see myself returning for some more.

The best part of this experience was knowing I was once again supporting a small business. I could of course have gone to a high street store and got some hair accessories but they wouldn't have been created and packaged with love like something from an indie seller. It's amazing to see Beauxoxo doing so well and seeing big names also appreciating what Georgie does. A massive hats off to her - what an inspiration!

Thanks for reading,

How I Went Self Employed

This time last year, I had handed my notice in with no where to go but my own home studio to try and make a full time go of my illustration business. I was terrified, excited and anxious for the future, where everything was going to go from there and whether or not I'd made a huge mistake or timed everything as best as I could. It was always my long term plan to leave my old job, I hated it with a passion and any enjoyment I once had for it had long gone. My only real escape was my own studio at home, where I was building a small business on the side with every spare second I had.

The first couple of months weren't so bad as I'd saved up a little bit of money to fall back onto which is probably one of the best pieces of advice for anyone planning to quit their regular income for self employment, where wages don't really exist and there is no knowing when work will come in. I structured a routine for myself and there hasn't really been a time when I've slacked and just bummed around which I'm quite proud of. Obviously there have been 'sick days' but having the option to do my work from the comfort of my own home means I've been able to self care whilst also still getting a little bit of work done. It took a long time for me to get my head around being allowed to have an hours lunch break as prior to this I've only ever known half hour lunches and it also took around 10-11 months for the early morning wake up panics to stop where I always thought I would have to go in to my old workplace. I think because of this, I've always practiced a bit of mindfulness as soon as I wake up; every morning I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to work from home and I never ever want to take it for granted. I do some yoga first thing with a cup of tea and feel so much more alive and appreciative for the position I'm in.

The same with lunches and waking up to start my working day at home, I can't quite get over being able to take time off whenever I like. Granted I usually don't really take a great deal of time off because I love what I do so much that staying away feels like torture, but not having to worry about begging a manager for time off to spend with my husband for his birthday feels amazing. Last Christmas I was also able to spend all of it with family and at home, something I hadn't been able to do due to a horrible rota for the 5 years previously, so that felt awesome too. I was used to working 7 days in a row and coming home stinking of dogs every single day; I can't tell you how much I love being in an environment that doesn't leave me stinking foul at the end of every shift!

A not so pleasant thing I have experienced a fair bit which I feel is important to address is crippling self doubt and my inner critic telling me that it's not going anywhere and that I'm not trying hard enough. For a while too, people around you don't seem to realise that just because you're always at home it doesn't mean you sit doing sweet F.A. all day, twiddling your fingers with your thumb planted firmly up your arse. And I think because of some snarky comments I've had over the last few months, I seem to beat myself up sometimes and I let it get to me. I've had people just turn up before because they know I'm usually at home and I find it really awkward explaining to them that I'm trying to get some work done. Of course there are some days, even weeks when not much happens so the inner critic feeds off this and tells you you're not trying hard enough and that's why you're not seeing results. I'm still in training and getting used to the peaks and troughs, also getting into the habit of always having a personal project to be working on when things might be quiet helps more than you'd think.

Being a freelancer has also turned me into more of a minimalist and I don't spend anywhere near as much money on stuff I don't need or won't use. I used to be a bugger for 'nipping' into Superdrug for some shampoo and coming out with loads of different things to try. It's made me more thrifty and conscious of where I'm buying from; I've started to recycle clothes, buy from places like eBay and charity shops, get rid of stuff I've not worn in 2 years and I'm really very happy with the more minimalist life. I can't believe I used to spend so much on things like makeup and clothes that I never wear so I'm really very pleased with this lifestyle change. Of course I've always loved to support other small businesses, but now more than ever I know how much of a difference one small purchase can make to an indie seller so I'm always trying to do my bit and go to them rather than the big brands and that feels great too.

There has been a huge amount of things to learn along the way, like spending ages replying to enquiries won't always result in some work and a lot of the time the work is like waiting for a bus - you wait for an absolute age then loads of them come along at once. But we're not alone in this crazy self-employed world and it's definitely a tough thing to be doing, especially if you do everything yourself. I think now more than ever it's very hard to run an online shop in terms of getting some customers and sales so I also try to share my favourite creatives. Having a blog not only helps to share my work and behind the scenes bits and bobs but it also keeps me sane when I want to take a little step back from my shop and I still really enjoying running this little online space.

Last month I opened up a Patreon account which I have been a little quiet about since it still feels a little strange to me and some people really do frown upon it, but this is going to be where I can send out some mystery boxes from my shop and produce exclusive products and content so if you are interested you can find me here but please don't feel like you have to. It's just an extra corner for people to get involved a bit more with my work if they wish to do so. Overall, this has been one of the best decisions of my life and there is nothing else I would rather be doing. So thankyou if you have stuck with me along the way and supported what I do, I couldn't have done it without you.

Thankyou for reading,

The Pros & Cons Of Being A Small Business*

May marks my one year anniversary for self employment and as part of my series to mark this milestone, today's post is going to be all about some of the pros and cons of starting a small business. These will all be my point of view so of course what I find challenging may not be so much of an issue to others and visa versa. This post is also a collaboration with Boost Capital, the champions of small business loans here in the UK. So let's start off with the cons so we can finish with the positives...I like that!

The Cons
The number one con for me would definitely be the funding, especially since I quit my full time job last year to solely rely on my self employment income. When I had a regular wage I found it much easier to fund my projects and always had plenty of money to experiment with new products for my shop. These days I find myself not having as much freedom with buying in new merchandise and I really sit and think about what I'd like to bring in that's new, the designs, how popular they might be compared to other products and is it something I can expand on. Boost Capital actually have a new Merchant Cash Advance to help fund your business which is a great option especially to get yourself kickstarted.

Another con would be sickness and any other responsibilities which may force you to need to take time off. This of course is also a huge positive, being able to manage your own time, but when I feel too ill to work or for example when my sister was in hospital a couple of weeks back, no one else was here to pick up the work for me. I had to catch up in my own time which meant longer hours for a little while until I had caught up. Self employment is far from easy, like a lot of people seem to believe. Often people who ask me about it focus in on the 'being your own boss' factor and it's so much more than that. With being your own boss comes a lot of responsibility, discipline and the determination to make all of this work. No one else is going to do that for you.

If you work all by yourself, you may also find it lonely or isolating. A lot of people I know online who are also self employed often take themselves to coffee shops to work so that they're out of the house. You're also the only person managing every single thing, like admin and paperwork, promoting and organising, staying on top of an online shop or blog. It all adds up and can sometimes seem a little overwhelming so I always try to stay as organised as possible so that it doesn't all pile up and stress me out. If I have a holiday or a few days off planned, I will tie up any loose ends and shut my office door when I'm finished so that I'm physically and mentally able to step away from the work zone and take some time out.

The Pros
Ah the pros. I just didn't enjoy working for someone else, ever. In the back of my mind I always saw myself trying to build my own empire rather than spend my life maintaining and growing someone else's. It's safe to say I haven't looked back, nor have I thought 'eugh I hate this job, it's about time I looked for something else' which was a regular sentence that used to form in my head multiple times daily where I used to work. The happiness that self employment brings me and also the improvements I have seen in my mental health have proven to me that this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

I learnt admin skills and prioritising at my old job, but working for myself has meant that I'm able to develop these further and find a way of working that really suits me. This is also something I try my hardest to never take for granted; each morning I start with mindfulness, appreciating the day and how lucky I am to do what I love and also work from home. As an anxiety sufferer, being able to have a career that doesn't always leave my stomach in knots or my head a clouded, terrified mess has changed my life in such a positive way. I have more confidence in myself and the more I do this the more faith and determination I seem to have for every other aspect of my life.

I also love to plan projects and have deep chats with my husband about our long term plans for our little business and what our goals are for the year. These days James has a lot more input and we make a lot of the business decisions together. I also can't express how great it feels to be able to manage my own time and not have to worry too much about booking holidays, birthdays or other dates off. It used to be a right faff at my old job, as our team was so big and if you left it too late the holidays you could have weren't your chosen dates, more like random slots here and there.

Overall, for me the pros outweigh the cons by far and this is one of the best life choices I have ever made and I'm very lucky to have been able to do so. Do you run your own business or if not, is it your dream to become self employed one day? Let me know! If you enjoyed learning a little more about being a small business, I'm posting lots more throughout May and sharing my experiences so far.

Thanks for reading!

*This post is sponsored content

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