Where have I been?

I haven’t been posting on here as often as I’d like, as I’ve been concentrating on my food and drinks blog.

fulltothebrum_wFull to the Brum is a Birmingham-based blog which celebrates the exciting food and drinks scene in the city.  Since I restarted it in June I’ve been focusing much more on the personal experience side of it – restaurant, cafe and bar reviews as well as product reviews, news and info about events and even the occasional recipe.  I wanted to celebrate the great food and drink adventures I found in and around Birmingham.

This means that Ants in Her Pants has taken a bit of a back seat, but I’m hoping to update more often on all the other adventures I’ve been on – and maybe even occasionally mentioning some of the stuff from Full to the Brum too.

http://fulltothebrum.co.uk/

Lush Christmas

Screen shot 2014-11-23 at 12.54.51It seems Christmas is everywhere, but back at the beginning of October I had the pleasure of being invited to Lush in Solihull for a preview of their festive offerings.

This year Lush have gone a sort of Frozen meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with some Nordic Pop influences thrown in for good measure.  That’s to say there’s a nice mix of tradition with some more modern influences.  I particularly liked the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas, with a lovely Lush treat to take you through to the epiphany.

But for me Lush is all about bath bombs/bars/melts.  Ordinarily, I’m more of a shower person, but sometimes life calls for a bath and when it does I always think there should be some bubbles.  I was particularly taken with a couple of the non-Christmas range; the sparkling pumpkin bubble bar with all its glitter and a swirling cylinder which let out an array of colours – just like a firework!  But there’s plenty of adorable Christmas bath bombs, bars and melts too; snowmen, penguins, mini-drums and even one present shaped with a little gift inside.  I admitted to not really understanding the bubble bars (I throw a bath bomb in and wait for bubbles) and one of the lovely ladies at Lush Solihull took pity on me and gave me a demo on how they worked – turns out some of the bars can be broken up and used a few times.

Snow fairy, the delicious Christmas-only shower gel is back too, as are some lovely festive soap.  I picked up some of the Yog Nog which had a lovely creamy feel and smell and a delicious rich red soap both of which I’m looking forward to using.

The lovely ladies and gents of Lush Solihull were great hosts; they took us through the range, taking time to explain the products’ inspirations and development.  I even got a free massage and left with a very glittery arm, which was mighty fun on the bus home.

Roll on Christmas!

Disclosure: I was invited down to the bloggers event and given free samples to take home, however I wasn’t required to say anything nice abut the event of products.  I also spend far too much of my own money that evening, because I’m a big fan of the bath bombs.

How a house move taught me the value of consumerism

Still baring the scars from the last house move 12 months ago (and the one before that 4.5 years ago), I’ve moved house again a few months ago.  

My, now-ex, housemate moved in with her boyfriend and I took the decision that it was time to downsize from half a house to renting a room.  After all, I work full time and my curiosity in exploring and learning more means I’m often out a lot, so saving money and having less space to clutter seemed a wise plan.

However this meant the very painful need to get rid of a lot of things I just wouldn’t have space for.  Despite a trunk full of books going to charity last year, another car-boot full went to a local school’s summer fair fundraiser and several others to another school’s library.  Saucepans, cuddly toys, DVDs and a variety of other miscellaneous items to various charity shops.  Most things went to charity, some went to organisations which give you money for your old things, but mainly it was just about ridding myself of stuff I didn’t need.

A fellow Brummie blogger, Travelling Coral, linked to a blogpost about consumption and the Disease of More.  Thankfully I’ve been pretty fortunate enough to work in jobs I’ve (mostly) enjoyed and haven’t felt the need to buy things to distract me from a terrible 9-5.  But the move has made me recognise that I still buy more things that I need – my groaning bookcases as prime example.

The last paragraph in the blogpost, an almost call to action, really resonated with me and made me think:

“If the goal really is to work until you die, then keep earning, keep spending, keep consuming, and ultimately your goal will be reached.  If the goal is to enjoy at least a portion of your life, to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy what little time we have on this earth, then wake up, get conscious, and make a change.  Slow down.  Breathe.  Take a step back and evaluate your consumption, and ask, at what cost? ”

- from the blog With Husband in Tow.

With the house move scars still so fresh and a spate of celebrations upcoming, it made me realise that maybe the answer wasn’t to clutter up my friend’s houses with more junk, but buy something that would mean spending more time together doing something we enjoy; dinners out and concert tickets, primarily.  After all we can consume more, but we can also consume art and knowledge and good food in the company of friends and loved ones.  And what better way to consume than that?

Birmingham Blogger Meet

IMG_4164.JPGIt hasn’t escaped me, the irony of being a week late blogging about a blogging meet up that was about getting more organised, but you know what they say – better late than never!

Last weekend I trundled off to the Birmingham Blogger Meet (or #bhmbloggermeet), as organised by Abbigayle over at stealstylist.com.  Back when I first started getting into blogging the types of meet ups were very much on the more nerdier side of things, but now it seems the beauty/fashion blogger reigns supreme.  That said, whilst beauty/fashion/lifestyle bloggers made up the most numbers everyone swapped lots of blogging tips and there was plenty to talk about.

First things first, we were given some lovely goody bags with some exciting treats inside; a necklace from Lylia Rose, a blending brush from Nanshy, hand cream and lip balm from Bee Good, Lovely Lotions handmade soap, Colour Me Fragrance perfume samples, a whole bag of stuff from Lush, a pencil and sign from Dottie Rocks, and saving the best till last – a blogger ring-binder organiser and goal jar from Abbigayle herself.  I’m a complete stationery nerd, so knowing that I need to get more organised with my blogging made this all the more exciting.

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As well as the goody bag (I’ll blog about some of the items in individual posts), Abbigayle had organised a series of games for us to play.  I particularly enjoyed listening to the individual questions she asked everyone, from “Where do you see your blog in five years” to “What city would you move your blog to if you could”.   The second question was the one I was asked and given my other blog Full to the Brum is Birmingham based it would make it sort of redundant, but this blog would happily go travelling, if the mood took me!

After photographing ourselves with our binders and coming up with witty slogans for cupcakes, we were given a talk by Kirsty from Motives cosmetics, who showed us some of their bestsellers.  This was followed by a demonstration by Maria and Jessica from the Central School of Make Up who showed us how to do winged eyeliner.  I’ve always been curious as to how people get this to look right, turns out it’s all in the tilt of the head.  That said, I doubt I have the patience to master this look.

With a couple of games left, and prizes being awarded to the winners, the meet up finished with a buffet lunch and a good gossip about blogging with some of the other people at the meet up.  The warm up questions at the beginning of the session and the fact were were all bloggers meant that conversation flowed easily and it was nice to get some great hints and tips, as well as some new blogs to add to my RSS reader.  It’s also inspired me to re-start this blog, so hopefully you’ll see more posts on here from me soon!

Death Cafe Birmingham

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Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

Cake pop & menu

Cake pop & menu

It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

Check out http://deathcafe.com/deathcafes/ for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

Life’s too short to read bad books

I vividly remember the first book I never finished.  It was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I hated it.  Up until that point I read everything veraciously and this was the first book that I struggled through, that gave me reader’s block and made me struggle with whether it was okay to give up on a book.

And my answer is yes.

I’ve rarely found anyone who has given up on a book did so without good reason, even if that reason is that they didn’t like it; there’s often reasons why they didn’t.  It’s why the book club I run has a rule that you don’t have to finish the book.  Rarely do I find that people didn’t finish a book because they ran out of time, and if they did it’s usually because something was preventing them from picking up the book in the first place.  But if someone doesn’t finish a book, there’s usually just as much to talk about as those who mercifully struggled to the end.  Hated the plot, the characters or the writing style?  Great, lets discuss why!  Books people don’t finish often make better book club books anyway.

Thankfully it’s not just me who thinks it’s okay to give up on a book, even as a self-described reader / bookworm.  Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project (which is a great book) talks about the relief of giving up on a book and letting go of the sense of obligation.  And Adele Parks advised a teacher not to force young people to finish a book if they hated it at a World Book Night event I went to.  So if authors are advising people to give up on books they hate it seems reasonable to do so.

But when do you give up on books?  Writer Jen Doll suggests preserving with 100 pages.  I tend to go for 100 pages or 10% of the book before making a judgement, but some times the first five pages are enough.  This way I avoid the guilt that comes with leaving a book unfinished; I’ve given myself a point where it’s okay to just admit it’s not for me.

What do you think, am I admitting defeat too early, should I struggle on and finish what I started?  Or is life just too short to read books you don’t like?

Congratulations on the smug political status update

I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

But above all, do something that might actually count.

World Book Day – three Birmingham authors to check out

Today it’s World Book Day in the UK and what better way to celebrate than by picking up a good book by a Birmingham based author?  Here are three contemporary authors which i think are well worth checking out…

Benjamin Zephaniah

Writer, poet, lecturer and born in Handsworth, he is well worth seeing speak live as reading some of his work.  Having published (and performed) a slew of poetry, he has also released several novels aimed at young people.  He also did a blinder of a talk at the University of Birmingham’s annual Baggs Memorial Lecture on the topic of happiness and was in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders.  If you’ve never heard, seen or read anything by this man you’re really missing out.  http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

Katharine D’ Souzaparklife2

I read Katharine’s first novel Park Life a couple of years ago and adored it.  It follows the lives of two people who live in the same block of flats, with South Birmingham being almost a supporting character – and those in the know will be able to spot references to Kings Heath / Moseley, which just added to the book for me.  Katharine has since released a second book which I’m looking forward to reading soon. http://www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/

Mike Gayle

Ex-agony uncle (no really, check out his website) and author of a stack of bestsellers, Mike Gayle in a Brummie born and bred.  He’s also set a few of his books in Brum, namely Turning Thirty and its sequel Turning Forty, which is also set in South Birmingham.  But his other books are set in London, Manchester and there’s even a non-fiction book, The To Do List.  His books are light-hearted (except maybe My Legendary Girlfriend, that one’s a bit darker) and often confusingly called chick lit.  If you’re looking for a beach read, then you can’t go wrong with some of Mike’s novels. http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/

Some other authors with links to Birmingham worth checking out are: W. H Auden (you know the Stop all the Clocks / Funeral Blue poem from Four Weddings), R J Ellory, Catherine O’Flynn (her first novel What Was Lost is set in a shopping mall which may or may not be Merry Hill), Lee Child, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle (spend some time working in Brum) and Malala Yousafzai.

So, what are you reading this World Book Day?

50 films in 2013: How I did

It’s a new year and time to reflect; in January last year I challenged myself to watching 50 films at the cinema in 2013.  Well the year is over and how did I do? I aimed for 50…I managed 74. 

So how did I do it?  The short answer is with some good planning, a Cineworld Unlimited card and a ‘why not’ attitude.  Turns out if you have a a cinema pass and spend some time checking running times you can see three films in one day.  A big thanks to the staff at the Birmingham branch of Cineworld for their general amusement at me rocking up and getting three tickets – and even double checking my timings (and a special thanks to Megan who was brilliant when my mum and I saw Gone With the Wind).  I also saw films in the local independent cinema, in the basement of a coffee shop as part of the inaugural Birmingham Architecture Festival, an arts centre, a warehouse as part of the Jameson Cult Film Club and a couple of other cinemas – thanks to them too.

The most important thing for me was that all the films I saw were films I actually wanted to see; I was determined that I wasn’t going to complete the challenge watching things I’d felt forced into watching.  Sure I saw some trash, I’m not going to apologise for that, but I also saw some great films too.  A couple of the films I enjoyed: The Way, Way Back; Rise of the Guardians; Much Ado About Nothing; Frances Ha; Frozen; Chico & Rita…and a few of the others!

I’ve uploaded the full list of 74 films here.  This year I’m going to try and keep my ‘why not’ attitude towards cinema going, but I’m not going to set myself a number.

Shapes, words and reminders

I’m sat here in the new library, looking out onto Birmingham with my wrist bandaged up like a prize fighter. Today marks the day I got my first tattoo. I always thought I’d be the kind of person never to get one; I always said there was nothing I liked enough to chose to mark my skin with every day. But this has been a hard year and I’ve resorted back to one of the things that helps me to remember to persevere.  And when I thought about it, I’ve been doodling this on my wrist on and off for ten years, this little purple star.

It’s funny because my mind remembers in pictures, shapes and colours; I’m hopeless with names but I will remember where on a shelf a long forgotten book is or the route to somewhere I rarely go. But words, words and stories, have always been my first love, in all their shapes and sizes. During hard times I always retreat to stories; books, music and film; to quotations and lines from songs.  Tell me a story, better yet put it in a song, and it has the power to stop you in your tracks…or struggle on through.

I have a quote for most occasions and several for when things are tough and you keep going, but the one I always come back to is from New Found Glory; “every darkness, I’ll shine through”.  Life is full of struggles, big and small, but keep shining. It’s the same message as Winston Churchill’s “If you’re going through hell, keep going” or Disney’s Finding Nemo “just keep swimming”.  Life is wonderful and hard, awesome and awful, it’s so simple and wonderfully complex, but it’s worth persevering even when things aren’t as good as they could be.

Someone I once heard talk said tattoos didn’t have to have meaning, they can just be artworks in their own right, and he’s right. To most people who might see this little purple star and I’m okay with that because stars are pretty awesome in so many ways. But to me it’s so much more.