The Umbrella Collective - The Great Blogger Bake Off

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Now I am quite clearly the runt of the litter. With Amy, Alice and Rhiannon whipping up some serious tasty treats in the kitchen, I am left with a feeling that Mary Berry would behead me. You see, I was all set to bake up a storm for this week's challenge (we could bake anything as long as it contained berries) but life got in the way and I was seen frantically thinking of something extremely cheap to make as I had no money. Today. Yes, you heard correctly. Last Minute Laura is back.

So I baked blueberry flapjacks because I had all the ingredients except the blueberries which we got for free from boyfriend's mum. What kind of person doesn't have ingredients for a simple sponge cake in the house? Oh, that'd be me. So if you want to find out how to make this incredibly simple recipe that even a baking idiot can bake, read on.

You'll need:

Porridge oats
2 sticks of butter
Golden syrup or honey
A pinch of salt
A mixing bowl and spoon

How to:

(I'm assuming you've pre-heated your oven. If not, do that)
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the golden syrup or honey
2. Chop up (or keep them whole...or both) the blueberries and add those to the bowl
3. Add the porridge oats and a pinch of salt
5. Add the melted butter and syrup concoction
6. Mix
7. Grease a tin with whatever, I just use butter
8. Spoon in the mixture and push it down flat
9. In the oven for 20 minutes
10. Take it out, wait for it to cool then eat it. Don't even cut it all fancy like I've done (ha!) - just dive in.

It's worth mentioning that I didn't actually use a recipe. I just did what felt right. If you need one just follow this and add blueberries. Ta da!

52 Lists // Current & Future Goals

Start a small business
Start and finish an Open University degree within four years
Raise another puppy as a friend for Sadie
Have savings of over £5000
Learn to play the guitar
Own my own house somewhere out of the way but still close to town
Raise money for a charity
Volunteer for a mental health or children's charity
Marry and have it be for life - for better or worse
Buy a Kitchen Aid mixer (mint green, please)
Never to force my daughters into something they don't want to do
Complete a spending ban challenge
To blog every day for a year
Create a yearbook full of family photos
Build up my credit rating to a respectable level
Pay off every debt I have accumulated in six years
Write an article for a magazine and for it to be published
Make and keep those elusive 'forever friends'
Become body confident and healthy

Appreciate the little things every day
Take care of my grandparents and parents
Love every day with no abandon
Learn to cook five big, healthy meals to perfection
Travel to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Tokyo, Berlin and Canada
Drive East to West of America in a hired car
Go to Disney World
Go to the Harry Potter experience
Post music covers on YouTube
Perform an acoustic set in a bar
Make my own jewellery
Grow my natural hair past my bra
Make my home a place I want to be daily
Quit smoking for good
Become an early riser
Host a barbecue this summer
Become a person someone would admire
Make my mother and nan proud in whatever I do
Stay in a job longer than a year

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Monday, 29 April 2013

After the thorough success of Saturday's #CDFMeet I'm going to take this time to express the biggest thank you to all the companies that participated and all of you gorgeous people who attended. It couldn't have happened without you and you honestly have my deepest respect and thanks.


St David's
Vivienne Westwood
She Said Beauty
Crafty Creatives
Twisted Sister
Ollie & Nic
Little Moose
Bright Colours
Crabtree & Evelyn
Stella & Dot
Vero Moda
New Look
Annabelle's Wigs
Thomas Sabo
White Stuff

So thank you, thank you, thank you for making the day special for us all.


Sunday, 28 April 2013
Yesterday all of our planning had culuminated in the day. The day of the Cardiff Blogger's Meet. Our being me, Chantele, Georgina. Leanne and Joanna (who unfortunately couldn't attend on the day). From the 10am pick up from Newport to the hour and a half goodie bag packing with all of our separate goodies to contribute to the knack of getting 30 huge Ollie & Nic bags into a car packed with four women to waiting on help from the lovely Charli, Leanne Marie and Christina to carry these bags to the venue - it was lively behind the scenes but did it go well? You bet it did!

The venue was the fabulous Brewhouse where we had live music throughout from the main restaurant downstairs and was kindly booked by the lovely Jenny.

Unfortunately I didn't take very many photos and instead I tried my hand at video blogging (vlogging) for the day. I've linked the video below and while it's not very good as editing is harder than I anticipated, I tried. Gold star for me. In the video you'll see everything from behind the scenes to the actual event to a snippet of what was in our bags so it's worth a watch, if only to tell me my editing needs serious work. For the purpose of this blog post i have stolen photos from Georgina's blog post here.

Inside the venue we all ate amazing freshly cooked food, had demonstrations and talks from Lush staff who were the sweetest girls and got to take away a few samples of their amazing Catastrophe Cosmetic face mask. With 2 for 1 deals on cocktails, a few little giveaway prizes donated by The White Stuff and Crafty Creatives everyone truly had a great time (I think - tell me if you didn't).

We moved on to Crabtree & Evelyn for hand treatments and shopping before heading down the road to watch a fashion show. Now, I've seen fashion shows styled by the ever-lovely JP before but it was so much better with blue skies and the sun beaming down. The models danced to upbeat songs while showcasing the latest from companies and designers inside St David's shopping centre and we got to have a little Q&A with him afterwards (after he signed a few autographs for his mini JPeople, of course - so cute) and I grabbed him for a little run through of his outfit on video. I want it. All of it.

After that most of us went our separate ways except a few who decided the best idea would be a bit of shopping before heading for the train home. I did pick up some gorgeous things from Dorothy Perkins which I'll no doubt show you very soon. For now, I'll leave you with the vlog from yesterday complete with me and my strained voice and I'll leave the big brand thank-you's for another day.

Thank you all for coming, you truly made it what it was!

Maybelline Color Tattoo 24 Hour in Pink Gold

Friday, 26 April 2013

Maybelline Color Tattoo 24 Hour in Pink Gold retails for £4.99 and can be found here.

I shy away from cream eyeshadows because of the drama I've had with them in the past. I hate applying them, I hate the uneven coverage, the fact that blending them is usually a chore and the creasing that leaves great big patches of congealed colour is just not my favourite thing. I stick to powder or baked eyeshadows for this reason and it wasn't until I found these Color Tattoos that I thought otherwise. Every blogger and her dog has spoken about these in the last year or so and when I ended up picking up On and on Bronze and Pink Gold, I still wasn't convinced. It's safe to say they convinced me.

So the texture is a nice hard cream that blends out well with a light finger or a pencil brush. The colour is a beautiful pink with gold undertones that's not so warm that it makes you look like you've got a bout of conjunctivitis. It takes a bit of packing on to get more than a wash of colour but the good thing is it doesn't congeal as you're layering so it's fairy easy to get a good finish. The product is pigmented on swatch but can be blended out to a sheer wash of shimmer. Personally I like to use this product as a base to bring out Urban Decay's Sin and Sidecar. It works unbelievably well to add more depth to the already beautiful tones and since it does really stay put for 10+ hours it can be used as a primer. I've ditched my 'Sin' primer altogether in favour of this. I also use it as a highlight with NARS Orgasm blush as it really does compliment it so well. Well worth the price and I'll end up buying more colours no doubt. Eternal Gold and Permanent Taupe are next on my list.

Tag // Influences of the Internet

Thursday, 25 April 2013

So we're here again. Two posts in one day because one was rather ranty and this is my feeble attempt at a make up post. Two tags. Two. You lucky ducks. So I'd best say thank you to Megan for creating the first tag, Bella for the second and Amy for tagging me in both just the one.

Influences of the Internet

Did other blogs convince you to start up your own?

Yes! I've been blogging in some form for well over a decade - first with Expage then with Geocities, on to Xanga and Livejournal and so on but I've never really started a blog. I saw how influential blogs had started to become in the last few years and thought it looked like a fun, creative hobby that I could do from home and wouldn't cost too much so I gave it a shot. What Laura Did was born.

Have you joined a site because someone else in the blogosphere did?

Apart from Bloglovin', not really but when I think about it I was alerted to Instagram through blogging and I am an Instafiend (real word right there) so yes.

Is there a tip/regime you've got from the Internet that you use now?

Listing them all would have you here all day but in short hell yes. From life hacks to skincare products that are now staples in my bathroom to make up tricks - I found it all here, baby.

If your favourite Youtuber/blogger likes a product, will that make you buy it?

Not unless it's to my taste in the first place. I could love an item of clothing on a blogger but know it wouldn't suit me, the same with make-up due to different skin tones and skin types. If anything they just solidify that I want to buy a product I've already expressed an interest in.

What do you look for in a blog that makes you want to follow?

This is going to make me sound so nit-picky but there are lots of things. I look for a clean, pretty layout with clear, easy to read text and big images. I like to read personality behind words and see into the blogger's lives. I like to hear the good and the bad in reviews, the good and bad in life and I really love when there's a variety of posts to keep you interested rather than all fashion, beauty, food etc related posts. I also love it when a blogger shows they interact on Twitter and their Instagram despite their thousands of followers (MilkBubbleTea, I'm looking at you) and updates regularly without compromising on their style and quality of content.

Have you ever been deceived by a product that you ordered online? (e.g you thought it would be pink but it was coral)

I do a lot of research, especially with make-up via natural light swatches so it rarely happens but there was a foundation that looked beautiful in natural light but due to the SPF under a flash looked terrible and didn't look blended whatsoever. That was a bad time.

Have promo pictures and press releases given you the impression that a product will be better than it is?

All the time but that's the nature of the press release. If the press release stated "It's alright but it's not the best - go try Estee Lauder" although I'd love it for it's honesty, the brand wouldn't be quite so overjoyed. It's the luck of the draw and also what works for one person as their holy grail product may not work for me. I take everything with a pinch of salt until I've given it a good test run.

Is there a product you could give a 'cult' status for being so good that you discovered through the internet?

Collection's Lasting Perfection concealer. I'll give it to you, Internet, that's a keeper.

Is there a product you've tried and hated but others have loved?

A fair few to be honest. So many people love the mousse or whipped foundations but I can't seem to make them work as anything other than a light buffed in top coat over liquid foundation for a flawless finish and even then it doesn't set. Also the Rimmel Scandal Eyes mascara in the purple tube? Awful but works for so many.

Is there a blogger/Youtuber who influences your fashion style? If so, who?

Victoria, Callie and Kaelah Bee truly influence my style on a day to day basis. Victoria for edgy more fashion pieces, Callie for looking effortlessly stunning and showing me that plus size girls really can work it and Kaelah for being for effortlessly beautiful, stylish and well put together.

Is there a blogger/Youtuber who influences your attitude each day/lifestyle?

Louise from Sprinkle of Glitter never fails to make me see the positive side of life in her videos or blog posts. I'd like to think I'm a bit more positive since discovering her sunny disposition.

How much time do you spend on the Internet daily?

Including my phone? Too much. Boyfriend tells me to go outside more but I've seen all of that stuff on my Pinterest board. Plus the wi-fi outside is terrible.

Done, done, on to the next one...

List your five reasons/inspirations for starting your blog

A hobby. When I first started back in the summer of 2012 I remember turning to boyfriend and complaining that I had no hobby. I had nothing to do, nothing that felt like me and I was just a little more than stale. I suggested blogging to him and within two days he was helping me think of content for my first posts. Back then I was primarily a beauty blog but I feel my blog has definitely grown a significant amount over the last few months and has turned into a much more than I ever could have hoped for.

I needed to express who I am. I am much more than a mother and I have many more interests, opinions and inspirations than tidying up the latest finger painting project, wondering how many nutrients I can gain from leftover chicken nuggets for dinner and pondering when the school run will start to feel like normality and less of a chore. I am more than a girlfriend and support network to a man that I love. I needed to feel this because even as a daughter to my father I became the mother of his grandchildren. I felt like I was losing myself in something I had chosen to become and I love myself far too much for that.

I wanted to meet new people. Before I started blogging I had no idea there were so many of us. Some established, some just starting out and some firmly in the middle. Some in South Wales who I've met a few times now and have become great friends. Some I met online that have become greater friends than the people in my day to day life. This community feels like somewhere I belong and I love every minute of it, even the trolls who managed to steal wi-fi from under their bridges.

I wanted to document. Photos, events, life goals, mini goals, books I read, places I visited, memories of my daughters; it's all for the future. It's all for the days when I feel hopeless and I can look back and realise that while it may not be much, I created something. I wrote these words, coded these pages, connected with these people and really shared a part of myself. This is all for me, as selfish as that sounds and every word I write is true to what I believe right at this very moment. Those beliefs will no doubt morph into more in years to come but I want to remember the person I am right now as she'll shape who I will become.

I do it as an escape. I write as a reprieve. Day to day life can become so boring with the seemingly endless work, financial strain, day to day illness battles, relationship issues, motherhood issues - it all becomes part of the daily grind and it's nice to take a little holiday. You know that line in Almost Famous where Kate Hudson says that if she ever gets lonely she can go to the record store and visit her friends? That's how I feel about this blog and the way it has opened me up to some fantastic people. I come online and I visit my friends.

What Laura Thinks // Cosmetic Surgery

Every day I see tweets, blog posts, newspaper articles or gossip column vitriol directed at cosmetic surgery and more to the point, the women who opt for it. I'm not saying men don't opt for it or don't have a hard time about it either but the majority of the hatred is definitely directed at women, usually with a nice little backhanded compliment about how they looked so much better before or how they, the journalist or reader, feel sorry for that person for having to resort to cosmetic surgery.

Don't feel sorry for them. Their insecurities about their bodies are nothing for you to feel sorry about. We all have insecurities and things that we would change if we could but we decide not to. We decide as in the fact that it is a choice. I hate my nose. I hate the way my chin sticks out. I hate my teeth. I hate my breasts. It's not something eating healthily will solve. I can mask the problems with make-up and a strategically planned smile but without cosmetic enhancement I will never have the features I am happy with. I accept this because I don't have the money to go under the knife but if I had a spare £20,000 laying around would I get these things 'fixed'? In a heartbeat.

I believe in being the best version of us but if that version is causing us issues as people and we can't overcome those issues then surgery is an option. I believe that if you think having a bigger chest will give you more confidence then surgery is an option. Is it the best option? Will those insecurities just move to another area of their body they want to fix? I am not to say. For some that I know a bigger chest or a nose job has actually solved their confidence issues. For one, it hasn't. These are individual situations for individual people and they cannot be combined under the umbrella term of 'embracing the natural you'. There is nothing natural about changing our face shapes to the eye with cleverly applied make up or wearing padded bras to fill us out a bit more. For some there is a line, for some there isn't. Judgment shouldn't be applied.

So whether it's a breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, veneers or something not quite as invasive such as laser hair removal, there are a plethora of companies selling what you want to buy. Do your research, attend as many free consultations as you can, never go with someone because of their low price and only go with a doctor you feel comfortable and confident with. Talk it over with friends and family, talk it over with a professional, embrace yourself as much as possible but if that fails and you still want surgery there is no shame in it.

There are bad surgeons and good surgeons, fantastic results and dire results - if you're happy, educated and confident in your decision that should be all there is to it. I'm sorry for the mini-rant, I'm a bit het up today and judgement reigns supreme on social media platforms about friends of mine that truly don't deserve it.

52 Lists // Things You Should Be Proud Of

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

I am knowledgeable if not intelligent.
I survived losing my mother and nanna to cancer within six month's of each other when I was seventeen
I have built a relationship from scratch with my brother
I have kept a secret for over a decade and I will never tell it
I have two spectacular daughters with excellent manners
I have morals and values that will never be broken
I advise based on my own errors in life
I volunteer counselling to those who can't afford to pay for it
I have won many awards in dance
I learned how to be a better person by utilising the skills aquired from hard times
I have a man that loves me and never gives up on me
I have people who love me for who I am not what I can do for them
I have kept two children alive for many years
I use my skills to form a better life for my family
My family are my biggest priority in life
I will work however many hours necessary to carve a career for myself
I am not addicted to the things I thought I might be by now
I'm beating bi polar with the beauties of life
I read all of Tolstoy's War And Peace

I can admit to covering up insecurity with bravado
I have come to terms with the fact that not everyone will like me
I have forgiven those who have hurt me the most
I have admitted my faults and I am becoming a better person from it
I can make cakes without a soggy base 96% of the time
I am actually finishing a degree at the age of twenty four
Classical piano music
I am a good friend. If you need me, I'll move the earth to be there for you.
I lack tact but I am working on it
I believe people are inherently good and do good things for good reasons if given the opportunity
I trust my intuition and I have not been led astray thus far.
I overthink and plan everything so I always have a Plan B
I am not afraid of making the big decisions that need to be made
I am genuinely intrigued by people and will talk to anyone.
I am not exceptionally good at anything but I've accepted that.
I question everything and it has served me well.
Life has made me hard but not cold.
I have finished the first draft of my novel.
I can enjoy my own company.

What Laura Needs - A First Aid Box

I know this may sound odd but I have to have a first aid box. With two under five's running around the house, curved stairs which can be a nightmare when you're a little bit drunk out of sorts and you're someone who is not very handy with kitchen appliances (bloody onions, anyone?) it is something that is essential. I bought the box from a charity shop a few years ago because I was in need of something to fit on top of my kitchen cupboards but I made up the contents myself and have another box not pictured full of medications. I'm going to tell you what's in mine in case you're interested in making up one of your own.

Plasters of all kinds (fabric, waterproof, floral print and all in different sizes)
Scissors to cut bandages and plasters to size
Two thermometers - a digital and a mercury
Steristrips to hold wounds together
Rubbing alcohol to sterilise wounds
Vicks vapour rub - a God send when a cold is about
Olbas oil and tissues
Renee indigestion tablets
Gauze pads
Stretchy bandages with safety pins
A whole host of pain medication from Paracetamol to Tramadol
Calpol and children's Neurofen medicine
A sewing needle and thread - just in case.
A piece of card with doctor's names, numbers, NHS direct's number etc

I picked up all of these bits as I went along and now have a stash to last me through any emergency be it a scraped knee or a nice deep cut courtesy of my cooking failures. I keep the numbers in the box and on our kitchen board (command central as it is known here) in case there's something we can't handle. I made mine myself for a relatively low cost but you can choose to make your own in prettier packaging like a make up bag or you could just go out and buy some of the excellently priced boxes out there like these from Viking and add your own medications. But really, safety first.

I added the coffee because there's nothing coffee can't make just a little bit better.

The Umbrella Collective - The Charity Shop Challenge

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Firstly, I apologise for the terrible photos. My camera has been missing in action lately as I continually forget to charge the batteries. Do you have any idea how hard it is to take photos of yourself on the iPhone? Either it's just me and I can't quite get it down or it is really and truly hard. Anyway, I digress. On to the actual subject of today's post.

As you probably know, Rhiannon, Alice, Amy and I have a little blogger's collective going on. We're like the Umbrella Corporation as we actually do have a Project Alice only with more fun little challenges and posts on general topics and less with the freak mutant virus' and controlling the world. This week we set each other the challenge of popping in to a charity shop and picking up something we'd actually wear/use for under a fiver. Easy, right? This bargain queen regularly pops into her local charity shops and picks up three or four things for under £5.

Not so easy but I'm not renouncing my crown just yet.

It seems I or others like me have bled my beloved charity shops dry. That's not to say there aren't things I like but they're either above my budget or not in my size. I did, however, pick up this gorgeous skirt. I'm in love and haven't taken it off since I bought it (today). It's the perfect light fabric for Spring and Summer but not heavy enough to not be a breeze hazard so right now I'm wearing it with opaque tights. I love the fact that it works high waisted as anything that hits mid-tummy or hips look awful with my body shape. I love the print, the button details, the red hem - well worth blowing £4.99 on in my opinion.

So while I didn't come a-haulin' and I couldn't buy anything with my spare 1p (not even a carrier bag), I am proud that I've actually found something not only in my size but that I have actually fallen in love with.

You can check out the girls' posts by clicking their names above but for now, long live the Queen

Music Monday #1

Monday, 22 April 2013

A musical monday - some tracks to chase the blues away.

So, it's Monday and Monday's seem to be the Debbie Downer of the week in this house. We wake up a little later in less than high spirits and drudge on with the day. With a mood disorder it is very easy for a bit of a slump to turn into a full blown lasting-for-weeks depression so at the first sight of a bad mood, I turn up the music.

The one perk of today is that I have a lot to keep me busy and to keep my mind off the smaller, irritating stresses in life. With a big blogger meet up happening this weekend and a few bits to make in preparation, appointments with the girls coming out of my ears, a big load of house cleaning and some deadline heavy freelance projects I am truly stuck for time to wallow (which is a good thing). Instead I shall play good music on repeat and get my head down because Monday should be a fresh start every week yet it feels pretty stale.

It doesn't shake off all the Monday blues but it does help and if there's anything I've learned from Tesco it's that every little helps.

Sunday Showcase // Getting Wiggy With It

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Today I'm bringing you the latest collection of wigs from the ever brilliant Hair Passion.

You know how much I love changing my hair length, style and colour but my natural hair is in such bad condition after bleaching to go to the orange shade I have now so when I fancy a style change, I pick up a wig. I'm in love with these new Forever Young wigs from Hair Passion where there really is something for everyone. I don't suit short hair so the pixie crop wig isn't my choice for me but my choice for some of you who I've seen express interest in going shorter but who don't want the commitment (it also comes in light blonde and auburn). The rest I would 100% purchase for their sleek styles, soft curls and I'm a bit in love with the shoulder length scrunched curl look. It's not something that would usually draw my eye but I've been lusting for a few days just wondering if it would suit me.

All wigs retail from between £9.99 and £15 so it wouldn't break the bank in the slightest to try something new every month.

An Introduction

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Hi, I'm Laura-Jayne but in spite of formalities, I'm Laura, Laur or Loz.

The first thing you should know about me is that I procrastinate a lot and this is why a) this post was mentioned two weeks ago but is only now being posted and b) I have forgotten to charge the batteries in my camera so I'm using photos from my iPhone. However in certain situations (university work, planning, meeting people, events etc) I am organised to a fault. I hate wearing shoes in my house so my feet are usually dirty. I believe in deliveries of fresh flowers, cheap wine and expensive cheese. I'm tall so perfectly respectable looking dresses often don't look respectable on me but instead of leaving them in the shop I wear them with opaque tights, even in warm weather. I look best with ginger hair and if I take off my glasses I can't see more than four inches in front of my face. I have fat fingers and have trouble finding rings that fit so when I do find a pretty adjustable ring it's like Christmas has come early. Speaking of Christmas, I really love Christmas.

So, if you haven't guessed, this is a 'get to know me' piece. This is a 'get to know me' blog really as it's going to follow me as I figure out who I am. I think I have it pretty sussed but life has a way of making you realise you truly know nothing. In ten years I'll look back on my early twenties self (at 24 I am early twenties) and laugh. I'd best give her something to laugh about.

I drink pretty much anything apart from sambuca, straight vodka or apple cider but my favourite spirits are gin and whiskey. My favourite perfume is Chanel No5 but I am too poor to buy a bottle so I steal squirts from my nan. My favourite colours change but right now they're mint green and coral. I am a matte lip fan after some serious issues with hair stuck to my face after spending all my pocket money on a Lancome Juicy Tube many moons ago. I love herbal and fruit tea with sugar and no milk but hate Earl Grey/Yorkshire/traditional English tea. I'm a big coffee fan and you can pretty much espresso me up and get me to do your bidding. I have a labrador named Sadie. I type exceptionally fast (120 words per minute with no errors) and can write well but when I speak I'll make you think I got a D in GCSE English. I have a gap between my front right tooth and the next tooth along where I fell and took a chunk out of my gum but I'm too afraid of the dentist after the wisdom tooth debacle of 2012 to get it filled. I was a ballroom, latin and modern sequence competitive dancer for ten years. I can sing but don't choose to unless I'm filled with a concoction of various alcohols of varying percentages in which case I belt out Alannah Myles' Black Velvet like there's no tomorrow.

When I was ten or eleven I hated how far my hairline came down so I shaved it off. Guys, never do that. I had a trufty stump for months and it took me two years to grow it to a point where it looked normal. I have a love of horror films but an intense fear of spiders and clowns. I've had four proposals from the same man even though we've never called off our engagement. I have an obsession with squeezing spots and blackheads. I hate aniseed. I have a 'type' of man - short shaved hair, beard or stubble, built like a rugby player with chest hair but yet I find Chris Hemsworth (especially as Thor), Ryan Gosling and David Boreanaz more attractive than is healthy. My favourite comfort food is butterscotch Angel Delight. I bake cupcakes when I'm sad but frost them when I feel better. I have bi polar disorder which sounds like fun but really isn't great. I am pretty much unemployable so I'm carving out my own career as a something.

If I've left anything out you can leave questions in the comments and I'll reply to them as soon as I can, ask me on Twitter or email me.

Thrifty Tips #2 // Save Your Money

Friday, 19 April 2013

I am a huge saver. Not in the conventional sense of putting money into an account to actually save but on every day things, I like to save money. People often ask me how I have so much but spend so little money and it's really very simple. I'm used to living like this because for as long as I've been on my own, I've had to. I've had to choose between food and rent some months so I know my way around a budget. The problem is that depriving yourself is not sustainable. You start to become envious of everyone, you get depressed because you don't have those things that make you feel good and generally, life without good things is a little disappointing. Yes, there's love and wellbeing but sometimes you just need to be a bit materialistic. This is how I do it.

Buy clothes in the sale. Almost everything I once wanted is marked down within a month.
Buy clothes from charity shops or boot sales. Pre-worn, yes but certainly taken care of in most cases.
Re-vamp old clothes for new trends by sewing in lace, pressing on studs or dying the fabric.
Borrow or swap clothes with friends with a similar taste. If you're different sizes, do the same with accessories.
Call up your cable/phone provider, explain you've come into money worries and usually instead of losing you as a customer they'll offer you a deal on your package.
Never underestimate the charm of second hand furniture, a piece of sandpaper and a pot of paint.
Buy food from the discounted aisle and freeze it if it's fresh. You can defrost it at your own leisure and the meat is usually significantly cheaper this way.
Go food shopping in the evenings, ideally 7-8pm when things start being marked down. It's hit and miss but I tend to find some great things with a decent discount.
Frozen vegetables are cheaper and arguably healthier than fresh. Don't be afraid of them.
Before you buy beauty products, take a look at the deals. Usually you'll find Boots or Superdrug have an offer on (lots of 3 for 2's). Buyapowa, Wowcher etc are great sites for deals on everything from dining, spa days, hair treatments, beauty products and gadgets.
Fancy a takeout? Google for deals. A simple Google brought me all these codes for Dominos. Some work, some don't but they're worth it for often £15 off a £30 order.
Make your own lip scrub. Sugar and oil is all that you need and you can add in essential oils for flavourings. So much cheaper than the pots you buy from companies and just as effective.
Don't be afraid of places like B&M, Home Bargains and Poundland. They are cost effective until you realise you went in for Dettol and have spent £10.
Make a list. Write down all costs in that list. Stick to the list. It sounds so simple but it really isn't. Once you've mastered it, impulse buying isn't so tempting.
Instead of going out for a night on the town, ask everyone to chip in £5, buy a few bottles of wine and make a meal at home. Don't blame me if you envision yourself on Come Dine With Me, though.
Buying for your child's new best friend's birthday present? Books. Go to The Works and you can pick up 3 for £5-6. All of the reception children this year are getting books.
The sole of your shoe coming away from the upper but you can't afford to replace them? One word: superglue. Just make sure you don't stick your fingers together.
Instead of buying new books, order them from the library. If it's not in the library they can order it in for you within around a week.
Spend the extra time and get the Megabus to London. £60 return on the train compared to £10? A no brainer for me for the sake of two extra hours.
Make meals in bulk to save time, gas and electric on cooking more the next day. You can refridgerate or freeze leftovers and reheat as necessary. Excellent for weaning babies or adults on a budget.
eBay is your friend. Most of the time things from China are cheaper and are the exact same quality as things from the UK as most things are made in China by these very people. They're simply selling from their home country rather than companies buying the products in to sell at an inflated price. For small items or low quantitiescustoms fees are almost non-existant too.
Request plant cut offs on Freecycle to grow your own garden within a year.
Add glitter or cut up sequins to a generic clear nail varnish for your own unique glitter nail varnish.
Own brand value ranges are often made in exactly the same manner as branded, even in the same factories. Give the 38p Sainsbury's beans a chance - they're better than Heinz!
If you're a huge film fan like I am check out Netflix. The best by a mile in all the pay monthly streaming services and cheap at £5.99 a month.
Expensive hair oils? Heat up virgin olive oil in a pan until warm to the touch, apply to damp hair ends, wrap in clingfilm for 10-15 minutes and it's pretty much the same thing.
Eat out earlier in the day for early bird deals and 2 4 1 deals in most restaurants during lunch hours.
Switch to e-billing if you still get paper bills. Most companies charge between £1 and £2 for paper bills and because it's usually written right at the end of a contract or email nobody ever really notices. Contact your providers to see if it would make a difference to switch as it did for me and I save over £10 a month on all of my bills combined.
I've said it before, I'll say it again, Boots own brand nappies are better than Pampers and £4 cheaper.

These are just my tips. If you have tips, be they similar or completely different to mine you can enter the MoneySupermarket ways to save £1 competition where if you share your own tips you could be entered in to a draw to win £1000 all in the honour of the 21st birthday of the £1 coin. Better yet if there are 1,000 tips in total the prize fund will be doubled to £2000. So go do that and get inspired to save up, even if you're only saving for that Zara bag as I am.

Where Laura Lives: Newport

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Today I'm going to show you where I live. You may have heard of Newport from videos like Newport State Of Mind or from the much better response from Goldie Lookin' Chain You're Not From Newport but there's not much else that happens here. Oh, there was also that Bouncers programme on Channel 4 (you can 4OD it but it's a train wreck) that lasted for one episode. Cardiff is the hub of everything and while we're only ten minutes away by train it's like we're the little sister trying desperately to be as big and beautiful.

I've lived here my whole life so I have a pretty good opinion on the place. Right now it's a mess - the city centre is primarily made up of 80% closed down shops where everything has moved to the retail park in Newport or abandoned us altogether for Cwmbran or Cardiff. We have a lot of coffee shops, charity shops and pound stores. In short, the shopping here is rather dire unless you're a charity shop fiend like I am. However, it is home and while it has flaws it also has great perks. There are quaint coffee shops tucked away that you'd miss if you weren't looking for them that serve some of the best food in the city, Tredegar House which has recently been converted to a National Trust park and which is still one of my favourite places to go (I lived thirty seconds away for eighteen years so it holds a lot of good memories for me), decent schools and the majority of people are really great if you look past the 'chav' image or the fact that there were recently Newportians on Jeremy Kyle.

My heart is in Cardiff. If I had it my way I'd move to Cardiff, do a postgraduate degree in the same university that I did my undergraduate degree (or go for something else entirely) and be closer to my friends. Alas, that isn't possible right now. My family is settled here, we have family surrounding us, the girls are in/will be going to a good school, our house is brilliant for our rent and I don't want to move. With Cardiff just a stones throw away for me it's not a necessity that I live there, especially when I'm torn between buying a beautiful house out in the country just outside of Newport and living there. City life or country life an hour's drive out? Who knows? Not that it's important right now with no savings to even put a deposit on a house and the credit rating of a homeless ghost.

People overlook Newport when they come to Wales. I think you at least have to spend one night in a B&B in the beautiful village of Caerleon and when the sun goes down, start a pub crawl. It's a big circle, you can't get lost and the pubs are most excellent.

* You can tell it's a Thursday morning. I'm thinking of wine time.

Wednesday Wishlist - New Look Inspire

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

1 & 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

After last week's wordy post, we're back to clothes; specifically New Look's Inspire collection. I'm an utter advocate of their clothes, insanely jealous that my friend Michaela is interning at their head office and a bit gutted that they are phasing the Inspire collection and size 9 shoes out of stores and stocking them only online.

The post is self explanatory. I love everything and if I had a spare £200, this is where it would be going. My spring/summer wardrobe in a nutshell to team with cream and black embellished flats, coral and tan cardigans, brogues and hair accessories. The only problem I'm having is being torn between the orange and turquoise polka dot dresses? Both so adorable yet having both is probably out of the realm of reality until they go on sale.

Which dress is your favourite?

TAG - Spring

I was tagged by the fabulous Ashleigh to do this Spring post.

What’s your favourite Spring nail polish?

I like to switch between pastels and bright colours in spring so Essie's Mint Candy Apple (a beautiful light mint green) and NARS Thakoon in Kutki (a sky blue) are two favourites.

What is your must-have lip colour this Spring?

Coral! Every spring I start looking for the perfect coral lipstick. I'm currently loving Rimmel Kate Moss matte lipstick in 110 which is a bright pink lipstick with coral tones. I'm not a huge fan of the nude lip as my big lips look a little silly whitened out but MAC Creme Cup is a fantastic nearly nude shade that flatters me for more of a toned down look.

Show us your favourite Spring dress?

I don't own it yet but my favourite dress that I have to own is this dress by Lady V London. It would be perfect with ballet flats, flip flops, sandals, brogues, heels - it's just perfect, okay?

What’s your favourite flower?

I love gypsophila, hydrangeas and peonies. A bouquet of them all would just be perfection.

What is your favourite Spring scarf/accessory?

I don't own any spring scarves, although my winter scarves were made of a very light fabric. My favourite accessory would have to be floral hairbands and bows. Hair accessories with flowers or a floral print are right up my street. I'm obsessed with the Crown and Glory tea rose headbands.

What Spring trends are you most excited about this year (fashion, makeup or both)?

I'm excited for denim and lace (denim shirs, lace skirts, denim and lace dresses, tights - perfection), florals and maxi skirts.

Favourite Spring candle?

I'm not in love with any spring candle right now but I am in love with Next's luxury reed diffuser in Antigua. It's beautiful and currently scents my kitchen. I tend to stick to my usual sweet vanilla baking scents when it comes to candles.

Favourite body spray/perfume?

My ultimate is the original Marc Jacob's Daisy. I first bought a bottle when I was nineteen and five years later is still my favourite spring and summer wear perfume. I'm also addicted to The Body Shop's vanilla perfume which is very sadly discontinued now. The body spray is a similar alternative but it isn't as perfect as the original which I have been wearing for almost a decade.

What is Spring like where you live?

Spring makes everything better here. I live in a city just outside of Cardiff that is kind of run down and constantly has works going on in the city centre. When the flowers are in bloom and rays of sunshine cut through the old buildings it can look rather beautiful. The rose tinted view of home, I guess. However there are areas of the city that are perfect in Spring.

What’s your favourite thing about Spring?

I love the colours, the weather which is perfect for my cardigan and tights loving self, the lighter evenings, the flowers and the general feeling of spring which just promotes a fresh start, healthier food and lots of wine.

Are you a Spring cleaner?

I am. I love to add new brighter pieces to my home after I've done a good thorough clean and organise. I love being able to throw open the back door and windows and let air into the house too. It instantly feels cleaner and more fresh.

Any plans for a Spring break or upcoming vacation?

I'm meeting some blogger friends over the next few weeks, updating my wardrobe to include brighter colours and eating a lot more salad. There are no holidays to speak of but there'll be lots of dog walking in the milder weather and picnics in the park when it heats up just a little more.

So I tag you all to do this if you fancy it but I'll link these favourites to coerce them a bit more: Kirsty, Erica, Rhiannon, Amy, Tilly and Alice.

52 Lists // Your Greatest Comforts

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Listening to acoustic covers in bed with comfy earphones
Watching a film with a takeaway, boyfriend and a bottle of wine
Baby labrador, Sadie
My hometown
A hot mug of coffee in the morning
Vanilla scents
My youngest daughter napping on my shoulder
The sound of his breathing
Locked doors at night
His Rolling Stones jumper with pyjama bottoms and socks
Wearing lots of layers
Log fires
Organised paperwork
To-do lists
Sewing up holes in clothes
Pie and mashed potatoes
Down duvets
Twinkling lights
The book 'The Fault In Our Stars' by John Green

Sleeping on his chest
Warm bubble baths
Closed toe shoes
Warm fluffy towels and bath robes
Building a pillow fort to write in
Singing covers of my favourite songs
Classical piano music
My glasses rather than contact lenses
Marc Jacobs Daisy perfume
Spending hours building houses on The Sims 3
Late night texts with my best friends
Dresses that hit just above the knee
100 denier tights
One daughter in either hand
The smell of banana bread baking
Deep tissue massages
Warm days with a hint of a breeze
Freshly mown grass
Tredegar House

What Laura Thinks // Prejudice

I am taking part in a blog collective in that we all write a post under an umbrella topic. Started by the ever lovely Rhiannon and with some of the best women I know taking part (that would be Amy and Alice) we will all be writing monthly. This month's topic is 'prejudice' and I decided to write it on something that I feel very strongly about.

I am fat. I don't sit around eating a family pack of crisps to myself every evening or eat four dinner's on the trot. I eat a varied diet and the majority of my meals are under 600 calories unless I eat out. I enjoy a bottle of wine every now and again and I have no opposition to exercise when I am well enough. I can often be found in the gym on a good day blowing off steam, taking the dog for a five mile walk and walking to and from school daily for the school run.

"So, why are you so fat?"

In truth, it's portion control. I eat a lot of food. It may be food that's arguably good for me but a lot of it still equates to a good amount of calories. Since I can't exercise too much with my condition my weight is stable. I am losing 1-2lb a week consistently but I can't see a difference in my body shape right now so while it is disheartening, I feel so much better for eating well. If I cut down my portion sizes and walked just ten or fifteen minutes more every day there's no doubt I'd see a bigger difference but I don't. That's my choice.

People have said that I must be lazy. They have told me they imagine me to be disgusting at home because that's the view we have of overweight people. Comments like "Why do they make tracksuits in larger sizes? They'll never use them for their intended purpose". Comments that include the words 'lazy, disgusting, afraid of exercise, no pride, unhealthy' etc. These words are all born of prejudice, of pre-judgment. These people don't have grand insight into our lives or our homes but feel they do as excess weight speaks volumes.

Yes, there are health issues associated with being overweight. Yes, some overweight people do eat too much of the wrong food. Yes, some overweight people don't exercise. To position an entirety (over half of the UK population, in fact) in 'Fat camp' is wrong. We are not all like each other. Some, like me, don't really have an excuse. Some do. Some fit into this category of lack of pride, unhygienic and lazy. Some don't. Some find it offensive because they're struggling with their weight themselves and chipping away at their self-esteem doesn't help matters. Some are very comfortable in their own skin at the size they are. We are separate people rather than one fat entity that needs to be eradicated.

I won't get started on the NHS paying through the nose for obesity related cases. I won't start on healthy lifestyles being promoted yet unattainable for those on low incomes or with health conditions. I won't start on the choices of grown adults and I definitely won't start on inflicting unhealthy lifestyles on those that have no choice. They are related to what I'm trying to say but I have a whole lot of opinions on those matters.

In short, prejudice against the fat is prevalent in modern society. Thin is in, always has been and while curves are celebrated, cellulite is condemned. When my ideal body unfortunately exists in a separate body (Kelly Brook's) and is considered akin to a 'heiffer', something is wrong. Adele is overweight, celebrated for her voice but condemned for her imagined lifestyle. You see a fat person in a magazine and you know the article will reference the weight, not the achievements even in some small part. In a multicultural world with many acceptable lifestyle choices this prejudice should not be as readily available to pick up as it is. For us, for our future generations and for our mental well-being.

It is so difficult to look past the fat and see the person for some people but when you realise it's none of your business and judging someone on facts you've overheard or read isn't as black and white as you'd like it to be, it becomes a whole lot easier.

What Laura Thinks: Benefit Bashing

Sunday, 14 April 2013

I've been sitting on my hands trying not to write this post. 'Who cares?' I thought. Weeks later I have determined that I care and that is reason enough to write it. I have found my thoughts to be the thoughts of many although these thoughts aren't as widely published as those on the opposing side of the argument. I'm talking about benefits. The big bad welfare state that all of our country's problems are currently being pinned on. A generation of work shy scroungers whose entitlement baffles belief vs the hard working tax payers of this country.

I'm here to let you all know I am not sat in front of my 42" flat screen TV hanging off my balcony window in a luxury flat with a Lambert and Butler cigarette hanging from my lips screaming "Screw the workers".

I am on benefits. Chances are if you have children, you are too. The majority of people with a family who claim benefits are working. Tax credits, child benefit - they are all benefits and they all contribute to this 'welfare state' that has got the country into so much trouble, as do pensions. Yet all you hear about are the claims of families with four or more children living in luxury, taking holidays and never giving anything back. You hear sensationalised stories of the minority because if we were to paint the picture of a family where every penny is accounted for, taking out high interest loans just to make ends meet rather than to live beyond their means and making the choice between food or electric there just wouldn't be so much support for this regime. We are turning on each other in a time where we should be looking at a Government who used the deaths of six innocent children to gain political points. We are turning on the scroungers, the immigrants, the single mothers, the teen mothers who seem to be getting everything for nothing while people work full time plus overtime to make their ends meet - we are a nation born of envy.

It's not so cut and dry. The Gospel according to the Daily Mail isn't how this works in reality.

So, for starters, who should be bashed? People seem to agree that child tax credits, working tax credits, child benefit, pensions and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are 'good benefits'. The benefits that are awarded to those who work as well despite the fact that they make up the vast majority of the figures making up the welfare state. So that leaves Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for those who have an illness, long term or short term that keep them out of work. This one is a bit mixed as if you see a person claiming ESA walking down the street they must be fraudulent as they definitely don't have a disability. Because you can tell by looking. What about those who are truly ill but have been demoted to Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) due to the rigorous tests they put you through? Do they deserve to be bashed under the JSA free for all? Do we feel sorry for the single mother who was left with nothing but her three children who live well but count every penny or does she not deserve to be felt for because she could get a job and put her children into childcare that would eat up almost the entirety of her wage? Should she give them up to foster care because of the 'Don't have children if you can't afford them' mentality?

The truth is that nobody deserves to be bashed. Yes there are lifestyle claimants who have no intention of ever working but they are in the minority. What people are doing is not having a reasoned discussion about what to do with the welfare state, they are attacking people. There can be no rational discussion about policy when there is so much anger toward these so called 'scroungers'. There can be no rational discussion when people say if you were a Muslim you'd get everything paid for you and a job to boot on the grounds that you are an immigrant.

Our Government may not be the best and they may not be making the correct decisions to benefit the welfare of all but turning on each other and believing everything we read in the local daily rag is not what we should be doing. I understand the hatred toward claimants when the headlines read that 'x' amount of families are living in top notch London homes and receiving the average yearly wage in benefits but these are the minority.

Let's thank the carers who get paid minimal benefits to care for their elderly family members day in, day out or our care homes would be more overrun than they are. Let's thank the single mother for doing her best by her children when some days it would be financially easier to give them over to the care system. Let's thank the disabled people who work but still claim DLA, the elderly who receive state pension but have worked all their lives and the families who work but still claim in tax credits. These are the majority of people working - the majority of claimants. Very few statistically are 'lifers' and most JSA claimants are so for a finite period of time. That being said because wages are so low they may always be benefit claimants in some form.

When there are enough jobs and wages are high enough to be able to cover general expenses without luxuries for all, then we can weed out and 'bash' those lifers because they will be the ones claiming. Until then, feel for others rather than hurt them. You could be one redundancy away from this life and I'd bet you'd be glad for this support system that some countries don't have if you ever did find yourself among us.

Sunday Showcase: Creative Design By THAO

This week I'm featuring one of my favourite Etsy shops Creative Design By THAO.

This shop came to my attention while sourcing 'unconventional' engagement rings. I have a beautiful one at the moment but for daily wear it becomes an issue as I snag it on much adored fabrics. I wanted something to sit close to my finger and something that wasn't the traditional stone setting. I came across this infinity ring and basically said to boyfriend "If you can't afford a canary diamond, get this". I'm still waiting on it but I know he has contacted the company about sizing so hopefully it won't be long before it's ordered and on it's way from California straight through my letterbox.

While I was falling in love with the ring, I fell in love with the bracelets. They're all handmade and can be made in silver, gold or rose gold (my personal favourite) plated metal. They can be made in custom sizes to ensure they fit you perfectly and are just so dainty. You can even have a custom word spelled out. I think it would be a great idea to have my daughter's names and wear them stacked. I'm getting my bridesmaids gifts from this shop too so they really do have all bases covered for me.

So if you're looking for something a bit special, head there as I'm in love.

Friday Fashion: Wedding Edition

Friday, 12 April 2013

As some of you may know, after two children and many years of being engaged, boyfriend and I have decided to do it. To get hitched. It solves my name debate for one and it's also something I've wanted for years so to finally say "Yes, we're doing this. No more waiting" is incredible.

Only now I have real problems.

We're on a tight budget and we're very lucky that we both want an intimate wedding with traditional elements but no traditional church, reception deal. I'm not saying I wouldn't like it but I wouldn't love it. It's not me. I'd be afraid of tipping wine on the hired linen and no doubt I'd feel completely out of place in a hotel or castle. I feel out of place simply visiting these places let alone hiring one out to declare my love for a man. No thank you. So instead we're opting for a simple registry office wedding (we're not sure if it'll be a ceremony or a sign and done deal just now) and a receptionless reception. No receiving line, no top table with formal toasts or speeches. It'll be about us and our off-beat, unconventional relationship. But enough about the wedding that's not nearly as formed as I'd like it to be, let's get on to the real event. The clothes.

I've always wanted a lace dress. I'm not into a truck full of rhinestones, cathedral veils and shiny satin-y materials. I want lace with sleeves, cap or otherwise. In my dream world I'd have an intricate lace slightly more fitted then A-Line but not really dress with opulent back detail and lace sleeves. Sadly I think that the dress may be too much for what we're going for so now I'm torn. I could go with a tea length dress of the same style or a floral number which many of you on Twitter told me you adored. I still haven't made my mind up. The bridesmaids (there are two and it is so difficult finding a dress to suit them both) will be in a nude blush pink. The style may be negotiable but not the colour.

So while it is very early days for the little wedding, I hope to keep you updated on progress, especially as I plan to do a lot of it myself in regards to the invitations, decorations, food and cake. No doubt there'll be plenty of updates, recipes and ideas that I'll throw around hoping you'll bounce them off me for inspiration and to quell doubt.