A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Monday, 30 March 2015

On Bite The Ballot


I hope you've all had a lovely weekend, mine was spent catching up with old friends, playing games and going for a drive with Harry - a pretty lovely weekend as they go! Today I want to talk about something that's important to me. A campaign that I heard about for the first time last Wednesday. And one that I think is important for everyone to hear about. So please, if you have the time, I would be really grateful if you could read a little about Bite The Ballot and what I learnt from them last week.

 Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to be invited to attend an event at the US Embassy in London with Bite The Ballot founder, Mike Sani. It was a really enjoyable afternoon and a very informative talk on an organisation that I knew nothing about beforehand. Bite The Ballot are promoting a really important message that is especially pivotal in the upcoming weeks to the General Election in the UK.

In their own words, "Bite The Ballot is a not-for-profit movement that empowers young people to speak up, act, and make their votes and opinions count. We inspire young people to be counted and make informed decisions at the ballot box, encouraging them to take power and become the champions that will change the face of British politics. We are not affiliated to any political party – we think they all need to do more for the youth vote. Our core values when engaging those furthest away from politics are to be unconventional, inclusive and bold. Three words you may not associate with today’s politics."

Just two years ago, I knew next to nothing about politics. It would probably shock you a little to know how ignorant I was. And, honestly, that is the main reason why I chose politics as one of my A Levels; because I hated that I knew so little. At the risk of sounding nerdy, boy, am I glad I did. I find politics fascinating but, even if I didn't, I think it's so so important to learn about politics, to keep up with what's happening and to turn out to vote whenever you have the opportunity. Particularly as a girl, for me, it would be wrong to not vote. Less than 100 years ago, I wouldn't have had the right to vote. Suffragettes died for my right to vote and I would not only be ignorant, but, in my opinion, also ungrateful if I were not to use my vote wisely or at all. This doesn't only apply to women however, but also to many men who did not receive the vote until the very late 19th century. We are incredibly lucky to live in a democracy in the UK and so, in my view, to not exercise your right to vote is to be apathetic to how lucky you are. What's even more important than voting, however, is that you don't vote blindly. I know so many people my age who are voting for a party in the upcoming election for superficial reasons, without really thinking about what they stand for. 

This is why I was so inspired when I heard about Bite The Ballot's campaign last week. Their aim is to get as many young people to vote in this election, and future ones, as possible. They're telling you the things that other people aren't, including how to spoil your ballot if you don't want to vote for any of the political parties. This would mean that your vote would count as a protest vote and you would be counted in the number of people that turned out to vote. So many people my age are slightly oblivious to politics and, while I think that's largely down to the education system's shortcomings, I also think we all need to do a bit more to make sure we know where we stand on May 7th 2015. 

As Mike Sani pointed out in the talk, to say 'politics doesn't affect me' is a flat out lie. Politics affects everything. It affects your education, your health, how much tax you pay, how easily you'll be able to buy your first house; the list goes on and on. Therefore, to be ignorant of politics is to be ignorant of what is going to happen to you. And luckily Bite The Ballot are doing something fantastic to change this.

Bite The Ballot have developed Verto, an app that launches on the 1st April. Although it's aimed at young voters, I think it will be accessible and useful to voters of all ages. The video above explains what the app does but here's a little more information from the website:

"It’s time for a voter matching tool fit for the 21st Century voter. Bite The Ballot and Demos have built one. It’s called Verto. ‘Verto’ means to change, to turn, to overthrow (in Latin). It’s also an anagram of ‘voter’. Each letter of the word means something: 

  • ‘V’ – this is about your vote 
  • ‘E’ – is for education – Verto aims to make the connection that the issues you care about are political 
  • ‘R’ – is for ensuring you are registered to vote ‘
  • T’ and ‘O’ – this is about empowering you to use your vote, and turnout."

Verto essentially helps you find out which political party you're most aligned with, as well as telling you who the candidates are in your constituency. To some, this may seem like a mere baby step. And maybe it is, but it's a start. Ultimately what I want to get across is that, if you're living in the UK, there's a general election in just over a month. If you're eligible to vote, I urge you to use that vote and to make an educated vote. Even if that means spoiling your ballot, that is so much better than not turning out to vote at all. And please give Verto a try in a couple of days - it looks great!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

On One Week To Go 'Til Easter

I have the fondest memories of Easter as a child, both in Romania and here. I remember one year my sister arranged an Easter egg hunt for me and my cousins in the fields of Yorkshire. It was, as I know I said at the time, "the BEST DAY EVER!" and so is a day that still holds in my mind today. Easter in Romania is a far bigger deal than it is here, as far as I can tell, with long masses and the tradition of dying eggs being prominent every year. 

Easter in Britain may have become highly commercialized (just like every other holiday...) with shops selling Easter eggs as early as January, which is just wrong on every level, and yet I still look forward to Easter weekend every year. As a Christian, it is unsurprisingly a very important time for me as the religious message reaffirms my faith every year. I think it's so easy to forget what Easter's really about and, while I don't for one second advocate limiting the celebration of the holiday to Christians, I do think that it's important to remember what the holiday is all about. Even if you don't have faith there's definitely something to be learnt from the idea of sacrifice and love that surrounds this holiday. 

On a more superficial level, however, as a teenager who has given up chocolate for Lent for two years running now, it marks a day in which I am allowed to stuff my face with chocolate (after a roast lamb dinner, of course!) and nobody can say anything about it. I therefore urge you all to do the same next weekend; to put your feet up, have a lovely roast dinner, remember what the weekend's really about, and, most importantly, to eat ALL THE CHOCOLATE ;) 

I hope you all have a wonderful Easter weekend next week - only a week and a day to go until I can eat all those lovely treats above, I can't wait! xo

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

On Adult Decision-Making


Help! It's happening... I'm growing up and having to make decisions that will most definitely affect my future... and probably my entire life forever. Okay, so I may be being a tad dramatic. The truth is I've got quite a big decision in front of me. I received my final university offer yesterday (from Exeter) and so I now have to decide where I'd like to go. I'm currently torn between Exeter and York and, although I know in my heart that wherever I go I'll hopefully have a wonderful time, it's still a very daunting decision to make.

Thinking about it today (because my mind's already gone into overdrive!) also got me thinking about all the decisions we make and how they shape our future. I find it funny sometimes to trace back decisions I've made and reflect on how they've affected my life. Deciding to go to the party where I met Harry when I wasn't really in the party mood, clicking with Josie when I joined my new sixth form last year and being introduced to her group who are now my best friends, the list goes on and on and the impact such decisions can have often leaves me overwhelmed.

They say that the decisions we make at this age will shape our entire futures. But I'm not sure I believe that our futures will be set in stone from the decisions we make now. Sure, in choosing to apply for a Philosophy and History degree, I'm slightly limiting myself from becoming a surgeon at the end of it. And yet I think that too much emphasis is put on young people in suggesting that there'll be no turning back after these decisions have been made. Twelve years ago I watched my Mum begin to turn her life around, to craft a life for us that would be better for the both of us. She went back to college, re-trained and became a psychotherapist; a job that she enjoys more and more every day.

I think that there's a lesson in that. That decisions don't have to be final. That they do, of course, matter and will shape who you are and who you become. But that they can be undone, and reshaped, and reset if you really take the initiative to do so. And that reinforces for me the empowering nature of the ability to make our own decisions. So, despite feeling anxious about having such a big decision in front of me, I am going to remember that, as is beautifully written by Henley in 'Invictus', "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul".

Friday, 20 March 2015

Currently #06


Reading :: Elizabeth's Bedfellows 'An Intimate History of the Queen's Court' by Anna Whitelock. Having been lucky enough to have seen Anna Whitelock speak on Queen Elizabeth I at the Chalke Valley History Festival last year, I soon picked up this book that the talk was based on, keen to find out more. When given the choice to pick what modules of history I study, I've almost always chosen to learn about modern history; from the British Empire in Africa to British Politics from 1945 to 1990 to Germany from 1900 to 1945; I've been eating, breathing, and living (or at least it feels like it!) the 20th century over the past couple of years. I've been feeling like I'm missing out on the medieval ages and, being the history nerd that I am, wanted to rectify that asap. Unsurprisingly, however, this book has been at the bottom of my to-read pile ever since I bought it. It finally made its way to the top last week and, I have to say, I'm finding it so fascinating and well-written so far. Elizabeth's Bedfellows explores Elizabeth I's life from the point of few of her bedfellows - the ladies who likely knew the most about what really went on in the monarch's life. There was much scandal in the Elizabethan reign as it was unheard of at the time for a monarch not to marry, especially so for a Queen not to marry and so I'm finding it incredibly interesting to find out more about this period and the pressures that fell on a Queen in the 16th century. It's definitely a book I'd recommend if you're interested in any type of history, but particularly if you want to find out more about Elizabeth I in a way that, as far as I know, has not been discussed in so much depth until now.

Eating :: Not chocolate! I gave up chocolate for Lent again this year and, while I'm not struggling as much as I was last year in resisting it, there's a definite hole in my eating habits that is desperate to be filled again! I've been really craving a really good, chocolate-y cookie over the past few days and it's doing nothing to help me resist chocolate until Easter. Oh well, I know I can do it, I've just got to find the willpower to follow through! Have you given up eating/drinking anything for Lent? If you have, please tell me you're struggling as much as I am so I know I'm not the only one...

Thinking about :: Making time for myself and beginning to prioritise what's most important. I find that this time of the year is always so busy and so, amid everything that I'm already doing, I'm thinking about finding the balance between not turning down opportunities but at the same time, making sure that I have a bit of time for me. I always learn this the hard way and either say no to everything and then regret it, or say yes to too much and feel like I can't cope with everything that's on my plate. But this year with spring comes a fresh start and being more conscious of the decisions I make will hopefully allow me to feel like I've struck the right balance, and make everything else a little easier too.

Watching :: House of Cards and The West Wing. Both are centred around American politics but wow, are they different. House of Cards is incredibly dark and Machiavellian, whereas The West Wing is really uplifting and suggests that American politics really isn't as bad it may be perceived to be. As I'm studying American politics this year I'm thinking that watching these religiously is basically revision, right? Although the two shows are very different, I'm really loving them both and would definitely recommend you give them a watch. I'm warning you now though, you'll be hooked!

Loving :: That there are (or were) finally some signs of spring! Over the past couple of weeks the sun has put his hat on more and more, trees have started to blossom and I keep having the pleasure of spotting bluebells and snowdrops looking as pretty as always. The sun really does lift my mood and I'm loving daydreaming about picnics in Hyde Park, followed by sunbathing on the grass and making wishes when blowing out dandelion clocks. Ah, that will be the life!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

On My Little Weekend #02

This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind one, to put it lightly! So much so that I was a very bad blogger and failed to take any pictures. It was one of those weekends where, although it's lovely, there's just no time, you know?

It began on Friday afternoon when my Dad and I drove up to Yorkshire to spend the weekend at my sister and brother-in-law's and to spend time with my gorgeous niece and nephews. The drive up took five and a half hours on and off, so not the most enjoyable of car journeys but nonetheless worth it to see those cute faces who'd waited up for us to arrive!

My sister, Cait, had made us bowls of delicious pasta which we ate almost immediately on arrival before the kids went up to bed and we then lounged around catching up for a few hours before I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer! I slept wonderfully, which is really something to be celebrated as I'd slept pretty terribly on Wednesday and Thursday night last week and so was feeling a little bit worse for wear. Speaking of which, I'd told my Dad on the way up to Yorkshire that this had been the case and, when we arrived, Cait told us that she'd experienced exactly the same thing before I told her that I hadn't slept well the past couple of nights but had been sleeping well before that. Isn't that weird?! It makes me think more and more that your sleep really is affected by the moon, as some people say.

I was up relatively early on Saturday morning as the reason Dad and I had come up to Yorkshire for just a weekend was because I had to attend a York University visit day on the Saturday. After breakfast and playing with the kids a little we hopped in the car and drove to the university - a much nicer drive that only took an hour or so! Having been unsure of York the first time I visited in September, I really loved it this time. It's funny how you can have a completely different feeling about somewhere the second time you visit. Maybe it was the fact that there were less people this time as the open day was only for students with York University offers in English or History which may have meant I could appreciate it more, I don't know. But I really loved it so I know I'll have a hard decision to make if Exeter give me an offer over the next couple of weeks as to where I want to go; I really loved them both.

It's my nephew's seventh birthday in a couple of weeks and, as he's out on a school trip on the actual day, my sister asked when he wanted to do his birthday cake/tea and he suggested when me and my Dad were up because we've never been there for his birthday before. And so we did on Saturday night. It was a really sweet, family evening - we had Indian takeaway which was amazing and then homemade birthday cake which was even more amazing. It was also really lovely to be there for Alfie's birthday tea and to see him open his birthday present from me. Watching the three of them grow up in general is so wonderful and they're really becoming the nicest children, which just makes it an absolute pleasure to be their aunty.

On Sunday morning I played hide and seek with the three of them for a couple of hours, we all had a roast dinner, and then it was time for Dad and I to drive back to London. The journey back took an hour less than on the way there which was great, and left me some time to relax at home watching more House of Cards before the weekend was officially over. Like I said, such a whirlwind weekend, but one that I really enjoyed. A definite pro for going to York is that I would be much much closer to my sister and the kids which means I would get to see more of their beautiful faces!

Anyway, what about you? What did you do this past weekend?

Friday, 13 March 2015

On My Skincare Routine

Now, if you'd have told me a year ago or honestly even last month that I would have a skincare routine that I was sticking to, I probably would have laughed out loud. I have never bothered much with looking after my skin, apart from removing make up halfheartedly with a wipe at the end of the day I've worn it and applying some Sudocrem when I've got a blemish. Over the past few weeks, however, I seem to have developed one that I'm actually really happy with, and so I thought I'd share.

I'll be the first to say that I know very little about skincare and so I can only tell you that these products have really benefited my skin, which is combination to oily, but if you have a similar skin type, I would highly recommend giving them a go!

1. Twinings Green Tea and Camomile & spiced apple tea :: Everyone and their dog knows that green tea has a huge number of health benefits, one of which is that it is supposedly good for your skin. After watching some of Emma Blackery's videos a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I really should try and drink some more herbal tea. It was just after half term when I'd worn make up most days; an unusual occurrence for me, and so my skin was looking a little worse for wear. Since picking up these teas myself, I've been drinking a green tea every morning and a cup of camomile and spiced apple tea about an hour before I go to bed each evening. Both are wonderful; I've found that drinking the camomile really settles me before I get into bed which makes for a better night's sleep, and the green tea is lovely to drink while I'm waking up to the day. While they're not your typical skincare items, I would really recommend drinking more herbal tea - they have benefits far beyond your skincare!

2. Nivea Daily Essentials Oil Free Moisturising Day Cream for oily to combination skin :: Well there's a mouthful of a name! This is an item that I have used for over two years now and has become a real staple in my morning routine - I never fail to use this moisturiser before I leave the house in the morning. At only £3.99, it's a steal and does the job for me. It may not be as good as very expensive moisturisers, but it's perfect for my skin so is definitely a winner in my eyes.

3. St. Ives Naturally Clear Apricot Scrub (blemish fighting) :: This exfoliator is a new addition to my skincare products, having never really thought to use an exfoliator before. I picked up the blemish fighting one because I tend to get irritating break outs that I'm hoping to reduce but they also do a version for sensitive skin if you'd rather a softer exfoliator. I've started using it twice a week before I go to bed and am really enjoying this product - it smells nice, has walnut in it which really exfoliates the skin, and leaves my face feeling beautifully soft before I hit the hay.

4. Virgin Coconut Oil :: This is a product I've been using as a cleanser every other day on reading Freya's great experience with it. I like the idea of using natural products on my face and so I was really keen to try this out, especially as you can just pick a jar up from most supermarkets, making it really accessible. I have to say, the consistency is really nice and I find the coconut-y smell really soothing in the morning when I apply it in the shower. It's one I'd really recommend you try out just because it's so easy to get a hold of and it's a really nice cleanser that I would never have thought to use before reading Freya's post.

5. The Body Shop Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil (for all skin types) :: The camomile cleansing oil was recommended to me by my friend Rosie a few months ago who understands the struggle I'm sure we all face of getting our make up entirely off at the end of the day. I'm forever finding when I use wipes or liquid make up removers that it never fully comes off and the next time I get in the shower I'll come out with mascara under my eyes, not ideal. I can honestly say that this cleansing oil actually gets all your make up off and is really good for your skin, which just makes me want to shreik hallelujah and spread the word to anyone who'll listen! It's £10 a bottle but lasts for a good six months at least (in my experience) so I think it's really worth the money considering it's the first product I've found that fully removes make up.

6. Garnier Shine Be Gone Fresh Refining Toner (for combination to oily skin) :: I'd never really used a toner before I bought this, or even knew what it was for! Over the past few weeks I've been applying it after I remove my make up to make sure my skin is completely cleansed and that my pores are tightened... I'm not sure I fully know what that means but that's apparently what it does and I have had a really good experience with it. It's a highstreet brand so pretty affordable, although I'd say that it isn't essential to use one - I've gone my entire life without using a toner regularly before now.

There we have it then; everything that I've currently been using in my skincare routine. Like I said, I can't promise that if you use it you'll have the same experience as me, but if you have combination to oily skin and don't wear make up everyday (I generally only wear it if I'm going out at the weekend) then it could be worth trying some of these products. Let me know if you do and what you think!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

On My Little Weekend #01

It's a Tuesday night. That means you can inevitably find me at my desk, usually writing an essay of some sort, and dreaming of the weekend just gone. So, I thought I'd start a feature for when my weekend hasn't included anything too extravagant, but has been nonetheless been a lovely little weekend that I'd like to write a round-up of.

As you can see in the photos above, it was a very food-y and drink-y weekend, which I find are usually the best kind! On Friday evening I went out for dinner with my Dad to celebrate my 18th birthday, which he'd been away for. He introduced me to The Duke's Head pub, which is a beautiful pub on the bank of the Thames by Putney Bridge. We had a lovely dinner, Dad had fish and chips while I opted for their homemade burger and chips accompanied by a pint of cool cider. The burger was really excellent and I loved that the bun had been homemade, I couldn't fault my main course at all. Having not had a starter, we both decided that we'd better have a dessert and I had the apple and berry crumble with vanilla custard; a choice that I was *very* happy with upon tasting it. So Friday was a really lovely evening spent catching up with my Dad in a sweet pub with great service and impeccable food - you can't ask for more than that for a Friday night I don't think!

I spent most of Saturday daytime just doing some odd jobs - boring, especially as the weather was so glourious which made be want to be outside, but necessary! Having been so impressed with The Duke's Head the night before, I decided to take my friend Lish for a drink there on Saturday night and we each had a glass of rose which we caught up over. Once we'd finished, we went to meet our friend Serena and chatted, laughed, and ate in Wagamama. I always find that there's something perfect for whatever kind of mood you're in at Wagamama, and Saturday was a chicken katsu curry kind of mood. With tummies full and spirits high after laughing so much, it was another fab evening - the kind of evening that's good for the soul, you know?

Sunday was as food-full as the previous two days. It really was my ideal Sunday: I hopped on the train to Harry's, we went to his and watched Aladdin (which will always be such a great film in my eyes), and he cooked me spinach and feta cannelloni. I'd never had cannelloni before, but it looked so easy to make and was so delicious that I'll be sure to make it myself at home. As my Mum went to Prague this weekend (Not jealous. Not jealous at all!), I didn't want to leave it too late to get home so I caught the train back after dinner and watched the series finale of Call the Midwife. Wasn't it so bittersweet? Call the Midwife is one of those series that is perfect to watch at the end of a weekend and never fails to lift my mood a little, even when it's sad.

So there we have it - my little weekend, and a pretty wonderful one at that. Anyway, what about you? What did you get up to this weekend?

Saturday, 7 March 2015

On Kindness

I may not have mentioned it in my 2015 goals, but an unspoken (until now) goal for me this year is to be kinder. That isn't to say that I think of myself as a particularly bad person - I like to think that I try my best to be the best that I can be in all I do - although, inevitably, I sometimes fall short of this.

Recently, however, in trying to actively be kinder, both to myself and others (because both are of huge importance), I have noticed a massive difference in my happiness and positivity. It becomes all so easy to talk badly of people, to judge and put people down without even thinking about it. I think we're all guilty of that, and that in many ways it's a part of human nature. But I also think that if you try to stop talking badly of people, and being kind to people, you really do reap what you sow.

I'm not at all beginning to say that I am now the perfect, most kind person to walk the planet because, let's be honest, that is far from the truth. I just wanted to share my recent experiences of the importance of kindness. Because, going into school or whatever I'm doing each day, in the mindset of wanting to exhibit kindness has, like I said, made me happier. It's been nice to take a step back and think before I speak, allowing me to realise that there's no need to say bad things about people unnecessarily.

Of course, we are all flawed, and sometimes such flaws can lead to people hurting us or being irritating, and cruel and I do believe that there is a time and a place where it's important to recognise that people are acting in such a way. But the trivial stuff, the things that don't really matter? We can all do without that negativity. And I would strongly recommend trying to be more actively kind to everyone. As people always say, kindness costs absolutely nothing, but it can make all the difference. Kindness and manners go hand in hand in that way.

Photo source.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

On My Weekend In Numbers

Well my mocks are finally over, and so far I've got an A and an A* which I'm over the moon with! So I thought, while I had a bit of time, I'd sit down and tell you about a lovely little weekend I had last week in numbers.

2 :: slices of cake consumed, one made by my friend Lish's Mum, and the other from the Hummingbird Bakery. I can confirm that both were delicious and I'm still daydreaming about them three days later.

Approximately 4 :: hours spent dancing at Lish's 18th birthday party on Friday. It was such a lovely night with all my friends; there is nothing better than getting all dressed up and dancing and laughing with them so all in all, a wonderful night. Although for some reason I thought wearing heels for the entire night would be a good idea. My feet are paying for it... never again.

1 :: new talent discovered. It turns out I'm actually pretty good at making cocktails. Who knew?! Certainly not me! On Friday night I made a version of Sex on the Beach and a pineapple and Malibu kind of cocktail that doesn't have a real name... It's safe to say that I was very proud of myself when people complimented me on the drinks.

5.5 :: hours spent revising in my pyjamas and a big hoodie on Saturday for the politics test that I had yesterday. It turns out I like to revise slowly. At least it wasn't rushed or hectic - it was a very slow day, and that was as perfect as having to revise after such a late night on Friday can get.

1 :: episode of the new series of House of Cards watched. I know everyone is desperate to finish series 3 as soon as is humanly possible but I'd rather not rush it considering that it'll be at least a year until the next series is released so, although I'm having to watch out for spoilers, I'm rather enjoying watching this new series at a snail's pace.

1.5 :: hours of football watched at Harry's on Sunday. Apparently it was an important match for Spurs so I agreed to watch. It's funny, sometimes I can get into football, and other times I just zone out completely. On Sunday it was the latter, sorry Harry!

0.5 :: hours spent eating the most amazing roast dinner made by Harry's Mum. There's just something about a Sunday roast, isn't there? Nothing beats it and it really hits the spot at the end of a pretty full weekend.

What about you? What did you get up to this weekend?
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