- Wednesday, 31 December 2014 -

Let's Look Back: 2014

It's as though I blinked and the year has just melted away. This time last year I had made the courageous, conscious decision to put university on hold for a year whilst I work on my mental health. Feeling slightly forlorn, I reigned in the New Year by making one resolution and one only - that this would be the year I started a blog. Now, in the past my track record for keeping impulsive hobbies has proved pretty poor, with a fistful of good intentions and the attention span of a squirrel, I tend not to get too far. Perhaps it was the promise of escapism, or the allure of a shiny new pastime, for whatever reason, 2014 was THE year and I'm so thankful you decided to embark upon this journey with me. So, grab a cuppa, put your feet up and let's take a trip down memory lane to see exactly what I got up to this year...

January: Even though I had resolved to take a break from studying, I was determined to stay in Newcastle and find a job. By nature, I'm a very caring person and have a tendency to put others before myself, and that coupled with caring for my grandmother back home, I yearned to put these skills to use. I desired more than anything to help people, to make a difference so as of January 2014, I became a care assistant.

February: The month where the magic began - in February, after weeks of preparation and organisation, my little blog, formally known as 'Dainty Ghosts' went live! After securing my care job, I felt so inspired that I went and created Chirpy to cheer you all on and cheer you all up! (pictured above). I was of course feeling very festive come Valentines Day and donned just about glitter everything!

March: Not impressed by my current HTML skills, I went and bought a beautiful new template for my blog, it was official: the blogging bug had me hooked. March also marked Martin and I's 3rd year anniversary, look at us, as if butter wouldn't melt, eh? In March I relived my teenage years and my inner emo rejoiced as I went to see Fall Out Boy - I won't lie, I cried.

April: In April we witnessed the seasons changing, with beautiful blossom blooming spring had truly sprung. I travelled back to Ireland for Easter and spent my holidays with family and friends, getting fat on food and relishing in the bliss of doing nothing at all. April also played host to National Sibling Day, and words can't express how completely besotted I am by these two cheeky monkeys.

May: As the first glorious wave of welcomed heat hits England, it seems like every man, woman and child is racing to the beach. During this month I accompany the lady that I'm caring for numerous times to the beach where we bask in the beautiful sun. Even though I'm out of education, I'm still working away concocting commissions for lovely clients and appreciate the doodling practice!

June: After enduring a persistent itch at the back of my brain, I finally yielded and changed my blog's name from 'Dainty Ghosts' to a better suited 'Fine and Dandy'. I felt that Fine and Dandy described me more and now, it's kinda become my own personal motto. After months of hemming and hawing, I finally got this beautiful vintage bird tattooed on my thigh, not a day goes by where I don't look at her and smile. June also saw more trips to the beach with one of my best blogger friends Katie from Katie's World of Beauty

July: In July, Martin and I finally embarked upon our first holiday together! We travelled to Morocco (I wish I could say by flying carpet) and experienced so many wondrous adventures. We arrived during Ramadan and it was such a cultural awakening, Marrakech is such a spirited and colourful place with so much to do and see. Probably the highlight of my trip was riding a camel for the first time, whereby we had this chirpy little fellow following us our entire trip around the Sahara Desert.

August: As a very early birthday and Christmas present combined, my mum treated me to this amazing Canon camera. After seeing all the time, effort and love I poured into my blog the past few months, she was delighted that I was dedicating my time to a healthy hobby. So, without any hesitation, I took her for a test drive and snapped photos of the changing seasons.

September: Seeing as I didn't start back at school until the end of the month, the majority of September was spent cosily at home, mentally preparing myself for the journey ahead. My mum, Martin and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Dublin, sort of like a final hurrah before heading back to England. It was like a mini holiday in itself as Dublin was abuzz with activity, and of course no trip to Ireland's capital would be complete without a pint of Guinness in hand!

October: October was awash with university work, though I was glad to be flexing my creative mind once more. After many anxiety-induced sleepless nights, worrying over whether I'd fit in, if I'd make any friends, if history would repeat itself etc I finally found my feet and it was good to be back again. My birthday lies dangerously close to Halloween so of course I had to treat myself to a few bits and bobs, including this incredible Disney villains scarf which was quite appropriate for the season. I had been lusting after a Pandora birthstone ring for ages and after dropping a few not-so-subtle hints to Martin, he surprised me with it on the big day! It has yet to come off my finger.

November: As the days began to grow darker and the nights sporting a new nip in the air, November was definitely the cosiest of months. I don't think a day went by where I didn't pop into Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spiced Latte. There was also quite a noticeable difference in my weight as I piled the layers on whenever university would force me into the cold, outside world. However, upon arriving home I would promptly treat myself to a LUSHcious bath (see what I did there?) and thaw out with a Yankee Candle burning brightly by my side.  

December: It's the most wonderful time of the year! I arrived back in Ireland early in December to spend Christmas at home and soak up as much time with my family as I possibly could. Although a spanner was thrown in the works when I received a letter from my doctor discussing the possibility of surgery on Christmas Eve to remove my gallbladder. I had been on the waiting list what seemed like an eternity so of course I jumped at the chance. I suppose this time round when I mutter the old mantra "New Year, New Me" it can actually be true!

Well, I'm brimming with nostalgia. What did 2014 hold for you?

- Saturday, 27 December 2014 -

A Dog isn't just for Christmas

Hello my lovelies and a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year to you all! As the final chapter of 2014 draws to a close, a new phase of our lives is poised patiently on the horizon, with the expression "a new year, a new me" ringing enthusiastically in our ears. With the recent influx of food and presents, drinking and general merriment, it can be easy to lose sight of all that you truly hold near and dear. Ever since that fateful first viewing of Lady and the Tramp, I've lost count the amount of times I've imagined myself as Darling, unboxing a little bundle of joy underneath the Christmas tree only to be met with lashings of wet licks and kisses. And I suppose it is quite the coincidence that my Ben should pose a striking resemblance to Lady...

However, fast forward a few years and I'm a little older but none the wiser. Still under the pretence that life is like a Disney film, I am visiting my dad's house one weekend and we decide to go for a walk. The year is 2004, Christmas is just around the corner and the rain is beating down fast and heavy. My dad decides to pay an impromptu visit to a nearby neighbours and I breathe in my surroundings like a toxic gas. All I remember is that the house is small and that those dwelling inside are loud. The garden is strewn with derelict toys and miscellaneous car parts and that's when I see him: the image etched in my mind. It's still raining and cast in the centre of the garden is a handsome yet uncaring Cocker Spaniel, looking longingly at me with his big brown eyes. His neanderthal owners have tied him to an arbitrary pole pierced from the ground.

Completely consumed by what the future held for that little dog, I escaped further into myself, bewildered and quizzical as to why let an animal - a wonderful companion of comfort and care - into your life, if you're unwilling to make the commitment to this creature? After all, you don't rely on the animal, it relies on YOU. As an only child, my pets had always appeared higher on the pedestal, they were my friends (whom I, of course firmly believed I could talk to). What happens next is what I like to call 'one of my dad's more redeeming moments' - because leaving a family to make a new one can leave a nasty taste in a child's mouth. Christmas had flown by in a flurry with the new school year imminent, until one evening I arrived home only to be greeted by a large kennel in our driveway.

Tentatively I unlocked the kennel door and out steps a shivering shell of a dog, petrified of its previous fate to be repeated with new owners. From that moment on, we showered Ben with all the love and attention you would unto a new sibling - he was part of the family and even to this day I cannot fathom how my father rescued that little dog, as a man of very few words and even fewer emotions, I can't even comprehend how he knew that I was breaking my heart over Ben, desperate to see him go to a better home, yet unknowing that it would be mine he would be welcomed in to! This Christmas is Ben's 10th year sprawled contently in front of the fire, and I hope your furry friends spend theirs the same!

- Tuesday, 23 December 2014 -

Things I'm Thankful for this Chirstmas

Hello my lovelies! Since arriving home, the days have flown past in a flurry of hospital visits and last minute mad dashes to the shops. And even though the holidays are sure to be strewn with chaos, a hint of mayhem and probably the odd dollop of stress, I couldn't be happier to be home with my family. With the countdown to Christmas in full swing, right now I should be curled up on the couch cradling a box of Quality Street, binge watching festive films until all I can see when I close my eyes is Macaulay Culkin. However, this year a new experience awaits me as I prepare to head into surgery tomorrow morning, but instead of cowering away, resentful that I may be spending Christmas cooped up in hospital, I wish to embrace this experience, thankful that I'm finally removing a burden from my life that has deprived me of many a thing. And so, along with this new lease of life, I am also thankful for...

That regardless of this being my grandmother's 92nd year, she still maintains such a zeal for life that has her baking Christmas puddings galore.

The droll familiarity of my hometown: whilst desperate to escape it by virtue of university it still possesses a comforting charm about it.

The glorious godsend that is clean sheets and a full fridge. Not to infer that I'm living on the breadline or anything, but there's nothing quite like the luxury of coming home.

My amazing circle of friends, stemming from both blogging and real life - your love and support have gotten me through the good, the bad and the ugly. You've moulded me into a better person and made memories that I'll never forget.

That for the third year in a row I have my two half sisters to share Christmas with. Having a family split is difficult to digest however now my extended family is my extended life.

The fact that my mother feels more like a sister and a best friend than an actual parent. She's my lifeline and one of the most giddy, gentle and inspirational people you'll ever meet.

I'm thankful for the bursts and bouts of kindness we witness during Christmas. I absolutely adore that feeling of pure, unadulterated contentment, where if we could bottle this moment, we would.

The lazy, hazy nights ahead spent with friends, recapping the year and reminiscing of old times, all over some mulled wine and a mountain of biscuits of course.

The exciting prospect of making New Years resolutions. It was on New Years Day this time last year that I tentatively created my Twitter account, hopeful that it would go hand in hand with a blog that would materialise only a few weeks later!

That the dark cloud of depression rarely rears its ugly head. This year has seen my dosage upped and as a result, my mood improved and focus regained. I returned to university a new person with a new prospective and have been excelling ever since (note: must refer to this sentence if ever feeling down in the dumps!)

What're you thankful for this Christmas?

- Friday, 19 December 2014 -

Christmas Snippets and a Little Life Update!

Hello my lovelies! I'm forever the firm believer that you can only blog when you can; that without experiencing life, how else can you draw from it as a lifeblogger? This general musing and overall mantra has permitted me to post when I please, not just filling the void with second-rate drivel which I deem unworthy of online exposure: when posting, I pour out the best of me. With the lead up to Christmas, these past few weeks have been a blur and, like a lowly child shuffling its feet having feloniously forgotten its homework, I too have an excuse. Returning home for Christmas was fraught with both good and bad feelings - whilst I was happy to be on home turf again, this contentment was soon doused by the fact that I'll be in hospital for Christmas Eve. 

Let's cast our minds back three years to when this all started, when my diet primarily consisted of takeaways, chocolate and alcohol, obviously not boding well with my innards. I was unhappy and unsure what pathway my life was going to take and so I comfort ate. Actually, that's an understatement; eating became the greatest hobby I'd ever have. Fast forward a few years and this negligence has prohibited me from eating after a certain hour (I feel sort of like a Gremlin that way...) with the consequence of searing pain. But you know what? I'm thankful to be afforded this opportunity of redemption and recovery, to walk into the new year as a new person with a new prospective on life. So, on Christmas Eve I may be less one gall bladder but this does certainly not make me less a person, dreaming big for the big new year.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle that ensued upon my arrival home, I've been submerged in Christmas spirit, eating my entire body weight in Quality Street sweets and cuddling up on the sofa to hot chocolate accompanied by the quintessential Christmas movie. I love the chaos that consumes the country, with people desperately scraping the shops for last minute presents whilst the seasonal lights flicker furiously seeing electric bills skyrocket. I love that no matter where you go, you can never escape the chanting and chiming of Christmas songs, with Mariah Carey escorting you through the stores and Shakin' Stevens singing in your ear as you prepare dinner. I love the positivity that fills people, their spirits lifted and their problems forgotten. I love that no matter how grey and dismal the British weather may be, people themselves brighten the days with their animated moods and novelty jumpers!

What do you love about Christmas?

- Tuesday, 9 December 2014 -

Pretty Pastel Christmas Jumper Wishlist

Top (L-R)

Hello my lovelies! Okay, so I'm just gonna put it out there - I've never been a huge fan of the novelty Christmas jumper. Perhaps it's the bold red and green colour combinations that don't do it for me, or maybe it's because I see seasonal traditions as ticking time bombs, whereby you wear it for a month at most before chucking it to the back of your wardrobe, as it patiently awaits as the year passes. 

However, I'm happy to report that this year has seen a surge in more muted colours featuring prettier prints. I love that some of these jumpers are not deemed as Christmas exclusives and can be worn all year round, my favourite being the adorable Dorothy Perkins polar bear print! As my wardrobe primarily consists of a more pastel palette, rarely stepping out of my soft-hued comfort zone, this lovely knitwear is a nice change from all the berry tones and darker shades dominating the fashion world right now.

What's your favourite Christmas jumper?

- Friday, 5 December 2014 -

Tips and Tricks: Savvy Shopping!

Hello you lovely lot! It's been one week since hysteria hit the UK with the momentary madness of Black Friday. I can imagine if the end of the world was upon us, with people resorting to looting, that it'd look pretty much like the events that transpired last weekend. Choosing not to succumb to the chaos, I spent my weekend indoors, happily perusing the web for bargains from the safety of my own home. 

With such an eclectic sense of style, not really adhering to one trend or the other, people regularly ask me where I get my clothes from, and more often than not I respond with: "Oh, this old thing? Ebay for a tenner!". Ebay is a treasure trove of bits, bobs and bargains and if I ever spy an item in a highstreet store with a less than desired pricetag, I just bide my time and keep refreshing that webpage. This process may sound tedious to some, but you usually find that the merchant is selling the item for a lot less than the regular retail price. And if a 'Buy It Now' option isn't available, ALWAYS have those fingers poised to bid at the last second. Another rule of thumb that I always abide by is never to purchase off an Ebay trader who boasts any less than a 98% positive feedback rate, the better the ratings, the better the experience. 

Second-hand doesn't necessarily mean second-rate. I find thrifting very therapeutic, I love the thrill you get upon finding a hidden gem and the rush you receive as you hold on to that item for dear life, petrified that such a steal is a figment of your imagination. I'm not going to lie to you, thrifting does require an awful lot of patience and if you set out to find something specifically, chances are you'll come home empty handed. But don't let this deter you, just the other day I visited my local British Heart Foundation and ran out laughing with an actual pair of Underground creepers for £12, creepers which I had incidentally been searching a lifetime for. Another incident I can recall is being completely besotted with a red dress from Topshop, but alas as it was nearing Valentines, it was disappearing everywhere (including Ebay). Until lo and behold, I happened to step into a charity shop and there it was, flirting with me for a fiver. A FIVER!

You probably don't need me to tell you that sales and discounts are your best friends. If you've got your eye on something but purchasing it means remortgaging your house, a handy little tip is to search discount codes on Google, as the brand may not be openly advertising their offers. Additionally, I like to familiarise myself with any and all looming sales so I sign up to receive emails for deduction updates - and usually as consequence of signing up, you'll receive a kind discount for your first/next purchase. However, a constant habit I've identified amongst shoppers during sales is the alarming amount of impulse buys they yield to. Ask yourself, if these items weren't actually on offer, would you be buying them at all in the first place? Next time you spot a top in the sales that you'd never be caught dead in but OH MY GOD it's only 3 quid - just stop and think for a second.

I'm a recent convert of this next tip and yes, I do realise that what I'm about to say sounds incredibly snobby but I can't believe that the likes of Tesco and Asda stock such amazing apparel. I've lost count over the amount of times I've snapped up a beautiful dress or pair of beautiful shoes for a beautiful price in my local supermarket. If you emerge with an attitude of arrogance, like "oh my gosh, who actually shops at George in Asda?!" (as I admittedly was), you are missing out big time my friend. So, keep an open mind, rejoice at the affordable prices and just think, if you're wearing that new dress you purchased from F&F at Tesco, the chances are that no one else will be wearing it either, making you a unique little fashionista indeed.

What're your top tips to shopping?

- Monday, 1 December 2014 -

The Benefits of Blogging

Hello you lovely lot! Christmas playlists at the ready and whip out those decorations, it's December! As the days creep closer to Christmas, it feels like my jovial spirit is fraught with the looming presence of university deadlines (or DREADlines as they should be more accurately described). With the weeks leading up to Christmas being laced with mince pies and gingerbread lattes galore, there also seems to be a considerable intake of red bull and black coffee consumed - I say as I twitch ferociously at the keyboard.

 Even though my blog takes second priority to my life, it acts as a prominent form of escapism when things are getting a little too hectic to handle. The blogging world warmly welcomed me with open arms, sharing my experiences, voicing thoughts, making memories and completely immersing me in their community. Growing up I struggled to discover my niche, whilst all of my friends were either musical prodigies or sports stars I often felt completely redundant in my talents. Blogging has helped me discover MYSELF, and that's but only one of its advantages...

1/ It's a beneficial hobby to have: To document ones thoughts and experiences in a regular entry format, shows an outstanding amount of commitment and creativity. Keeping a blog displays devotion, dedication and let's face it, is a pretty intriguing hobby to have outside the usual spectrum of sports, drama, art, music etc. People prick up their ears upon hearing you have a blog; it's a definite topic of interest and I've honestly lost count over the amount of times where an interviewer of a potential job or a lecturer has praised me for this pastime.

2/ I've acquired new skills: Blogging is so much more than embracing your inner child with his/her first diary. If you had have asked me this time last year to explain Google Analytics or demonstrate my photo editing skills or even simply inquired about my twitter followers I would have stared blankly into space (before running away from you, never to return). You would think that attempting to maintain a blog alongside university or work would be a distracting and unproductive prospect, right? When in reality, I've never felt more organised or impassioned before in my entire life. 

3/ The opportunities are endless: This is probably the point where you'd expect me to boast about the glorious perks that come with being a blogger, namely the PR samples and attention you suddenly receive from agencies. Yes, it's flattering to be acknowledged and asked to review a particular product or attend a certain event but the sense of achievement you receive transcends those materialistic offers. As a designer, it really makes me smile to see fellow creatives follow me and recognise my work, and because of this exposure I've been gaining so many great clients wanting me to work with them.

4/ It's a boost of confidence: I get the greatest thrill upon discovering a new comment under my latest blogpost or whenever I've gained a new follower I can feel myself start to smile over the notion of having made a new friend. The feeling is intoxicating and it definitely spurs you on to achieve bigger and better things. Not to mention the support that envelopes you from the blogging community itself; any problem, worry or woe doesn't have to be fought alone as you always have your fellow bloggers to turn to. After all, we're all here with a unified passion, why wouldn't we have each others backs?

5/ My forever friends: It may sound extremely soppy and yes, I wouldn't blame you if you reached for your sick buckets now, but blogging has bestowed me with some amazing friends. Perhaps its our similar interests that has connected us or maybe it's merely the fact that we never seem to stop socialising on Twitter that has grown our bond strong, whatever the reason, bloggers are kindred spirits and I'm always so massively overwhelmed by the amount of support I experience. Be you a big blogger who has just released their recent first novel or a small, shuddering new blogger, doe eyed and excited, be sure that whatever pathway you pave on this journey, we will be here for you 100%.