Goodbye 2017

And so we’re here again. I can’t quite believe I’m sitting here, preparing to take you through my year, once again.

It’s been a very hard year but also amazing in many ways. I feel like I’ve changed and grown as a person, and also seen those around me change in many ways.

Sadly, I’ve not seen as much of some of the people I love this year, but I’m hoping next year that will change. But I know these people still value me in the same way, as I value them still, despite not seeing them so much. You guys know who you are!

I know a high proportion of my readers head over here purely for the beauty stuff, and I’m going to post up a separate piece about my beauty picks for 2017, so if that’s what you’re after you have my permission to skip this one altogether. Though, if you do decide to carry on you might find there’s more to Musings than just beauty reviews, and I’d like to welcome you into the world of Musings lifestyle articles.

At the end of 2016 I set myself two resolutions (well, more like goals to be fair). By the end of 2017 I wanted to have attended at least one blogger event, and I also wanted to have become less judgemental.

Two very different goals. I achieved the first only this month. I had actually forgotten about my resolution and when I remembered it a couple of weeks ago, I was very pleased to have achieved it.

I also feel I am well on my way with the second goal. A very personal journey, and one that I won’t go deep into here, but I honestly feel like I am much less judgemental now than I was. I just have to work on being more tolerant of those who have not gone on this journey. I can only take control of myself and my own responses, but it’s hard and frustrating when other people appear bitter and judgemental  – I can see now it only hurts themselves.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all deep in this post! I’m going to give a month by month run down of what I got up to this year, which is much less intense! Each month title is a clicky link, so if there’s a post you’re interested in reading, click there and you’ll be taken to that month. So here goes :

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January

  • This year started with the celebration of 50 years of Milton Keynes! My home town since I was born (I may have strayed for a couple of years in the middle somewhere!)
  • Gary and I went for a little bit of culture at the end of this month and saw a play! Gaslight at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. One of my favourite films, it was great to see it on stage. Gary, who didn’t know the story at all, was very pleasantly surprised. It’s nice to do something a little different sometimes!

February

  • I started posting a little more on my YouTube channel, and a few people seemed to be watching!
  • I got taken in by ColourPop’s weekly product releases, and spent probably too much money on lipsticks (that I still love btw)
  • I told you all why I reverse wash my hair, and actually it’s something I still do and feel the benefit of.
  • I wrote my first proper post about mental health and touched on my experiences with struggles I face.
  • I saw La La Land for the first time and wanted to hate it, but fell deeply in love.

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March

  • I told the world why I’d stopped wearing bras, for some reason….
  • I did something that years back I would never have been able to do – I went on a shopping trip to London on my own.
  • I finally met up with Sophie Kate, when she took me as her plus one to the Glamour Beauty Festival.
  • I discovered the music of Childish Gambino and proceeded to not want to listen to anything else ever.
  • I went to Rome!

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April

  • In April I attended Secret Cinema’s presentation of Moulin Rouge – which incidentally I have never written up. I always wait until they put up their event video, so as to not spoil anything, however their video only went up the other day (so many many months later) and now I feel the moment has passed. If you wish to see this post, let me know in the comments, or else I will simply allow the memory to fade in my brain. Anyhow, it was a great night!

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  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer celebrated 20 years since its first airing, and I felt old…
  • I decided YouTube might not be for me, but also decided that the occasional dabble when it felt right was how I would move forward.
  • I went to see Bruno Mars and he was epic!

May

  • Ooh this month I shared my tomato linguine recipe – and boy is it yummy!
  • I watched a LOT of TV
  • I shared a much requested post, about why I decided to get married at a young age.

June

  • I wrote a post about anxiety and my experiences. It was probably the most personal post I’ve written on the subject to date.
  • Our trip to London to see Ariana Grande was amended slightly due to terrorist activity in Manchester, however we decided to press on and continue with the rest of our plans.
  • Musings celebrated its 8th birthday!

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July

  • I was given the chance to see London from one of their amazing Ducks!
  • I spoke about growing up and old and the secret adults never tell you as a child.

August

  • I posted my most viewed YouTube video to date (2.2k views so far!)
  • I spoke about my quest for positivity.
  • I turned 34 years old!
  • I started planning my trip to Orlando

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September

  • I did a little photo shoot with my Niece in the last of the summer sunshine.
  • I moved house! This took up most of my free time!!

October

  • Halloween month. I was all about sharing my favourite Halloween movies, and getting ready to go on holiday to Florida!
  • My Florida holiday was epic
  • I spoke about striving to be more tolerant.

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November

  • And as soon as you can say ‘Halloween is over’ it was Christmas season!
  • I shared a post about my holiday and all of a sudden the weather was crisp and frosty and we were all thinking about the festive season!

December

  • And here we are!
  • December was about sharing meals with family and friends and unexpected snow!
  • I went to my first blogging event, the Blogosphere Christmas Festival.
  • And now here we are – you’re reading the final piece!

So what’s in store for next year then?

Well, I always say this, but I’d like to learn a new skill. I’d like to feel a little less restless in my skin. I’d like to continue on my quest for positivity, in becoming more tolerant and less judgemental.

I’d like to continue to better myself.

So here’s to another year! If you blog and you’ve written an end of year round-up post, I’d love to read it. Pop your link in the comments and I’ll have a read 🙂

 

 

The Blogosphere Christmas Festival

Last weekend I hot-footed it to the big-smoke to my very first blogger event, the Blogosphere Christmas Festival.

For those of you unfamiliar with the blogging community, Blogosphere magazine is a quarterly independent publication, featuring bloggers and influencers of all sizes. It also covers advice and tips for bloggers, as well as interviewing inspirational influencers.

The event, held in Shoreditch, promised panels from your favourite bloggers as well as a brand presence and the opportunity to pick up some additional Christmas shopping!

As soon as I arrived I was welcomed by Alice, the editor of Blogosphere magazine, who made sure I had a drink in my hand and after a little chat I had look around.

The first talk was due to start within the next 10 minutes so I took the opportunity to grab a seat and settle in.

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The first panel ‘Sharing Your Personal Style with the World’ featured 4 fabulous bloggers, including Siobhan (@justauniform) who I’ve chatted to over the past year or so and I was excited to finally meet. Also speaking, Steph Yeboah, Jamie Windust and Paige Calvert, a very inspiring bunch to listen to. The confidence these people have is wonderful!

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After this panel, and a cheeky picture with Siobhan and Steph, I had a look around the stands and spoke with some of the brands.

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Deliciously Ella’s brand provided the food

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Then there was a table of lovely Kusmi teas – I tried a Christmas blend which was lovely and refreshing.

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So..? were there promoting their latest fragrance range, including some new Eau de Parfum – gorgeous and inexpensive gift sets too!

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OGX were also there giving out free samples of their shampoo and conditioners.

I’m not the most comfortable in social situations but I met a few lovely bloggers who were kind enough to chat to me, though no doubt I was super-awkward!

And then it was time for the next panel!

This time ‘Finding your Authentic Voice Online’ featuring Vix Meldrew, Brogan Tate, Jess Ayton and Tom Cox.

I was most interested in seeing Brogan speak as I follow her YouTube channel, but it was great to hear Vix and Tom speak about their experiences with staying authentic in what can be a cut-throat environment when you’re a full-time influencer.

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At this point in the day I needed to leave to get to my next appointment, so I grabbed Alice and thanked her for a lovely event.

It wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d thought it could have been. Everyone was so friendly, and I didn’t feel out of place.

Back home I was able to have a look through the goodie bag.

Here’s what So…?’s bag contained.

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I’m looking forward to giving these a go.

The Blogosphere bag contained this lovely lot:

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And, I am most excited about trying these Booja Booja truffles which were also in the goodie bag. For the longest time I’ve loved their chocolates, and didn’t even know they were dairy free until recently, when it became relevant to me!

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Thanks to Blogosphere Magazine for throwing a fabulous and inspiring shindig. I’ll definitely be at the next one!

My Kind of Christmas – A Look Back

I’ve been writing this blog for 8.5 years and so as you can imagine, I’ve covered Christmas quite a lot, and a fair few times. Back in 2013 (and before I knew that Blogmas existed) I wrote a Christmas related post for every day of advent.

It was fairly hard to do since I had to think of 24 different subjects to write on, all on the theme of Christmas. And this was before I was interested in beauty, before gift guides were commonplace on a blog, and long before advent calendars offered anything more than a chocolate behind the door.

I called it Shutterbug’s Advent Calendar – my friend even made a pretty graphic for me!

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Isn’t it lovely?

Instead of re-hashing what I’ve already written, I thought I might share some of my older posts with you, interspersed with some of the photographs I’ve taken over the years, celebrating the festive season!

So, here we go!:

What’s A Traditional Christmas? (click to read)

In this post from 2012 I talk about what Christmas entailed traditionally for me growing up.

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The Christmas Queen’s Guide To Gift Buying (click to read)

In this post from 2010, I offer my hints and tips for finding the perfect Christmas gift – and 7 years on it’s still relevant! If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift, then head over for some festive inspiration.

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Christmas In A Day (click to read)

As part of my 2013 advent calendar posts, I discussed that year’s Sainsburys advert, which pulled clips from a short film called Christmas In A Day. I say short, it’s just under 50 minutes long, but it’s worth every single minute. The video is still up on YouTube so I’d urge you to click on the video link in the post, grab a cup of something warm and settle in for a film that will give you all the feels. I’ll be honest, I totally forgot about this film, so I’m really pleased I unearthed it in this post. I’ll be giving it another watch this year, for sure.

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Favourite Christmas Movies (click to read)

It wouldn’t be a Shutterbug Christmas without me sharing my all time favourite Christmas movies. You’ll find them in this 2013 post, and they’re still the ones I’d pick!

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Christmas Eve Eve (click to read)

Here’s a post about what could possibly be my favourite day of the Christmas run-up, Christmas Eve Eve!

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Fun Times at Winter Wonderland (click to read)

Last year we made our annual trip to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, and I blogged about it (in fact I also vlogged it, and that video is at the end of the post!) So if you’re interested to see what I got up to, then take a look at this post.

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead (click to read)

This post was actually published at the very end of last year, but it mentions Christmas and New Year traditions we have in our home, and was highly requested by followers on twitter. Each year we write a letter to ourselves and look back and forward on the year past and year ahead. If you’d like to read about this new tradition, then click the link above!

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I hope you enjoy a little look back on my thoughts on Christmas from over the last 8 years. Christmas really is my favourite time of year.

I’m lucky to have a medium to enable me to look back and see what was happening in Christmases past. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too!

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What Striving to be More Tolerant has Taught Me

One of my new year’s resolutions last year was to fix something that had started bothering me about myself.

I’ve never been a particularly tolerant person, and I used to justify it as me just standing up for myself. But over the last few years I had started to feel petty, bitter and nasty. It was making me feel unhappy about myself, and I realised I was becoming a not very nice person.

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I would see friends, calm and collected, non-judgemental and supportive and wonder how I could be like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a beast. I’m supportive but I could see a side of me I didn’t like. I would jump to assumptions about people, gossip and scoff at things I didn’t understand or were different from me. I wouldn’t listen and I wouldn’t learn.

So I made a conscious effort to change my behaviour. Instead of immediately jumping to an assumption about someone, I thought about things from their side. Before I scoffed at a trait or behaviour, I found out a little bit more about it.

It’s made me feel calmer and happier about myself. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a way to go, and I could never claim to be a saint. I have times where I snap back to old behaviours, when I’m tired or stressed or caught up in the moment. But those will change with time, I hope.

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I hate it when someone belittles me for something I’m passionate about, or tries to make a scene about something they don’t understand (even if they think they do) so why would I do the same? And when someone does behave like that towards me, I can now sit and reason it with myself, deal with the bad feelings it’s given me and move on. I don’t retaliate, or have that burning feeling that I have to defend myself for too long. And afterwards I can remind myself I’m a good person, and getting better every day.

It all boils down to the golden rule, do as you would be done by.

I’m pleased I took a step back and thought about what I didn’t like about myself and made a change. I hope I stay on this journey as long as it takes to become a better me!

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When Fear of Missing Out, Turns to Burn Out

It’s safe to say I’m on the older end of the age spectrum compared with most of the bloggers I come across. I’m still shocked when I hear bloggers I follow talk about taking their GCSEs.

I guess it’s only a shock because way back when I was doing my exams, it was really really geeky to own a computer, let alone admit that you used the internet.

These days everyone appears to have a background in marketing. Kids know how to brand themselves from 16, so as soon as they’re allowed an instagram account, they’ve got their ‘thang’ going and they’re hitting all the likes, follows and they just *know* how to maximise hashtags.

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But one of the things I’m noticing on twitter more and more, is young bloggers asking how people manage to blog, maintain their social accounts AND work either full-time or complete a degree, without burning out or one of these aspects suffering.

I work full-time, I run a blog full-time, instagram and YouTube, as well as managing two twitter accounts. And it’s not easy. But I realise where things need to give in order for me to maintain a balance.

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And I put that insight into knowing how to manage these things, down the different kind of world I grew up. When I was growing up FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) didn’t really exist for me. The world wasn’t so accessible. You couldn’t find out anything and everything just by picking up a device. As a result you missed out on things. Most of the time I didn’t find out about the thing I’d missed out on until after the fact – I just didn’t know they were happening.

And so now, with knowledge at our finger tips, it’s easy to be tempted into things. Notifications on Facebook telling us that people we know are off to events nearby. Twitter telling us about fun Blogging meet-ups and events. Twitter chats every night – sometimes so many, I’ve been known to participate in multiple chats at once.

But it’s knowing where and when to step back.

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My full-time job is more important that my hobby. It’s how I pay for a lifestyle that allows me to blog, buy fun things and attend awesome events. For a while I was trying to do it all; twitter chats 4 times a week after a full day looking at screens at my job, blogging every weekend (including photos), posting a YouTube video weekly. It all got too much and too tiring, and the schedule that I’d set for myself became a chore. I could feel the first inklings of resentment creeping in.

So I took a step back. I decided to schedule multiple blog posts ahead of time, so I would be able to have weekends off. I decided it was time to reduce time spent on my older twitter account and just focus on one. I stopped YouTube altogether, and decided to take a break until things at home settled a bit. I stopped taking part in ALL the Twitter chats, and only did the ones with subjects that really interested me, or when I was at a loose end.

The result was a more relaxed, less tired Erin. I was also able to spend more time with my husband, who is TOTALLY supportive of my blogging hobby btw. But I realised on nights I was taking part in twitter chats, I was totally ignoring him. I missed him, and we’d been sat right next to each other.

Taking this step back meant that when I was writing articles, I was enjoying it more. I was able to take more time in what I was writing, and I wasn’t just doing it for the sake of hitting a schedule.

It’s so important to remember you don’t have to do it all, in order to feel part of something. If you’re at University and you’re not able to post according to a schedule you’ve set, then change your schedule. If your IRL social life interferes with taking part in a twitter chat, so what? We’ll still be there next week – go live your life. No one worth following you is going to mind if you miss a normal posting day. Plus you’ll have fun stuff to write about next time!

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So, if you’re one of those people who sits down at their laptop and wonders how you’re going to stay awake or motivated enough to write AND live your life – go live it. You’re not going to be missing out if you’re taking YOU-time. Sit and smell the roses, and then come back when you’re ready.

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You’ll feel amazing for it, and you’ll realise that life carries on without you – in the best possible way!

Social Media and your Mental Health: Can they ever be good for each other?

When my family first got the internet back in 1997/96, it was a unknown place. Online predators weren’t something to think about and I was often in chat rooms. They were never inundated with pop-ups back then, and my friends and I had a lot of fun chatting to people all over the world.

Nowadays we are more aware of the dangers and as an adult the internet feels like a relatively safe place. But in reality, are we just closed off to the silent but deadly negatives of social media.

Since the arrival of instagram, people who are now referred to as ‘Influencers’ show us the epitome of aspiration. But in reality, the term Influencer should give us a nudge towards their true purpose online.

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Whether your chosen platform is YouTube, Instagram or blogs, it’s easy to get sucked into the realm of perfection and beauty these people portray. And in return, it’s easy to begin feeling inferior to these people. Yeah, they’re down to earth, might be living near you, and seem to be of the same social class – BUT – they have a new designer bag every two weeks, are being flown out to amazing countries, and appear to be making big bucks just by showing off brands products. It’s the dream life, isn’t it?

As a blogger and sometimes YouTuber, I know how much hard work blogging and vlogging can be – 2-3 hours per blog post, and countless hours on YouTube videos, not to mention promoting your platforms. Even though it all looks easy, it’s blooming hard work. But some of these influencers have people doing all that for them. Some of them portray a down to earth personality but in real life wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire. Some of these influencers are taking photos of their meals, but not really eating them, and pretending their healthy lifestyle is to thank for their fit physique. And some of these influencers haven’t come from quite the humble background they’d have you think they did.

And so we get to the effect all this has on our mental health when we see it. I often see a meme floating around the internet, wondering where the awkward ‘I’m figuring out how to apply eyeliner, and ooh let’s try this blue mascara’ phase has gone from our pre-teens. I see these young girls walking around with epic contour and highlight, looking like they’re out of Teen Vogue. Little California Girl clones walking around Milton Keynes, because they’ve seen it on instagram. And I wonder, if they didn’t paint their faces this way, would it effect their social standing. When they get to 20 and have no money (because let’s face it, who had money in their 20s?) are they going to put themselves into debt trying to afford another designer bag AND choose the white marble worktop for their kitchen?

And let’s move on to the subject of obsession. More and more I’m seeing people disenchanted by those they follow on social media. And as soon as this happens, you’d expect them to stop following them, right? Nope. They continue to read their blogs, watch their videos and look them up on twitter, creating a big jealous knot in their stomachs. Tabloids have created this obsession with car-crash tv, celebrity and reading about people more famous, but possibly less fortunate or intelligent than you. The drama is addictive and soon you can’t wait to hear what’s happening with the Kardashians or on Love Island. But as you’re reading or watching, you’re feeling bad about yourself. You’re not as tanned, your lips aren’t as big, your hair isn’t as shiny, you’re not as skinny. No attractive man will ever want you if you don’t look like them. And this can be applied to social media – your bag’s from Primark, you don’t have the latest eyeshadow palette, you don’t own anything white marble……

All these things just make you feel bad about yourself, and my concern is for the young girls and guys who think it’s normal to have all this stuff, look this way and behave as if you’re an It Girl. When I’m 70 is our country going to run by TOWIE extras?

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that this is not all influencers. My choice of reading and watching has been carefully curated to only include those of substance. These people are real, they disclose what they do and how they do it. They post photos of themselves looking bare-faced as well as wearing full makeup. They don’t hide the real parts, and that’s so important.

I wonder if you, reading this, have identified with anything I’ve written today? And if you have, here’s what I’d recommend (and what I’ve done):

  • Curate your feed. No matter what platform you use, it’s YOUR feed.
  • If you scroll and something makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow that person.
  • Take people’s feeds with a pinch of salt – people choose what they post, just as you choose what you post. Even if someone is posting every day, multiple times, that doesn’t mean what they’re showing is what’s happening right now.
  • It’s okay to want material things – but work hard for them, and they’ll mean so much more to you when you achieve them.
  • Don’t be a clone of everyone else. Being unique and not following the pack might not make you an overnight success on instagram – but you’ll have integrity and you’ll be real. Your followers will appreciate that, and no doubt be the kind of people you’ll want to stick around!

There’s so much talk of keeping on top of your mental health at the moment, but it’s important to remember, that when so much information is being thrown at you, from brands to your peers, that you CAN choose what you see. Delete your facebook if you need to. Unfollow that YouTuber if she’s making you feel jealous or bad about yourself.

Influencers need you, you don’t need them!

Look inwards – learn about you, what you need and what you want for your life and from your surroundings, and go from there.

Be happy!

 

 

 

This Week I Have Mostly….

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Hi guys. This is just a quick post to catch up with the past couple of weeks.

I’ve been busy making some exciting plans in my personal life and that’s kind of overtaken things, so I haven’t planned many blog posts.

That being said, my ColourPop cosmetics order arrived so I plan to do a post on the items I bought (there’s some crackers!) Here’s a preview:

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Last week I was also featured in John’s Road to Volunteering blog, in his Community Champions blog post. It was an honour to be asked to be featured and to be considered amongst such an amazing bunch of lovely bloggers was wonderful. John’s words about me were so kind. Make sure you click the link above and have a read. And whilst you’re there, check out John’s blog and the other ladies featured and follow them too!

In other blogging news, I had what I consider to be an inspired idea for a new blogging series which could even turn into a YouTube series too. I can’t get started on it just yet, but I’m hoping to be able to start working on it within the next few months. If you’re intrigued, follow me on Twitter @Shutterbug_Blog and keep an eye out, because I’ll be needing help from other bloggers!

In TV I’ve just gotten up to date with Riverdale (one of the worst shows I’ve seen in a long time, and who knows why I kept watching it), and we’ve been flying through watching Twin Peaks. We’re determined to watch it all, and the film, before the new season airs. I think we might manage it (fingers crossed!)

Spring seems to be making its presence known, and it’s been so nice to have warm sunshine at last. I’ve even been going outside without a coat on. It’s amazing what the weather can do to lift my mood, and I’m hoping this is the warmer weather here to stay until September. Fingers crossed!

So that’s it for now. Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming ColourPop post, and I’ll be back soon!

 

Blogging Tools I Can’t Live Without

Since I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, I thought I’d share some of the tools that have come to be invaluable to me.

Technically, you just need your brain and a platform and you’re all set, but there are a few things I’ve come to appreciate as tools I just can’t live without when blogging.

First of all, my laptops. I have a Microsoft HP and a MacBook Pro. I don’t have a word processing package on my Mac so tend to do most of my writing on the HP laptop, unless I’m writing straight into my blogging platform.

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WordPress is my platform of choice, having used a few different ones over the years. I like that even on a free package you can produce a customisable and professional looking blog. It’s flexible and you rarely see two blogs looking the same. It has its glitches, but what website don’t? I feel like at some point in the future I’ll need to move to self-hosted or a paid account, but until then it works just fine, thank you very much. As well as the web-based platform, I have the WordPress app. It’s not without its limitations, but is handy for replying to comments, checking stats and uploading images on the go. You can write posts on there too but I prefer to do that on a computer, mainly because I’m rubbish and slow at word processing on my phone!

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For cameras, I switch between my Canon EOS 400D, Sony a5000 and my iPhone 7 Plus. I’ve been using my SLR less of late for the reasons you’ll read in a moment, but even though it’s kind of old now I love the quality of photos I get from it. My Sony a5000 has earned its cost times over. I love how small it is, the quality of photo and video and it’s light. But other than that, the Wifi function comes in so so handy. I can take a photo, send it to my phone and then edit it, upload and publish it, all within 5 minutes of capturing the shot. The iPhone 7 Plus is pretty awesome for taking photos too, and though I haven’t had it long, I can already see the difference in lens quality with the shots I’ve taken.

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As well as using my iPhone for images, I have a tonne of apps I use for blogging. Here are a few of them.

I’ve mentioned the WordPress app so I won’t go into that again. I use Buffer to scheduling tweets, which I don’t do all that much, but it’s good to have an easy app to do it when I want to. Twitter (of course), Facebook and Instagram – I don’t really have to tell you what those do, right?

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Lightroom app for iOS is awesome for photo editing. The auto presets are a great place to start, and then you can tweak until your heart’s content.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve been uploading to Flickr for over 10 years now, so it’s almost as though I have my own iStock of photos on there. It’s awesome because I pretty much have a photo already taken for a lot of posts I might want to write. So, if I ever don’t have the time to take photos, I can usually pull from there. The Flickr app allows me to save my own photos and then I can upload them to WordPress. Job done!

As I begin to venture into the world of YouTube, the YouTube app has come in very handy, as has the YouTube Creator Studio app. It shows me views, stats, trends and comments all from one place. It also allows me to push videos live, share and copy links right from the app.

For planning I like to use the notes section on my phone, when out at about, and for proper planning I’ll use my Ultimate Blog Planner from Dot Creates. This planner allows me to make in depth notes, or even start writing the blog there and then. There are sections where I can write prompts for photo ideas I’ve had too. It’s really invaluable.

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Photo lighting comes in the form of either the Earth’s sun or, because this is England, I have a pair of softbox lights which I use for both photography and video. They’re pretty new to me so I’m still getting the hang of them, but I love the natural light they throw out. You can find the set I bought from Amazon here!

Other than on my phone, for photo editing on my laptop I use a really old version of Paint Shop Pro. I could upgrade but I know this software like the back of my hand, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I also use this software to make any graphics I need for my blog or elsewhere.

So, those are my ‘can’t do without’ blogging tools. I hope this helps you with your blog planning and editing, and please let me know if you use something you love that I haven’t mentioned!

2016: My Year in Blogging

I think this year has to have been one of my most consistent blogging years, the last one being during my year of half marathon training.

And I know exactly what changed it; the blogging community on social media and actually being actively social.

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Blogging has changed a huge amount since I started. I’ve been writing a blog for around 15 years and this particular blog for 7 and a half now. I’m so proud that Musings of a So-Called Shutterbug is the way that it is and that people seem to like it!

I started the year with around 300 email subscribers and ended it with over 600. After having started dabbling with makeup I started to see my reader stats increasing and people seemed to be interested in that kind of content. I’m not going to lie, as much as my blog posts are written for me, no one will deny the draw to being popular. Especially in such a competitive environment. And it’s SO competitive.

When I started blogging it wasn’t popular. It was something emo kids and poets did. For the record, and though there’s nothing wrong with being either of those things, I’m neither. I was just putting thoughts to ‘paper’ and then releasing them into the great ocean of the internet. I think that’s why I get on with twitter so much. You have a thought, you release it, and then it’s gone (for the most part!).

When I began putting in that extra 10% effort this year, I could see it made all the difference. But I also saw that the world of blogging, this expansive Blogosphere, was totally different from how it was when I started. EVERYONE has a blog. The content is rarely original, but when it is, it’s so good. And people can really make money from blogging. People are jacking in their 9-5 jobs to work for themselves and become influencers full-time.

And not only that, the popularity contest is so fierce that people actually pay for followers. Things I didn’t know even existed were brought to the forefront – people spend hours scheduling tweets to go out on a weekly basis. They will plan posts months ahead, spending hours perfecting their Media Kit and profile pages to be PR friendly. I have, for the time being, decided that a media kit and PR related type stuff is not for me. The other day someone had to explain to me what an Insta Pod was – I’m still not 100% sure…

A few years ago I dabbled, and worked with companies reviewing their stuff. I worked with Vita Coco, Chobani and a few tea companies. I had chocolate and yogurt coming out of my ears and finding the time to review everything was hard. I found my content was becoming watered down this ad content and I decided to let it go.

I also found it’s so hard to get noticed in the seas of ‘young’ ‘hip’ bloggers who understand social media and branding way more than I can at my mid 30’s. It’s frustrating to think that the 40th review someone has read about the latest Zoella perfume can get so much more engagement than a post I write about travel or a favourite charity….. But still.

So since I considered myself pretty good at twitter I set up a second twitter account dedicated to Musings and let it loose on the world. I got a few followers but they were mainly people who I already knew. And nothing seemed to happen….. Then I realised that I was being totally dumb and in order for people to engage with me I needed to engage with them. It’s been to the detriment of my personal twitter account, I must admit, but even so, I have really enjoyed it.

Things really started to fly when I discovered The Bloggers Hub (or I think they might have found me!), a network of like-minded bloggers who chat, help each other and are really fun. The guys who run the network are great, welcoming, and really help to boost your exposure all at the same time. They seem like the kind of people I’d really get on with IRL and there’s zero bitchiness from anyone, which is the one thing that had put me off being involved in any other twitter blogger network. Their twitter chat was also the first one I ever participated in (and since I’ve never felt the urge to join in with any others, if I’m honest). Through them I’ve found some amazing, friendly and really down to earth bloggers. I’ve also had my eyes opened to some of the pitfalls of blogging, some of the drama and plenty of the scams.

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Through twitter I got the balls to start my YouTube channel too, which is still very much in its infant stage. But it’s great to know there’s an outlet I can push my videos through, when I really want people to know what I’ve been creating.

Something I’ve always had an issue getting over, so not just this year, is the fear of putting what I really think onto the screen. And by that I mean, I sometimes have the strong urge to write a response to something that might be going on in the press or something in my life, but I’m afraid of the responses I might get. Sometimes it’s a social or political issue that I don’t feel like I know everything about but I still have a strong opinion on. I might know enough to write a post about it, but someone who knows more about it than me might comment and I won’t be able to stand my ground. This is something I hope, in time, I’ll get over. But the more exposure my blog gets, the higher the chance that someone might respond negatively to what I’ve written. I mean let’s face it, beauty bloggers get flack for using too much product in their swatches so what hope do I have if I start to comment on politics?

I also had the chance, towards the end of the year, to attend a couple of Blogger events. One was too far from home, but one was right where I live, and I chickened out. Apart from it being too much money for what you got, I didn’t feel ready to take that scary leap and be social with people I’d never met. The fear was too great. But maybe this year I’ll take the leap. There’s one blogger I’ve been friendly with for the past year, who I would consider a friend even though we’ve never met. Maybe meeting her this year will be the first step to conquering this fear. I think I need my hand held!

So what does 2017 and blogging hold for me? This year I upgraded my Peanuts Moleskine notebook, where I usually write in long hand, a full blog, if I have the idea in my head and I need to get it out. I bought a Dot Creates Blogger Planner. Inside it’s got loads of space for planning upcoming blogs. Up until now I’d either use my Peanuts Moleskine or more often just open a new page on my iPhone Notes app. This can be a little clumsy and when it comes to things like this, I appreciate putting pencil to paper more. This blog planner will also be great for planning YouTube video ideas and it makes my brain feel a little more organised!

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So planning will be important in 2017, though I don’t feel like I’ll ever be the kind of person who can sit, plan and write out posts months in advance. I’m far too much of a spur of the moment, type out whatever’s in my brain right now, kind of blogger.

I know I’ll continue with twitter because it’s been so much fun, socialising with everyone and learning too. I considered dabbling with scheduling tweets, but I enjoy actually engaging in real-time too much. Even scheduling blog posts too far ahead of time makes me feel distant from my content, so for the time being I won’t be scheduling tweets.

I’m going to work on my brand, but I want to keep it real. I don’t want to find myself moving back to where I was when I was doing PR and collaborations. That’s not me – if I talk about a product it’s because I love it and I’m just doing the same as if I told my friends about something amazing that I’d tried. And I want my readers to know that too. If I’m telling you about it, it’s because it’s worth talking about!

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I can honestly say that 2016 was my most enjoyable year in blogging, and I hope 2017 follows suit. I now know that putting that little bit of extra effort in, finding your tribe and being social makes a whole heap of difference. There’s a reason it’s called social media but for someone who isn’t incredibly outgoing or social I was just a little slow on the uptake.

But it’s okay now, because I got there eventually. And I love it!

December Favourites

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And here we are, all of a sudden, at the end of the year! So, it’s only fitting that I do my December favourites, right?

This December I was lucky enough to receive a Liberty London advent calendar as a gift from my husband, which meant that every day leading up to, and including, Christmas Day I received a little gift from the Liberty beauty hall. It was an amazing gift and exciting every single day to open the huge drawer and see what was inside. I’m not even joking when I say the cost of the calendar was paid for in product a few times over. So needless to say, some of the items I’m talking about this month were a result of this calendar, however I’m only talking about things I have loved and been using regularly.

It was a fantastic experience because I’ve been able to try brands and products I would never have tried otherwise. A resounding success, I’d say!

Let’s start with these products:

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The Votary Facial Oil came to me pretty early on in the month so I’ve been able to give this quite a few tries. I have combination skin with an oily t-zone so the idea of putting oil on my face seems really backward. But that being said, I’ve been totally converted to oil in my hair despite having a greasy scalp, so I was willing to give this a try. I use this after doing a proper cleanse in the evening. You drip 4 drops onto your hand and then lightly move it over your clean, dry skin and finally tap what’s left on your hands onto the under-eye area. I have found that this isn’t greasy, sinks in fairly fast and doesn’t leave me oily. It also smells gorgeous which is lovely. I feel like I’m giving myself a real treat when I use this, and I look forward to using it more!

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The Aveda Hand Relief cream has found its place in my handbag as my go-to every day hand cream when I’m out and about. The rosemary mint scent was a little odd to start with but I actually really enjoy it now. It offers long lasting moisture and sinks in fast which is what I need when I’m not at home.

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As you know, I’m always looking for something to fix my ever-dry lip issues, especially in the winter. I got this C.O. Bigelow rose salve and I’ve been adoring it. It’s basically fixed all my problems (well maybe) – it smells amazing, is hydrating, and when I use this I can go ages before my lips feel dry again. It’s also perfect for tapping onto my lips if I’m wearing lipstick and I feel like I need a moisture boost. I’ll be re-buying this!

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And lastly from the advent calendar was this Skin Laundry face wash. Rubbing this over my face for 60 seconds and then washing it off leaves my skin feeling so clean but not stripped or dry. I even think it might be helping to clear a little of my redness and texture. We’ll see, but so far I love it, and I’ve used it quite a lot and barely made a dent in this little bottle! Yay!

Next, we’ll move onto a couple of items I purchased at the end of November and have loved using in December.

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I made an E.L.F order and have been really pleased with some of the items I got. I picked up a new blush in Twinkle Pink which has been said to be a dupe for the NARS Orgasm blush. I’ve not seen the NARS blush in person, but I wasn’t expecting the ELF blush to be so glittery. I’ve tried to capture some of the fallout in the photo but it just didn’t translate.

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Needless to say, I kept this for the Christmas season when it’s okay to be glitter drenched, but I’m not sure I’ll be wearing it outside of party season. Either way I really enjoyed how it looked, and it wasn’t too sparkly once I had it on (or at least I don’t think it was!!)

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Next from ELF was this under eye setting powder. A teeny tiny pot, which came with a little brush (though I’m not sure how you would use a teeny brush so I’ve been using a fluffy setting brush as normal) I really like this finely milled powder and as long as you use the tiniest amount, it sets my under-eye area without drying, looking cakey or settling into fine lines. It’s a win!

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Lastly for makeup is a product I’m so glad I found out about. It’s changed my makeup life completely and I can’t believe no one really talks about it. The NYX Pro Foundation Mixer in white is a must have for anyone who is a little pale, or likes to change up their foundations between seasons. You just need a teeny amount, mix it into your foundation and it’ll correct the shade. I have been able to buy foundation not worrying if it’s slightly off colour, or wear foundation I’d usually save for the summer. It doesn’t change the consistency or wear of your foundation and it makes it totally customisable. I think it was about £7.50 which is a steal – go buy it!

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I was lucky enough to receive a brand-new iPhone for Christmas from G Man, to replace my 2.5 year old iPhone 6. He knew I had fallen in love with the iPhone 7 Plus camera, and surprised me with one on Boxing Day, when we went into the Apple store to look for something else. I am over the moon with it, and have very quickly gotten used to the size of the handset. I can never go back!

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Last for December, I need to tell you about this fantastic back pack I treated myself to at the start of the month. Knowing that I had fallen in love with the idea of a backpack for a handbag, since coming back from Disney World, I had been looking for the perfect one. But none of them fit the bill, so I put out a request for help on twitter, and my good friend Bushra told me about Knomo London. I’d never heard of them but had a look, and within a couple of days I’d placed an order.

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Knomo specialise in bags and purses for technology. The one I chose is a small backpack with a padded back pocket perfect for an iPad, as it offers the right size and protection. I don’t have an iPad but the sections, pockets and the size of the pockets is perfect. It even fits my iPhone 7 plus perfectly. The fabric is water resistant and wipeable and even with all my stuff inside, once it’s on my back it doesn’t feel like it has anything in it. It also doesn’t look like it has lots inside, which I appreciate AND it fits my vlogging camera inside. It’s all kinds of awesome. Go check Knomo out!

So, that’s it for another year of favourites. Stay tuned for my 2016 favourites round up!