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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

University: Take Two.

So I'm finally in Southampton. After months of working like a crazy person trying to save up money, it's all paid off. I'm back at university and experiencing Freshers Week in an entirely new place. And surprise, surprise... I'm loving it. This time last year, I was pretty miserable. I remember logging on to all sorts of social media outlets and watching my friends have the most amazing time at their Freshers Weeks. I, on the other hand, spend most evening sitting in my room eating microwave meals and wishing I was in London.
When I arrived here, just over a week ago now, I was terrified that the same thing would happen again. I was nervous that I'd be put in a rubbish flat, hate my course, and spend all my time visiting my boyfriend and family. But that anxiety disappeared the moment my Dad and I arrived on campus. I couldn't resist the urge to grab my camera and start snapping away. The Highfield campus at the University of Southampton is incredibly beautiful - you almost forget you're in a city because you're surrounded by greenery.

Once I'd completed all the necessary admin, the only thing left to do was move in. I have been so wonderfully lucky with both my flatmates and my accommodation this time round. My room is nice and spacious and I even have a queen-sized bed - something that is unheard of in university halls of residence. Although, I do still have the obligatory hideous curtains but I've quickly grown used to them. I've fast made the room my own and it's really starting to feel like home.
As one of three girls and three boys, the flat has a really relaxed vibe and we've all gotten to know each other pretty quickly. The past week has consisted of partying, sleeping, exploring, and socialising. Now that the dust has settled a bit and everything is started to calm down, business will be back to usual with my beloved LydiaLulu - I just needed those few days to really hit the ground running. Who knows how many societies I've joined since I've been here. I dread to think.
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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Life Lately #2

'It's not you, it's me.'
 'I've just been so busy recently.'
'I need to focus on myself'

We've all heard these clichés a million times. It's been a few days since I last posted and I didn't want this little update to be full of excuses explaining my silence on the blogging front. Although, clichés are undoubtedly all rooted in truth. Let's just say I've been preoccupied with university planning, almost going through a break-up, salvaging my relationship by traveling down to Portsmouth, and now everything is fine and dandy. Plus, I met one of my absolute favourite beauty bloggers - LilyPebbles - in Oxford Circus on Thursday so it's not all been a massive downer. Despite having a mini blogging break this week, my brain never fully shuts off and I always seem to find inspiration when I'm not looking for it. Particularly during train journeys... don't ask me why. But during those quiet five days I've still been pretty good with my camera (which has fast become one of my most prized possessions) and have documented my everyday routine. Here are my highlights.
A last minute trip to Oxford Circus - my way of saying goodbye to my beloved city before going away to Uni.
What's a trip to Oxford Circus without a look in Topshop? Naturally, my quick look turned into shopping spree. But hey, I needed some Freshers outfits. I couldn't resist this LBD. It's a little sexier than I would normally go for but is so easy to throw on for a night out. I was pleasantly surprised by how great it looked with biker boots. Ignore the messy changing room - I'm a hardcore shopper.
Obligatory photos of my animals here. The hardest part about moving away is leaving them. Having a house full of animals isn't quite the same as living in Halls of Residence. I took these photos to look at when I'm feeling homesick.

 Django has an unhealthy love for cardboard - he couldn't resist a warm pizza box. And I couldn't resist taking hundreds of photos of him.
My parents got back from their New York escape today. Naturally, I gave my Mum a Sephora wishlist and she didn't disappoint. Even surprising me with my favourite Bath & Body Works candles in Autumnal scents and a gorgeous pair of Madewell skinny jeans which didn't hurt.
Which brings me to now. I'm leaving for Southampton tomorrow and I can't wait. I can't believe it's been six months since I made the terrifying decision to leave university and move back home. I'm proud of what I've accomplished in that time - mostly, plucking up the courage to start LydiaLulu. It's gone so quickly but I'm ready to throw myself into a completely new environment and see what happens. Plus, I'm studying English Literature which gives me flexible hours to work on my blogging too. This is such an exciting time and I will be, without a doubt, documenting it all here on my little internet space. Here's hoping Southampton will be everything I've been dreaming of. But as you can tell from the state of my room, I need to get my packing sorted!

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Monday, 15 September 2014

My Favourite Blogging Reads.

Since starting LydiaLulu about four months ago now, I've fallen fast and hard for the blogging community. Seriously, I don't know what I did before I signed up to Bloglovin'. I rocked up to this online party pretty late - seeing as some of those blogs have been running for years - but I feel like I've become part of a community and that in itself is pretty special. In the short time that I've been blogging, I've come across some really wonderful, and often undiscovered, blogs. I thought it was about time I shared my favourite reads.

Words cannot express how obsessed I am with Anna's blog - although the professional layout of her site makes her feel more like a brand. I suppose she is a professional blogger, after all. The first time I came across her blog was when I was in Newcastle for my sister's graduation a couple of months ago. I was in my own hotel room and couldn't get to sleep so I naturally started perusing Bloglovin''s 'Popular Posts' tab. I stumbled across Anna's 'What's in My Handbag' post and couldn't help but notice that she had the Whistles bag I had been lusting over, albeit in a different colour. I immediately began binge-watching her videos there and then. Since then, I've bought the Whistles bag and become a devout VDM fan. Reading Anna's blog is like flicking through the pages of a your favourite magazine - she never fails to entertain and her make-up tips and trips are flawless. 

Bloomin Rouge | Holly

'Bloomin Rouge' is a relatively new find for me but it's fast become one of my favourites. What struck me when I first came across Holly's blog is her wonderful layout - it's so feminine yet wonderfully minimalistic. We're all fickle creatures really, a good design makes for a easy and enjoyable reading. I loved her post on 'Glowing Skin for Oily Girls' as this was a look I'd often strived for but felt I couldn't because of my pesky oil-prone complexion. Holly's blog is a great mixture of beauty and lifestyle - personally, I always like to get to know my favourite bloggers. After all, blogs are normally a personal space and I like that Holly includes pieces of herself amidst her beauty posts. 

JennyPurr | Jen

'JennyPurr' was one of the first blogs I followed way back in June and I always find myself 'liking' Jen's posts. Jen tackles all kinds of genres when it comes to her blog and she never restricts herself to just one category. This is something I really admire about her work - and when I decided to give sponsorship a go, advertising on 'JennyPurr' was a bit of a no-brainer. I'm also a big fan of 'A Little Opulent' which Jen co-founded with Rebecca of 'From Roses' - another wonderful read if you're ever in need.

Nouvelle Daily | Various

I'd been following Kate's blog, 'Gh0st Parties', for a good few months when I found out that she also fronted an online magazine called 'Nouvelle Daily'. A few clicks on their most recent posts and I was hooked. 'Nouvelle Daily' includes everything from a 'University Checklist' to advice for planning a holiday. I love these short and sweet posts that always seem to brighten up my day. 

Lauren Conrad | Various

As if I needed more of a reason to love Lauren Conrad. This reality-TV star turned fashion designer turned blogger runs the most incredible website that I can waste hours clicking through. Even though Conrad doesn't write everything herself (her contributors are always labelled 'Team LC' - reminiscent of her 'Laguna Beach' days), Lauren's content is always a fun mix of food porn, exercise tips, and fashion posts. I love that Lauren also contributes more personal posts which show her in the midst of wedding planning or just hanging out with her friends. This blog gives me my 'The Hills' fix despite the show ending over four years ago.
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Freshers Week Survival Guide.

In just six days time I'll be in Southampton and experiencing Freshers Week the second time round. It's an incredibly exciting time for students all over the country but I'm always the first to admit that it's pretty scary. Living on your own for the first time and being surrounded by strangers all drinking crazy amounts of cheap booze can be really overwhelming... or it was for me this time last year. Like I wrote in a post a few months ago now, I left my first university after six months of trying to make it work. If I was completely honest with myself from the beginning, I probably would have left within a month. I did not enjoy Freshers Week in the slightest. It was simply too much for me. I was missing home, I'm really bad at drinking anyway, and I was unlucky with my housemates. To be honest, I didn't really experience Freshers Week. My university was in an incredibly sleepy city in comparison to London and I didn't enjoy going out there - so I didn't. In hindsight, I should have made more of an effort but I understand why I didn't at the time. But this time next week I'll be experiencing it all over again - and the truth is, I'm so excited. I can't wait to get there, discover Southampton nightlife, and start my amazing English Literature course. I'm lucky really, I've been through this before and know just what to expect. If you're heading to uni within the next couple of weeks, or you're already there, then here are my tried-and-tested methods to surviving Freshers Week.

Buy the University Freshers Wristband.

Always, there are no excuses. This was a big mistake of mine last year. I was perturbed by the price and was too stubborn to pay up. This year my wristband has cost £95 which is more or less the same price as all British universities. Yes, it's frustrating that you have to pay so much before you even get there but no one wants to be the person waiting outside clubs when everyone is already inside. Plus, my pricey wristband gets me into events over the course of six weeks and gets me discounted drinks too. Everyone knows Freshers Week is expensive - but paying £95 now saves you money in the long term.

Widen your social horizons.

Again, this was another mistake I made. I was put in a really cliquey flat with people I didn't click with. I tried really hard in the first few weeks to be friends with my housemates and went out with a couple of times. But I found the girls were really bitchy and I simply don't have the patience for that (see here for details). The halls that I was living in were divided into little houses which made it really hard to meet new people. I was confined to the people I was living with. This year I've gone for traditional corridor halls and I absolutely think its the right decision for me. If you simply don't gel with the people you share a flat with, all is not lost. You can wander down the corridor and meet another group of interesting people. Don't give up like I did. If you're unhappy with your accommodation, then do something about it. Get in touch with the accommodation office and investigate moving flats. Living with people you don't get on with is so difficult when you're already in an overwhelming situation. I wish I'd done something about it within my first weeks. 

Join societies you're interested in.

A lot of people seem to join clubs that they think will be most sociable, which is great. But it's so important to be inspired by what you get involved in at university. Or what's the point? Societies are the best way of meeting people with similar interests and socialising with other students who you may not otherwise have met. When you're in a new environment it's great to have friends scattered in different areas. I've already got my eye on the English Literature society (obvs), the charity RAG organisation, and student Radio. 

Know your limits.

Binge drinking is not fun. Spending your night with your head in the toilet does not make you cool, it makes you a Freshers horror story! This was one thing I really struggled with last time. I am simply not a good drinker, I'm a lightweight and have been known to feel the effects of half a bottle of beer. My flatmates pressured me into drinking a lot during those first few weeks. I hated being labelled as 'boring' so I reluctantly joined in. Embarrassingly enough, it ended up with me throwing up in the kitchen sink. After that  horrendous night, I know my limits. My plan over the next few weeks is to bring huge bottles of Diet Coke with me and stick to soft drinks while everyone else pre-drinks. After all, so many people chose soft drinks mixed with spirits these days that it's really easy to get away with sobriety for a night. I'm not saying I won't touch alcohol, I'm just going to take it easy. I want to show people that I can be fun without the booze spurring me on.

It's okay to be homesick.

 Most people are during those first few weeks. However, if I could go back in time then I would have stuck it out a bit longer. I went home for my first weekend at uni - mainly because my only friend at that point had a wedding to go to and I was scared of being alone. Who knows? If I'd stayed I would have confronted that fear and maybe enjoyed it better. So many people try and come across like they're handling it really well but everyone is in the same boat here. Take comfort in the fact that every Fresher is probably a bit overwhelmed and homesick too. But it will get easier as you get used to your new environment and get stuck into your course. I'm aiming to go cold turkey for my first term - I want to really throw myself into university life! It's nice knowing that home is only a train-ride away if I ever need it.

So make the most of Freshers Week. Enjoy meeting new people and exploring a new city - it's only really something you get to do once... or twice if you're like me. If you throw yourself in the deep end, more often then not, you'll find that swimming comes naturally.
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Saturday, 13 September 2014

'A Streetcar Named Desire' - Young Vic.

I had been looking forward to the Young Vic's production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' for what seemed like forever. But the September 12th finally rolled around and I couldn't wait any longer. My Mum managed to bag tickets to this much-coveted production and we were so lucky to get in at all. Gillian Anderson's title role as the flawed heroine, Blanche DuBois, has made the Young Vic's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' most famous play the theatre trip of the season.
Having only visited the Old Vic theatre once (when I was studying my Drama GCSE at that), I was really curious as to what the Young Vic would have to offer. I wasn't disappointed. Its small and intimate setting, just a two minute walk down the road from her elder sister, makes for a more relaxed vibe. Perhaps Mum and I chose the right day to go as yesterday was warm and sunny, but it felt like a more laid back setting from what I remember of the Old Vic. The theatre hosts a gorgeous balcony where Mum and I sat and had a Coke during the interval - it was the perfect place to just sit and watch the world go by.
One of the many things I loved about the performance was that it was theatre in the round - this breaks the boundaries between the standard audience and stage divide. If you ask me, it makes for a more intense performance. The great thing about the Young Vic's interpretation was that the stage also rotated all the way through the three hour length of the play which meant you saw the performance through a variety of angles and perspectives. The musical interludes between scenes provided a sense of continuity while also bringing it into the 21st century.
Gillian Anderson deserves every ounce of praise she's already received for her performance - she was funny, poignant, and downright chilling. She made me laugh, feel enormous sympathy, and want to cry all over the course of three hours. But her co-stars were equally as wonderful. I was seriously impressed with Vanessa Kirby's interpretation of Stella. Having studied this play as part of my English A-Level, I had always been frustrated with the character of Stella - but Vanessa Kirby brought her to life and made me understand why she had to choose Stanley over her sister. Although her accent sometimes faltered, her overall performance was phenomenal and exactly on point.  Meanwhile, Ben Foster's interpretation of Stanley was fast-paced and often terrifying.
I loved how true Benedict Andrews' adaptation stayed to Williams' original work. A huge part of my A-Level coursework was Blanche's aversion to the light and the fact that she avoids realism and instead craves 'magic'. She lives in a fantasy world that is already crashing down around her when she is confronted with the brute realist, Stanley Kowalski. It was harrowing yet strangely addictive to watch these two battle against each other - and use Stella as a weapon - in this cultural and idealistic power struggle.
Seeing 'A Streetcar Named Desire' performed on stage brought a play I know by heart to life. It's an emotionally harrowing and incredibly powerful dramatic masterpiece. You always know that you've seen a great theatre performance when you're still moved by it days later. Plus, the Young Vic is set in the heart of London - an area I'm desperate to explore a little more before my move to Southampton in week.
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Thursday, 11 September 2014

'Communication is Key.'

When you're in a relationship of any kind, everyone always tells you that 'communication is key'. Seriously, I've heard it so much that sometimes I want to yell at whoever it is lecturing me. But it's true - even more so when you're in a long-distance relationship. I wrote this guide to LDRs a couple months ago and just like the saying goes, 'Communication' was my fool-proof my first step. But what I didn't focus on back then is just how hard it can be.
Sometimes I'm not in the mood to talk. When I'm having a bad day, I can find it all a bit much. I'll literally want to curl up in bed and distract myself with Netflix - my Bloglovin' feed works like a charm. But today I'm trying something new - I writing a post about it.
It's so easy to push away the people you love most. I'm constantly aware of how unfair this is on Jonny. I expect him to know when I'm struggling but don't talk to him about it. It's frustrating for both of us. Like I wrote in my LDR guide, Jonny's visits feel like a couples mini break which is great. But I failed to mention back then how agonising it is not knowing when you'll next see your other half. There are days, like today, when I just need him here. I hate being the person who glares at couples kissing in the street - and it's not even because of the PDA, it's because I'm resentful that I can't do that. I get to be with Jonny for a few days here and there every so often.
As I wrote here, I suffer from anxiety and I like having routine in my life. I'm at my worst when I don't have anything productive to do - writing LydiaLulu has helped me enormously the past few months. So naturally when I don't know when I'll next see him, I get upset. These relationships can only work if you have something to look forward to. It's hard being in a long-term, long-distance relationship but going about your everyday life as if you're a single girl. I no longer feel guilty when the barista at my local coffee house flirts with me. I suppose I'm just fed up - sometimes it's hard trying to think clearly through a muggy long-distance haze.
I know that I should be telling him all this, and I mostly already have, but I thought it was important to include it here on LydiaLulu. We live in the age of the internet, where we edit our lives for consumption. A few months ago I ranted wrote about how Facebook fails to present a realistic portrait of our everyday lives. Our 'friends' can emulate a nostalgic movie montage of never-ending glamourous nights out on their Facebook pages - while we, on the other hand, remain green with envy while scrolling through our News Feeds out of boredom. I don't want LydiaLulu to turn into an artificial, yet oh-so-perfect, version of my life. I want to include these kinds of posts, where everything isn't perfect, because it's still my life. It doesn't mean that Jonny and I are heading for a break-up - it's just my way of dealing with some of the difficulties that come with long-distance love. After all, I've learnt that writing is incredibly therapeutic.
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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Rolo Brownie Delight.

Ever get one of those moods where you just want to bake? For me, they happen more than I care to admit - but that's because I really love the process of baking. I'm not the most experienced cook - self-catered halls of residence are the only thing I'm nervous about when I head back to university in a couple weeks - but I've definitely earned my baking strips overing the years.
So when the mood struck a couple days ago, I headed straight for my Mary Berry 'Baking Bible' (like I wrote in this post, the woman is a goddess) but nothing really took my fancy. Actually, correction: I have an older sister who refuses to eat cooked fruit and a younger brother who only eats anything chocolate or lemon. Their preferences pretty much narrow down all my options. Out of interest, I took to the internet. With the simple search, 'baking inspiration', I quickly stumbled upon the website  and found this brownie recipe seconds later. Rolo brownies seemed too good to resist so I dashed down to Waitrose with my Mum and got started. Although, Rolos were harder to find than I first thought - I had to buy three individual packets from a newsagents as supermarkets have stopped stocking them.

Couldn't resist this adorable picture of Django cuddling up with a towel while my brownies were in the oven!

I've linked the recipe here in case you want to give them a try yourself - and you definitely should. The end result is a very decadent brownie which has gone down a storm in my household. They require more attention than other brownies I've made in the past but they're so worth it. The Rolos sink into the batter and the caramel disperses inside. I simply don't own a piping bag which the recipe suggests you use to decorate, so instead I melted the white chocolate chips first and covered my brownie slab with a layer and then followed it with the melted dark chocolate chips. Again, a bit more technical than your average brownie recipe but this sweetness counteracts the more bitter dark Muscovado sugar. I then served them with mascarpone and raspberries to complete this indulgent dessert. This recipe is an absolute crowd-pleaser and well worth a try. Plus, it's nice to have something to indulge in while watching Great British Bake Off on a Wednesday night!
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Monday, 8 September 2014

A Good Pair of Heels.

Like many women, I have a difficult relationship with high heels. On the one hand, nothing beats a pair of killer heels. Wearing heels adds sophistication, glamour, a touch of sexiness to any outfit. They're the perfect accessory. But they also enjoy watching women suffer. They are designed to elongate and slim the legs, not to be comfortable. They can be extremely painful at times - note the time I wore a pair of Kurt Geiger stilettos to my prom and Jonny ended up carrying me to the car at the end of the night...
A good pair of heels are invaluable. I love being a couple extra inches taller. It's so empowering... or is it? I read an interesting, and quite comical, feminist theory that high heels are a way of slowing women down in the workplace? Causing us pain and even working as a distraction while flat-footed men race up the ranks.
I'll never forgot a customer I served when I was sixteen and working as a Barista in my local Starbucks. He was a regular with us, came every morning at the crack of dawn and would try and mooch free coffee. One day he commented on my workwear, telling me that I looked 'dowdy' and that he liked his women in 'sky high heels' that made their legs look never-ending. I was slightly appalled (I wore black denim to and from the store because it was my uniform, thank you very much) but realised that he had a point. High heels are intricately linked to sex appeal. Are they just another way to objectify women in the modern world?
Or perhaps high heels really are empowering. They could be a way of embracing our sexuality and taking pride in our appearance. Heels aren't made for comfort but there's no denying that they're beautifully designed. A glimpse of Carrie Bradshaw's immense collection in 'Sex and the City' is enough to make me swoon. After all, Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin are considered artists in their fields.
So today I went into the store on my day off to have a quick trying-on session of some of our latest arrivals. My discount expires on my last shift on Wednesday so naturally I wanted to see if there was anything I desperately needed! I'd been eyeing up these shoes for a while. They're the Poppy Two Part Block Heel in Pink and I'm in love. I hadn't tried them on before, in the fear that I'd start pining for them, and they're gorgeous. I thought their subtle shade on pink might wash out my already pretty pale legs - but they're perfect. As a general rule, a thick strap slims the legs and looks lovely and elegant. They're my ideal heels - not too high, a comfortable-ish heel, and a cute colour. I can't wait to wear these out - I've been trying to get the girls together for drinks just so they can make their debut. As if I could be looking forward to university any more, I'm even more excited to wear them for Freshers Week.
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Saturday, 6 September 2014

Blogging Lessons.

So LydiaLulu is almost four months old. It's weird, it feels like I've been blogging for much much longer than that. (My half-hearted Tumblr attempt doesn't count here). It's probably because blogging has taught me a lot about myself and how I work best. It's given me confidence in my writing ability, and I love the fact that LydiaLulu is growing with me. I've got some big life changes coming up in the next few weeks: my final shift at work, a very exciting theatre trip, moving to Southampton, and starting university again. I can't wait to document all these changes on my very own corner of the internet. But in the four months that I've been doing this, here are some tried-and-tested blogging lessons I've learnt along the way.

Making Time.

Working a full time job and writing a blog is extremely difficult. Before I started LydiaLulu, I wasn't doing much with my spare time if I'm honest. I would come home after a long day and just slob out in front of the TV. Now I get home, have a quick scroll of my Bloglovin' feed and get to work. I've been really pushing myself recently to produce good quality content everyday and I'm loving the challenge. But it isn't all hard work, sometimes I need to have a bit of lazy time before I can start writing. It's simple really - if I spend some time catching up with trash TV when I get home, then I'll start later and finish later. Take this evening for instance, I didn't get home till 18:30 and then went immediately out for dinner with the family. That means I'll just catch up when I get home. For me, it's all about achieving balance and managing my time effectively. Even if it means some late nights. It all becomes worth it when a post you worked so hard on is received well.

Staying Motivated

Again, this is tough when you work full time. Whenever I'm feeling stressed out or like my blog is a failure, I just remind myself why I'm doing it. I love writing and I love the creative freedom running LydiaLulu has given me. If it ever gets really bad then I'll cut myself some slack. Forcing yourself to write when your creative juices aren't flowing is not an easy task and usually won't go so well. It's better to come back a little later when inspiration strikes. There's nothing motivating than having a couple hours break to relax and then coming back to a post refreshed and ready to write.

Creating a work environment.

When I was an incredibly stressed out student studying for A-Levels, I came to realise the importance of a good work space. An environment that's calm and familiar can work wonders when you're obsessing over a piece of work. The same counts for blogging. When I'm suffering with writer's block, I always light a candle, turn my fairy lights on, make a cup of tea, and put on my favourite tracksuit bottoms. It's my secret weapon that helps me focus.

The followers/statistics obsession.

This is a tough one that I'm sure every blogger goes through. When you devote your heart and soul to your little space on the internet, it can be so hard not to become preoccupied with your follower count. In my early weeks, I would take losing a single follower way too hard. It's hard not to notice when you have less than 20 people subscribed to your blog. I would obsess over what I did to make them unfollow me. But I'm matured a bit since then and try and focus on the positives - the fact that LydiaLulu is continuing to grow and that I'm even more devoted than I was at the start. 

With a sparkling new blog design and some massive life changes coming up soon, I'm so excited about the future of LydiaLulu. Stay posted. 
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Friday, 5 September 2014

Benefit Appreciation.

Without a shadow of a doubt, I am a Benefit girl through and through. I repurchased Benefit's 'Erase Paste' for what feels like the millionth time yesterday when I realised that I hardly use any other brands. Why fix something that isn't broken? As much as I love reading beauty blogs, I'm pretty nervous when it comes to trying out new looks. I'm quite terrified of eyeshadow. The most daring I go is a slick of pink lipstick or a messy feline flick. But I love my Benefit products and they've served me so well over the years.
Like I mentioned in my 'Chelsea Haul' post, Benefit is a brand I've come to know and love. My heart skips a beat when I approach the counter and see all the new products that have recently launched. Having said that I'm cautious with make-up, what I like about Benefit products is that they are pretty fool-proof. No brushes and tools required - I can quickly put my face on just using my fingertips to blend. 'The Big Easy' is the latest addition to my collection and I'm already a convert. It's a gorgeous liquid-to-powder formula that is so light on the skin but provides ample coverage. I hate feeling caked in make-up and I avoid liquid foundations like the plague. I experimented with powders for some time but found that they just didn't have the longevity to last my working hours. This is a perfect balance between the two. It makes me skin look dewey and healthy which I always thought was impossible - I have incredibly oily skin and thought this look would always be off-bounds for me. I apply 'The Big Easy' first after cleansing, when my skin is nice and refreshed. I follow this with a sweep of 'Erase Paste' under my eyes and over any blemishes. This stuff has a beauty cult following for a reason - it's the only concealer I've ever used and works like a charm. It covers any under-eye circles so easily and makes the skin look brighter and more 'awake' - something that is so crucial for me when I'm doing the morning shift! Its also a godsend when I'm having a bad skin day. My only critique is that it's a quite a heavy formula. It's therefore amazingly long-lasting but means it can feel quite cakey if you apply too much. I then dot a bit of 'High Beam' along my cheekbones to highlight and define my lack of cheekbones. This dreamy pink, pearly product has been in my make-up bag since the beginning of time. It's a huge favourite with celebrities - I remember feeling really chuffed with myself when Kylie Minogue revealed that it was one of her must-haves. The great thing about 'High Beam' is that you hardly need any to create the defined effect, which means it lasts forever. I've had this bottle since 2012 and its still going strong - I imagine it's past its expiry date but I don't like throwing away anything that hasn't run its course.
On the eyes, it has to be 'They're Real!' mascara. This is the UK's top selling mascara and I can't count how many I've repurchased over the years - I dread to think. It's incredible. It opens up the eyes and leaves your lashes looking long and luscious. You can get the same effect with cheaper mascaras (I was a Maybelline girl before I discovered 'They're Real!'), but what really makes Benefit stand out is its lasting-power. This mascara has super-strength, it just doesn't budge until you want to remove it and that's a challenge in itself. Benefit have even released a specific eye make-up remover as a result. I also indulged in the 'They're Real!' matching liquid eyeliner when it was first released. There was so much hype around the product that I couldn't wait to try it. The jury is still out on this one, however. I love the amazing rubber applicator which makes life a lot easier but I haven't quite mastered it yet.  My line always comes out quite thick and I much prefer the precision of a thin little flick. I feel like this ones takes a bit of getting used to... but I'm on my way.
Finally, I picked up 'Lolli Balm' when I was stocking up on concealer yesterday. I read a review on one of my favourite blogs - 'Couture Girl' - and thought, why not give them a go? From Kayleigh's photos, I thought 'Posie Balm' would be a really sweet soft pink, but in actuality it was more coral in tone. Instead, I went for the lilacy, pink 'Lolli balm' and so far, so good. It's wonderfully moisturising and the colour is not too bright or brash. Recently I've been despairing over my lip products and so this is a welcome addition to my collection. I often find that products build up in the corners of your mouth when too much has been applied which is never a good look. Because 'Lolli Balm' is so moisturising, I have high hopes for this tinted balm.

My everyday, Benefit make-up look.

Benefit is my ideal mix between a luxury and high street brand. It's products are on the slightly pricier scale but are of such great quality. They absolutely last long enough to justify spending a bit extra. After all, if you keep having to top up on cheaper make-up then it all adds up in the long-run. I like to splurge in some areas and save it others. Concealers and other skin perfecting remedies is where I invest. But once you've tried 'They Real!' mascara, there really is no going back. Even my Mum is a convert. It's always fun to experiment with other products and other brands, but I always find myself running back to the Benefit counter afterwards - even just to check up on what I've missed. I guess I really am a Benebabe.
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As a Literature student. classical plays hold a special place in my heart. So when my parents booked tickets to see the National Theatre's production of Medea, words can't describe my excitement. Having studied it at A-Level, but never seen it on stage, I was so curious as to how they would interpret this classic. Medea is the epitome of a Greek tragedy - murder, betrayal, heartbreak, the works. Without giving away all the details, Medea depicts a woman's breakdown as a result of her husband's remarriage to the Princess of Corinth. Her desire for revenge is harrowing.
Like what happens on a pretty everyday basis, I had an absolute outfit crisis. I had nothing to wear. After trying on the contents of my wardrobe and leaving my clothes in a scrunched up heap on the floor, I finally decided on this cute mixing-textures combination. My trusty crochet top from Topshop's 2013 Spring collection and an Urban Outfitter's skirt from earlier this year. Paired with my battered black ankle boots, of course. Again, another wonderful Topshop investment buy that is now falling to pieces.
Post-wardrobe crisis, I was feeling pretty good about my choice and Mum and I drove to the National Theatre to meet my sister and her friend for the performance. Apart from this amazing production, the most exciting part of the night was the celebrity-spotting. Twiggy was there with her husband, looking every inch the fashion icon that she is. Ex-James Bond actor, Timothy Dalton made an appearance too. And Alice Eve sat directly in front of us - I found it very hard to keep my cool. I'm incredibly bad at putting on a poker face when I spot famous people. I'm one to keep smiling at them until they walk away - note my sighting of Fresh Meat's Charlotte Ritchie on the tube. It was also a gorgeous Autumn evening in London and I managed to sneak out and get a few pictures of St. Paul's before the performance started.
Once seated, I noticed that Medea's sons were already on stage - lying in front of the TV and playing amongst themselves. To those who know the play, this is heart-wrenching from the start. Like all the critics have said in their own separate reviews, Helen McCory's performance is captivating in its intensity. The animalistic and primal noises she's able to make were chilling. This really is a one-woman show. The stage itself was impressive, in that it was built to resemble a modern-day, run-down house, with a dark wooded area residing in the heart of the home. Perhaps to resemble Medea's corrupted home and domestic values. The chorus too, made up on Corinthian women, who pity Medea were effective in their own right. As Medea descends into madness, they begin to shake with her rage and descend into primal sounds and movements before regaining their elegance and poise.
This interpretation of such a well-known classical masterpiece was intriguing to watch. At times, it differed greatly from how I had understood the play when I studied it. For instance, I had read Medea as a more poised and calculating in her plans for revenge. Helen McCory completely challenged this reading in her erratic, primal, and frankly terrifying performance.  The production was just incredible. Helen McCory deserves all the praise she's already received and I imagine she'll win every performance under the sun for this harrowing interpretation. 
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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Nails Inc and Alexa Chung - a Match Made in Heaven.

As some regular readers of LydiaLulu may know, I have a bit of a girl crush on Alexa Chung. Me and every other fashion conscious woman in the world, I know. To say she's my greatest style inspiration is just a little bit generic but doesn't make it any less true. She has the 'cool, fashionable British girl' look down to a tee and I always find myself trying to recreate her style. Trying, and failing, I might add. I've been the proud owner of a Mulberry 'Alexa' for about three years now. The bag perfectly captures Chung's feminine, yet slightly edgier, look.
So when the Debenhams beauty department emailed me to let me know about Chung's collaboration with Nails Inc a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. Chung had never really struck me as the type to front a beauty campaign. Personally, I see her as more of a 'fashion' girl - not to say that you can't be both. However, she has used her fashion knowledge to create a range of colours that help sculpt the perfect outfit. As Chung herself says 'I’ve been playing with textures and innovative effects to create the perfect collection that girls can use to revitalize an outfit.  This collection is a party for your hands.' These are definitely colours for winter: warm, dark, and sultry shades. I spend over 10 minutes umming and ahhing over what colours I wanted. If they weren't in the pricier range then I would have indulged in them all. I was especially tempted by 'Lace', a sparkling red that should be applied over another shade to create the effect of lace covering the nail. The polish itself looked beautiful in its packaging but I wasn't convinced of what colour I'd pair it with. So I went for 'Cashmere' and 'Leather' instead.

These polishes are unique in that they emulate the different textures they're named after. 'Leather' has a matte, distressed finish which looks really cool on my toes. I'm not so convinced by 'Cashmere's bumpy and unsatisfying final result. I even Googled the nail polish because I thought my bottle was faulty! I added a layer of Dior Gel TopCoat and that gave it a nice glossy sheen. Perhaps I'm just used to having shiny nails but I much preferred 'Cashmere' with this added effect. The colour is a light, pinkish grey which is so perfect for this season. I'm personally not such a fan of nude nails so this is a really sweet alternative.
As a pay-day little treat, these nail varnishes are worth the extra pennies. At £15 a bottle, Nails Inc's Alexa range is not the cheapest alternative out there but its definitely not the most expensive either. With nail polish, you ultimately pay for the application and colour and both of these are looking good. The wide brush makes for easy application and the bottles are on the larger side so you really do get your money's worth too. I'm loving the colours as they are nice investment shades that can still be worn in this funny Summer to Winter transitional period. They make for a perfect September treat.
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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cosmopolitan and Glamour: friend or foe?

Up until the age of seventeen, I was a women's monthly addict. I renewed my Cosmopolitan subscription with pride and would never miss an issue of Glamour either. I poured over the pages of these magazines, always trying to emulate the latest beauty trends and taking their latest tips and tricks on board. At my worst, I even started storing them on my bookshelves- they held the same status to me as literature. One day in 2012, I decided to have a clear-out of all my glossies to make room for new - such is their recyclable nature. Once I'd piled them all on my floor, ready to go in a bin-bag, I started to notice a frightening theme. Indistinguishable headlines scattered every single cover - 'How To Keep Your Man Happy in Bed', 'Top Tips for Your Bikini Body', 'How to be Your Sexiest You' - and photoshopped images of the same-old celebrities smiled back at me. That was my epiphany moment. These magazines reiterate the same dangerous messages each month. Their idea of female empowerment involves pleasing a man, conforming to society's twisted ideal of beauty, and trying to be sexy in the meantime.

What's so concerning about these messages is how it affects their readerships. Its terrifying to think that these sexist and incredibly misogynistic messages can get under our skin without us noticing. Its a new kind of 21st century, well disguised sexism. I spent years of my life reading these glossies from cover to cover, and never thought twice about these underlying issues. It wasn't until every magazine I'd ever bought was scattered in front of me that I noticed the problem.
Additionally, it didn't take me long to find a cover that reeked of all these dangerous women's monthly stereotypes. Cosmopolitan hides behind its feminist heritage of empowering women and writing candidly about female sexuality - editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, was a feminist icon of her time. Nowadays, the magazine still leads the way when it comes to writing about sex, but the focus once again lies with pleasing your man. The bold, black headline 'BAD GIRL SEX' further fetishes the image of a 'naughty' girl who exists purely for male enjoyment. Whereas the regular stories on how to lose weight and tone your body pushes the idea that Cosmopolitan readers should conform to society's distorted beauty ideal before pleasing your man in-between the sheets.
My greatest problem with monthly glossies isn't just their sexist undertones, but the way they create insecurities their readers didn't even know they had. By publishing weight loss and fad diet advice every month, these magazines further promote the idea that women need to achieve an unattainable standard of beauty. Why can't 'bikini-body ready' mean that you simply have a two-piece swimsuit in your possession? But it doesn't end there, stories such as 'A Cougar Stole My Man' scare-monger women into thinking that their fellow females are threats to their relationships. That their men can't control themselves and that they need to be carefully monitored. It would be ridiculous to lay the nation's relationship blame at Cosmopolitan's door but pushing the idea that other women are out to seduce their partners can't do anyone any good. Especially as the men get off scot-free. These publications pretend that they're for women: catering for our interests, and providing us with helpful advice when it comes to fashion and relationships. But instead they reinforce all the pressures society already puts on us - they promote the idea that 21st century women can 'have it all' while trying to teach us to be sexy and sweet. In other words, every man's ideal woman.
When I was confronted with my magazine problem, I decided to go cold-turkey and stop reading them all together. I've always preferred books anyway. I instantly felt so much better about myself. The constant beauty, fashion, relationship, and dieting tips were overwhelming and only ever set me up for failure. In that time, I realised that I don't need to emulate this season's electric blue eyeshadow just because it's on trend or try out the latest Hollywood overpriced superfood. For me, magazines are a fun form of escapism to delve into on my lunch break. But Cosmopolitan and Glamour weren't enriching my lunch hour in any way, they were stressing me out! Nowadays, I'm a Vogue, Elle, and Company convert - these publications focus primarily on fashion but publish fantastic articles written by strong and intelligent female journalists. Hadley Freeman and Victoria Coren Mitchell are my absolute favourites - they prove that magazines aren't all full of fluff and can actually be stimulating to read. However, this month I bought Glamour for old times sake and couldn't even reach the end. I left it at work in case anyone was in desperate need of some trashy stories. It was the same old material just regurgitated over and over again. But a funny read none the less. If you can take your glossy with a pinch of salt then they're harmless.
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Monday, 1 September 2014

September Love.

Autumn is my favourite time of year. The weather starts to turn, you get to snuggle up in oversized jumpers, and the air feels crisp and fresh. Personally, I'm always find myself counting down the final days of Summer. Living in the UK especially means that the end of August is usually a strange transitional period -  it's not quite cold enough to delve into your Autumn wardrobe but you can feel Summer fading away for another year. September also marks the start of a new school year for many. 'Back to School' adverts appear left, right, and centre even when they don't apply to you anymore. Weirdly enough, I always liked the start of a new academic year. A clean slate.
This September is going to be particularly exciting for me. I have my final day at work in just 10 days and then I'm moving to Southampton shortly after to start university. My second chance. Now that Southampton is emailing me with all the things I have to do before I arrive, it's starting to feel all the more real. I'm so excited to study this amazing English Literature course and have a proper university experience... but it still feels so far away. I've been working so much that it's hard to believe that it's almost time to leave.
Similarly, I'm really excited about the future of LydiaLulu. With a beautiful new layout, courtesy of Baggle Web Design, I'm working hard to continue growing my little corner of the internet. Today I invested in a gorgeous new camera so I can use my own high quality images and continue adding to my Youtube channel which I'm falling in love with. This Autumn is going to be an exciting time for me in a number of ways.  
However, if not like me and mourning the loss of Summer, then here are some of my personal favourite things about Autumn:
  1. Slouchy jumpers and snuggly scarves.
  2. Collecting conkers - something I will never grow out of.
  3. Multiple cups of tea after a long day - my caffeine addiction worsens during this time of year.
  4. Getting caught in the rain and having a long, hot bath when you get home.
  5. Cozying up with a book in front of the fire.
  6. Autumn/Winter fashion - as if I needed more of an excuse to buy knitwear.
  7. Shorter days mean I make the most of the daylight.
  8. Saturday night television makes its yearly comeback in September - how I miss Strictly.
  9. Early evening dog walks in the dwindling light.
  10. London sunsets - nothing beats the pinky hues that glaze the evening sky.
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Keep in Touch.

Last week, I got an odd letter in the post. It was from Royal Mail telling me that they needed me to pay £11 in customs before they'd deliver a parcel addressed to me from the United States. My first reaction was confusion - I hadn't ordered anything from the States of recent, I had no idea what it could be. My second reaction was panic, what if someone had bought something on my debit card? But who in their right mind who do that and then have it sent to my address - it would have made no sense. Because I have been working all through the week and Royal Mail doesn't work weekends, I simply forgot about it, thinking it must have been some kind of mistake. But curiosity got the best of my mum and she organised for it to be delivered this afternoon. I was amazed to discover that this mystery parcel wasn't some kind of scam but rather a much belated birthday present from my childhood friend Shanley who lives in Seattle, Washington. 
This is probably where I should contextualise. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle for a couple of years for my Dad's work. It was an amazing experience that I don't remember all that much of now. Except for my friendship with Shanley. We were like sisters. We went to the same school and did everything together. We were so close that our English teacher gave us the same words to learn for the spelling bee so we could practice together! The hardest part about leaving Seattle was leaving my closest friend. 
Despite the thousands of miles between us, Shanley and I were always pretty good at keeping in contact. We helped each other navigate nasty girls and first crushes over email - which are hilarious to look back on. We'd always write in bright pinks and choose really girly fonts while using Microsoft's archaic emoticons. My family visited Seattle a couple times after we moved home but last year, Shanley and her parents crossed the pond and visited us. My mum and I met them in the Oxford Street branch of Topshop (of course!) and it was the most amazing reunion. It was also Shanley's 18th birthday which made it even more special. I showed her around central London, and its wonderful shopping scene, and then back to my house for birthday cake - that day couldn't have been more perfect.
The parcel that arrived today was her second attempt at sending it - she had first tried just after her visit last year. The massive box that arrived on my doorstep was filled with letters, a beautiful necklace (which matched the one I gave her for her 18th), a DVD of a film we'd watched as kids, and this beautiful photo frame with a picture of us as kids and just last year. Unfortunately, its 3000 mile journey was pretty tough on the glass but I love it nonetheless. 
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called 'Broken Friendships' about some of the friendship break-ups I've had in my life and what they've taught me. Despite living on other sides of the world, Shanley and I have remained such great friends almost a decade after my family moved back to London. Who would have thought? I really cherish having Shanley in my life and she's been with me through thick and thin. She really is a true friend and has taught me to always stay positive.
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