Originally published on Words of Women, this piece follows a collection of personal experiences relating to the #MeToo movement. Click on the cover to read.
Have you ever tried to research the best hair products, but never made it to check out because of constant conflicting reviews? Yeah, me too. So over the past year, I bit the bullet and tried quite a few hair products to see what works for me. Some were great, others… not so much.
So, let’s jump in.
This is a weightless watery oil spray that is perfect for detangling knotty hair. I spray it on wet hair when I get out of the shower and it makes it so soft and tangle free! It smells like summer, keeps my hair shiny and it lasts a while. It’s definitely one of my faves.
I know, this is the second coconut oil I use but it’s not the same as the first. This one isn’t a spray, it’s more of an oily hair serum to rub in your hands and pull through to avoid dead, dry split ends. I like this as it’s cheap, lasts forever and you can get it anywhere.
Price: £10 (92ml) or £18 (198ml)
I usually hate dry shampoos and always had to wash my hair daily, but the older I get, the less oily my hair is. So, to go an extra day between washes, I tried this Living Proof Dry Shampoo because it was in my Tili Box (a subscription-free beauty box with a mix of full size and travel size beauty products – £20, no shipping – it’s amazing). I LOVE it. No joke, it actually cleans your hair. You don’t need much of this product and a few hours into the day, you’ll feel like your hair was washed. It’s great. It also smells good and doesn’t leave white cast (if it does, it disappears almost immediately). I know it’s definitely more expensive than many dry shampoos but lookfantastic.com often have great discount codes, so keep an eye out.
I’ve been looking for a really good beachy wave spray so I tried this. At first, I didn’t like it. I tried it on dry hair and it felt super crunchy (I read in a magazine hair tutorial that it worked best on dry hair – that’s a lie). And the scent smells a bit like a cleaning product. But then one day, I gave it a second chance and I actually really liked it – and I got used to the smell!
So here’s how it worked. Wash your hair and blow dry the roots to avoid any funny kinks, but leave the rest of your hair damp. Spray in an upwards direction starting at the ends of your hair. Scrunch your hair as much as possible and then leave it to dry for a few minutes. Your hair definitely won’t be crunchy! It gives you really pretty, defined waves. If you feel like you need to scrunch it a bit more, spray upwards a few more times, scrunch and then run some of your favourite hair oil through your hair – but gently, just so it doesn’t look dry.
Would I recommend it? Yeah, just find the way it works best for you!
This spray came in a sample size in an old Birchbox and I loved it. It’s supposed to just add some texture before you blow dry your hair, but I used to just spray it on dry hair and I’d get this natural, laid-back gentle wave. The kind where you roll out of bed and just happen to have perfect hair so you don’t touch it. Yup. Loved it. But for ages I couldn’t find it because they changed the name but I didn’t get the memo. The price is a bit steep, but it looks like you get a lot of product. Still deciding on whether I should splurge.
This is a simple spray that smells good, protects your hair from heat and adds a bit of grip and texture. I use it after I’ve dried my hair with a towel and right before I blow dry it. I feel like there are cheaper options for this though, but it lasts for a really long time so it’s not too bad. I was tempted to try it after falling for their dry shampoo, but there’s nothing that stands out about this.
Price: £8 (60ml) or £17.45 (205ml)
I picked up a travel size of this at my hair salon, because I’ve been dreaming of trying the Oribe or Ouai dry texture sprays but can’t afford them. It definitely added texture but oh my God, the smell. I can’t stand it. Used it once and haven’t used it since. If you don’t mind the smell, then yeah, get this! But if you hate it like me, try a different brand.
What are your favourite products? I’d love to hear about wave sprays, hair masks and dry texture sprays if you have any recommendations! Comment below.
P.S. If you liked this post, check out my latest review on skincare products.
We live in a world where finding “The One” is more important than finding yourself, when in reality, it should be the other way around. I think it’s starting to be higher on our priorities now more than ever, but there’s still work to be done.
We are all familiar with the typical things we say to ourselves when we’re feeling low. I’m fat. I’ll never good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’ll never be able to do that job. My writing sucks. My art sucks. I suck.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so guilty of doing this. Sometimes I wake up and feel great, like I can take on the world. And other days, I feel ugly and boring and so far from who I want to be.
But what makes me think any of the things about me are bad? What is beautiful? Smart? Exciting? Brave? Fun?
It’s different for everyone. So on that note, let’s jump in.
Practice positive self-talk
This will always be number one because it’s the most important lesson of all. Next time you’re having a bad day, listen to the things you’re saying to yourself.
I know this is going to sound cliché, but if your friend was saying nasty things about herself/himself, would you stand there and agree? No! You’d probably give them a long speech about how awesome, gorgeous, fun, smart and amazing they are. So why the heck don’t we say that to ourselves when we’re blue?
Write down what you love. Put it on a post it. Hang it on your bedside table, mirror or by your door so it’s the first thing you see before you start your day. If you’re not feeling fab, remember, you are your own best friend, so treat yourself like one. Don’t worsen the pain by calling yourself mean things. Pep yourself up.
Did you know, if you buy two of the same plant, give it the same amount of sun and water and care, but you say hate to one plant and loving things to another, the hate one will die faster? Don’t kill your soul. Be nice.
Appreciate other people’s qualities, but don’t compare yourself
“There’s room for everyone.”
This is another big one. There’s nothing wrong with thinking someone is admirable or gorgeous. And just because they are those things, doesn’t mean you aren’t. Nobody’s success takes away from your own. Nobody’s magic takes away from your magic. There’s room for everyone. So love that person up and then do the same for yourself.
Do things that make you feel happy and empowered
If you’re not feeling your best, then do something about it. Do something comforting if you’re anxious, sad, self-conscious. Exercise, cook, go out with your friends.
If you’re bored with your life, take that class you’ve always wanted to try, apply to that job. Take a risk.
“Your confidence will soar if you put yourself first sometimes.”
Just do something. You have control over your life even when it feels chaotic. It starts in your mind and changes when you take action. Some things take longer to change, but you’re never going to move forward or feel better if you keep doing what you’re doing. Practice self-care and go get what you want. Your confidence will soar if you put yourself first sometimes.
And remember, you can’t take care of your loved ones if you’re constantly low on fuel.
Don’t try to fit in
We have this notion in our minds that if we’re different, something is wrong with us. But how boring would life be if you met the same, cookie cutter person all the time? We’d be miserable.
I’m convinced the world would literally end because we need different people to make shit happen. Sounds dramatic, but think about it. If we all liked the same look, we’d be fighting over the same person. If we all had the same skill, this world would be seriously one dimensional and a lot of things would fail. We wouldn’t make much progress.
The point is, you will make a difference because there is nobody like you. Isn’t that great?
At the end of the day, we need to stop the emotional violence that takes control of our mind, body and soul. Replace it with positivity and kindness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something for you. You’ll be a better friend, mother, father, lover, etc.
And the best part? You’ll find yourself falling in love with the wonderful, brave and amazing you.
Self-care is so important. And one way to do that is to take care of your skin. I’ve always been into finding the perfect cleanser and creams but recently, I’ve started to indulge even more. Here are some reviews for my latest finds.
Let me start off by saying, this review is going to be a little long. I’m not listing these in any particular order, but man, for the price, this skincare line really works and deserves a top spot. Not only is the price tag small, but my very sensitive Scandinavian skin LOVES this line.
I decided to try it last winter because I suffer from dry flaky skin in colder months. The first product I fell in love with was the Simple Water Boost Hydrating Booster. You put this on the dry spots on your face, or all over, and follow it up with your normal moisturiser. I immediately saw a difference. Most of the time I didn’t have any flaky skin, and if I did, it was way less severe than normal. Plus, it didn’t break me out and the ingredients are, well, simple and very gentle.
In September, I had my very first facial. The facialist mentioned I needed to get a more hydrating night cream because my cheeks were dry. My bank account and my super sensitive skin put their guard up as I searched the internet for night creams and saw endless high price tags. When I popped into Boots one day, I noticed the Simple Water Boost Sleeping Cream – £6.99. I tried it and – no more dry skin! No nasty breakouts! Just hydrated, supple, clear skin. And I haven’t had a single dry patch on my face all winter – even when I went back to snowy Connecticut and the temperature was well below freezing. Life saver.
Garnier sheet masks are easy, cooling, hydrating inventions that I just can’t get enough of. My personal favourite is the Pomegranate Hydrating Face Sheet Mask which contains pomegranate extract, hyaluronic acid and plant serum. After one use, you can see a difference, and it doesn’t cause breakouts or weird rashes! There are various sheet masks to choose from depending on your skin needs. My favourite time to use them is in the summer because they stay icy cold without having to put them in the fridge – it’s a perfect way to cool down and relax.
Price: £5.20 (100ml), £10.80 (250ml), £15.80 (500ml) or £12 (2 x 250ml)
Although the Simple Water Boost line is one of my favourite finds over the past year, this Bioderma Micellar Water is my favourite in the past couple of months. It’s so gentle yet gets every bit of make up off without irritating my skin. It doesn’t create that dry, tight feeling. It’s step one in my skincare routine every day and I love how clean and hydrated it leaves me.
I know there are knock-off brands like Garnier and Simple, but for some reason this one reacts best with my skin. A little goes a long way – it’s worth it.
Price: £8 (60ml) or £15 (177ml)
I’m sure you’ve seen this cleanser all over social media. Let’s be honest, Glossier’s marketing is spot on and the hype over this brand is real. So when I ordered some of their makeup and got this cleanser as a sample, I fell in love.
The texture is like jelly but it never goes foamy, it smells slightly of rose, but not overpowering, and it’s super gentle. It doesn’t break me out and it leaves my skin feeling so clean and soft. Because the consistency remains jelly-like, it’s perfect for giving yourself a little facial massage in the morning or evening.
I use this in the morning and then use a salicylic acid based cleanser at night to help keep breakouts at bay. I used to use a salicylic cleanser both morning and night and had good results. However, since swapping out one wash with this gentle cleanser, my skin has been even better. It’s balanced and blemish free (except for the occasional hormonal breakout). I strongly recommend this! Plus, the price tag isn’t too bad compared to some other popular skincare lines – especially since Glossier is a cult classic right now.
Price: £15 (50ml)
I bought this last summer to boost hydration and keep me feeling cooled and refreshed during the day. I didn’t notice any massive difference with hydration, but it definitely is refreshing.
The scent is a bit strong, so if you’re sensitive to fragrance, I’d avoid this. And to be honest, something in this broke me out. It doesn’t seem to bother my neck and chest area so I still use it there when I’m feeling over heated (can’t waste it), but considering the amount of product you get and the higher price tag, I’d say skip this one. Sorry L’Occitane!
Price: £8.90 (30ml)
The Ordinary is an amazing brand that skips the over-priced marketing BS and gives you what you want for a few quid. And this particular serum was really nice! I have to say, it made my skin glow like crazy and I noticed a difference really quickly.
But annoyingly, it did break me out. Surprise, surprise.
As mentioned before, my skin is so sensitive so I don’t blame the brand or even the product for this one because it really did seem to do what it said it would. I still use it on my neck and chest as it doesn’t irritate me there. Oh how I envy those with high tolerance…
Just to note: I recently order The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane (£10.79) so I’ll follow up with a review shortly. My mom and a few friends are currently using the 2% one and love it – but if you’re new to retinol serums like I am, then I suggest starting off with the lowest percentage and working your way up.
Price: Approximately £3-4 (60ml)
I know, I know, this isn’t your typical “skincare product” but I’m counting it because I love it.
The lavender scent is to die for and is a nice way to find balance when you’re busy at work and feeling a little anxious. It kills bacteria and bad vibes (wink, wink).
The spray dispenser is great because it makes the product last even longer. I use this all the time and got it in December and I’m barely below the top of the label. I carry it everywhere I go so I stay clean and calm.
You can find this at any organic store like Whole Foods, Planet Organic or online.
Do you have any skincare recommendations? Comment below!
….or anything else you love.
Creating something new to share with the world can be hard. You’ll face criticism, sometimes it will be constructive, other times it won’t be. You might fail. You might succeed. It’s all a guessing game. But let’s not forget the positives and how to stay focused.
Don’t aim to please
This is a big one. As a writer, there’s always someone telling me to change something because they didn’t like it. I’m not talking about workshopping and passing on helpful feedback – that’s a God send. I’m talking about the people who want to change you and your craft to match their needs, not yours and potentially everyone else’s.
But have you ever thought, maybe they’re just not your target audience?
I have a friend who is a painter. She paints beautiful moody pictures with dark colours and wistful strokes. But when she showed her friend, she was quickly met with, “Why don’t you paint happier pictures? These are too dark.”
That, my friends, is an opinion. That is not constructive, and it’s potentially hindering the artist’s individual style. One that might actually make them stand out and become successful in the future.
Why don’t I write happier stories? Because that’s not what it’s about.
David Bowie once said, “All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience.” I couldn’t agree more. Anytime someone shared only their opinion, without constructive criticism, it would have potentially killed my writing if bent to their words.
If you tried to alter your original idea to meet someone else’s expectations, it could soon become inauthentic and weak. Staying true to your gut will automatically make it more genuine, and in the long run, more successful.
Your intention will reach other people who relate, but that’s only possible if you believe in your own craft.
Just because someone doesn’t click with your style or idea, doesn’t mean it should change. I’ve met so many people who decided to not pursue their passion for fear of being disliked, but the only person they hurt was themselves.
Think about it this way: trends happen because something new and exciting has come about. That new show you love? It had an original story line. That book you can’t put down? It was a refreshing take on a classic.
Why do you think the new thing you want to introduce to the world will fail? Why do we think if something isn’t popular right now, then people will hate it?
That trend used to be something new and unpopular. It became a trend because people loved it. Just like they could love you and your idea.
Just do it
I’m sure many of you have seen the video of Shia LeBouf screaming, “Just do it!” If you haven’t, here’s a link.
This is how loved ones feel when you second-guess yourself. Frustrated. You want to know why they’re frustrated? Because they believe in you.
The only way you’re going to make this happen for yourself is if you just do it.
Scared that what you write is going to be crap? Just get it on paper and then edit it. Workshop it. Get support from loved ones and other writer friends. People who want you to succeed will help you.
If you go to a constructive workshop for your writing, it doesn’t matter if your story isn’t their style, they will help you shape it to something even stronger, without tainting your intentions.
Scared that your idea isn’t good enough? If you start working on it, it will grow. A first draft is never perfect, but that’s part of the process. That is a stepping stone to something better.
Remember, you’ll start with an idea and then after a few drafts, it will bloom. It will become complex and moving and beautiful. So, why stop before you even reach that step?
Just do it!
If you’re a writer, write and read as much as possible. If you’re a painter, paint as much as possible. If you’re an IT expert, keep researching and working on your skill.
You can be great at what you do, but there is always something new to learn. And how wonderful is that? No matter how skilled you are, you will always have something to look forward to. You can consistently grow.
Join a class, get a degree, meet up with like-minded people. Practice, practice, practice. Watch YouTube videos, read articles. Buy a masterclass on www.masterclass.com (review coming soon – it’s amazing).
Never stop learning and you’ll always have somewhere to go.
Click here to learn some important life lessons to lead a happy life.
Stop thinking you’re the only one
You’re not the only one trying to chase their dreams. You’re not the only one being rejected or accepted. You’re not the only one who feels like everyone they pitch their idea to is annoyed by them. You’re not the only one struggling, failing, getting back up and trying again.
You’re not the only one. So share the experience, keep going, stay humble, be tenacious, fight for what you want and don’t be afraid to keep trying.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.
There are three kinds of people in this world. The first fears change, the second thrives on the new and unexpected. The third, well, they’re somewhere in the middle. It’s okay to be scared of the unknown, but it’s also important to know how to face change and use it for the better.
Whether you’re fearing what’s ahead or you’re just not excited, I’ve come up with some tips to help you overcome that hump and get you to the sunny side of something new.
Write a list – of only the pros
Comparison is a helpful tool for many things, especially when you need to make an important decision. But once you’ve made that choice, it’s time to focus on the positives.
For example, if you’re starting a new job, but love your current one, there are obviously reasons you’re moving on. Maybe the pay is better, the role is more exciting, the location is more convenient or the benefits are a plus. Either way, remember why you went to that interview – something drove you there. Write it down. Reading it to yourself when doubt sneaks in will help you find confidence in your choice.
Realise your goals and manifest them
Sometimes, change is thrown at us with little say. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. With every experience comes a lesson. Sometimes that lesson is a hard one, but the hard ones are usually the best. Rather than viewing this unexpected change as an obstacle, think of it as a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal.
Did you lose your job? That means you can try to go for something even closer to your ultimate role. Or, it will teach you how to budget better. Or, maybe it ended something that was actually toxic to you this whole time and you never admitted it.
When the going gets tough, it’s only temporary so focus on the positives that can come from it and use it to get what you want. For example, you have to move but you love where you live. It’s just another opportunity to view the world in a different way. Maybe that new place will be the door to what you’ve been looking for. Who knows – the point is, the unexpected isn’t all doom and gloom. It can be pretty freaking awesome (even if it starts out rocky – trust me, I know).
If you can’t live without the past, keep it
The past can be a heavy weight on change’s shoulders, and it’s important to realise when to leave it behind. But just because something isn’t the same anymore, doesn’t mean you have to ditch everything that feeds your soul.
Think of it this way, if you moved far away, would you just stop talking to your best friend? No, you’d text them, call them, Skype with them. You’d find a way, so do the same for other things that make you happy, even if it’s located in your new city (i.e. a cool class, writer’s group, a good hiking spot, etc).
Immerse yourself in the new
Whether you’re moving to a new town, starting a new job, or going to a new school, it can be intimidating to put yourself out there. But the more you lock yourself away from the new, the more stagnant you become. You won’t mesh with everyone you meet, but you’ll find someone who will show you around, introduce you to more like-minded people and places you may not have found on your own. Maybe they’ll even teach you some really cool stuff and bring out another side in you. The new isn’t always worse.
Be honest with yourself
When change comes a knockin’ we often slam the door in its face. It’s disrupting your routine and we’ve been programmed to think that’s a bad thing. But is your current routine actually good for you? Consistency might be comfortable, but is it only comfortable because you’ve been doing it for so long? Or because it’s actually making you happy?
We tend to glamourise the past or the present that’s about to leave us, but take a moment to think about everything that is uncomfortable right now. Maybe this change will make it better, or it’ll simply force you to change more than just one thing in your life.
Let’s be honest, it could be time to do some spring cleaning.
Do you have a hack for embracing change? Comment below!
P.S. If you’re going through a change right now and it’s making you anxious, check out my top tips for reducing anxiety.
Let’s be honest, everyone feels anxious sometimes, and for many, it’s not something that just comes and goes. You might be feeling great, confident, happy… and then it hits you. It can be hard to pinpoint why, but for me, it’s usually possible to know what caused it. Although it’s something I have to constantly work on, here are some things that have helped.
Make peace with the fact that you have anxiety
Acknowledge it, befriend it, and nurture it. One of the biggest ways to fuel anxiety is to have anxiety about having anxiety. It sounds funny, but we all do it. We worry about how long it will last, if we’ll forever be haunted by it. But even if this isn’t going to be the only time we suffer, it won’t be constant. Everyone has their highs and lows, and maybe right now you’re in the peak of it. But as they say, this too shall pass. And most importantly: You’re not alone. Seriously.
Get to the root of it
There’s usually something that causes your initial panic, and then it spirals into a web of worries. But if you take a minute and really think about what started it, you might just surprise yourself with the clarity and calm that follows.
Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
I have this weird time of year where my anxiety comes out to play – and man, does it throw some serious punches. When I was in the heat of it, I spoke to my doctor about what I could do to break this pattern and he referred me to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. Unfortunately, it took months to actually see the doctor and I was doing much better by then. But I still went and it was really helpful. She asked me if I knew what caused the panic attacks and I told her, and how it seemed to spiral into even more worries, and how random and illogical the triggers were. I know that it can feel really vulnerable being that honest with someone, but she didn’t laugh, she didn’t make a comment about it being unusual. She just threw a ton of questions at me, slowly changing my thinking pattern. She gave me a bunch of exercises and a packet of ways to conquer my fears and manage my attacks. How to shift my reactions. I became more aware of the triggers and was able to open a dialogue within myself. It was really refreshing. I’ve since used some of her suggestions and I’ve noticed a big difference in my thinking patterns. If you live in the UK, you may have to wait, but it was free and the wait was worth it. There’s nothing wrong with speaking to someone – sometimes it could be the thing that leads to a breakthrough.
There’s nothing in this world that helps me as much as exercise. I grew up watching my mother work out – in fact, she went into labour with me while doing leg lifts – so it’s in my blood. You don’t have to leave your house, just do it right in your living room. It’s a perfect way to do something 100% for yourself, without interruption or justification. It’s healthy, it feels great, releases tension and the endorphins are lovely. Do some research. Look around at different workout programmes. Find one that speaks to you and do it. Not only will you be helping your mood and mind, you’ll be creating a healthier, stronger body and that’s always a good thing.
Learn breathing techniques
This is particularly good if you’re about to have a panic attack. I often find it helps to lay down, or go somewhere quiet, and breathe in through your nose for five counts, filling your belly with air, then exhaling through your mouth for five counts. By breathing air into your belly, you’re massaging your “fight or flight” nerve. Be sure to focus on your breath. You can even put a hand on your stomach to feel it rise as you inhale and drop as you exhale. After a few rounds you will suddenly feel calm and light. It works so well.
Create a comfort ritual
Feeling anxious? Keep those feelings at bay by finding small ways to create a comfortable environment.
- Aromatherapy. I love to use my oil diffuser with lavender or rosemary essential oils, or even Women’s Balance by Neal’s Yard. If you don’t have a diffuser, get a candle with a scent that immediately comforts you. It might be one from your childhood or a classic calming scent like lavender. One of my favourites is This Works’ Deep Sleep Heavenly Candle. I also use their Deep Sleep Pillow Spray by spraying it into a paper towel or cloth and inhaling it, then spraying it on my sheets. It instantly calms me and really does help me sleep if I use it at night.
- Watch a show that inspires you or makes you laugh.
- Read a book, either a fiction novel you can get lost in or maybe a self-help book. I personally love Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. It’s a collection of all her best quotes, and you’ll be amazed how there’s a perfect quote for every situation. It’s my bible. I strongly suggest you pick up a copy.
- Do something pampering. Take a bath, use a face mask, paint your nails, etc.
- Listen to calming, soulful music that won’t cause angst or sadness, but will make you feel relaxed. Check out my zen playlist here.
- Journal: Focus on the things you’re grateful for, the highlights of your day, week, month or year. Shift your thoughts to the positives.
- And like I said before: Exercise! Do some yoga, pilates or maybe even a hard core workout that gets anger, tension and stress out. It’s amazing was some movement can do.
Try some CBD
I’ll start by saying I’m not a doctor and I suggest speaking to yours before taking anything. But my brother got me onto CBD oil, which is cannabis oil – it doesn’t have THC so no, it won’t get you high. It’s completely legal and natural and has amazing benefits. One of them being: it calms anxiety. There are so many brands you can choose from that are really affordable, but the first time I tried it, my brother shared the CBDistillery CBD oil (500mg, 30mL) and it was liquid magic. It doesn’t make you feel heavy and foggy like some medication might. I felt happy. And light. And clear. It was as if someone just sucked out the negative energy and I carried on with my day. Plus, when I take it at night, I sleep like a baby. You can take a regimen of this every morning or night, but I tend to take it when I need it, mainly due to the price. But it’s worth it.
Anxiety doesn’t mean you live in a deep, dark hole. Sometimes it might feel that way, but there’s a lot of ways you can control it. These are just some simple things that work for me, and maybe they’ll work for you too.
Do you have any of your own tips? Comment below!
With every lesson, comes a lot of learning. Here are the ones I live by.
Trust your intuition
“We think we’re mundane beings with no powers, but in reality, our superpower is our intuition.”
This is the rule to live by – it encompasses all other rules. Does something feel right? Trust it. Does something feel wrong? Trust it. We think we’re mundane beings with no powers, but in reality, our superpower is our intuition… our natural instinct. There have been times my intuition has saved my life, and other times where it opened up wonderful opportunities. I wrote and published my first short story Rust based on a real experience I had. It’s the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned, and I honestly believe nothing will ever beat it.
Let go of toxic people
Feeling anxious, unhappy, maybe even sick? Look at the company you keep. You’ll probably make excuses at first.
“But if I let them go, I’ll have no friends?” However, if you let them go, you might actually be happier and attract healthier people, you know, the ones who are actually good friends.
“But he has been good to me in the past, like.. remember that one time?” Whether it be a boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend or family member, emotional abuse is a real and very valid thing and I’ve had strong firsthand experiences with it. Do I remember the occasional good time with that person? Sure. Does it override the bad? Absolutely not. And to be honest, I’m so much happier without them – and that’s not a bad thing to admit.
Never live up to other’s expectations over your own
“If you stay true to yourself, you won’t regret your choice when you’re on your deathbed.”
People will clobber you with their own opinions, limitations and expectations. But your right as a living, breathing human is to own your choices and your path. If you have a vision for your life, one that will make your soul sing, then go for it. If someone else thinks it’s boring, small, lame or out of reach – don’t listen. Lead a life you value. The right people will support you. And maybe the people you love the most won’t understand and that’s okay. If you stay true to yourself, you won’t regret your choices when you’re on your deathbed.
Believe in the impossible, because it’s possible
This is kind of linked to the previous point, but it’s an important lesson to learn.
I want to be a screenwriter. The first thought in your head was probably, “But Sal, nobody makes it.” You’re actually wrong, tons of people make it. You know that show you’re binging on Netflix? Whoever wrote it was told the exact same thing. But guess what? They didn’t believe you. They believed in themselves. And now they have a show on Netflix.
There are people who love you …and people who won’t
“Stop tearing yourself down just because someone else doesn’t click with your uniqueness.”
….and that’s okay! You will never make everyone happy. You will never click with every single person. It may be uncomfortable, but that’s the beauty in life. You think you’re an outcast? You’re not! There’s someone out there who will totally dig you. Feel like you can’t make someone happy? Stop trying! You’ll be enough for someone else. Your crush isn’t into you? Next! There will be someone who shares your feelings.
Stop tearing yourself down just because someone else doesn’t click with your uniqueness. Think about everyone you’ve ever disliked – are they bad people or just not your cup of tea? Striving for someone’s affection and approval when they just won’t give it is toxic and exhausting. If you accept it, you’ll be a happier person, and you’ll have more time to appreciate the ones who adore you.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned? Comment below.
Who doesn’t love a good Jaffa Cake? The soft and fluffy base with orange, chocolaty goodness – what’s more to love?
Well, for the past two years at Christmas, I’ve made a literal cake version. I know, Christmas is over, but this is a winner for every month. Two sponge cakes with orange marmalade, homemade whipped cream and a chocolate ganache to top it off. I must say – it’s divine and a massive hit with the family.
The great thing about this recipe is that it’s simple, straightforward and delicious. The rustic appearance and the mix of rich and light flavours make for the perfect dessert. So grab your apron and let’s get started!
Time: 35 minutes
Serves: approx. 10 people
Sponge cake (I use the BBC Good Food recipe):
200g caster sugar
200g softened butter
4 eggs, beaten
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk
1 cup double cream or heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp icing sugar (not too sweet)
Any orange marmalade without the peel (My favourite is Wilkin & Son’s no peel orange marmalade)
200g of your favourite chocolate (I use Bournville – not too dark, not too milky)
2 tbsp heavy cream
1. Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with non-stick baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, beat 200g caster sugar, 200g softened butter, 4 beaten eggs, 200g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder and 2 tbsp milk together until you have a smooth, soft batter.
3. Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
4. Bake for about 20 mins until golden and the cake springs back when pressed.
5. Turn onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Pour heavy cream into a bowl and sprinkle in the icing sugar. Whip until you get medium to stiff peaks. Do not over-whip.
7. Once the cake has completely cooled, generously spread orange marmalade evenly on top of one of the cakes. Then put a thick layer of whipped cream, evenly, on top of the marmalade. Place the second cake on top, to make a sandwich.
8. To melt the chocolate, you can boil water and place the chocolate in a bowl above the boiling water. However, I just chop up the chocolate, place it in a pan over low heat. Stir the chocolate and keep an eye on it. When it starts to melt, lift it off the heat and stir the chocolate until completely smooth.
9. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Add a little bit of heavy cream to the chocolate. You’ll have a smooth, slightly thick chocolate ganache.
10. Spread the ganache on top of the cake, moving the knife in a waving motion to create a pretty, rustic pattern. This doesn’t have to be perfect – embrace the imperfections.
11. Use a sharp knife to slice the cake evenly. Keep in fridge for up to 2-3 days.
When the baking is done, why not snuggle up with a slice and read my latest short story?
That’s what I see when I think of him. Rusty like his old red truck that growled through the streets of suburban Connecticut, brazenly followed by a thick black cloud covering everything in its path. The old leather seats were peeled and musty exposing a dirty cushion beneath. He was filth masked with small town charm and friendly greetings.
21 July 2004
It’s the peak of summer in New England. The trees are heavy and green, the sun bright and the air so hot it almost looks like the pavement is steaming. I am back in the old truck that I can’t help but despise. My thin, adolescent thighs keep sticking to the torn, flaking seats. His arm is pressed up against me, sweaty, and I wonder if that is really necessary. I try to scoot to the right, closer to my friend, but I let out a grunt as my legs peel off the leather.
“Sit still, will you, kid?”
I stop for a moment before trying again. He exhales as he glances out of the side window, ever-so-slightly shaking his head. I had attempted to walk the brief fifteen minutes it takes to get to their house, like I always do, but he insisted on picking me up, like he always does. And a few short moments later, we pull into the driveway, stopping only inches from the bright yellow wood of their house. Barbecue smoke soars over the rooftops, carrying old rock tunes and laughter with it. I climb, painfully, out of the truck on Jen’s side, turning back to find his eyes on me. I slam the door shut. The loud clash of metal on metal makes me wince. His gaze shifts as he follows the sound of his friends’ crude calls.
I wander around the party, dropping in and out of conversations until I make myself comfortable on the steps of the porch. Jen is next to me, twirling her mousey brown hair while mercilessly flirting with her neighbour Kyle, a jock from the local high school who is way too old for her. He walks away to grab a burger from the grill, leaving Jen to finally talk to me.
“I think he’s going to ask me out,” she says, dramatically fanning herself. I let out a chuckle.
“Jen, he’s turning sixteen next month. You’re six whole months away from even being thirteen.”
“That’s one month closer than you are!” She seems pleased with herself, but I couldn’t care less. I am in love with Will, the class clown with hair the colour of my mother’s mahogany dining table. I smile to myself and then look at Jen, who is practically drooling as she stares after Kyle.
“Well, if he does ask you, how is that going to work?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re moving next weekend… over an hour away. You’ll pretty much be in a different state.” Jen rolls her eyes.
“He drives, remember?” She switches her gaze from me to Kyle, biting her lip and stamping her feet in excitement. I go along with it and giggle with her. She might as well enjoy him while she’s still here.
“Hey sweetie!” Jen’s dad makes his way over to us. A tall, slim balding man is following closely behind him. They stop, leaning on the porch rail above us. I look up, but the bright sun shines over their shoulders, blackening out each face. I glance back down at the lemonade in my hands, focusing on the cold condensation dripping between my pale fingers.
“Kyle was asking for you, bun.” Her dad pinches her cheek and she squirms away. Jen’s face lights up as she hops to a stand and runs eagerly in Kyle’s direction.
“Ain’t young love grand?” murmurs the friend, taking Jen’s place on the step next to me. I nod with a forced smile and move away slightly. “I’m Bill.” He holds his hand out in front of me. I shake it, gesturing to myself. “Sam.”
“Sam is the family favourite. We love it when she comes for a play date.” I internally cringe at the term “play date”. Jen’s dad smiles down at me, his chin blocked by his wide beer belly. Nobody says anything for a few minutes and I suddenly feel awkward.
“I’m going to get some more lemonade,” I say as I stand, dusting dirt off the bottom of my shorts. Her dad nods, hovering above me, strong and tall, his stare unyielding. I look away.
“You know, you should really pull up your shirt. I can see right down it. Wouldn’t want some of these creepy fuckers staring at your boobs all day.”
Bill laughs, looking at me as he takes a sip of his beer, making a gross slurping sound against the aluminium can. I quickly pull my top up, keeping my hands folded across my small chest and shuffle away. My heart beats hard beneath my skin.
The sun shifts to a faint, warm glow. It’s been hours since I got here. I feel as though the heat has seeped into my skull, giving me a killer headache. I want to get home before it gets dark, but Jen’s dad is standing in the driveway, leaning on the passenger door of the truck. I try to sneak by, hoping he won’t see me.
“Sam…” He says coolly. Damn it. I look up and press my lips together into a closed smile.
“Thanks for having me over, Mr. Garrity. I think I’m gonna head home now.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Chuck. Come on, get in. I’ll give you a ride.” He turns and opens the door. I don’t stop walking as I pass him.
“No, no, I could use the walk. I’ll see you later.” My steps turn into a jog as I make my way down the driveway onto the main road. I can feel his gaze on the nape of my neck, but I don’t look back.
16 January 2005
The birthday cake is perched heavily on my legs as I sit in the car with my mother. The thin bare trees pass in a blur as we drive north to Jen’s new house, further and further away from the sleepy town centre.
I haven’t seen her since she moved away. Her mom wanted Jen to settle into school and their new life before I came to visit. “It’s been hectic with the holidays”, she said when I finally got my invitation. I even missed her birthday. I look down at the cake I’ve baked her, lifting up the plate to make sure I haven’t ruined the pattern in the pretty pink frosting.
“Don’t worry, honey. The cake will be fine,” says my mother in her soft English accent. She looks at me and smiles. Her green eyes are almost blue against the white snow outside, cheeks pricked with rose in the chilled air. I breathe out and see a cloud of frost float from my lips.
A loud screech from the van in front of us startles me. My mother’s arm shoots out across my chest, attempting to hold me back. The van struggles as it slips violently on thick, black ice, swerving in and out, left to right. My chest falls forward knocking mom’s arm away, squishing some of the perfect frosting into the corduroy of my coat. The seatbelt hits me hard like a rod and I let out a gasp. We jolt and skid onto the side of the road, fighting for control of the car, stopping as the tire hits the curb.
We sit in silence, both of us a little breathless.
“You okay, Sammy?”
I nod. We wait for a minute before slowly rolling back into the lane.
“Jeez. Probably not the best day to drive an hour and half, huh? Make sure Chuck drives slowly when he takes you home. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to my little baby.” The words slip through a goofy grin as she messes up my dark blonde hair, quickly returning her hand to the wheel.
She tries to hide it, but I see the worry in the lines that mark her face. I am her life, complete and compact in my five-foot-two frame. With no family near and an ex-husband that is probably as far as China by now, I’m all she’s got. I lean over the armrest and give her a quick kiss on the cheek.
We are getting close. The endless wood leads the way with crooked, strangled branches curving with each turn of the road. There hasn’t been a house in miles.
We slow the car down to search for any sign of a driveway, but there is just snow.
“Is that something? Over there?” Ma finally mutters. I lean forward for a better look. It’s Jen sitting near the peak of a high snow bank, marking the beginning of her unploughed driveway. She’s waving excitedly. A smile spreads across my face as the car comes to a full stop and I climb out of the seat, careful not to drop the cake. I attempt to wave goodbye to my mom with the plate in my hands.
“Be careful!” She yells after me. Her voice echoes softly as she slowly turns the car around, disappearing into the trees.
It’s almost a mile’s walk in the deep snow. The only markings are Jen’s footprints from earlier. My asthma is kicking in as I lift my legs above the stiff surface and back down again. I wiggle my numb fingers, gripping the plate as I stop to catch my breath. It feels like ice is filling my lungs and I shiver. My feet are wet and cold and I quickly realise I need new boots.
“Hey, there it is.” Jen nods toward the house. It’s old and a little run down with white chipped siding and dark brown moulding. There are large boards of muddy wood and blue tarp piled up near trash cans on the west side. The rusty pickup truck sits untouched, adding a dull splash of colour to a bland scene. The only sounds I hear are the crackling of frozen trees and the faint bark of a dog. I glance back toward the hidden main road. I listen out for a sign of passing cars in the distance, but find nothing. I wonder just how far away their neighbours are.
“Told you it was bigger than our last place,” Jen smiles proudly as we walk up the front steps. She holds the door open for me as I step out of the snow into the warmth of their living room. It smells like stale coffee and campfires. Her dad is sitting on the couch with a can of bud light, the bright red numbers of the clock glowing next to him. 11:06am.
“Aren’t you going to say hi?” He mutters.
I open my mouth to say hello, but no sound comes out. I nod and hastily follow Jen into the kitchen. The room is darkened with cherry wood and stained linoleum. The coffee pot is full of old grinds and there is a pile of dishes in the sink with dried suds stuck to each one. Jen walks over to a cupboard in search of clean plates and cups, but settles on two bowls and a couple of mugs with pictures of pugs on them. We help ourselves to a slice of cake and run up the narrow staircase to her room. The floor creaks beneath our feet, almost as if the old house is sighing against the weight. A yellow glow from the lamp downstairs creates rays through the cracks between the floorboards. We walk into her bright room, whitened by the light shining through her tall windows. We sit and chat about her new school and the friends she has made. The hours quickly fade as if they were just a few, short minutes.
My feet are cold against the hard wood as I sit on the floor, leaning against Jen’s bed of fluffy blankets and turquoise pillows. The grandfather clock in the living room rings as it strikes five o’clock. I hear the springs of the couch squeak as Chuck stands up, thumping against the old floor with each step. He’s barely moved all day. My eyes follow his path beneath me. The stairs creak and the vibration travels over the boards as he approaches Jen’s bedroom.
“Knock, knock.” He opens the door. “Ok girls, time for Sam to go home.”
Jen lets out a dramatic sigh. “No, why does she have to go? I never get to see her anymore.”
“Stop whining. It’s a long drive and I want to get home before the storm gets worse.”
Jen rolls her eyes in defeat. “Well then, I call dibs on the radio!”
“No, you’re staying here.” I snap my head up, looking at Chuck.
“What? Why isn’t Jen coming?” The words stumble out awkwardly, almost as if I said it out of order.
“Jen needs to study for her test tomorrow.” Chuck darts a look at Jen as if he’s disappointed in her. “Getting a D on your math test won’t cut it, young lady. You’ve wasted enough time chatting, you don’t need to be riding in that truck all damn day, too.”
Jen runs downstairs to convince her mom to let her go, leaving me alone with Chuck. I try to rush by him to follow Jen, but he blocks me.
“Best to leave them alone. You know what Jen’s like when she doesn’t get her way.” He is tall and leaning into me. Something in the pit of my stomach tightens and I find myself stepping back. His eyes travel up and down my body, the corner of his mouth gently twitches.
“Has anyone ever told you how pretty you are?” The smell of beer escapes his lips as he exhales.
“Thank you,” I whisper. My heart is beating so fast that my body feels numb and I wonder if I will be able to move. His hand reaches up and strokes the top of my arm. His fingers are calloused with uncut nails, sharp and caked with dirt. I step back slightly, moving towards the door.
“Hey, where ya goin’?”
“Uh, I’m just going to wait downstairs.” I leave, walking down to the kitchen.
“If your father said no, then no.” Jen’s mom, Tina, is standing against the counter with an old rag between her fingers and one hand on her hip. She looks tired and exasperated from whatever argument she was having with Jen.
“I think Jen should drive home with me.” The words slip boldly from my mouth. Tina’s eyes lock onto me.
“That’s not your decision, sweetie.” She tries to come off gentle, but I can tell she’s pissed.
I stand silent in the hallway. Jen is leaning against the fridge, sulking. Tina hasn’t looked away from me. I hear Chuck, dropping his feet heavily on each step as we walks down the stairs, stopping behind me. Close. His arm reaches past me, grabbing his oil-stained denim jacket off the coat rack. It smells of sweat as he swings it over his shoulders. He spins his keys around his finger, catching them in his palm, over and over again. There’s a knock on the door.
“Come on in.” It’s his friend Bill. My stomach churns. It feels as though my legs might buckle. Something’s not right. I place my hand gently on the wall to hold myself up, hiding any sign of weakness.
“Time to go, Sam.” Chuck walks over to the front door, giving a subtle nod to Bill, but I don’t move.
“I’m not getting in the car.”
“Well, you’re not staying here. Let’s go.” His voice is getting angry. His body is half way out the door, turning slowly to face me, fists clenched. His eyes are squinted as if he’s trying to figure out my next move. I notice the phone is sitting on the table to my left, next to the bathroom door. Tina watches me map out my plan and raises her finger as if to punish me like a puppy that is misbehaving.
I swallow hard, but my tongue is dry like a heavy brick and I’m somehow sweating in the middle of a snowstorm. I know how this story ends if I get in that car. It’s like every murder mystery movie I’ve ever watched and I’m suddenly thankful that my mom always ignored the PG-13 rating on the back of every DVD case. I can see it now. Eerie music starts to play, hinting that something bad is about to happen. He’ll slam the door behind me as I climb into the truck. We’ll drive down a quiet, dark street, away from the main road. He and Bill will take it in turns and I’ll scream but nobody will care because nobody will hear me. The camera pans out, the dramatic music intensifies and the screen goes black.
Jen is looking at me like I’m crazy. I clench my teeth and hurl myself towards the table, grabbing the phone and pulling it into the bathroom. I shut the door and twist the lock. The cord is squished tightly between the frame and tile and I dial my mom’s phone number as fast as I can before Tina can unplug it.
“What a little bitch,” she says. The words are like spitting on a pavement, dirty and harsh.
“Jen, go to your room,” Chuck says as he slams the front door. I can hear Jen stumbling up the stairs, stopping in the middle. “Get!” She rushes up the last steps and down the hallway above me.
“Open the door, Sam,” He says, but I won’t.
I can barely hear the dial tone. The line cracks and I hold my breath. “Hello? Hello?”
“Hello? Who is this? I can barely hear you.”
“Mom? Something’s wrong.”
“Sam? Honey, are you ok?”
“No, please come get me.” I’m starting to cry and my voice gets shaky. “He won’t let Jen drive home with me. I’m locked in the bathroom and he is really mad. I’m scared.” The line cracks, muffling my mother’s words.
“Who? Chuck? I can’t hear you. What’s going on? Did he do something to you?”
“No, but I’m scared. Can you pick me up? Something’s not right.” I hear her breathe in deep.
“I’m leaving now. Do not come out of that bathroom, you hear me? Stay in there.”
I hang up the phone and crawl away from the door. My heart is thumping so hard against my chest I can feel it in my throat. Their voices are loud as they shout, shaking the doorknob. I bring my hands to my ears and squeeze my eyes shut. I hear Jen walking around above me and realise she’s coming back downstairs. There’s a light tapping on the bathroom door.
“Hey. Sam. It’s me, Jen. Open the door, this is silly.”
“Will you at least let me in? I’ll sit with you.”
I hesitate. Chuck grunts as he watches me open the door slowly and let her in, quickly shutting it behind me.
It feels like we have been locked in there for hours when I finally hear a loud banging on the front door.
“Sam?” I can hear my mom shouting.
“Hi Kate. You really didn’t have to – ”
She pushes past Chuck before he can finish, rushing down the hallway. “Where is my daughter?” she shouts. “Honey, you can come out now.”
I open the door and she pulls me into her, stroking my hair as she ushers me out of the house. We make our way down the snow-covered driveway, not letting go of each other. I let out a deep breath when I see the car. We slip into the seats and blast the heat, rushing out of town as fast as we can.
Once we are a few miles away we pull over into a quiet parking lot outside of a gas station. Without saying anything, we sit in silence for a moment, hugging each other tightly, tears streaming down our faces.
“You did the right thing. I am so proud of you.”
13 September 2009
The bell rings and the stampede of students rushing to their next class fills the hallway. When I reach my room, a group of four girls are huddled next to my desk, whispering about some gossip. A chorus of disbelieving comments bounce from student to student. “That is so creepy.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Her dad did that?”
I shimmy between bodies until I make it to my desk.
“Jen? Jen Garrity? Wow. I wonder how she is handling it.”
My book slips out of my hands, slamming loudly against the peach-coloured floor. The girls jump and simultaneously shoot glances in my direction. My heart stops.
“I’m sorry, what did you say? About Jen?” I didn’t want to know, but I don’t think I even needed to ask. I knew exactly what they were going to say.
The girls give each other a look as if they aren’t supposed to tell me. It doesn’t take long before one of them gives in. “Her dad was arrested for sexual assault. The police said he was driving home the little girl Jen babysits and attacked her down by the old Miller house. You know the one with the long dirt road next to it? She got away though. Thank God.”
I feel like I’m going to be sick. “I think I need to… I’m sorry, excuse me.” I get up and run out of the classroom, hearing my teacher calling my name behind me. I stumble into the girl’s bathroom, bump into the stall door and throw up. Two girls chatting near the sink screech in disgust and rush out of the room. I sneak into the hall, embarrassed, and walk through the exit door.
I wake to find myself sleeping in my bed, eyes swollen and so nauseous it’s as though I’m seasick. I slip out from my covers and make my way to the living room. I pick up the remote and turn on the news. An update about some political event is on as my mom walks through the door.
“Hey Sammy, I’m home. What a long day.” She sees me standing in front of the TV as she makes her way over to me.
“How are you feeling?” I look into her eyes, unable to find words. The image on the screen changes and I can see the blur of rust in the corner of my eye. I turn to face him. His skin is so pale it’s almost grey against his bright, greasy hair and the orange jumpsuit. I turn up the volume.
“In other news, a Connecticut father, Chuck Garrity, aged 52, has been charged with sexual assault of a minor after a 10 year old girl called the police saying she was attacked by her babysitter’s dad around 9:30pm on Wednesday night. Shortly after his arrest, Mr Garrity and his friend Bill Howard were also charged with the 2006 rape and murder of two girls, Sadie Greyson, aged 11, and Jackie Hart, aged 13. Mr Garrity’s wife, Tina Garrity, was also connected to the crimes. She has been charged with three counts of conspiracy and two counts of accessory to murder. All parties are due in court in October. Stay tuned with Channel 3 News.”
A few weeks later, the confirmation of their convictions is the trending topic around town. The whispers fill the aisles at grocery stores, the playground and school pickups… every square inch of this once suburban sanctuary. It doesn’t take me long before I need a break, even if it’s a few hours of solitude away from the chaos. I pack a bag, get in my car and head to my cousin’s home upstate. As I approach the border, a mere two miles away from where it happened, the memories tumble back to me and I realise I may not be able to hide away after all. I pull over and park in front of the local coffee shop, stepping out into what you’d call a ghost town, one destroyed by a curse. There are two mothers holding their children, hovering by the newspaper stand.
“I always thought this town was safe. But they lived here… around our children. I can’t imagine what those girls’ parents are feeling.”
They continue to make their way down the path, moving away from the evocative headlines. As I go to read the horror I so slightly escaped, I hear footsteps behind me. It’s Jen. She stands there, dark and silent, as if an urban legend has walked out from the shadows into broad daylight. A person you hear about, but never see. I stumble back a step in shock. My gaze rests on her face as I search for the words, but they won’t come out. She looks like she hasn’t slept for a hundred nights, her eyes are puffy and red. She pauses and stares at me.
“This is why we stopped being friends. Isn’t it?” She gestures to the newspapers.
I didn’t know what to say. I stood there blankly, awkward. Heartbroken for her.
“He didn’t… did he?” Her voice cracks.
“No, no.” The words slip out from my lips with a reassuring tone, hiding the fact that he almost did. He could have. He would have.
A loud truck pulls up. It’s a bunch of boys from school. They look at Jen and evil smiles creep across their faces. Concern deepens in Jen’s eyes.
“I have to go.” She runs back in the direction she came, looking over her shoulder nervously.
“Wait! Jen!” I reach out after her, but she’s out of sight.
“Ah, damn it. The freak is gone. Better luck next time.” The boys let out a snicker and go off into the other direction.
It doesn’t take long before the next piece of news is about Jen. About how she ran away. But something tells me it was simply a sweet escape. That she snuck off to a town where nobody knows her name and she isn’t haunted by the actions of her family. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I glance down at the newspapers. The big bold letters are dark against the white paper.
“ARE YOUR CHILDREN REALLY SAFE?”