Hull Spotlight: The English Muse

I am loving doing this little Hull series on my blog. I get an excuse to visit all my favourite places, it feels pretty darn good to promote local businesses and I also love sharing those places with people who might not have heard of them before. It's also making me realise that, despite the bad rep, Hull is a pretty grand place to live #whatababe (if a city can be a babe). You can find my first two Hull spotlight posts here and here.

Next on the list is one of my favourite coffee and cake haunts - The English Muse on Newland Avenue. I feel really lucky to live close to Newland Avenue because there are so many lovely and unique little places down there. The English Muse is a cute little cafe with heaps of personality, indulgent coffee and the yummiest cake (that I can't have now that I'm sugar free - sob). What more could you want?

Update: The English Muse is now known as The Artisan and is under new ownership, however it's still as cute and tasty as ever!

Let's talk about the interiors first because even though it's the coffee that really matters, it's always nice to sit somewhere pretty too isn't it? The English Muse has a real cosy feel to it with comfy chairs, fresh flowers on each table and old mismatched crockery for you to drink from. It's the type of place you can spend hours in because it's just so enjoyable to relax in and I always imagine it as the type of place I'll drink coffee and blog from when I finally buy a new laptop. It's also one of my favourite places to go to catch up with friends. There are so many personal and unique touches in this cafe that I hardly know where to start. There's art displayed on the walls, vintage looking lamps and cushions galore. I didn't get a picture from the outside because I'm a bad blogger, but there are fairy lights leading up to the door and it's one of those interesting looking old buildings that makes you wonder what it used to be (I'm afraid I don't know). They also have all their afternoon tea stands displayed, which again are all mismatched and patterned and just so Instagrammable (which is a word I've started using as a synonym for pretty).

I'm sure you can see how pretty the interiors are from the pictures, although there's so much more to it that I didn't manage to capture or do justice. What you can't tell from the pictures though is how great the coffee is. My favourite drink to have here is the dirty chai, which is a chai latte with honey and cinnamon. They do so many different drinks and in summer they do the tastiest range of iced teas - the three mint one is my personal fave and in fact my mouth is watering just thinking about it and I'm going to have to drink some water before I carry on with this post.

OK so I actually just went and made myself a homemade iced mint tea, which has massively failed because I just put ice in some mint tea and all that's happened is it's melted and I still just have hot mint tea. Please tell me your iced tea secrets, English Muse.

Now, I no longer eat the cake, at least until they start making it sugar free (please English Muse?), but I have eaten plenty of it in the past and can confirm that it's delicious. All the cakes are homemade, they come in gigantic portions (never a bad thing) and they also do gluten free cakes. My personal favourite is (well, was *crying face*) the carrot cake. There's just the right ratio of cake to icing, whereas usually I find with carrot cake that there's too much icing and it's so - dare I say it - moist. As well as cake, you also get a proper biscuit with your coffee/tea and by proper I mean a bourbon biscuit or custard cream, which I think is the nicest touch rather than one of those bulk bought ones in a wrapper. In fact, The English Muse was where I ate my accidental biscuit that I spoke about in my post about giving up sugar (here).

This place is a definite must visit if you're in Hull. Have you ever been to The English Muse?

Amy x

Hull, UK

Gaining Confidence as a Blogger

When I first started blogging I was completely ignorant that there was a blogging community, blogger events and the fact that you could actually make friends with fellow bloggers. I was just a shy girl blogging from her bedroom in Hull for the love of writing and for something to do in her spare time (I'll stop talking about myself in third person now because it makes me sound like a class A loser). 

When I started I didn't have Twitter or Instagram so it was a whole year before I even discovered that there was a Hull bloggers group and I didn't know how to promote myself at all. When people actually started reading my blog it made me nervous - I was almost happier writing things that nobody was reading because I didn't have to worry about anyone judging my writing, my photography and me as a person. I was also confused as to why anyone would want to read my blog - I didn't think it was particularly good or interesting, I hadn't found any sort of niche and I certainly wasn't doing anything massively different from anyone else. 

The first event I ever attended was a local one and I was horrendously nervous. I got lost on the way so arrived late, didn't know anyone and was awful at making any kind of conversation or introducing myself. Luckily I sat with the nicest people who made conversation with me and made me feel at ease, but I didn't feel like I belonged in this blogging world or that I deserved to be at the event at all. I left feeling as nervous and uncomfortable as I had when I arrived. 

Fast forward to a year later and I was on my way to the Blogger's Blog Awards with Ashton. I'd attended a few more local events, met some lovely people and come out of my shell a bit more. I was still disappointed in myself at how shy I was at the actual event though and wished I'd had the guts to talk to more people. A lot more people were reading my blog by this point and I was actually pretty happy with my content and photography (although I'm one of those people who feels like I can always improve and I'm never 100% happy with anything I do) so I didn't necessarily feel out of place being at the event, just overwhelmed, shy and annoyed at myself for being so. I think each event is a stepping stone though and the more you attend and the more bloggers you speak to, the easier it becomes. 

This year I feel like I've really been pushing myself in terms of both content and photography and eventually think I've found my niche. One of my non-blogger friends said to me a while ago that my blog is interesting because I make it so, my niche is me. I didn't really think about it at the time because it seemed a bit self indulgent, but I've realised that I read blogs for the person, not the blog. I read blogs where you feel like you're getting to know the blogger behind it and simply because I like that person. This year I feel like I've been writing for me rather than writing a post that I think will get a lot of views or that people will want to read because hopefully people will just want to read my blog anyway. This way of writing has given me a newfound confidence - I think because I'm not trying to please people, I'm not trying to get views and it's coming so much more naturally. 

So when I attended BlogConLDN this past weekend I felt that confidence in myself as blogger, I felt at ease and like I belonged there. I wasn't nervous at all, I chatted to everyone I wanted to without being worried and I had a great time. A big thank you to Ashton (who I now want to be my personal photographer after taking the above photos), Kirsty and Rachel who definitely played a big part in making me feel at ease and also to all the lovely people I chatted to and finally got to meet! I feel really inspired with blogging at the moment so I'm hoping that will continue and that my confidence will continue to grow. I've learnt that I need to push myself out of comfort zone and *mega cheesy quote alert* feel the fear and do it anyway. 

Amy x

What Happened When I Quit Sugar

I know a lot of people don't believe in giving things up for lent, but I actually find it a really good way to give myself a little nudge towards healthier habits and it can be the kick start that I need (often ending in a good old binge when Easter arrives, but hey ho). In the past I've given up chocolate, coffee or crisps (which was a bit of a cheat year seeing as I hardly eat any crisps anyway), but this year I went big and decided to give up refined sugar. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, mainly because I was definitely eating too much of it - chocolate in one form or the other was a part of my everyday life - and I was just curious to see whether I could live without it. I'm nearly three weeks into no sugar so I thought I'd write a little about what it's been like so far.

I have actually found it surprisingly easy to give up sugar, although the fact that it is in so much savoury food makes things a little trickier (bye bye ready made sauces). I had severe chocolate cravings for the first two days, but since then I've actually not felt like I need sugar and have been surprised at how easy it's been to resist treats at work when someone brings something in pretty much every day. I did accidentally eat a biscuit about a week in and got a headache pretty much immediately - I'm guessing because my body had got used to working without refined sugar - but I had none of that 'it tasted too sweet' effect that a lot of people get when they give up sugar. It tasted pretty darn great if I'm honest.

One of the main things that people talk about when giving up sugar and one of the main reasons I wanted to try it is energy levels. Giving up sugar is supposed to make you feel more energised because you no longer have the highs and lows that sugar creates. I had visions of myself transforming into this new kick-ass version of myself who could juggle a million things at once and ace them all. So, do I feel more energised? Well, no, in a word. I feel just as exhausted as I did before so maybe I just need more sleep. Or maybe I just need to keep at it for a bit longer and it'll happen. The only other negative is that I appear to have replaced sugar with caffeine. I'm drinking a lot of coffee, averaging three or four a day because it means I still get a treat after a meal. I am going to try and cut down although I have read that four a day isn't all that bad so maybe I won't, we'll see.

There are three positive changes that I've noticed. Firstly, I'm eating less in general, presumably because I don't have sugar cravings anymore and also because I guess I've got less choice of what to eat! I'm also feeling fuller quicker and finding that I'm eating smaller meals and snacking on fruit and nuts throughout the day, whereas before I'd eat bigger meals and not really snack. The positive change that has had the biggest impact on my life is the fact that I haven't suffered from acid reflux since I stopped eating sugar. This is something that I suffered from quite regularly before and although I knew things that definitely made it worse I couldn't quite pin the exact cause down. I think I may have found it and unfortunately it's something I love dearly - sugar. I'm so happy not to suffer from it anymore and although I'm disappointed that I can no longer be a cake fiend I'll hopefully be going very low sugar for life after lent finishes. You may notice I said low sugar because I am no way disciplined enough to give it up entirely unfortunately. 

In general, giving up sugar for lent has definitely been a positive experience and much easier than I'd expected. I may do an update about my experience when lent has finished, but if nothing has changed then I won't because who wants to read an identical post to this?

Have you given up anything for lent? Have you ever tried giving up sugar?

Amy x

Let's Stop Judging

This post has been a long time coming and is probably going to tumble out of me in an incoherent rant that's been building up in my head for a while now. I'm talking about judgementalism, which is most certainly not a word but I'm making it one for the sake of this post. The more I hear people judging others on the way they look/dress the more riled up I get about it. I realise that we choose the way we dress in order to create a certain impression so it could be argued that we're asking people to judge us, but I don't think that's true. I think we dress for ourselves, not for other people and although it's nice to receive a compliment on your outfit, it's certainly not nice to hear people judging you or others on your clothes.

The first time I got really angry about this was when I overheard a conversation about a man wearing green trousers. The people discussing this man (who completely unaware of the conversation he would cause, one day innocently decided to wear green trousers) were saying things like 'Why would he ever go out dressed like that?' and 'I don't know what goes through peoples' heads sometimes.' I'm guessing the reason he probably went out dressed like that was because he liked said green trousers. And what's wrong with that? 

We all like different clothes and when I wear something I like I wouldn't expect people I don't even know to have a conversation about how awful my fashion choice was that day. But, as proved above, maybe I should expect that because that's obviously what people do. It makes me wonder what people must say about me and what I'm wearing when I'm not there and that thought makes me really paranoid and uncomfortable. I can't really act all high and mighty because did I say anything? No. And when people make comments about someone else's clothes to me do I say anything? Still no, I go awkwardly silent and uncomfortable. I'm not very good at speaking up when I should.

So maybe I don't speak up in person, but I'll say it on here instead. Don't judge people on superficial things like how they look and what they wear. Judge people on their actions because what they do and how they act actually shows who they are and what they're like, not anything else.

Do you get judged on the way you dress?

Amy x

Life Through Instagram

Oh Instagram...

I for one am a complete Instagram fiend, I love nothing more than a good scroll for style inspiration, travel daydreaming and just a good old nosy at other people's lives. I also love posting - sharing what I'm wearing/eating/doing day to day and seeing the quality of my feed gradually improve. I'm well aware that Instagram isn't real life because of the simple fact that what I post on my own Instagram isn't a true reflection of my life. I don't Instagram my under eye bags, my trip to the supermarket or my unmade bed. I think it's widely expected that we choose the best bits of our lives, photograph the cleanest parts of our houses and only post food when it's avocado on toast and not when it's McDonalds. The truth is, pretty things make a pretty feed and the real things in life aren't always pretty so they just don't make the cut. 

I think the fact that we only post the best bits of our lives is actually a good thing because it means that Instagram is a really positive place. As long as we all know that everyone is only showing the good then it's fine. The danger of Instagram is when it comes to younger people and whether they know this or whether they think Instagram is actually a true representation of people's lives. That's where comparison comes into it and I'm sure that's something not just limited to young people. You can't compare yourself to all the gorgeous selfies because nobody is going to post a bad picture of themselves. You can't compare your life at work to someone who is living it up in the Maldives because they'll have boring days at work too. You can't beat yourself up for eating pizza when everyone seems to be Instagramming green smoothies because I'm pretty sure they eat pizza too.

Because of this Instagram has the reputation of being fake. Although I'm not naive and I'm sure there are accounts that are complete set ups, I don't think that only posting the nice things makes anyone 'fake'. Yes it's edited and it's not your whole life, but it is real snippets of life. Instagram might give you wanderlust and make you want things you don't have, but it also makes you appreciate the little things in life because let's face it, you're always looking for them so you can Instagram them. I'm sure I'm not the only one who pays more attention to the world around them, searching for little bits of beauty like flowers and pretty buildings just so I can Instagram them. Maybe that's the wrong reason to be paying attention to the world around me, but hey, at least I'm doing it right? 

Instagram is an edited version of life and I think as long as people aren't being deceitful then that's fine. The majority of people are starting to write longer captions and I love this transition of Instagram from photo sharing app to micro blogging platform because I do think it is making it a more honest and raw place and most of the feeds with large audiences that I follow do seem to take their responsibility seriously, which is great. I also think the introduction of Instagram stories is a great way to make the app more raw because I think people tend to use it for pictures of real life that aren't pretty enough to Instagram (that's how I use it anyway...and yes I have Instagram storied my McDonalds.) I can kind of see both sides of the Instagram argument, but I firmly Team Instagram. 

What's your opinion on Instagram? Do you think it's fake?

Amy x

Feeling Confident While Working Out

I don't know if everyone feels this way while working out, but I feel like people are judging me - judging me for not being fit enough, judging me for not being toned enough and judging me on my workout clothes. It's difficult to take that first plunge into working out, especially if you haven't done it before or not for a while. I basically hibernate from working out over winter and resume as soon as spring is on the horizon, which means every year I have to take that daunting first step again when I know I'll feel really unfit and like I'm sweating all over the shop (well, gym). 

The first step for me in getting my confidence up is new workout gear. Sportswear has really risen in popularity over the last few years and there is so much more choice on the market than there used to be, which means that buying workout clothes actually feels like a treat and luckily it also means you can choose something you'll really feel good in. In the past I've made bad decisions when it comes to workout clothes - why I ever thought I'd wear a lycra crop top I'm not quite sure. It's easy to see super toned women on Instagram rocking crop tops and thinking that for some reason you might automatically turn into them by wearing one yourself. I can tell you that is not true.

So I've decided I need two things when it comes to sportswear. I need bright, interesting colours and patterns that will make me feel positive and motivated as well as being something that I actually like wearing. So I'm waving goodbye to my plain black leggings and becoming bolder with these leggings* from Simply Be. I'd never considered Simply Be for workout gear because I've just never seen it advertised, but they actually have absolutely loads of choice both from their own brand and various others. These leggings are Ellesse and they're so comfortable, they're high waisted so I'm not worried about them riding down and they're just so nice and colourful. Patterned workout leggings are the way forward for me because wearing these makes me feel so much more confident and motivated.

The second thing I need is the reassurance that any parts of my body that I'm not confident about are covered up i.e. my stomach and my arms so definitely no lycra crop tops thank you. That means this hoody* also from Simply Be is perfect for working out outside and as I mentioned in my last post I'm starting running again this month. As well as being a workout staple I have a feeling that this might find its way into my everyday wardrobe too especially with athleisure being everywhere at the moment and the fact that it's so comfortable, soft and also looks great - I love the overlay detail at the back.

Leggings* - Simply Be | Hoody* - Simply Be | Trainers - Primark (current)

What do you look for in sportswear? 

Amy x

Some of the items in this post were kindly sent to me by Simply Be, but all opinions are my own.

5 Ways to Feel Spring Ready

I don't know about anyone else, but I like to get in the spirit of spring way early - I know it's still kinda chilly outside and there isn't any sign of blossom yet, but sometimes the sun streams through my window and makes me so excited at the prospect of brighter skies and shedding my winter coat (I realise that makes me sound like an animal...) Doing spring like things just makes me happy so I thought I'd round up five of the things I've been doing recently to get in the spirit of the new season.

Upping my fruit intake | Winter is all about soup for me (and copious amounts of chocolate obviously...) so I tend to eat lots of veg in winter, but not much fruit at all. In spring and summer I probably eat too much of it, but something about eating more fruit just makes me feel happy, healthy and spring like! One of my favourite ways to get lots of fruit is through smoothies or juices. I know these have a slightly bad rep for containing far too much sugar so I like to balance mine out by including veg in it too - plus I'm sure it's still better than eating a chocolate bar! I currently have a very old blender, but because we're doing up our kitchen at the moment we're on the hunt for new appliances. The Panasonic Juicers seem so fuss free and I'm all about an easy (lazy) life, plus they retain the maximum amount of nutrients from the fruit, the loss of which I know is often another criticism of juices! They're also easy to clean and anything that makes housework a little bit easier is a winner in my eyes. My favourite juice for getting in the spring spirit is a mixture of spinach, apple, cucumber, lime and mint. I find that putting strong flavours like lime and mint with a large amount of spinach means I'm getting a lot of the green goodness without my juice tasting like spinach because the flavour is masked.

Home decor tweaks | I'm not one of those people who reworks the whole colour scheme of their bedroom each season or who has separate spring cushions to winter cushions - who really has the time or the money for that? There are some really small simple tweaks I make almost unconsciously each season though, which are affordable and don't require an endless amount of storage for all your seasonal throws. Spring in the home for me simply means more fresh flowers and more house plants. There's nothing quite like daffodils to get you in the mood for spring is there? I'm also a big fan of gypsophila because it looks just as good dried so you've always got flowers in the house even when you don't have time to buy fresh ones! Both daffodils and gypsophila are super cheap at your local supermarket and I rely on IKEA for my house plant obsession.

Dressing light | By dressing light, I don't mean throw on a strappy top - this is the UK after all - I mean light colours. I was going to say 'bright' to avoid confusion, but I never dress bright so that would just be deceptive. I do dress in light colours though, at this time of year especially. Throughout winter I had a real thing for the colour grey and obviously black is always a fail safe too, but now the weather is brightening up ever so slightly (although as I'm writing this Storm Doris is in full force haha) I like to wear paler colours (not gonna lie, mainly white).

Getting outside | March is the month I'm going to take up running again because I ran a lot last spring and it improved my mood so much. There's something about getting outside first thing in the morning that sets me up for the day and puts me in a positive mindset. I also really want to start just going for random walks because getting outside really does make you feel happier and it's nice to appreciate the beauty of what's around you - I find when I'm walking somewhere with no purpose I really notice the little things (and proceed to Instagram them, obviously.)

Make up | I don't really change my makeup that often because I've found what works for me, but when it comes to spring and summer I like to wear less especially when it comes to base. I'll be digging out my tinted moisturiser and BB cream and switching my red lipstick (most of the time - I can't let it go completely) for pale pinks and nudes. Now I just need to pray that the cute smattering of freckles across my nose I've always wanted actually appear this year and that my hair gets suddenly naturally wavy and blonder without me even having to pay a hairdresser. If only. 

How have you been getting ready for spring?

Amy x

This post was kindly sponsored by Panasonic, but all opinions and excitement for spring are my own.