Embrace Yourself

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Last month I ventured to Tunbridge Wells Odeon to see Embrace, a social impact documentary that explores the issue of body image. I first came across Embrace a few months back when one of my friends posted about having seen it at a screening in Suffolk. She recommended it very highly due to its subject nature of body awareness and the importance of self-love. I was eager to see it, but screenings were limited as it relied on people requesting to host one and get enough people for it to go ahead. I was pleased to see that there was one in Tunbridge Wells at the beginning of July so I booked a ticket and took myself off on a date.

I think the reason that it resonated so much with me is that I have already done a lot of work with Free Being Me. This programme was created by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and Dove to empower girls through improving body confidence and self-esteem and is available to Brownie and Guide units throughout the UK. By completing the fun and engaging activities on offer, girls and young women learn that body confidence and self-esteem come from valuing their bodies, standing up to social pressures and supporting others to be more body confident.
Credit: Girlguiding
One of the activities we do as part of Free Being Me is to think about three parts of our body that we like because of what they can do and watching Embrace reminded me of this. I realised that I was not unhappy with the way I look. What I really want it to feel better. When I was walking a few miles before work every morning I felt so much better and from now on I will focus on how I feel more than how I look.

I left the cinema with a fire in my belly and in that moment I decided that I wouldn't worry so much about what the numbers on the scales at Slimming World each week or fitting into a particularly size dress in time for my friend's wedding. Instead I would work on improving my fitness and I decided the best way of doing that would be to sign up for a long distance walking challenge knowing that I would have to get my arse and train off for it. And it means I will get my Platinum Body Magic certificate at Slimming World too. Woohoo for shiny stickers!
Credit: Body Image Movement

I also left knowing that I wanted more people to see this film. In my opinion every man, woman and child should see this film. The message is so important and if you start challenging your own body negativity then that will start to filter through to those around us. I looked into hosting a screening at a local cinema, but little did I know that an even more exciting opportunity was about to arise.

At the end of last month Taryn and the rest of the BIM Team launched Embrace: The Union Project. The aim is to find 2,000 individuals, businesses and organisations to purchase a single screening licence of Embrace and host a screening in the UK. Once this target has been achieved, the Body Image Movement will create an Embrace Education Study Guide and make it available to all secondary schools across the UK for FREE! 
Credit: Body Image Movement
As I type this I can already hear the protests of, "But there's already too much on the curriculum as it is. It's not necessary." However, it's hard to ignore the need when you find out that nine out of 10 British teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies and one third of males would sacrifice a year of their life to achieve the "ideal" body. And with the issue of body confidence consistently appearing in Girlguiding's annual Girls' Attitudes Survey, it is an issue that is clearly at the forefront of the minds of young people throughout the UK. These concerns need to be addressed urgently.
Credit: Girlguiding
Embrace: The Union Project will run until the end of November so if you would like to get involved with my screening plans, you can contact me using the links to the right. Alternatively you can find out how to host your own screening here

Please don't think that you have to fill an entire cinema screen with people. Screenings can take place in local village halls, libraries, sports halls - basically, wherever you can set up a projector and screen. I have seen people host successful screenings with comfy cushions strewn across the floor. You can charge for entry and any profit can go towards your favourite charity or even ploughed back into the amazing work that the Body Image Movement does. I have even heard of someone getting a few friends round for a girls' night in and splitting the cost between them. There are so many ways of achieving this target.

If hosting a screening is not your thing then you may also consider gifting a licence to a local organisation. Many schools, Guide and Scout groups, youth groups and many other organisations would love to be able to share this film with their members, but are not able to afford the cost.

Remember that every screening licence sold is one step closer to EVERY secondary school in the UK having access to invaluable materials that will help to improve the confidence and self-esteem of millions of students across the country. However you are able to help, even if it is just sharing news of this project or any screenings that are taking place in your area, can help.

"Every precious drop of change has a ripple effect on the ocean." - Trudy Vesotsky


Voyage Award: Bronze Level

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Just over two years ago I started doing the Bronze level of my Voyage Award. For those who don't know, the Voyage Award is a chance for members of the Trefoil Guild to create their own adventures and meet personal challenges. There are three levels of the award: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each level has the same five sections and the same activity cannot be used for more than one section. Cue me thinking about things that I've always wanted to try and deciding where I can make them fit. Most things seem to fall under Myself or Skills so I don't think I'll have an issue choosing things for Silver and Bronze. In the meantime though, here is an account of the Bronze level of my Voyage Award.

Service - 40 hours
While Service is the first section in my record book, it was actually the section that took me the longest to decide what to do. I already do a lot of volunteering for Girlguiding, but since the idea of the award is to try new things, I couldn't use something that I was already doing. I started doing Rainbows (a section I'd never worked with before) in June 2015 which I thought would be perfect, but a change of job meant that I soon had to give up that role and I hadn't accumulated enough hours. I decided to put it on the back burner for a while and come back to it. After all the Voyage Award is a personal challenge with no time limit. I was in no rush.

Towards the end of last year I was working through my annual record form for my Trainer Qualification and I wanted to cry. I hadn't done as many sessions as I felt I should have, my paperwork was in a mess and my personal development plan made no sense to anyone, let alone me. I was having issues in other areas of my guiding life at that time and with this on top of everything else, I was close to just giving it all up.

The bottom line though was that I didn't want to give up. I'd worked bloody hard on my Trainer Qualification and to this day I can still remember one of my Peer Educator friends telling me that I'd make an amazing Trainer. I lacked confidence and I was badly organised, but that was not a reason to give up everything I had worked for. I emailed the Region Trainer Coordinator and copied in my County Guiding Development Coordinator with my concerns (specifically about my PDP) and I had lovely responses back from both of them. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried.

I have been involved with training in guiding since 2010 (longer if you include Peer Education) so I could hardly count this as a new role, but with everything that had been going on in my life, I had let this area really slip. Could I use the New Year as a reset and work my butt off to be the best Trainer that I could be? The Voyage Award is all about personal challenge so why not?!

I started my PDP from scratch and decided what I really wanted to gain from being a Trainer for Girlguiding. One of the first things was that I wanted to try and accept more requests for sessions that I wouldn't normally consider doing. I was also scared about chairing a Trainers' Support Group meeting as I feel that everyone is so much more experienced than me so I made a note that I want to chair a meeting with confidence (even if I happened to be faking that confidence at the time). Lots of little things that I hadn't realised were getting to me went on my plan and more than six months on I am loving training again.

Since January I have already delivered more sessions than I did in the whole of last year. These have included a session on Social Media and Blogging for a group of GOLD participants and running a workshop at a Region event aimed at improving volunteer retention. I would never have picked events like these before! Earlier this year we also had our biennial Trainers' Conference weekend. I threw myself into it and enjoyed every moment. Events like that tend to tip my anxiety over the edge, but having what I wanted to get out of the weekend on my PDP really helped me to stay focused. 

Things are starting to wind down for the summer now which is a great time for me to reflect and makes updates and changes to my PDP. I have lots planned for the autumn already and for once I am not panicking about it all. I'm even looking at ways in which I can use my training skills outside of guiding.

Myself - 40 hours
I started the Bronze level of my Voyage Award on my 31st birthday and it was on that day that I decided to spend my birthday money on a Fitbit. At the time I was unhappy with my weight and even more unhappy with my appalling lack of fitness. I made the decision that I was going to use the Fitbit to monitor my daily step count and try to gradually increase it. I began walking to work virtually every morning from Orpington to Bromley. As time went on I would leave earlier and explore different routes, gradually making them longer and longer. Sometimes I would even walk home, but I have to say that was a rare occurrence. 

I soon clocked up the hours that I needed and what's more I enjoyed listening to music, audio books and podcasts on the walk in. I really began to enjoy the time I had to myself. In addition to my walks to work, I also started going to my local parkrun on a Saturday morning and getting up early to walk on a Sunday too. It was addictive, but in a good way. I felt so much better and doing it at the start of the day left me with so much energy for the rest of the day. One little thing that really made me take notice of how my fitness had changed was when I returned to Rainbows in September. The previous term I had struggled to sit on the floor cross-legged for any period of time and getting up was a serious effort. In my first week back I did it without even thinking and it was only after the girls had gone home that I realised how much easier I'd found it.

At the end of September I started my new job which meant my morning walks decreased from over an hour to just an half an hour. Then in January my circumstances changed again and I had to drive myself to and from work so my walks became non-existent. As I said previously, I'd already done enough hours, but by the spring I was really missing my "me" time. You may remember from a previous post that I decided to walk 600,000 steps over 60 consecutive days to raise money for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn't started walking for my Voyage Award then I wouldn't have managed to complete that little challenge that I set myself. 

I also have another little challenge coming up next year, that some of you will already know about, but as I'm planning to write about that in the not too distant future, I'll leave that for now. Suffice to say that the Voyage Award is all about setting yourself a personal challenge and this is one that has stayed with me and I hope to benefit from it for a long time to come.

Teamwork - 10 hours (including one event lasting at least two hours)
Teamwork was always going to be a tough one for me. I do so much in and out of guiding that I try my hardest not to join any committees for special camps/events/outings for fear of burning myself out. I do what I enjoy and more importantly I do what I feel I am good at. If I do too much then I end up spreading myself too thin and doing everything half-heartedly. I really admire the people who are able to go everything they do their all, but sadly I don't think I'll ever be like that. However I needed to complete the Teamwork section if I wanted to gain my Bronze award so I went on a mission to find something. 

In July 2015 Chislehurst Division held a weekend camp for its members with a theme of "Summer Party". Meeting nights were changed around to accommodate as many of us as possible and while I wasn't able to attend every one, I was able to join in most of the planning via email. I was also in charge of perhaps the most important aspect of any guiding event - the badge! I arranged a competition so that young members could design a badge and once the winner was chosen by our committee, I arranged for them to be made and delivered in time for the weekend.

The weekend itself was the most fun I can remember having on camp in a long time. We had beautiful weather all weekend, the girls had a wide variety of activities to take part in, the Leaders got to enjoy a little rest and relaxation while partaking in a cream tea and Saturday night's campfire was magical. In addition to being in charge of the all important badges, I also had a little role over the weekend itself - First Aider. I usually avoid this role at all costs, but I reminded myself that this was just part of my challenge to myself and accepted it gracefully. Plus I had help from a fellow Leader so it wasn't all bad.

Skills - 20 hours
If you have visited my page before then this section will probably not come as a surprise to you. I decided to repurpose old books into book art. It was something that I had known about for quite a while, but when I originally discovered it I thought it was totally barbaric and refused to have anything to do with it. I can't remember what changed my mind, but one evening when the Rangers were struggling with ideas for that term, I made a few suggestions, one of them being book folding. 

I remember the evening well as it was when our Division Commissioner came to observe me for my Trainer Qualification renewal. After sorting out those who had forgotten to bring a book, ruler or pencil, they got started. For some I could see that it really wasn't their thing, but others made really good progress and their enthusiasm made me want to have a go. I was going to a book signing of one of my favourite authors for my birthday and I decided that I was going to make a book fold for her. Nothing like the pressure of giving your first piece of art away as a gift! 

I found a group in Facebook full of lovely, helpful people including Lyndsey who, in addition to running the group, makes the patterns needed to book fold. I quickly found out that you can't just grab any old book and start folding. Each pattern tells you how many pages your book will need and also the most suitable height required. I was lucky enough that I found the book for my first ever fold on my very own shelf, but since then I have trawled many charity shops looking for the right book for the job. 

After completing my first fold I knew that this is what I wanted to do for my skill so I approached Lyndsey who agreed to be my mentor and very soon I seemed to be working on book folds almost daily. I worked on improving my accuracy with the marking and folding of the book. I researched different ways of covering the books to get the neatest finish possible, eventually ditching corner covers when I found a new way to fold the paper over the edges of the cover. I even learnt to make paper flowers to decorate finished folds.

You can see all of my folds here and while I am not doing them nearly as much as I used to, it is still a skill I strive to improve. I have done a number of two-liner folds now and my next challenge is to learn how to make my own patterns. In addition to improving this skill, I've also found that it is a brilliant way to relax. I may often be heard mumbling and even cursing during the marking process, but once I start folding, it's almost like a form of meditation and I find myself getting lost in the rhythm of it. Another Voyage Award success!

Explore my world - 20 hours
I thought this was going to be the hardest section to complete, but it ended up being one of the easiest. I was on holiday in Spain listening to the results of the General Election and kicking myself that I hadn't registered for postal voting. I don't know who I would have voted for if I had, but I was angry at the result so I guess that told me all I needed to know. 

Later that day I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across an article about a new political party called the Women's Equality Party. I had never been interested in politics until that point. I felt guilty about not voting as I know a lot of women sacrificed their freedom and lives to get the vote, but I always used the excuse that if I didn't understand it then I shouldn't vote as I couldn't make an informed decision. Excuses, Abegg! Poor excuses!

I looked into this new party further and found that the closest branch to me was in Croydon. Living in Orpington at the time meant that it wasn't too far away so I contacted and was quickly invited to their first social event. We were a small group and we all had different reasons for being there, but one thing was very clear. The Women's Equality Party had grabbed our attention and we all thought it very much needed.

Over the coming weeks more news was released from the party about campaigns, events and eventually an official launch date. In the run up to the launch, the hastag #WEPnesday was created and we were encouraged to blitz social media between 12pm and 1pm each Wednesday. I glad took on the role for our little branch and enjoyed not only retweeting all the news not only from local branches, but also finding relevant articles from other organisations and spreading their messages too.

In those first few months I became a founding member (shiny card to prove it), was lucky enough to attend a FUNdraiser in London (belonging to a party with Sandi Toskvig as MC certainly has it's advantages), went to a screening of Suffragette with other members of the Croydon branch and helped to organise our local launch event.

When I moved back home at the beginning of 2016, I decided that Croydon was too far to go. In September last year I went along to a meeting in Tunbridge Wells and met Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women's Equality Party. We had some really interesting discussions that evening and I took a lot away from it. Then at the end of November I attended the first-ever Women's Equality Party Conference. It was a jam-packed weekend which you can read about here if you so choose.

Towards the end of last year a branch opened in Bromley which is a little closer to me. I haven't been able to get to a meeting yet as they always seem to clash with something else (what can I say, I'm a busy person!), but my real aim is to get a branch going in Swanley so that those with a passion for equality for all can join me in making a difference in our own community. Only time will tell if I am brave enough to give it a go.

So that's my journey through the Bronze level of the Voyage Award. I'm hoping to get the last couple of bits signed of next week so that I can get going on the Silver level once I'm back from holiday. If you are looking to challenge yourself why not join your local Trefoil Guild. It is open to anyone aged 18+ who agrees to support the guiding ethos and contrary to popular believe, you don't have to have been involved with guiding before. You can find out more here.

February & March Favourites

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Well, I've not been on here for a while. It feels a bit strange, but I think my friend Katy might have a word or two to say to me if I go another month without doing a favourites post. So without further ado, here are my favourites from February and March.

Bits 'n' Bobs
I was going to put these items under the heading 'Jewellery', but most of it isn't really so 'Bits 'n' Bobs' it is. 

So first up we some some more purchases from The Trinket Box. I ordered this weight loss keyring because I've been losing my way with Slimming World recently and I thought this would be a really good visual to keep on me and remind me of why I'm doing this! Then a few weeks later I ordered these bear keyrings for my dad and stepmum. A while ago I started calling my dad 'Papa Bear'. No idea why, just did! Then my stepmum became 'Mama Bear' so when I saw that Sarah had these for Mother's Day I knew I had to get them. Dad had to have his Father's Day present early because I felt they shouldn't be separated.
At the end of March my friend had a party for her 30th birthday and it was a masquerade theme. I've always want to go to a masquerade ball, but I didn't realise how hard it would be to find a mask that I liked. I eventually found this bargain on eBay and absolutely adore it! Until I put it on that is. It looks gorgeous, but it did leave a dent in my forehead. It's still going in my favourites though because I felt like a princess wearing it. These earrings were an awesome find! I've wanted a pair of threader earrings since I first heard about them and I decided I wanted a pair for the aforementioned party. I had a word with my friend Google and the rest is history. I will be wearing them a lot in the future.
Not bought any clothes for what seems like ages, but I've had my eye on this shirt from George at Asda for a while now and in the end I decided to buy it before I went in one day to find out it had gone forever. I love it! It's so soft and big and baggy. I've mainly been wearing it with my skinny jeans, but it's long enough that I can just wear it with a pair of leggings too. Now these leggings here are something else. I would never usually go for a pattern quite as bold, but when I walked passed them the other day, I happened to be wearing a top in a shade of pink that went with the flowers so they ended up in the trolley. I've only worn them the once so far, but I'm actually quite taken with them. I may have to be a bit more daring more often.
I didn't need this Owl Pencil Sharpener from WHSmith. I use a mechanical pencil on the rare occasion (usually book folding) that I need to use one. But I had to have him. He's an owl, you see, and if you didn't already know, I'm a little obsessed. He's so cute! I also got this really cute notebook. Currently debating what to use it for. Maybe for planning training sessions for Girlguiding. 
The new products came out at the beginning of March and while I missed out on the luminisers and setting products because they went straight on back order, I did manage to get my hands on the Brow Obsession Palette and new brushes. I also got myself a powder foundation and some freebies because Younique is awesome!


Guided Along the Way: My Journey with Girlguiding

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Today is World Thinking Day. Celebrated annually on 22 February, it is an international day of friendship for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world to speak out on issues that affect girls and young women and fundraise for those members that are less fortunate. It dawned on me a while back that this year I will have been a member of this wonderful organisation for 21 years and so it is probably high time I shared with you my experience of being part of the guiding family.

My journey with Girlguiding began shortly after I started secondary school. I used to get the bus with a girl called Susan and we became friends. As you do when you’re getting to know someone we talked about what we liked to do outside of school and she told me all about how she was a Guide. I wasn’t very outdoorsy back then (I’m still not really), but she said they did loads of fun stuff apart from camping and I could go to a meeting with her if I wanted to. I decided to do just that and haven’t really looked back.

When I joined 1st Swanley Guides in 1996 I became part of the Swallow Patrol of which, if I remember correctly, Susan was the Patrol Leader at the time. In the first few weeks I really enjoyed getting my uniform and working through the Pre-Promises Challenges in my copy of The Guide Handbook. Back then Guides had eight different programme areas like The Senior Section still do and we had to complete a challenge from each area before making our Promise. We also had to learn the Guide Law and Promise.

I still remember my Promise Ceremony now. It was very traditional, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We all marched into horseshoe and ten girls would be selected to go and light a candle while reciting one of the laws (it was changed to six laws while I was a Guide). Then my Patrol Leader escorted me to the opening of the horseshoe where Mandi (AKA Jay) our Leader would stand. She asked if I was ready to make my Promise as a Guide. I was. I really, really was. Once I recited my Promise, Mandi pinned my Promise badge on to my uniform and I made the Guide Sign to Mandi, the unit flag and the rest of the unit. I was then officially welcomed with a chorus of Oggy Oggy Oggy.

I loved every moment of being a Guide. I loved taking part in the Gala and Remembrance Parades and feeling honoured if I was asked to carry the flag. I loved taking part in our own version of The Generation Game as it meant Mum would also come to the meeting and join in the fun. I loved the water games nights that we would have at the end of the summer term. I loved working towards my Interpreter badge with my French tutor and my Chess badge with my uncle. Learning new things from people I already had good relationships with and who had a passion for those things.

When I working towards my GCSEs I decided to take a break from guiding to concentrate on the coursework, revision and mocks that I seemed to be constantly passed between like a ball. It didn’t last for long though. When I joined sixth form we were asked to take on a volunteering role. We could sign up and be allocated a role, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a Young Leader at my old unit.

Over the next two years I worked toward the Leadership Qualification. I had my first experience of attending a section training where I found out all about the new Guide programme which now had five programme areas and new resources called Go For Its! I started going to Division meetings and finding out about how guiding worked locally. I helped to plan the unit programme and outings to London. I loved being a Leader as much as I had being a Guide. For me being a Leader gives you that excuse to do all the fun stuff that you’re “too old” to do as an adult. And it’s perfect because if the girls see you’re having fun, they are likely to have fun too.

In September 2002 I went off to study Combined Languages at the University of Surrey. Knowing I was going to be going off on placement in my second and third years, I didn’t bother trying to find a unit to work with, but I kept in touch with 1st Swanley Guides and went to meeting whenever I was home for the holidays. In my third year I had a job as a receptionist at a Sports Centre. One day Lin, the bar manager, came down to see me and said she had noticed from my CV that I was a Guide Leader. It turns out that she was also a Guide Leader and wondered if I would like to help at her unit. Hell yeah! Unfortunately it wasn't long before I went off to work as a Language Assistant in a French school, but as soon as I was back in the UK I contacted her and asked if I could come and help. And so I became a Leader at 1st Send Guides for nearly a year.

I would say my last year at university is when I really got into guiding to be honest. A few of us got the old SSAGO (Student Scout and Guide Organisation) Society going again and I also started working towards my Queen’s Guide Award. Unfortunately it’s something I never completed, but I don’t regret trying because it led to so many wonderful opportunities. Because of the Queen’s Guide Award I attended a 4 Basic Training in Buckfastleigh and became a Peer Educator which then led to me joining the 4 Coordination and Support Team. I went to Innovate and attended association workshops where we discussed ideas for the future of Girlguiding and personal development workshops like self defence and sign language. I went camping for my first time ever to a week long international camp (NorJam) in Norfolk where I didn’t know anyone.

Doing all of these things helped my confidence and knowledge of Girlguiding to grow, so while I may not have gained my Queen’s Guide Award, it has definitely helped to shape the person that I am today and it definitely gave me the international bug.

In 2007 I went on my first international guiding trip to Croatia with Kent West County. Although I wasn’t brave enough to go scuba diving, I did go snorkelling and couldn’t believe how clear the water was. In 2009 our Division went to Paris for Capital Jig, a special event for the Girlguiding Centenary. My highlight of that trip was giving Mickey Mouse a special Centenary Promise badge when we were at Disneyland. In 2012 I went on another County trip, this time to Switzerland. We were short a Leader so I volunteered my mum knowing that she would love to go there to see where her granddad came from. I had a real mountain top moment when I received my 10 year long service award at the top of the Schilthorn. I went back to Switzerland two years later, this time on a Division trip. It really does feel like a home away from home. On my second trip we went up the Jungfrau and stood at the top of Europe. It was beautiful!

In 2010 I was selected to be a member of the team going on a GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development) project to Russia. In the summer of 2011 six of us spent three weeks working with members of the Russian Association of Girl Scouts. We trained them on predominantly on Leadership Development and PR and Recruitment, but they taught us so much too. The three weeks went by in a blur, but can you image my amazement when I heard the word NorJam in amongst all the Russian. I was on camp with Scouts that had been just a few pitches down from my unit when we went to NorJam the previous year. It really is a small world in guiding!

Through Girlguiding I have volunteered at the Philip Lawrence Awards and met Sir Trevor McDonald. I have volunteered backstage at Wembley Arena and chilled out with Sam and Mark and JLS. I visited a Guide unit when I went on holiday to Australia. I volunteered as an interpreter and translator at the Young Women’s World Forum where delegates attended from across the world. I attended the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and wore my uniform and poppy with pride as I remembered my granddad and all his comrades.

In 2010 I turned 26 and ended my time in The Senior Section and started looking for a new challenge. Peer Education has become a big part of my life and I was encouraged on a number of occasions by various people to become a Trainer so I started working towards my qualification. When I was at school the thought of taking assembly filled me with dread, but put me in front of a room of Leaders and I will gush about guiding for however long you give me. The feeling I get when I receive feedback that they feel more confident or can’t wait to try new ideas with their girls is better than being given the biggest bar of Galaxy and being told you won’t put on weight if you eat it all! I especially love residential trainings. They are exhausting, but seeing the change in participants as the weekend progresses is so rewarding.

Towards the end of last year I made the decision to leave my Ranger unit and start helping out at a Rainbow unit much closer to home. It also happens to be run by my old Guide Leader and one of my old Guides who, like me, got the guiding bug big time! Also on the team is another Leader and a Young Leader (who also happens to be one of my old Guides). Having such a strong Leadership team is great because if one of us can't make it (usually me if I'm off training) then there are enough of us to keep things going.

At the beginning of this year I took on a couple of roles in my old Division which can be done mainly from a distance. The first is Young Leader Adviser which I am enjoying as it means I get to keep in touch with some of my old Rangers. My first event for them is coming up in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to working with them. The second is Division Mentor. I find this links really well with training as it's supporting Leaders while they work on their Leadership Qualification. I'm pleased to have found roles that really utilise my skills and help me keep in touch with my old area.

Even with everything that I have done in guiding, I think being a Leader and Trainer will always be my favourite. I have seen so many of my Guides grow into beautiful, strong, empowered women. I felt so old when I found out that one of my former Guides was going to become a mummy. I guess it can be likened to how a mum must feel as her children grow up. They will always be your Guides (or Rainbows or Brownies) and you will worry about them and celebrate with them during different times in their lives, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are so proud of who they become as adults especially when they too become Leaders and work alongside you to inspire the next generation of the guiding family.

When I look back at what guiding has done for me over the last 20 years it makes me excited for the next 20. I think about everything that has changed and all the girls that have come and gone. What changes are on the horizon and who will I encounter along the way?

A Girl's Best Friend

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I know what you're thinking. Diamonds are a girl's best friend, right? Not in my eyes. No, the title of this post is a reworking of the well-known phrase "man's best friend". Recently I have become borderline obsessed about getting a dog. The fact that I am living with my mum, who doesn't want one, just makes me want one even more because, of course, you always want what you can't have.

The first and only dog I've ever had was a dopey Cocker Spaniel called Ben. He was in a litter that my uncle's dog, Heidi, had in November 1990. I had been on at my mum to get a dog since we'd lost our cat Katy. Probably before then to be honest, but it was only when we found out that Heidi was expecting that she finally caved.
I still remember going to pick him up from my uncle's house in Norfolk in the January close to my mum's birthday. I was six years old and so excited! As mum was driving, I was in charge of looking after the new member of our family on the journey home. He was so tiny so I sat him carefully on my lap all wrapped up in a blanket like a baby. Then when we got home I carried the little bundle in, holding him close to me.
You've seen Lady and the Tramp? In case you haven't I'll explain that it is about a couple who, coincidentally, get a puppy Cocker Spaniel. They leave her to sleep, swaddled in blankets, in a box downstairs. To cut a long story short, it didn't work for them and it didn't work for us either. Just like the film, Ben howled and howled. For us it wasn't about feeling that we were being cruel leaving him alone. We knew if we'd given it a chance he would have gotten used to it. No, it was the worry that he would disturb our neighbours. For this reason he very quickly got his own way and was allowed into my mum's room to sleep.

I have so many lovely memories of Ben in the years we had him. When he was still quite small, he learned to climb the stairs. While he quickly became quite adept at getting up, coming back down was an entirely different matter so I would have to go and shuffle down the stairs on my bum with him on my lap. Also while he was still a pup, he was quite content to use Katy's old cat flap to go out to the garden. It suited us as we didn't have to keep opening and closing the door. Until one day the came through the cat flap and took it with him. 
We quickly realised that he was a bit of an oddball. Male dogs cock their legs up a tree to relieve themselves, correct? Not Ben! No, he decided that it was easier to lean against the tree and cock his leg in the air. You've got to admit there's some logic to that! Then there was the time that I went to investigate where he was when he had become suspiciously quiet one day. I found him looking rather sheepish with the lid of my little plastic swing bin stuck on his head. I had to stop laughing before I could remove it.
Then there was his apparent immunity to chocolate. Don't get me wrong. We didn't go around willingly giving him chocolate. We know it's extremely dangerous for doggies. However, before Ben's arrival, we'd always had chocolate decorations hanging on our Christmas tree. The first year that we had him we didn't think anything of it and decorated the tree as normal. In the following days we kept finding bits of tin foil all over the floor and couldn't figure out where it had come from. Until, that is, I went to get a chocolate off the tree and couldn't find them. When we weren't around he had been climbing up and carefully removing them. The tree stayed intact and we wouldn't have been any the wiser.
Another year we had been given a box of chocolate biscuits. Knowing what he was like, we put them right to the back of the kitchen counter and went out leaving him to do whatever he did when we went out. When we came back there was tin foil and ripped up cardboard everywhere. He had eaten all the biscuits. Every. Single. One. I don't know how he wasn't seriously ill!
He liked to be in our company as much as possible. Mum would take him to work with her and in every workshop there would be a box for him so that he could make himself comfortable wherever she went. In fact he was so determined to be near her that when something shorted out underground and he got a shock every time he walked through the doorway of one workshop, he would walk the long way round to use another entrance. It was only by him doing this that she realised there was a problem and reported it. He was an absolute darling when I was ill too as he would come and lie on the bed to keep me company. And that wasn't something he usually did. Mum was his favourite. She gave him treats. I didn't. Meanie! 
In the later years he became deaf. At first we thought he just had selective hearing, but then we noticed he wouldn't go as far at the park. He wanted to have us in sight as he couldn't hear us calling him. We also caught him out one day. He was always allowed on the living room furniture, but the sofa bed in the dining room was out of bounds. We had our suspicions that he would go on it when we were out and one day we came home to find him fast asleep on it. We think that he did it all the time, but on this occasion the combination of deafness and old age meant he didn't hear us come back. As soon as he woke up and saw us, he was off it in a shot.

Not long before we lost him I was back for a weekend for Paris. He got up on the sofa and snuggled up next to me. It's like he knew what was coming and wanted to say goodbye. It broke my heart, but I'm grateful for the memory. I don't know how I would've coped if I'd been home when his time came. 
It's been more than ten years since Ben crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I don't know what's changed recently to make me want another so much, but I keep picturing a faithful friend in my life. Waking up with him curled up on the bed next to me, getting up and taking him for a nice long walk whatever the weather. I even half-joked about us getting an office dog at work to relieve stress. I can see him curled up underneath my desk, keeping my feet warm and taking him for a walk in my lunch break. 

I know that it's not practical at the moment and it would scupper my holidays abroad as I could never put a dog in kennels, but I am surprised by how strong this longing for a furbaby is. One day I will have another and he will be my squishy, but for now I'll have to settle with looking at photos of my cousin's dog and watching cute videos on YouTube.

Dementors and Boggarts

Today is Time to Change's fourth Time to Talk Day. Held on the first Thursday of February each year, Time to Talk Day encourages the nation to get talking about mental health and keep the conversation going round the clock. Today I want to talk about my experience in the only way that I know how.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a serious, unwavering love for Harry Potter. I couldn't tell you how many times I've read the books or seen the films, I am proud to say that I was sorted into Slytherin on Pottermore and I went to a fancy dress party as Hermione (before I found out I was a Slytherin obvs.) I even want to get my Pottermore wand made for real.

It's safe to say that Harry Potter has a special place in my heart and this magical series has got me through some tough times by being a source of comfort when needed. J. K. Rowling has famously spoken about the fact that she based the terrifying, soul-sucking Dementors on her own fight with depression. The creepy, wraith-like creatures drain the hope and happiness out of anyone that comes into contact with them leaving them with nothing but the worst experiences of their life. They even have the ability to suck your soul out completely leaving you trapped in a fate worse than death. 

It seems to me that if Dementors represent depression, then Boggarts could be seen as an appropriate analogy for anxiety. Whenever I watch or read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban I try to imagine what would have come out of the cupboard towards me in Professor Lupin's class. Would it have been a giant spider or wasp? Would it be the cows from the Cravendale adverts? (They freaked me out more than the cats with thumbs.) Or would it have been another nationwide bourbon shortage? It might take me a little while, but I'm pretty sure I could find a way to make those things funny and perform the Riddikulus charm. 

But what if none of those came out of the cupboard. What if instead I saw my oldest friends turning against me? What if I saw myself being fired? What if I was faced with an older, childless version of me? What if, like Molly Weasley, I saw members of my family lying dead in front of me? How do you make thoughts like those funny? Those are the kind of irrational thoughts that anxiety plants in your mind. Then a voice that sounds very much like your own keeps repeating them over and over again until you believe they'll come true.

Now imagine you're trying to fight of a Dementor and Boggart at the same time. The Dementor is silently gliding towards you and you raise your wand as you try to think of your happiest memory, a strong memory, but all you can think about is the impressively realistic show that the Boggart is putting on for you. As the Dementor gets closer you feel that eerie chill fill you like ice and you are frozen to the spot. That’s teamwork, that is! And that’s why many people often experience depression and anxiety together. They gang up on you so you feel like you don’t have the strength to fight either.

I have always joked that if I were a witch, it would be highly likely that my Patronus would be either a sloth or a koala; incredibly cute, but no help whatsoever if it came down to protecting my soul from being sucked from my body. What I really need is a Patronus like a unicorn so that it could stab those nasty Dementors with its horn. Try as I might though waving around my hand-carved wand that I found at a festival and shouting “Expecto Patronum” does not work. No unicorn. Not even a sloth. And I'd take a sloth right now.

You see, last year I found myself back on medication for anxiety and depression; the third time in less than five years. When you recover from a bout of anxiety and depression (they tend to visit me together) you have the very best intentions that you will never let it happen to you again. After all you can recognise the signs now so you can be proactive if you start to see them resurface. Unfortunately it doesn't always work that way. 

This time around I fought and fought against it. I threw myself into my work which was a great distraction to start with, but as time went on I realised I was doing my old trick of saying I was fine when I very clearly wasn't. I'd go into work early so I could cry without anyone knowing. I had to let it out because holding it in was giving me the worst headaches imaginable. Then it got to a point where I just couldn't hold it in no matter how much I tried. 

I didn't feel that way all the time and in some ways that was worse because I'd have a good day, sometimes an amazing one, so when the next run of bad days came I'd feel even worse. Think one step forward and two steps back. By the time I accepted that I needed help again, I felt like I'd gone so far backwards that even the starting line was difficult to see.

I've been back on my medication for a while now and 99% of the time I feel great. I have the odd day where I feel like utter crap, but everyone does. It's normal. Even though it is prescribed for both anxiety and depression, I feel like the medication is working as a Patronus keeping the Dementors at bay, allowing me to tell the Boggarts where to shove it!

I also made some lifestyle changes which I truly believe have helped. Starting Slimming World last summer was a big one. Not only because I was down about my weight more than I was letting on, but also because I am eating better and that means I have heaps more energy. I also made a conscious effort to stop doing things that were causing me stress or I just wasn't enjoying as much anymore. I now have a completely full diary again, but it's with new classes, roles and ventures that bring out my creative side and allow me to nurture it. I smile every day. Even if it's been a bad day, I smile as I get into bed knowing that tomorrow is a new day. 

I want to start reducing my dosage in the not too distant future. It won't happen overnight and I've accepted that I may experience a relapse, but I will never stop fighting the Dementors and Boggarts that come and visit me from time to time. They are a part of me now just like Harry Potter and his wonderfully magical world are.

January Favourites

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It's the first Wednesday of the month so I guess you know what that means. Here are my January favourites.

Fitbit Metal Bracelet
I love my Fitbit. I wear it every day and every night. I only take it off when I shower or to charge it. I even wore it to my friends' wedding even though it didn't really go with my outfit because I knew I'd be dancing lots. Then I saw that Fitbit were bringing out a range of accessories for the Alta and so I asked for the Stainless Steel Metal Bracelet for Christmas. It was on back order so I didn't get it until a week or so into the New Year. Although I wouldn't wear it every day, it is perfect for those special occasions when you want to look smart, but still keep track of your steps.
You do not know how long I have wanted one of these. I've used my Sweaty Betty sports bottle for a few years now, but I love this as it has the times marked out and reminds me to drink regularly. I've heard some people say they don't see the point in it, but for someone who forgets to drink, particularly when I'm at work, it's a godsend. Since I got it, I've had at least 1.8l of water a day, usually more with my morning herbal tea. And it's pink! What more could you possibly want?!
Probably the most expensive thing I will buy this year. My MacBook Pro had been running slower and slower for quite some time so I got a quote from Apple Renew and they said they'd give me £176 for it. I decided to trade it in and instead of getting a new laptop, I'd use my iPad Pro when I'm out and about and get an iMac so that I have to sit at my desk to work. Less distractions and better posture. The screen is a much better size for working too and that's just the 21.5" one. The 27" was too big for my desk. Oh, and extra bonus! The Magic Keyboard comes with it as standard, but I wanted the old corded one as that comes with a numeric keypad so they knocked another £50 off. I have also discovered the pros and cons of being able to have Netflix on while I am working.
When I chose my word for the year, I decided I wanted something that would act as a constant reminder of it for those days when I waver. I am in a few small business groups on Facebook and discovered Sarah Palmer and her lovely little biz The Trinket Box. I'd previously purchased a couple of her planner charms and loved them so I went back and asked her if she could do a custom necklace for me. This was the result. I've worn it nearly every day since getting it and I wouldn't be without it now.
Pot of Dreams
I've wanted a Pot of Dreams for ages, but I was being really fussy about what one I wanted. Whenever I went into Clintons, I couldn't see one that I really, really liked so I didn't bother getting one. Then in the New Year I popped to a local shopping centre and saw this Tinkerbell one. Tinkerbell has always been one of my favourite Disney characters and the fact it was pink and fits the decor of my room left me with no choice but to buy it. I read that if you only put £2 coins in it, then by the time it is full, you will have saved around £1,000. So that's what I'm doing. Whenever I get a £2 in my change, I put it in a different part of my purse until I get home so it doesn't get spent.

Discovering My Wow Colours

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Last Saturday my mum and I went to Crystal Palace to spend the day with Ali Westmoreland, a Colour Analyst, Image Consultant and Personal Stylist for House of Colour. I had heard about Ali and the House of Colour from a mutual friend last year and knew it was something that I wanted to put on my list of things to do in 2017. I was also struggling to know what to get for my mum's birthday, and knowing that she wants to revamp her wardrobe, thought this would be a good idea.

Ali started the day off by explaining a little about the history of colour and how the House of Colour developed the idea of different seasons of colours suiting different skins tones. I clearly knew about the three primary colours being red, yellow and blue, but what I did not realise is that the primary shade of red has the perfect balance of yellow and blue in it. Every single other colour in the world has either more yellow or more blue.
If you can see in the picture above, the top two seasons are surrounded by a gold band and the bottom two by a silver band. This represents not only which seasons are warm (colours with more yellow) and which are cool (colours with more blue), but also the type of jewellery that will suit each season. I have always favoured silver jewellery so I was praying that I would at least be in the cool section.

We took it in turns to sit in front of the mirror with a white cover around us and a white scarf covering our hair while Ali held different colour swatches up to us. First of all she was looking looking to see if we were on the warm or cool side of the spectrum. It was amazing to see the change in our complexions as colours from different seasons were compared and I soon began to see a pattern myself. Once Ali had established whether I was on the top or the bottom of the chart, she then compared colours from those two seasons to see which ones suited us best. I was cool (YES!) and eventually discover that I am a Winter. Specifically a Burnished Winter.
After we had established what our seasons were, we looked at makeup. House of Colour have produced their own makeup and skincare range with shades designed specifically to suit each season. Together we worked out a 90 Second Makeup Prescription - Foundation, Blusher, Mascara and Lipstick that I can use for a quick get up and go in the morning.
After a spot of lunch we got back to work and Ali went through all of the colours in our season to rate them. While all of our colours will suit us, there are some that will suit us from top to toe and others that are better as an accent colour. The scores were classified as good, very good, excellent and outstanding and at least one would be used in the categories of 100%, 75%, 50% and 25% for each colour. So even if my mum and I had both been Winters, our ratings would have in all likelihood been totally different.
Suddenly it was the end of the day. It had gone so quickly, but had been incredibly interesting and a true investment in ourselves. All that was left for Ali to do was present us with our colour swatches that we can take out shopping with us and give us a few last tips for how we can move forward with this knowledge of our "wow" colours. Oh and the little matter of treating ourselves to something special.
Mum and I each had a £20 voucher that we could spend on either makeup, clothing or jewellery that Ali had at the studio. While my mum decided to use hers towards the foundation and blusher that had been used during the session, I used mine on this gorgeous Stella & Dot bracelet that had caught my eye. It's so sparkly!
We both had a wonderful day and I would certainly recommend a Colour Analysis Class to anyone who has an interest in style or even just leaning more about colour in general. For more information about the classes offered or to find your nearest stylist, you can visit House of Colour
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