My new philosophy.
All about our home away from home.


I have wandered into dangerous territory, my friends. I have managed to veganise my favourite sweet treat from my childhood and I have already made them three times in three weeks. BUT this does mean that I have pretty much perfected the recipe and so really, I was simply sacrificing my time and waistline to assist you in making the perfect vegan cookies...

The original recipe, which is just as delicious, was concocted by my talented grandma and the only rule for this bake is that you have to credit her whenever you make them (so mind that you do!).


Vegan spread (8 oz or 230 g)
Demerara sugar (6 oz or 170 g)
Vanilla (2 teaspoons)
Ground flaxseed (2 tablespoons)
Self-raising flour (14 oz or 400 g)
Baking powder (1/2 a teaspoon)
Vegan chocolate chips (8 oz or 230 g)
Vegan white chocolate (4 oz or 115 g)


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Then get the ground flaxseed and put in a small bowl. If you have whole flaxseed, then grind it up as much as possible, using either a spice grinder, blender or a mortar and pestle (the latter is very hard work though, take it from me!). Add 4 tablespoons of water to the flaxseed in the small bowl and use a hand whisk to mix together - you will then see this become gelatinous and gloopy! This is your egg replacement (1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed + 2 tablespoons of water = 1 egg replacement). Pop this small bowl with the gloopy fake egg into the fridge to chill for a little bit
2. Then get a big mixing bowl and cream together the vegan spread (I used Vitalite spread) with the demerara sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy
3. Get the flaxseed 'egg' out of the fridge (it doesn't need to be that cold so don't worry if you're quick) and GRADUALLY add this into the creamy sugary mix
4. Then you can fold in the flour and the baking powder into the mix too! Don't worry if this takes a while, you've added a lot of flour so it does take some working to fold it in with the rest of the mix
5. Then add in the chocolate. You can either use chocolate chips or use a bar of chocolate and break it up into smaller chunks. I found it quite difficult to find vegan white chocolate chips so I just broke up the Tesco's Free-from white chocolate bar and chucked that in instead! I found that adding the white chocolate really balances the flavour of the dark chocolate nicely (not really a fan of dark chocolate so I need the additional sweetness!)
5. Then roll the dough into balls that are about the size of a golf ball. Pop these onto a baking tray with baking parchment on and make sure they're fairly spaced out so they don't just meld into a mega cookie (although they'll still taste fantastic if they do!). You can then gently flatten your cookie balls with the palm of your hand but don't make them too thin. The fluffy middles taste amazing if they're quite thick
6. You then just pop your trays in the oven for 25 minutes. If the cookies still look pale, don't be fooled! They might look pasty and soft when you take them out of the oven, but they're just right once they've cooled down. Leave them in their tray for about 5 minutes and then transfer them onto a cooling rack to carry on cooling. And, of course, sample one after 10 minutes of cooling when they're still slightly warm
7. Enjoy your cookies and let me know how they've gone!

I'd known for a while that I wanted a puffin tattoo because I've been answering to 'Puffin!' for around 5 years now. Ross started this weird nickname not long after we started going out, and for a fair while, I hated it. This was partly because he used to say the reason he called me 'Puffin' was because I was "small, smelly and wore a lot of black and white" but then after I got all grumpy, he also said that they were very cute, and that I was too. I am aware that he probably said this to stop me whinging but hey, it worked!

It does also mean that he often just calls me 'Puff' which has garnered a few strange looks in public, especially when he bellows it down a busy shop because he's lost me momentarily.

"PUUUUUUFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!" He will yell while standing next to a couple of unsuspecting shoppers, shocked out of their skins by a crazy 6ft4 bloke yelling nonsense. I will admit that I purposefully ignore him in these situations... It's payback for him calling me smelly and small. But the name has eventually grown on me aaaand it does help that puffins are actually adorable.

We were lucky enough to see them in the flesh while holidaying in Orkney, Scotland, and they were so much smaller and sweeter than I had previously realised! If you ever have a chance to go and see some nesting puffins, I highly recommend seizing the opportunity. Having these pocket sized birds whizz around you while flying around windy cliffs and looking at their beautiful little faces while they're perched in their nests is truly magical.

So the nickname stuck and I am well and truly a 'Puffin' now, so it felt right to get one tattooed on my arm. A tattoo is a big deal when it's associated with a romantic partner, but this one felt like a no-brainer because I also love puffins regardless of what Ross calls me. I will always have a tattoo that I like and looks good.

And that is why I knew that I had to have the best tattoo artist for my lil puffin. I'd seen a few puffin designs on Instagram by artists that I love but none had been quite right. But, one day, I saw a flash design by the amazing Vicky Jeffrey, a Birmingham-based tattoo artist who excels in 'illustrative blackwork flora and fauna'. If you are into beautiful black tattoos inspired by natural subjects, then Vicky is the artist for you. Plus, she uses vegan ink!

It was definitely love at first sight for my puffin design. I was over the moon when I enquired about the design and Vicky said that the puffin was still available and, even more importantly, affordable. I booked it pretty quickly after enquiring and was looking forward to my Brummy daytrip.

The tattoo studio is in the Jewellery Quarter and I made the great decision of having the tasty vegan breakfast at Urban Cafe before my appointment. After stuffing myself with my delicious brekky, I was a very happy gal by the time I rambled over to the studio and even happier to find that Vicky was very chatty, friendly and really interesting to talk to. It made the tattoo process 100% easier and I knew pretty quickly that I was in very capable hands and had made the right choice.

My puffin slowly began to take form, and even though I was a bit of a wuss (my poor sore arm was not best pleased with me for a while), I spent the whole time grinning like an idiot. Honestly, I could not have found a better design or a nicer artist, so I was feeling pretty chuffed.

I think that it took about 2 hours all-in-all to complete my tattoo, but I don't remember the pain anymore, or even what I was talking about for 2 hours. I do remember just being chilled and content, and I would like to thank Vicky again for putting me so at ease during my appointment. I had a really positive experience, which I think is quite impressive when someone is causing you pain for a couple of hours (even if you are paying them to do so and get a piece of art out of it)!

You can see the finished piece below, about six weeks after my appointment so it is well-healed. And I guess that it really is official now. I really am 'Puffin'.

I can't believe it's been a year since we returned from our adventures in the van. So much has changed in that time - Ross and I have moved house twice and I've had two jobs! We've now finally settled and we're living happily in Cambridge.

It's been very strange to go from moving every day, not paying rent, going to the loo outside and not having an oven, to being able to have a bath when I please, to be able to be in a different room from Ross (even the smallest of houses feels like oodles of space) and having a routine everyday. I've been very lucky with my job, which allows me to have flexible work times, so I can't say I do the proper '9 to 5' because sometimes it's '7:15 to 3:15' or '9:30 till 6' depending on how the day goes, but it's still taken a bit of getting used to.

However, I've got to the point where I've realised that I need to add something extra into the mix because I have been a bit 'travelsick'. In that I feel the exact opposite of homesick. On the one hand, some parts of me love being back in the UK. I feel successful in my job and have created a cosy little home with Ross, and having long sleeps in a bed that doesn't move is a huge bonus! I am definitely happy with how everything has turned out... But I also miss travelling and Victor the van (who is on a summer vacay in Lincolnshire and off the road because we can't afford her yet). I even miss the sleeping on a slope, showering outside in the cold and the mosquito bites! Crazy, right?

I definitely feel like my life is much less exciting now that I have a full-time job and am based in one place. Updating my blog was much easier when we were travelling because I felt like I always had so much to write about. I didn't start this blog as a travelling diary though - it started when I was at university in Nottingham, having a little bit of an identity crisis and having a full-on mental health crisis. I needed a place to share my thoughts and it did really help me at the time.

So I have been wondering if I'm having a second identity crisis and if that's subsequently been causing my writing block. I changed so so much while I was away and became much more confident and competent and, if I'm being honest, a bit of a hippy. Then I came home and had to pick up some parts of me that I'd left behind - the super organised, easily stressed, home-loving parts, which love lists and plans and the sofa. I needed these 'older' traits to survive in a house again and have a start a successful career. While I suppose these traits never really left me, they're now grappling for space with the newer parts of me that I found and grew while travelling. It turns out that confidence does not like sharing with stress, and creature-comforts do not like living next to independence and freedom.

I think it's going to take a while to figure out the perfect synergy for these conflicting parts of my brain, and although the last year has gone quickly, it's not been long enough for me to sort out this lost feeling. I need to work harder to ensure that my life here reflects these new parts of myself that I found in our little home on wheels.

I've been trying to think of ways that I need to change in order to achieve this. I'm thinking: spontaneous adventures to the pub, exploring the meandering alleyways and paths around my village, ambles through the local parks, trips into the town centre to try new things and see new places. I need to harness this wanderlust into something productive here in Cambridge, rather than using it to mope. Missing the old adventures is fine but not at the detriment of making new ones.

One of our lovely friends that we met in Germany, said to us that we all need to work to make sure that we never lose our sense of adventure and wonder, even if we are staying in the same place. Use your travellers' eyes, she said. I'm going to work to get mine back.

Photo: Lilac-breasted African roller, taken in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

It feels a bit scary to be writing again, I have neglected this blog since December and a lot of things have happened in those couple of months.

In November, Ross and I moved to Hertfordshire for my new job as an editor for a dental publishing company. We moved in with Ross' family and, even though moving to a new place was tough, Ross has lots of friends there who made me feel welcome and I didn't feel lonely.

However, in February, I was lucky enough to be offered a position at The Royal Society of Chemistry so we have uprooted ourselves once more and are renting a place in Cambridge. I absolutely love my new job and my colleagues are really friendly, but it's frustrating when you have to start from scratch again to make friendships when you don't know anybody else in the area. I appreciate that these things take time though and I'm confident that we can start putting our roots down and take the opportunity to make lasting friendships in this new city.

It's also just weird to be living in a house again and settling back into society after being semi-nomadic in our van. We thoroughly adapted to roaming free through different countries, being slightly feral and living that minimalist dream, complete with showering outside in the nude and shitting in forests because our portaloo got too stinky in the summer. The reality of vanlife isn't as romantic as they make out on Instagram, but my goodness, I miss it. Acclimatising back into reality has been difficult and strange, so I am especially glad that I have shared all of these experiences with Ross. Feeling not-quite-part of society still can feel quite isolating. We've tried to continue practising many of the lessons we learnt from being in the van - from not owning that many clothes, to being careful with our waste and how we food shop, to keeping that traveller's mindset and seeing everything as a new adventure.

It does feel good to be sharing my thoughts again though. Writing can be so therapeutic but I've suffered from serious writing block recently and so I'm taking baby steps back into it. There was a point where most of my life was recorded on my blog, and I actually really miss that. I'm naturally a very open person and it's nice to have a space that I know is completely my own. My blog is back so please prepare for plenty more adventures, some pearls of wisdom hidden within my crazy rambles, some starkly honest posts about my feelings and maybe even some posts that you find vaguely helpful.

"Ladies first!" - the announcement that comes with so many open doors, sometimes accompanied by a kind smile, sometimes with a snide inflection, sometimes played as a joke. It's amazing how two words and a simple action can have so many connotations, depending on the attitude and intention of the person who said it. Even if done with good intentions, the action makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because I am perfectly capable of opening that door by myself, as an able woman, but most of all it is those two words that make me uncomfortable. They amplify the idea that one gender must care for the other physically and puts emphasis on someone's gender. It's all just a bit weird, isn't it?

Then there's the unspoken expectation that hovers over some tables at restaurants around the country; that the man will pay the bill on a date. I suppose, when women didn't used to work and depended on men to pay, because they were in charge of the money, then it would make sense. However, we now live in 2018, and women working is the norm. So why have we kept such ancient ideas and gender roles? It's also very unfair to always place such a financial burden on the man in this situation. It's hardly right to put the onus to pay on a person just because they identify as a man, instead of splitting it equally or letting the person with the best financial situation pay (which could be anyone).

More and more people are now rightly accepting the gender is a spectrum, so how do these very gendered behaviours also affect people who don't fit in these boxes? It's all awkward and unnecessary, and terribly outdated.

Etiquette is not all bad: eating properly, shaking hands and kissing cheeks are lovely things that encourage mutual respect between people but it's time that we shed the gendered actions which only serve to highlight differences. I think that when most individuals do these things, then they are simply doing what they feel is right or are being nice, without having thought about everything behind it. That's why it's important to deconstruct and question our learned behaviours though, because something that we do without thinking can still be problematic and personally, I want to strive to be the best person I can be.

I still hope for total equality one day, and if little gendered things exist, then they are symptomatic of a larger problem that is still persisting.

Five years of knowing and laughing with my best friend and favourite human in the world; three and a half years of cuddling, sleeping, exploring, loving together; ten months of squishing up inside Victor the Van and now, three months of being engaged! Ross and I's little love story has never been conventional, but we've overcome many obstacles and have only become stronger as a couple.

We've only just finished telling our closest family and friends about our engagement, because they're scattered all around England! Trips to Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and lots of places in between have been necessary to spread our good news! Our engagement began in the beautiful country of Slovenia (which we fell in love with while on our tour of Europe), and we wanted to tell our family, who mean so much to us, in person. Therefore, the first month of our engagement was a secret from everyone back home, apart from a couple of friends who visited us after our engagement (shout-out to James and Tom for keeping our big news!) and a few new friends we made in Europe, who we introduced ourselves to as an engaged couple.

In the spirit of our relationship, where we are very much equal and make big decisions together, our engagement did not include a proposal or a surprise. Instead, prior to our engagement day, we sat and talked about what we wanted from our future. We both knew that we wanted to be together forever (an excellent sign!) and agreed that we did want to get married. As our travels continued, it felt like the right time to take that next step. Although it is exciting, getting engaged hasn't actually changed anything for us - we won't be getting married for a few years (what's the rush?), mostly to let our bank accounts recover from our travels and because our priorities are to establish jobs and find a place to live first! Getting engaged has instead meant that we can properly share our plans to stay together forever with those close to us, which has been lovely.

When we discussed getting married, and therefore engaged, we both heavily implied *cough* that we wanted to be the one to propose. As a proud feminist, I didn't want to partake in the sexist undertones of a traditional wedding proposal, but it didn't quite feel right to take the lead myself. Ross felt the same way, so we decided instead to propose together. We didn't feel any pressure or worries, and we took the leap into our engagement at the same moment, and began planning what we started calling "The Special Day".

We decided that "The Special Day" would be one where we worried less about money (though we still didn't go crazy) whilst having a fun-filled day somewhere beautiful. Numerous travellers we had met already had told us how spectacular the country of Slovenia was, and recommended us going to Triglav National Park, near to the Slovenian capital of Llubljana (pronounced "lub-li-arna"). So that's exactly where we went!

We booked an Air BnB for one night, near to Lake Bled and Triglav National Park. We started the day by visiting the stunning Tolmin Gorge (another tip, but this time from some Slovenian friends), which included a long walk, a little trip into a cave and gorgeous views over the Soca River (pronounced "soch-ar"). We also had a long drive in our Victor the van through the National Park, up the steep little roads, with panoramas and forests, sharp turns and narrow passes! Our evening was spent milling around the cute Air BnB we had found, cooking up a huge feast (though Ross did all of that, I was just his little kitchen assistant) and then we ate our way into the night! After a wonderful day together, we curled up in bed and held each other close. I whispered "Will you be with me forever?" while he asked "Will you marry me?". And with huge grins on our faces, we said yes and we were suddenly engaged!

We very much did it our way, and I couldn't be happier.

I've decided that a nice little round-up of each month will be really good for several reasons. It will allow me to track my own progress, for one thing. I don't have a diary, I have this blog instead and it will be nice to see some of the areas I know that I need to improve on for the future, and then how far I've progressed. I also think that it's really important to be truly transparent. We live in a world where social media and the internet allows people to highlight and edit their lives, and of course I'm the same in many ways. But nobody is perfect, and I'd like to share honestly with you what my failures and struggles have been, especially with my vegan and zero-waste lifestyle (or attempt at one!). I never ever want this blog to become a place for harsh judgement or to have a preachy vibe to it. All of my opinions are my own and what I think is right and the kindest way to be, but I do not look down on or critique other people for how they live. I'm just trying to be the best person that I can be, and if we can inspire each other along the way, then that is great!

It's never healthy to focus on the negatives, so my monthly successes will be celebrated in these posts too! And since the positives always outweight the negatives, I've decided to share just 5 "fails" and then 10 "successes" (it's best to end on a good note!).

November's Flops

1. I purchased new clothes from high street shops for my new job...
Despite my success at finding two new turtlenecks for work at the Worth The Weight Vintage Kilo Sale and desperately scouring a couple of charity shops with no avail, I ended up caving in and buying new clothing pieces and shoes for my new workplace, from Topshop and M&S.

Aim for the future: to stop buying from high street shops, and instead from either local, sustainable, organic or second-hand shops.

2. I became anxious over moving and my new job, and stopped sleeping in the week before...
I think it was a mix of nerves and excitement, but I just didn't sleep very much between being told I got my new job and actually starting it. I got scared that I would miss out on things in Birmingham or forget things that I had to do, so didn't relax enough to rest.

Aim for the future: try to remember that self-care and sleep is more important than silly little tasks and that everything works out.

3. I bought a heck of a lot of vegan food in packaging...
I love pre-made vegan food such as plant milks, protein meat-alternatives like Linda McCartney and Quorn and vegan pizza and tofu etc, but they are so bad for the environment. They've already travelled more than simple vegetables and fruit usually have, because they've been additionally processed and *then* they are put in packaging which is the exact opposite of zero waste. But I bought them anyway because I don't have enough time to cook from scratch all the time and it makes being vegan just that little bit easier.

Aim for the future: one day, I'd love to cut them out or be able to make them myself but I don't think it will be anytime soon because of my current circumstances.

4. I didn't food shop at any independent shops, only at supermarkets...
I've only just moved to my new area in Hertfordshire, and as of yet, I have no idea where my local bakery, fruit and veg shop or farmers market is and it's been really easy and time-saving to buy from the nearby supermarket.

Aim for the future: to cut out supermarket shops one day, and support local, more sustainable businesses.

5. I purchased a new eyeliner in plastic packaging...

I recently ran out of my Kat Von D eye-liner and started looking for a new, better vegan and cruelty free eyeliner. I did browse online a few zero-waste eyeliners or those that came in compostable or refillable packaging, but in the end, gave in and went for an Urban Decay felt-tip-style liner that comes in a stupid plastic pen thing. I've tried other kinds of eye-liner in the past, but I just prefer the felt-tip eyeliners, and I don't want to try lots and end up not using them.

Aim for the future: to test a couple of compostable/refillable eye-liners in the hope I find one I do like.

November's Wins

1. I gave my blog a make-over and I'm really loving the new look. I've also started writing and scheduling lots of new posts for the future, so that there is less pressure to keep up with it while working at my new job!

2. I fully transitioned back to veganism in the latter half of this month, now that myself and Ross are buying our own food shops again. I'm also focusing on eating healthier and I'm starting to figure out what exactly sets off my tummy issues.

3. I managed to secure my wonderful new job really quickly and can now financially look after myself and Ross while we start this new chapter together down South.

4. I replaced my make-up wipes and moisturiser with coconut oil in my beauty regime, but only once I'd completely run out of them.

5. I attended my very first vintage kilo clothing sales event and found two turtlenecks suitable for work there.

6. I have not just survived, but really enjoyed my new job - meeting new people and learning so many new terms and skills.

7. I have walked to and from work every day since starting, via a route through fields and a little woodland, which is a lovely start to the day.

8. Before I left Birmingham, I helped my parents and sister prepare the house, donated and recycled items that they had been hoarding, walked the dogs and did lots of chores to support my parents.

9. I figured out, with Ross, a new routine for ourselves and our hopes/plans for the immediate future.

10. I have successfully moved to Hertfordshire!

I think it's good to reflect on what we've achieved already and things that we want to achieve in the future. If you feel like sharing your fails and/or successes, then please share them with me in the comments below!

To sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, click here.

Despite many of us hearing whispers about the widespread use of cheap palm oil and its effects on the environment for a couple of years now, the public are starting to feel the rumble caused by a new huge campaign. This has been led by Greenpeace and, rather unexpectedly, Iceland.

You've very probably seen their Christmas video about an orangutan that's been left homeless due to the production of palm oil, which was banned from being aired on TV but has gone viral online. Iceland themselves have removed palm oil from all their own-brand foods, which is a huge step forward that other supermarkets and food brands need to follow.

What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is made from the fruits and seeds of African oil palm trees, grown mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil is super cheap to use, and really versatile so tends to be the fat of choice for many food and beauty products. Seriously, just check the ingredients of some of your food at home, and it's likely that at least half of them contain palm oil (if not, then well done!).

Why is palm oil bad for the environment?
The demand for palm oil is so great, that new plantations are springing up constantly in a bid to keep up. African oil palm trees grow best in low-lying, hot and wet climates, which is naturally where rainforests tend to be. These rainforests, which are areas of great biodiversity and homes to many endangered animal species, get torn down to make way for the huge palm oil plantations. In fact, a football-pitch-sized area of rainforest is torn down every 25 seconds on average. This has been devastating for species at risk, such as the Borneo elephants, Sumatran tigers and, of course, orangutans. Orangutan numbers have fallen by 150,000 between 1999 and 2015.

Deforestation can happen either by trees being felled or, more commonly, by fires being purposefully spread. Not only does this quickly kill hundreds of animals living in these forests, but the burning itself releases greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

The deforestation and the new roads built for easy access to the new plantations can also be utilised by poachers and wildlife hunters, who prey on those few alive, terrified and confused animals that are left once the fires burn out. Without the forest to hide and protect them, these animals are at even more risk of being hunted or captured.

Palm oil production is harmful to humans too. There have been reports of many indigenous people who have been driven out of their homes by plantation owners to make room for more palm oil tree crops, as well as multiple human rights violations.

Clearly, the producers of palm oil have a lot to answer for, and it's time that we, as consumers, put a stop to this unnecessary destruction of valuable rainforests and the animals that live there.

What about sustainable palm oil?
You may have heard about sustainable palm oil and the RSPO. When any of the British supermarkets (bar Iceland, of course) have been called out about their use of palm oil, they have all insisted that they haven't done anything wrong because their palm oil is from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is the world's largest palm oil certification scheme and, similar to Fairtrade and its products, it certifies certain palm oils as 'sustainable' if they meet certain criteria. But, deforestation is not considered in the RSPO's criteria, so palm oil could have been grown on a patch of land specifically deforested and still be 'RSPO sustainable'. Its standards also do not ban the destruction of peatlands, which is another way that palm oil growth can damange the environment. For this and other reasons, some environmentalists have accused RSPO of being a greenwash, which is when something claims to be better for the environment than it actually is.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out a study that discovered that 'sustainable' palm oil is only slightly better than normal palm oil in terms of preventing environmental damage (deforestation, peatland destruction, decreases in biodiversity etc). Clearly, more needs to be done to protect nature from people and their palm oil.

But, banning palm oil completely might have terrible consequences because people would seek an alternative cheap vegetable oil to take its place, and the problem would be replaced by a different oil.

So what is the best thing for us to do?
Personally, I've decided to try to cut out foods that contain palm oil. It's tough though, because it really is in everything - chocolate, biscuits, spread, processed vegan alternatives, bread, shampoos. The list goes on and on. If anything, this shows how pervasive the palm oil problem is, and how important it is that we change our ways.

As individuals, we need to think about how much we are driving the demand for products that contain palm oil. So what do these foods have in common? They are heavily processed, they are pretty bad for your health and now we know that they are also bad for the environment. This is why home-cooked meals are the way forward - with fresh simple ingredients, where you add your own oil (if you use it) such as olive oil or sunflower oil. Food is so much tastier when you've made it yourself and you can have that extra feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you haven't contributed to the palm oil crisis.

Since turning vegan, I definitely pay a lot more attention to food labels than I did before, and now I've started adding palm oil to the list of no-nos that I look out for (no more Oreos for me!). Even if it's just a few products that you cut out of your diet, you can really make a difference to the environment.

Of course, the other way to help is to speak about palm oil. You can sign petitions, tweet about it or just mention it to a friend. Conversations lead to action, and they can inspire change both here in the UK and in all the countries desperately trying to keep up with our palm oil craze.

If boycotting Oreos will help to save the world, then its a small price to pay.

Final reminder that if you want to sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, then click here and add your name!

1. https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/faqs-palm-oil-answered/
2. https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil#start
3. http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php
4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/palm-oil-found-can-avoid/
5. https://www.theweek.co.uk/94596/what-foods-and-beauty-products-contain-palm-oil
6. https://theconversation.com/palm-oil-boycott-could-actually-increase-deforestation-sustainable-products-are-the-solution-106733

What is Violife Vegan Cheeze?
Violife original flavour grated is a vegan cheese alternative (or cheeze as some people are now calling such foods)! I spotted this 250 g pack in Morrison's in Cumbria a couple of weeks ago, for £2.50, and just had to try it. I've never been a huge lover of cheese on its own or when it's un-melted (I have never appreciated the texture) but I do like cheese as an added flavour to a dish or in a deliciously melty toastie! The Violife cheeze interested me in particular because it is not made from soya, nor does it contain any preservatives, lactose, dairy (obviously), gluten or nuts and its main ingredient is actually coconut oil, which I'm a huge fan of. It's fortified with vitamin B12, which is always great to hear as a vegan. Violife also claims to melt easily and I put this to test in this toastie challenge!

The company is based in Greece and has veganism at the heart of everything it does, rather than aiming to make products specifically for people with an allergy or intolerance to lactose/dairy. The only downside really is the plastic packaging. The Violife website points out that you are doing your bit for the environment by buying plant-based cheese, but it's a shame that they didn't continue this eco-friendly theme, as the grated cheeze comes in a plastic package. It's always so difficult to find pre-made vegan food that is in sustainable packaging, but I really hope that this changes in the future when companies realise that many people go vegan for environmental reasons, rather than or in addition to animal welfare ones.

How to make a toastie:
I have an ancient toastie maker that I use to make my toasties, so I simply spread my Vitalite sunflower oil vegan spread over one side of two slices of bread. Then I grabbed a couple of handfuls of the Violife original flavour grated cheeze and spread it over one slice, then you pop on any additional fillings (such as some sliced tomatoes or maybe a couple of spoonfuls of beans, like I did in these photos) and smush your concoction into your toastie maker!

Alternatively, you can toast two pieces of bread under the grill, with one slice of bread smothered in the Violife original flavour grated! Add your extra toppings, and then put them together and enjoy!

How does it taste?
I really enjoyed my cheeze and bean toastie lunch, though I must say that I tasted more bean than cheeze! The texture of the original flavour grated Violife was perfect - it melted in the mouth and was creamy and smooth, but the cheesiness was a very mild, so I think that true cheese lovers would be disappointed. Next time, I'm going to see if adding nutritional yeast will give it that extra oopmh!

I'm definitely impressed that they made something so cheese-like from coconut oil, and I will be making these toasties a regular part of my diet, but I'll leave a warning: if you like strong proper cheese, then this is not the product for you. I'm definitely going to have to try the mature cheddar flavour soon, in the hope it will have the taste factor as well as the great texture. Have you already found the perfect vegan cheese substitute? Let me know below so I can check it out!

We came across mention of this ghost town on Atlas Obscura (a brilliant website with a collection of more unusual places to visit on your trips) while we were in Rome and our lovely friend Sam had come to visit us. It was the 28th of August '18 and just a couple of days after the awful break-in of our van Victor (you can check out the post all about that here). We couldn't go too far away from Rome because Sam was flying back home from an airport there, but we just didn't really feel safe in Rome. Instead, we found ourselves exploring the periphery of the great city and though we only had two days on the outskirts, I can't recommend it enough. There are plenty of hidden gems scattered around the countryside, including this hauntingly beautiful place - Galeria Antica.

Clutching my phone, with the Atlas Obscura page open for a guide, I attempted to find this place and guide the three of us there. The area felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, and we had to park the van a fair distance away from Galeria itself, then walk down a busy country road with no paths... Italian drivers are blimin' crazy and it did feel like we took our lives in our hands but we eventually made it to the farm track indicated on the website. Even walking down that dirt track felt like forever, but the further we walked, the more ethereal it felt. We could see signs of life on the farm that the track ran next to, including several very diligent guard dogs who were tirelessly running around and checking that we didn't trespass on their land, but still it felt like we were leaving the real world behind us. We then passed into a little woodland, with wildflowers growing around the track whimsically, and just a little further on, we reached the archway into the old town.

It was so eerie when we actually stepped through that archway. We'd been to an Italian ghost town before (they seem to have a fair few) but that had been abandoned in the 60s and was quite close to a main road... Galeria Antica, however, was completely abandoned in 1809 and I found it mind-boggling to think of the people who once lived there. It didn't feel like going to ancient ruins where it's hard to imagine people actually living, but the town was home to people whose timelines have still never crossed over with mine. I was looking at real people's houses, which had since crumbled and become much greener, and it felt quite surreal.

I'd also learnt from Atlas Obscura the horrifying reason why Galeria Antica was abandoned in the first place: the town was ravaged by plague, later realised to be a form of malaria. The last residents departed in such haste that some of their belongings were left in the town... As well as bodies of those who didn't survive the disease and were not buried. I think this knowledge also gave the place a dark and foreboding atmosphere.

Not that long after we first entered the town, and bearing in mind that we were the only people there, we accidentally lost each other and I felt terrified that something was going to happen to Ross and Sam. Now, I'm 95% sure that this is only because I have a very over-active imagination and obviously nothing happened, but I was very very relieved when I found them again (it was probably a total of five or ten minutes that we were apart, but felt like longer!). I've watched enough Scooby Doo to know that you never split up!

Once together again, I quickly realised that Galeria Antica was absolutely stunning. Nature showed her power here, with trees growing up through walls and ivy carpeting everything with a slow precision. After I got over my initial fear, I began appreciating this fabulous experience. We were alone and exploring this magical place, not yet ruined by tourism and a wonderful monument to the passage of time and fragility of humans. A reminder, as with the other ghost town we visited, that it's never too late for nature to reclaim her land. It's an experience that I will never forget.

While we were traipsing across Europe in our self-converted campervan Victor, we didn't really have any internet. I really wish that I'd written more blog posts on our adventures, but it suddenly hit me that I could still do it, now that I have unlimited wifi access!

I'm going to start recounting some of our adventures from the last six months, as well as sharing things that I'm currently doing. I think it would still be cool to share what we got up to, and it's a good opportunity to record my memories (in case I get old and forget everything!). 

I'm going to denote such adventure posts with (BREXIT TOUR), to separate them from the adventures I'll be recording from the present. To be honest, I'm making these posts more for myself than anyone else, but if you do enjoy them then let me know as it will be much appreciated! 

My first such post has just been published, alongside this one, so please check it out!

What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the fleshy part of the coconut and is especially exciting because it can be used for many different purposes, without adding a single thing to it! Unlike most oils, coconut oil is actually a creamy-white solid at room temperature. It melts very quickly from body heat though, making it easy to spread and apply. Many people use it to cook and bake with, or even as a vegan spread.

If you fancy taking it to the bedroom, it's a natural, nice-smelling-and-tasting lube and massage oil, though I'd recommend getting a separate pot for this purpose! No one wants that cross-contamination in their baking... I mostly use coconut oil in my beauty routine now, and I know of other people who use it as a hair conditioner, as a deodorant, and even apparently as a teeth whitener?! I take some of the claims about the wonders of coconut oil with a pinch of salt, but saying that, I know from experience that coconut oil can definitely be a brilliant vegan, natural and cruelty-free alternative in the kitchen and the bathroom (plus the bedroom, *ahem*). 

How do I use it in my beauty regime?
In my slow but steady quest to eliminate more waste from my way of living, I began to realise that one ridiculous steady-stream of waste was coming from the make-up removal wipes that I had been buying. It was time to change, so I started looking up more natural ways to take all of my make-up off, and coconut oil just kept cropping up in my research. When using as a make-up remover, I simply scoop some up with my finger tips, and apply all over my made-up face, rubbing it in gently. I then take a flannel, dunk it in warm water, then use it to wipe off the make-up-coconut-oil combo from my face. And then repeat once more to ensure that my face is completely clean.

I'd also started running out of moisturiser, and again, coconut oil seemed to be a popular vegan option. So, I figured I could probably kill two birds with one stone (what an awful phrase) and starting using it pretty-much daily on my face. I don't put too much on, as it can look a bit greasy if you over-apply it, but just a small amount goes a long way and has made my skin a lot happier.

Why is it better for the environment? 
Coconut oil alone is not necessarily better for the environment, which is why you have to make sure that you buy sustainable, organic and cold-pressed coconut oil, in order to make a difference. Coconuts, when produced traditionally, are pretty low-impact and eco-friendly, as well as organic. One reason for this is because they don't require pesticides or herbicides, since coconuts are from palm trees which don't require special conditions to grow and can out-compete/live alongside nearby low lying plants. Coconuts also have to be hand picked from the trees, so tractors and other machines are rendered useless.

However, nowadays you can buy coconut oil that isn't organic, because the demand from consumers has massively increased in recent years. Coastal mangroves have been cleared in certain countries, such as Sri Lanka, and replaced with coconut-only crops (monocrops) which reduce the biodiversity of these areas and require fertilisers.

The way that the coconut oil is processed is important too: many coconut oils are produced by transporting coconuts to an industrial plant, where they are cooked down, then shipped somewhere else to make oil, which is then bleached and deodorised, which are intensive processes hazardous to the environment. Alternatively, if the coconut oil that you buy is raw and cold-pressed then you are avoiding that lengthy processing.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the beautiful hot countries that export coconuts, your oil will have travelled a fair way to end up in one of your cupboards. And additionally, who knows where it's been on its journey from the fruit to the oil?! Transportation produces greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change, so buying local is always best for the environment. Coconut oil is still better than any alternatives that I have found so far, but if you have something more local to the UK that I can try then please let me know!

Where is mine from and why?
You can find coconut oil in so many shops now, even in supermarkets! But, if you want to find one that's more eco-friendly, then you should do your research and not buy willy-nilly. I bought my most recent jar from my local Holland and Barratt store, because I didn't want to order anything online and be showered in horrible plastic packaging. The brand that I went for in the end was Vita Coco. Their coconut oil is raw, cold-pressed and organic (perfect for the reasons that I described above) and comes in a glass jar, which I will repurpose once I've used all of the oil up.

Another common issue with coconut oil, is that it can be produced by farmers who are exploited by the companies they work for, being paid very low wages and experiencing a low quality of life. Therefore, I tried to look for either Fair Trade coconut oil or companies with schemes in place for their workers, to improve their communities. Vita Coco has such a scheme, where they invest in projects that help local schools, teach farmers how to improve their crops and therefore their income, and they also utilise all parts of the coconut, by giving the coconut shells back to the farmers to be used as rooves for buildings.

I'm not sure about how quickly I will use up the coconut oil at the moment, so I decided to buy a 200 g jar to start with, and it cost me £5.25. I'll keep you updated but so far, it's doing the trick and costs less than I would have spent on a new moisturiser of the same size and a new pack of face wipes!

Do you have a special use for coconut oil that you would recommend?

1. https://ecocult.com/is-coconut-oil-eco-friendly/
2. https://grist.org/food/are-coconut-products-bad-for-the-environment/
3. https://www.vitacoco.com/vita-coco-project

The Worth The Weight Vintage Kilo Sales events are linked to a company called Vintage Wholesale Company, who are based in Hull, UK. The theory behind such events is that they will more than satisfy your vintage clothing needs, without breaking the bank, because you pay only for the weight of the clothes that you pick! There is a £1.50 entry charge (or £3 for early-bird entry at 11:00 am instead of 12:00 pm) and then it is £15 per kilo of clothing (which is usually around 4 or 5 items). I was invited to the event as a blogger and was given free entry into the event in Birmingham, at St-Martin-in-the-Bull-Ring, for myself and a friend, so decided to check out if it was worth the hype!

I was initially drawn to the sale because vintage clothes shopping is supporting slow fashion, which is much better for the environment than shopping in high street shops that are producing throwaway clothing, clogging up landfill sites. Fast fashion and the production of new clothes is destroying the world we know by draining lakes in the farming of conventional cotton, polluting water sources and, of course, these clothes have often travelled a long way to get to the UK, producing lots of green-houses gases along their route. Ideally, we would shop organic clothing that doesn't shed harmful microfibres and have been produced locally. However, these are often pricey and I for one cannot afford to spend over £100 on one basic top (though hopefully one day in the future the price of organic cotton will come down because it will be the norm). My approach to sustainability and zero waste is to do as much as I can, in small steps, and so putting my money into vintage, reused clothing rather than ones designed for just one season, is my way of doing my bit. Alternatively, if I do buy something from a regular clothing shop, I am now only buying pieces that I know I will wear time and time again, and I'm not letting myself impulse-buy. Thrifting, in vintage or charity shops, is generally much better for the world, especially if you buy them yourself and don't order online (where you risk getting pesky one-use plastic packaging)!

Clutching my bag of goodies inside St-Martin-in-the-Bull-Ring in Birmingham at the event!

I arrived just before 11, and there was a fairly large queue forming. People who had bought tickets online were ushered in very quickly, at 11am on the dot, and I think that those buying on the door had to wait a few minutes extra. Once inside, the sheer amount of clothing there was a bit overwhelming - I had no idea where to start! I quickly spotted the dresses section, and started browsing. Once I saw all the pretty dresses, I instantly forgot my new minimalist mantra, and had a small pile forming in my bag. I made my way over to the skirts next, and found one that I liked the look of - a navy-blue spotty midi skirt, then popped over to the tops and found a pretty cream silk blouse. I headed over to the make-shift changing rooms and tried them all on but sadly they just didn't quite fit or if they did, I decided they weren't perfect enough for me to justify buying them when I'm trying to purchase only staples. I sadly put them back and let other people squeal over them instead... It was so helpful to be able to see if items fitted me after choosing them, but I do wish that there had been a few more changing cubicles as the queues built up at certain times and there were only 5 in total.

After trying my first lot of clothes on, I then spotted the turtleneck section! I already own a black ribbed turtleneck but have been finding myself reaching for it over and over again, and it's been in a constant cycle of washing and wearing! So I realised that having a couple more of them would really add to my winter wardrobe and I can wear them with so many of my other clothes that I already have. I managed to find a cute black, slightly glittery, roll neck that is quite light-weight and so soft, which will go with so many of my skirts and trousers! I also discovered a slightly longer, and very figure-hugging white turtleneck, with black dots on, which I will definitely be wearing to work.

Trying on my new black turtleneck, with the hints of glitter!
I then had a spot of luck in the accessories section and realised that the silk scarves they had would be a perfect way to gift wrap for Christmas! I must admit that I was inspired by Lush, who have been doing this for a while now, and so I picked up four of them just to see how they would be received by my friends and family. Since the silk scarves are so light, they cost me just over a quid for all four of them! In fact, my entire shop of those six items came to £7.80! If I'd bought just one of those turtlenecks from, say, New Look, it would have been about £9.00 so I'm really chuffed with my purchases and proud of myself for not going crazy and sticking to my guns. It was hard because they had so much amazing stock to sift through. They had some truly showstopping dresses but I already have a couple of nice party dresses and sadly don't need anymore, so I resisted the lure!

The four beautiful silk scarves that I rummaged around for will make beautiful zero-waste gift wrap, as well as being so wearable!

There were quite a lot of people there, especially early on. I noticed two large influxes of people: one at 11am and then one at midday when the entry price dropped from £3 to £1.50. There was still plenty of room for everyone despite this though. It was definitely quieter later on, though still lots of stuff to choose from as new stock was bought out regularly. The staff there were so hard working, and were always running around, ensuring that clothing was put on hangers properly and that empty gaps were replenished with new items really quickly. They were also super friendly, smiling and happy to help. I noticed one girl asked a fella working there if he would try on a coat for her, so she could see if it suited her boyfriend, and he stopped what he was doing and even gave her a twirl!

A weighing machine was situated by the changing rooms so that you could see how much everything was going to cost you before you took your haul to the tills, which was very helpful. Luckily, you could also pay by card or cash at the tills, so I didn't have rush around before-hand to make sure I had enough money on me. Unfortunately, they didn't let me return the plastic bag that I collected the clothes in, as they seal it once you've paid to make sure that you don't steal anything. I can understand this because there are so many people running around that the staff couldn't keep an eye on what people were doing, or leaving with, and the guy at the check-out did say that the bags could at least be recycled. My mum is reusing the bag to take items to our local charity shop so at least it's going to good use.

I ended up having a fabulous time at the event, spending about two and a half hours there, and I'm very happy with all my purchases! Thank you to 'Worth The Weight' and I'll definitely be checking out more of the events in the future because you never know what you'll find - no two will be the same!
Trying on my new dotty turtleneck top! 

About this time last year, I decided to get my septum pierced! I'd been thinking about doing it for a while, and I'd had my septum pierced before, a couple of years earlier, but an unfortunate bout of tonsillitis plagued me not long after... One particularly violent sneeze sent the new jewellery in my piercing hurling out into a tissue and I was too snotty to pop it back in!

But I'd missed having that little piece of metal dangling from my nose, and felt pretty happy with myself when I had it re-pierced just before leaving in the van. The first couple of months of van living required a strict routine that involved boiling up a kettle twice a day, in order to clean my nose piercing with salt water. Although it was a bit of a nuisance, I adjusted to cleaning it and, very quickly, the delicate piece of steel became just another part of my face.

When prompted, Ross gave a nod of approval and I was pretty happy with my piercing, but there were a fair few (all older) people who voiced their dislike of my new jewellery. I won't name names, but it was the first time I fully comprehended how much people judge you for having "the wrong type" of piercing. Even when walking the dogs, people seemed more wary to chat to me once I had my septum pierced.

Working at Claire's Accessories for a year (while I was at university) made me into a trained ear piercer and I have carried out at least one hundred piercings. Ear piercings are so normalised in our society now, especially in women, that it's even common-place to pierce children's ears. In the UK, it is legal to pierce a baby's earlobes from four months old. FOUR MONTHS OLD. So once they'd had their baby vaccinations, it's okay to poke holes into your 4 month old. But isn't it interesting how any other piercing is still seen as "alternative" or "taboo", even though the choice is made as an adult?

There is still a prejudice surrounding people who have piercings. I don't really understand it myself and think that piercings are just another beautiful way of expressing yourself, but I'm aware that other people do not feel the same. Whilst travelling, my piercing wasn't a problem - it didn't hurt or itch, it was clean, I liked how it looked and it didn't affect anything in my life. But since job hunting, I've had to start thinking about whether it would make the difference between a rejection or a job offer...

Should I have to think about it? No. But did I have to think about it? Yes. I had a big old ponder and I decided that, despite appreciating that I shouldn't be judged on my appearance or by a tiny bit of jewellery on my face, I might be and I wasn't so in love with my piercing that I was willing to sacrifice job opportunities for it.

When I actually took my septum ring out for my first job interview, I expected it to feel like a bigger thing. I didn't feel sad or angry at myself and I haven't missed it. If I'm being honest, I think I'd started to get bored and it was time for a change. I'm happy with my decision: this is my face post-metal and I'm still content with my looks. Would you have done the same or would you have kept the ring in?

Mental health is no longer a taboo subject, but it can still be tough to know exactly what to do or say to support someone who is struggling. Due to the wonderful work of charities like Mind and the huge public campaign Time To Change, mental health is finally being talked about. More and more people are opening up to loved ones and friends about their mental health issues, whilst less and less people stigmatise them. Thankfully, these problems do not have to be dealt with alone - having the love and understanding of those around us can truly make a difference in an individual's recovery.

The nature of mental health means that there is no magical way to make someone feel better and no perfect way to support someone. I, myself, am no expert, but since having lived with depression and anxiety, and supported many other friends suffering with their mental health, I have learnt some of the dos and don'ts. Sharing is caring, so here is my advice for helping with a friend or family member with mental health problems:

Just Listen
Being able to open up and share those toxic thoughts, scary feelings or horrible experiences can be so difficult, that having someone to sit there and listen to you babble, without fear of judgement or interruption, is such an amazing thing. People with mental health can feel so isolated and terrified of communicating what they are coping with. They don't expect answers or magic cures, they just want to express themselves and you can be a positive part of that.

Don't Make Them Feel Guilty
I can still remember the first time that I admitted to an adult that I was self-harming and having depressive thoughts, and it was horrible. It was never going to be a nice experience, but I wasn't allowed time to explain exactly how I felt or how scared I was, because instead, they panicked. They told me that I could have therapy but it would show on my medical records and I would find it harder to be employed. They cried a lot, and I felt really guilty, like I was a burden. I was fifteen years old and it made me instantly regret sharing my issues and I didn't share with anyone again until years later. I understand that they were coming from a place of love, and that they were just as scared as I was but their initial reaction hindered me from getting help for a long time.

Do Your Research
There are so many different mental health disorders, that you can't just place them in the same box and try to handle them in the same way. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet and there are tons of resources that you can find to help you understand mental health. Mind has an amazing A-Z of mental health that is a great place if you want information!

Know That You Can't Fix Them
Mental health issues are awful and it can be painful to see someone you care about degenerate and worsen in their condition. But, being controlling and forcing people into treatments they don't believe in or are not ready for, does not help. With mental health, a delicate and caring attitude is needed. If your friend is in immediate danger (for example, attempting to commit suicide or self harm), then do call the emergency services and/or take them to a safe place, but being too forceful can often hurt more than help.

Understand How Their Mental Health Affects Them Everyday
Mental health is more than being sad or nervous or having mood swings, it can make everyday tasks and outings feel like huge obstacles. So try to be understanding if your friend can't make it to your big party or if they prefer you to visit them in their home. Although it can be hard, remember that how they act is not personal if it's related to their mental health.

Give Them Time To Heal
Mental health is just as important as physical health, but the former tends to heal much slower than the latter. Improvement is not always linear with mental health, and people can take years, or even decades, to recover or learn to look after their mental health. Continue giving your constant support and try not to get impatient or frustrated. It will mean so much to your loved one.

Look After Yourself
If you are feeling bad yourself, then put yourself first. Self-care is very important, and it's okay to take a step back and explain that you need to work on your own mental health.

If you need more specific advice, then please do check out Mind's extensive information about supporting a friend with a mental health problem. I hope that this little post has helped and I am always sending you, and your friends/family, lots of love and hugs.

Feminism: to achieve and establish political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes. It is 2018 and feminism is still a dirty word. As someone who proudly identifies as a feminist, it baffles me how many of my peers are afraid to use the word to define themselves. Feminism and feminist are both words that have been tainted in the minds of the majority, because of a very successful media campaign against them that has been ongoing for centuries.

I think it's easy for many modern young women to forget how far we have come, only in the last few decades. The change that we have seen in British society has been monumental for women's rights. When your crotchety old neighbour snidely remarks that you have it easy as a woman in today's society compared to how it used to be, then they are right (though they didn't have to put it in such a rude way). We should be grateful for the work that past feminists have done for us. We generally experience less harassment at work; we do have the vote; many more of us are paid more than we would have; more women own land; more women successfully choose to have careers; there are more female politicians; women can now attend schools and universities. After so much has changed for the better because of the resilience of the women, the feminists, who came before us, how can feminism still be such a bad word? The tiny man-hating minority should not tar the names of the millions of women who have fought, and are fighting, for equality between the sexes, around the world. Feminism is not about women being on top but of people of all genders standing side by side on an equal footing.

The fight for equality has won many battles but the war is not over yet. Rape, wage inequality, sexual harassment, equal opportunities for women in work and in the home are just a few examples of where change is still needed to improve the lives of women. These issues are still present in the West today, and it's not acceptable. Even if you are a woman and think that you have it perfect where you live, think instead of the women all over the world who are forced into arranged marriages; banned from education and will never learn to read or write; who are forced into prostitution or slavery; who are forced to bear children for a husband they never loved; who work the same amount of hours, in the same job, as a man but will earn half as much. These women need their voices to be amplified, and they need to know that they have allies in us. We will fight for them and won't let them be forgotten.

Feminism is not burning bras, shunning femininity or hating men. It's not forcing your husband to stay at home while you go out to work, it's not beating up your son and it's not putting down other women for wearing make-up, being a mom or wearing a hijab. It is about giving everybody equal opportunities and choices about their lives, free from oppression and discrimination based on gender.

For feminism to truly no longer be needed, we need to make feminists of everyone: every woman, every man and every person who identifies as gender fluid. Feminism should unite people of every gender, colour, nationality, sexuality, body type. Feminism is not just beneficial to women, it aims to eliminate toxic masculinity, to make it easy for men to become stay at home dads, for people to identify as whatever gender they feel they are, to make families equal and fair. Feminism allows people to be judged by their individuality, not by their gender. I feel very passionately that every person is valuable and free to make their own choices, regardless of what gender they were assigned at birth. It's 2018 and I shouldn't have to identify as a feminist. We should all be feminists.

I'll admit that I have been putting off writing about my joint hypermobility syndrome... I had a difficult time adjusting to the old JHS, and it was a lonely, confusing and painful journey to the happy medium I have with my body, now that I've learnt to cope with it in my own way. I was 12 years old when I first learnt I had the condition. I was having physiotherapy and going through my exercises for my mysterious back problems when the student physio leapt off her chair in excitement (I wish I had those kinds of eureka moments more often!) and announced to my mother and I that I must have hypermobility syndrome. She asked me some more questions and moved my joints around a bit, and then said that I should go to my doctor and let them know because it explained the pain I had been in. So, we did just that, and the doctor looked completely clueless. He didn't know what hypermobility syndrome was, let alone what to do about it, and so he made a note on my medical records and that was that.

Five years later, and the chronic pain had progressed into my wrists occasionally dislocating, exacerbated by stress and the sheer amount of writing required for my exams at school. This finally sparked action and I was sent to a specialist at the local hospital to give me an official diagnosis. However, this experience was also disappointing. When I walked into the room, the orthopedic consultant unashamedly had the Wikipedia page on joint hypermobility syndrome up on his computer, which was not particularly comforting!

The Wikipedia article should have told him that joint hypermobility syndrome is a condition that affects your joints - they overextend, cause chronic pain and dislocate/sprain more easily. One of the ways to tell if someone has joint hypermobility, is to carry out the Beighton test (though apparently, in recent years this has been absorbed into the Brighton test). The Beighton test involves looking at the flexibility of 9 different parts of your body, to see if they bend further than the normal range. For each joint that has this abnormal flexibility, you score 1 point, with 9 points in total. If you have 1-3 out of 9 points, then you likely have minor hypermobility. I scored 8. This, combined with my constant pain and more-and-more regular dislocations, meant that I was finally officially diagnosed.

I'm glad that I finally had my diagnosis, because when I was 18, my hypermobility turned up a notch. My dislocations were more and more frequent, and some days I couldn't even get out of bed because I was in so much pain. After a year and a half, I finally made the connection with my new contraceptive implant and used the research skills and resources from my biochemistry degree to find out if there was a link. And bingo! I found a series of articles describing how the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, increase the hypermobility of joints and how hormonal contraceptives, such as the implant, can cause the condition to worsen. I took myself back to the doctors and insisted that I had my implant removed and it worked absolute wonders. I was back to how it was before, which was manageable and didn't leave me incapable of moving! Since then, I've been fitted with the copper T-coil as a form of contraception instead, as it's still very effective but doesn't use any hormones.

Five years on, and my joint hypermobility syndrome has become an accepted part of my life and is totally manageable. I know my body better than ever, and what it is capable of. I still live with chronic pain, but it doesn't stop me doing what I want to do. I've just adapted to making little changes to my life which allows me to minimise the pain I'm in. Some examples of this are: having to say no to a long hike; being careful in the gym; trying not to over-extend my joints during yoga; trying not to lock my knees while standing; taking breaks if I've been in one position for too long; wearing my wrist splints if I'm writing for hours and being careful about my sleeping positions. Making these little adjustments to my lifestyle means that I rarely dislocate now and I think that most people would not know that I suffer from my condition.

I feel thankful that I've made it to the point where I know my body and it's limitations, but that I can also celebrate all the fabulous things it can do. I can still walk, run, skip, write, read, think, swim, lift, move, cook, clean and dance. Pretty much anything I want, so long as I don't overwork myself. And I'm very aware that it could be a lot worse. I would say that my condition is now a mild one, thanks to the adjustments I've made. People with joint hypermobility syndrome vary so much though, that I think everyone's experience of the condition is different.

But at least the condition comes with its own party tricks! The Beighton test looks pretty amazing to onlookers, and if we're at a party together, I'm quite likely to show you my crazy bendable fingers! Plus, I'm bloody amazing at yoga! Touch the floor from standing? Easy peasy. Bring my leg up to my face? Sure. And I never need help undoing/doing up zips and buttons on the back of a dress! Surely the pain is worth it?!

After ten months of travelling willy-nilly and not really staying anywhere longer than a few days, we ended up on a goat farm in southern Germany for two weeks! It was a fantastic experience that definitely changed both myself and Ross for the better.

A couple of months before, our lovely friend Hannah had introduced us to the website HelpX, which is exactly like Work Away if you've heard of that - where you work in return for food and board. If you want to become a "helper" then you have to become a member of the HelpX website, which costs £20 (or Euros if you prefer) for a single person or a couple. The "hosts" put a listing on HelpX describing what they need help with and their lifestyle. The helpers then contact the hosts if they have any questions or want to organise visiting and helping. The website is pretty old school but we decided to try it out anyway as there were a few very interesting listings on there.

However, there were also some rather strange listings on the site... Such as men who would only take female helpers; people who didn't provide food but instead proffered life counselling; families who were happy to have a complete stranger take care of their child for them... So beware the dodgy sounding ones and tread carefully through the different hosts!

We messaged a couple of places that we really loved the look of in Slovenia, but ended being let down because no one replied to our enquiries. Feeling a little forlorn, we decided to switch the dates for our HelpX experience to the end of our trip, when we would be in Germany instead (hoping that the Germans would be more responsive!). We eventually found the perfect listing - an organic goat farm in Southern Germany with people who spoke, as they put it, "some English" (though this turned out to be a very modest statement) who were happy to feed vegetarians and who appeared to be willing to teach us more about the German culture and language. We sent our last hopeful message and waited to see if we would get a reply this time...

We heard nothing for weeks and weeks, UNTIL the first day of the dates we had requested. By this time, we had carried on driving up through Germany, assuming that our goat farm experience was never going to happen! But we were sent a sincere apology (we should have known that older farmers would be less likely to check their online profiles) and the message ended with a jokey "You can still come and help us out if you don't have anything else lined up!". After reading the message, Ross and I looked at each other questioningly. We could say it was too late and just carry on travelling, but luckily we both agreed to turn the van around and head to the mysterious goat farm!

The two hour drive seemed longer because I was bricking it a little... I had, what I call, "stress belly" and it got worse the closer that we got to our destination! But I needn't have worried: once we had arrived, we were quickly greeted by a very friendly and welcoming middle-aged couple, Jakob and Margret. I was previously a little nervous about speaking German, but not only was their English superb, they were very patient with my limited German and were willing to correct and explain new words to me. This did wonders for me and increased my speaking drastically.

We were also introduced to 25 year old Anna, another local but who spoke fluent English! In fact, I initially thought that she was a fellow Englishwoman and was rather surprised to find out that she was German! These three people would turn out to be great friends, and we were treated as part of the family while we were staying with them.

The farm itself was set up to make organic cheese. They had about 6 types of goat cheese that they made, mostly by combining it with other beautiful organic ingredients, such as honey and herbs. Every part of the process was done on the farm: they grew the crops to feed the goats, milked the goats themselves, pasteurised the milk, made the cheese in their little dairy, then sold the cheese themselves at the local market.

We would work varying amounts each day, depending on how we felt and what Magret and Jakob wanted help with, for example: chores, collecting fruit, milking the goats, decorating the cheese, chopping and stacking wood, mucking out stables, sorting a big box of screws into different sizes and cleaning out what we affectionately called "The Shit Pit" (I think that's all you need to know about that).

My favourite job was definitely milking the goats! It was harder than I'd thought it was going to be, but eventually me and Ross really got the hang of it! Interestingly, just like human women, the goats each had different shaped udders and teats. This meant that milking each one needed slightly different techniques, which I hadn't appreciated before. I also learnt that goats also have such strong characters! They were naughty, they were cuddly, they were stubborn, they were cute!

Apparently goats are not easy to farm though, hence why you don't see many goat farms around. Goats need perfect conditions for them to thrive and they are very fussy about their food! Unlike sheep and cows that will eat grass forever and be happy about it, goats get bored of the same food too many times!

I must say though, that me and Ross did not have that problem. We ate delicious organic goats cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I would never have been bored of it, it was so tasty! The farm also had lots of fruit trees and a vegetable patch that churned out delocious fruit and veg for our dinners.

The family lived very simply, and cared deeply about their impact on the environment. They tried to limit the plastic and electricity they used, and they were very passionate about organic farming and how important remaining static is. As they pointed out to us, everyone wants to be bigger, have more money, expand. But the earth is not infinite, and neither are the materials we have. Instead of growing and expanding, they put their efforts into making what they have better, by trying to use what they already have.

It was such a short amount of time but we left that farm slightly different than when we entered it. We learnt so much from Margret, Jakob and Anna, and we are both truly grateful for everything they taught us and how they looked after us so well while we were there. I could probably write a novella about our time there but I think I'll leave it here. I'm sure that we will go back one day, I already miss those cheeky goats!

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