Friday, 24 February 2017

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week #13

The past seven days have really flown by, but not in a good way. But they have been a really great seven days; nice, slow, easy days. Here's what's made me happy this week.

A white birthday cake decorated in pink with a single candle, with a pink gerber next to it on the left

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week is a weekly link-up hosted by Suzy ofFrom the Fringe, where we share the things we've been grateful for over the last five days.

Ten Days Off

I'm currently on annual leave! For no real reason other than I wanted a break, and had holiday to use. I've still got another few days before I head back to work on Monday (hence why this week going by too quickly is a bad thing!), but it's been so great to relax and not have to do anything for several days in a row. It really has been wonderful. A few lie ins, days spent reading, movie watching... it's been glorious!

Doing a Nice Thing

My brother started a new job this week, back into the field he loves most, which he has his degree in - IT. The company he works for is based in Oxford, though in general he'll be working with a client here in London, but he has to spend his first two weeks at head office. He's been away before, but always with people - with some of our cousins and/or friends - so this was the first time he'd be away for quite a stretch on his own. He was feeling a little down about it, on top of feeling nervous about starting a new job, so I bought him a congrats/well done card to make him smile. It's a small thing, and not really something my brother would be all that bothered about, and it wasn't going to change anything, but it's the thought, you know? So on Sunday, just before he left to travel up to Oxford, I gave him his card, and it did make him smile! "What did you do this for?" He asked with a silly smile on his face, half appreciative, half amused in a "Jo is a silly sod," kind of way. But I know he did like it, and it made him a little happy, which is what I was aiming for. He left knowing his big sister was thinking of him, and that was the point.

A Trip to the Cinema

On Tuesday, Mum and I went to see Hacksaw Ridge, and oh my god, it was so good! So moving! It was a lot more gruesome than I expected, but in a good way - it's all effects, but it showed just how violent and horrific wars are. It was pretty loud, too, which was really effective, as it made out seats vibrate, so it felt like we were actually there. I spent pretty much the whole time watching the battle scenes with my face in my hands, because it was just so relentless and shocking and a waste of life. But Desmond Doss... wow, that man is incredible. How he wanted to play his part in the war, but by trying to save lives, and how he stuck by his convictions of not shooting anything at anyone. And then his mental strength to save so many lives, helped by his faith. Seriously, you need to see this movie. It's not your usual war film, which I don't tend to be a fan of, but more emotional. Desmond Doss is awe-inspiring. It's been on my mind ever since.

A Haircut

I am not one of those people who likes getting their hair cut. Or rather, I used to, until two years ago my hairdresser - my aunt - decided she wasn't going to be cutting hair anymore. My aunt hasn't been a working hairdresser since I was a child, but she would still cut her family's hair. Until two years ago, she was the only person to ever put a pair of scissors to my hair, and so having to go to someone else... I do find it scary. What if they don't understand what I want? What if they cut it wrong? I'm not brilliant at being able to describe what I'd like, but my aunt always understood. Now I worry I'm not going to get it across. But it wasn't so bad this time. "I want it cut to my shoulders with long layers, please." Not too difficult to understand, really. It's pretty clear. And my hair looks so much better! I tend to leave my hair for as long as I can without getting it cut, and so it ends up not looking so great, getting dry and damaged, but now all that has gone, my hair looks healthy and sleek again! And two hairdressers complimented me on my hair colour, which was lovely. I'm really loving my hair!

Witnessing Kindness

While I was at the hairdressers, I saw something wonderful. The elderly lady who was getting her hair cut before me is a regular to the salon, and she stayed a little while after she was done to wait for some shops to reopen after lunch. When my hairdresser had finished conditioning my hair, she said she'd leave it in for two minutes, and during that time, three members of staff went round the back, and came out with a cake with a candle and a bunch of flowers. They came back round the front and presented them to the elderly lady, singing Happy Birthday. It was just so lovely! I couldn't see the woman from where I was seated, but I could hear that she was so happy. It was so lovely that they thought of her on her birthday, and did this nice thing for someone who was, really, just a customer. She stayed for my whole haircut, sitting by the windows with her flowers in a vase, eating some cake they cut for her, and chatting with my hairdresser and me. It was just so beautiful. This woman was already a regular, it wasn't an incentive to draw her back in, it was just kindness. Care and kindness. And it was lovely.

So that's been my week, how has yours been? I've you've written a five things post, let me know and I'll go have a gander!

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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

It's Not How You Look, It's How You Feel (Part 1)

I've been wanting to write about body image for a few of weeks, after having a bit of a break through following months of ups and downs. But I had trouble putting fingers to keys, part of me asking myself who am I to have insecurities when my naturally pretty slim frame is more "acceptable" to society than those of larger figures? To be honest, I've wanted to talk about body image for quite a while, when I had my issues and insecurities, but this is what's stopped me. But I do sometimes have insecurities, and I think most of us do, no matter what our dress size, and I think it's important to talk about that - especially if there are those who are thinking like I did, berating themselves for not being happy when others get more grief from society because of impossible beauty ideals. And after being inspired by Kathy of I am Kathy B's absolutely stunning post, This Body (seriously, go read it), here I am.

A photo of a woman's torso taken from the right, her left hand on her waist

So yes, I have been struggling. In my very first post for The Olive Fox, When It Comes to My Weight, Ignorance Is Bliss, I mention that in the six months leading up to that post, I had put on weight - which is a pretty big deal for me, as putting on weight is so difficult with a fast metabolism, and something I struggled with for a really long time. I talk about how I'd come to accept, and then eventually love my body, and with the weight that I'd put on, I was still tempted to weigh myself, but how I didn't need to. Because I was enough already, the number on the scale didn't matter.

And that wasn't a lie. The number on the scale didn't - and still doesn't - matter. And I have been happy with my body... but there have also been days when I have struggled. The thing with having your body stay pretty much the same for years is you get used to it. Even when I really wanted to put on weight, and was thinking negatively about myself, I was used to the body I had. And as I said, I got to the point where I loved my body. But then it changed. It didn't matter that I had previously wanted it to change for so long, my body no longer looked how I expected.

The change hasn't been drastic, I'm still pretty slim, but parts of my body are different. Instead of my stomach being flat, it's softer and rounder. My thighs continue to surprise me with how much more flesh they seem to have, even after all these months. I have a tiny waist, which has always been a little out of proportion with my hips, causing me no end of problems over the years when trying to buy clothes - but now more weight has been put on my hips, it's even more out of proportion. The curve from waist to hips is really quite pronounced, to the point where I've worried if I looked ill - I didn't worry if I was ill, I know I'm not, but if I looked like I was, because it seems more like my waist has got smaller than my hips have got bigger, though that isn't the case. My cellulite has become more prominent, and I've added a number of stretchmarks to my bum and thighs, ones that are still yet to fade, and at a 90 degree angle to the old ones, so my backside has a criss-cross pattern. I've looked at my body, and I've frowned. This is not the body I knew, had grown used to, had learnt, after a bloody long time, to love. This body was different, and I struggled to continue loving it.

But only on some days. On other days, I would be flooded with what can only be called joy, because look at those thighs, that bum, those hips! No-one would ever call me curvy, but I was curvier. I felt sexier, more womanly, and I would grin at my reflection with a sense of victory. I had done it! Until the feminist in me would raise her head and remind me I only think this because our patriarchal society tells us that women's bodies should be curvy; I liked my body more only because it fit the "ideal" more than it did previously. And then I would feel annoyed for feeling so excited and happy at the curvier me - as if my body was now better than it was before I put the weight on, as if it matters.

For months now, I've bounced back between (bloody long lasting) shock and dismay, to excitement followed by guilt. I've really struggled. But something happened about three weeks ago, and everything changed. I suddenly didn't care whether my body fit an impossible ideal more or not. I wasn't bothered by the little belly, the larger thighs, the cellulite and stretchmarks, the ridiculous (gosh, even now, but really, it is ridiculous) line from waist to hips. I suddenly stopped judging my body one way or the other, stopped looking at it how others might, and just looked at it as me. And you know, I do kind of like it. It's really weird, because the feeling isn't of "Yes! I look hot!" even though that thought has crossed my mind over the past few weeks. It's more warmth I've been feeling; I've looked at my body and felt warm towards it, fondness for it. Like seeing an old friend again. I've found that love again, the love that doesn't care abut lumps and bumps, circumference or softness, curves or lines - love that just is. And I really don't know what it is that changed, I just realised that I was seeing my body differently again, had found that healthy relationship again. And I am so happy to be back there again. To be perfectly honest, I did worry if I'd ever get back to this place, but I have. And I now know I can again, if I ever have a wobble. It will return.

But the other day, I realised there's more work I have to do. Though I may be happy with my body again, there's still a level of body-confidence I've never reached: when it comes to my body being "on show". But that's a whole other discussion, so to be continued...!

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Friday, 17 February 2017

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week #12

Another not so great week this week. Last week was a migraine, this week is a cold. But instead of slowly progressing to feeling pretty awful over a few days, it hit me all at once on Wednesday. Thankfully I felt a lot better yesterday, so I'm hoping that means it's already on it's way out. But still, there have been some cool moments over the last seven days.

Popcorn

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week is a weekly link-up hosted by Suzy of From the Fringe, where we share the things we've been grateful for over the last five days.

A Girlie Weekend

Last weekend, my dad had a trip aborad with work and my brother went to visit our cousin, so it was just Mum and I for a couple of days, and it was great! We had take away, stocked up on sweets and treats and spent our evenings watching movies together. I've mentioned before how close Mum and I are, like friends as well as mother and daughter, and I've loved spending this quality time with her, just the two of us. It was really lovely.

Painting My Nails

It might have started warming up a bit this week, but for the most part, it's still been cloudy and overcast. All that grey, it gets me down. I decided to insert a little bit of colour into my life, and painted my toe nails in a lovely, bright turquoise colour. I can't help but feel a little bit happier every time I see them. I'll be painting my fingernails over this weekend as I'm on annual leave now (yay!), and there's no shelving to damage my manicure!

Buying Some Flowers

Speaking of bringing some colour to my life... Suzy mentioned in one of her posts a few weeks back that she bought herself some daffodils. Inspired by her, I bought some for myself two weeks back, and this week, I bought some tulips! I've always wanted tulips, to see how they look when the buds open, but they've always seemed like a luxury flower to me, how they're so tall and elegant - the kind of flowers you buy someone else, not yourself. But then I remembered a post from Kathy of I am Kathy B, To The Woman Who Wouldn't Buy Herself Flowers, and I decided, sod it, and bought some. They're gorgeous! I love the green, the pink and the white of them. How the petals look like they've been handpainted in watercolours. How proud they seem. I'm so glad I bought them!

Reading An Awesome Book

Yeah, I know, books again. But books are a huge part of my life - I'm a book blogger and a bookseller - and they're one of my passions.

One of my favourite authors, Laini Taylor, has her new book, Strange the Dreamer, coming out in March, and I'm lucky enough to have a proof. I've started reading it, and oh my god! This lady can weave words like no-one else. She completely captures my imagination, and she runs with it. Her books are the kind that make me want to do nothing else but read. Lazlo Strange and his story have put me under thir spell, and I am always so eager and so excited to get back to it. You know that feeling when you have when you recommend a great book to a friend, and feel a little jealous that they get to experience the book for the first time, but you can't do that again? Well, Taylor's books are the kind you absolutely revel in your first reading of. Her books are like a gift. I am loving this book!

Lucozade

It may not be the healthiest drink, but whenever I have a cold, I swear by it. I take cold medication, too, but Lucozade - and the sugar in it, I guess - gives me that extra little boost that helps me get through the day. And on Wednesday, it really was needed. It was a hellish day, and though Lucozade didn't make me feel completely fine, it really did help - because I missed it once it was gone!

So that's been my week! How has your week been? Have you written a Five Things post? I'd love to read it!

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

On Owning Up to Your Mistakes and the Power of Apology


You may remember that last year, I talked about VOYA's review of YA novel Run by Kody Keplinger, and how appalling it was that the review recommended the book for older readers, simply because one of the characters is bisexual. At the end of the post, I suggested that book reviewers of any kind read Perception of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo on Diveristy in YA. I then proceeded to re-read it myself, and when I got to "A Lot to Decode", I realised something. In a review I'd written for This Is Not a Love Story by Keren David the year before, a book which features Jewish characters and Hebrew terminology, I had been offensive. I hadn't realised it at the time due to my privilege, but Lo's post pointed out exactly what I had done wrong. I'm not going to go into what I had done wrong, as you can read about it here.

I was disgusted with myself, ashamed, and full of remorse. I knew I couldn't leave things as they were; at this point, no-one had told me the review was offensive, but that doesn't mean it didn't offend anyone, and I had to change it so it didn't offend anyone in the future. I was in a dilemma. I'd seen all the controversy around VOYA's review, how people were reacting to the review, and how those who worked on VOYA reacted to the criticism. I had made a mistake, and I had to fix it, but I wasn't sure the best way to go about it. I knew I had to edit my review, but just editing my review felt like I was covering up my mistake. I wasn't owning up to my mistake, I wasn't apologising. But how was I to do that without risking offending people further?

In the end, I decided to take a screen cap of my review as it was originally, then I edited my review, and wrote a post to acknowledge my mistake and apologise for being offensive, full of contrition and repentance, with a link to the screencap for transparency. I also linked to my apology and the screencap at the beginning of my edited review; in time, my apology would get hidden after the new post, and if someone hadn't seen my apology, it might still look like I was covering up.

I was really nervous. I had done something awful, and I was expecting people to, understandably, have a go at me for it. What I wasn't expecting was praise. There were a lot of people in the YA book community who simply retweeted my tweet linking to my post, most of which were authors, but there were also people who replied to me to praise me for owning up to my mistake, and to thank me for apologising. It was because of the controversy around VOYA magazine that led me to realising I had written an offensive review, but people were retweeting my post saying that this is what VOYA should have done. A large number of people were hurt by VOYA's review, and this was also around the time when the US election campaigns were taking place, and someone was offending people left, right and centre, but some people tweeted me to say that my apology had given them back their hope that there were still decent people in the world.

I was overwhelmed by the response. I was genuinely thinking people would reprimand me, but I didn't get a single negative response to my post. It was like people were proud of me for being honest about what I did, and genuinely grateful for my apology. I think it's down to the fact that I realised I had made a mistake, and I came out and said so, rather than ignoring it, trying to hide it, or having to being called out on it, and that my apology was genuine.

Saying "I'm sorry" is easy. They're just words. Saying the words doesn't necessarily mean you are actually apologetic. And they can be especially meaningless if you only apologise after being called out on something you've done knowing full well what you've done is wrong. But this has taught me that a genuine apology - especially when you're admitting to your mistakes off your own back - trying to make amends, and promising to try to do better in the future is greatly appreciated. Of course, it would be better if we didn't make mistakes in the first place, but a genuine apology really does go a long way.

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Friday, 10 February 2017

Five (or Rather, Four) Things That Made Me Happy This Week #11

The past seven days have been pretty crap for me. I had a migraine that, in all, lasted eight days - the first and last two days at normal headache levels, but still a long time, in all, to be dealing with pain. It's the longest migraine I think I've ever had, and it's been awful. So the past week hasn't been the best, so my list is going to involve very tiny things.

Snow on a leaf on the ground

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week is a weekly link-up hosted by Suzy of From the Fringe, where we share the things we've been grateful for over the last five days.

Some Fresh Air

When you're ill, no matter what you've got, most of us tend not to go out. The idea of leaving the house, for whatever reason, when you just want to rest, is daunting and pretty annoying. But after a phone call with my doctor, as the medication I was taking wasn't helping my migraine this time round, I had to go to the chemist to pick up my new prescription. And I actually enjoyed feeling the cold breeze on my face for that short amount of time. It was refreshing. It didn't help, but it was nice. That's it. (I told you they were going to be tiny things.)

A Nice Meal

Some time during my migraine, I can't remember when, I had a nice meal. Chicken and chips with chicken gravy. It's probably my second favourite meal, and proper comfort food. The perks of living with your mum, who'll cook for you when you're ill.

Watching the Snow

On Thursday when I was on the way to work, it started snowing. Not the sleety stuff, but not anything that would make a mark on the floor. Tiny specks of snow - blink and you'll miss it. A snow so light, that it would get caught in the breeze and change direction, sometimes even going upwards. It was kind of beautiful watching from my bus window as the snow fell and floated and danced in the air.

New Books

A few more books made their way onto my TBR pile this week. My order of When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore - a magical realism YA novel featuring a trans protagonist or love interest (not sure which yet!) - arrived, which I'm so excited about as I adored her debut novel, The Weight of Feathers! I also now have Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tales by Marina Warner and The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim to help me with the idea for a new feature on my book blog I mentioned two weeks ago, and they look so interesting! And The Universe of Us by Lang Leav is now in my possession which is awesome! Lang Leav writes such incredible poetry, and I loved her previous books Love and Misadventure, and Lullabies (she's also released Memories, which is a collection of poems from both books, plus a few others, which I didn't get as I have the other two). I'm so excited to read her beautiful words again.

You know, I think that's actually it. I've been wracking my brain, but the only other things I can think of are from today, and they'll be included in next week's post. So that's it, just four things this week.

How was your week? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week #10

I have had a pretty good week this week! Really, it's been great! Not everything has been perfect, but I've enjoyed things anyway! Here's what's made my week pretty awesome!

Reading

Five Things That Made Me Happy This Week is a weekly link-up hosted by Suzy of From the Fringe, where we share the things we've been grateful for over the last five days.

An Evening to Myself

Last Friday, my mum and dad went out to the theatre, and my brother went out with his friends. I had the house to myself to do as I pleased, and I got some writing done, and spent the rest of the evening wrapped in a blanket, with tea, biscuits and a book! It was so great! It may not sound like much, but on my days off, there's normally a few TV programmes to catch up on, and Mum has waited to watch them until I was off, so I can't really say I have other things to do. So, it was nice to have a night to do the things I wanted.

Talking Books

I know I've mentioned a few times before how the best part of my job is recommending books to customers who are really engaged, and want to make use of my knowledge. But what's even better? When customer will actually have a conversation with me about books. I stop being a bookseller, and become a reader, talking with another reader about the books we like, and telling each other about books the other may like based on what either of us have previously read - so I get books recommended to me, too! It's amazing! I do really, really love it.

A Productive Day

On Tuesday, I was on fire! Seriously, I wrote four posts for my book blog Once Upon a Bookcase, and it just felt so good to be so motivated and so productive! I'm really loving the direction my book blog is taking at the moment, I really am. Things are changing this year, and I'm finding I'm having more ideas for content, rather than just book reviews (which has been all I've done for quite a long while, sadly.), so I'm really happy I had such a productive writing day!

Trying Something Different

You may remember that one of the things I wanted to do in 2017 was to try more food. Well, I did just that on Wednesday. I dug out a recipe card and tried my hand at Creamy Chicken & Mushroom. And it was really enjoyable to buy the ingredients, and cook a meal from scratch. It tasted disgusting and had the consistency of vomit, but it was fun cooking it! Hahaha!

The Phantom of the Opera poster with the book RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

An Afternoon at the Theatre

One of my Christmas presents last year was tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera, and yesterday was the day! I've wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera for so long, so it was awesome to fianlly see it, and hear some of those iconic songs performed live - and spent the day out with Mum. I enjoyed the musical itself, but it might have been better if I knew the story beforehand, because I was lost throughout most of the Act Two, due to not being able to hear the lyrics. I didn't even know it had ended until everyone else started clapping. Bit awkward. But I had a great day!

So that's my week! How has your week been? Do write your own post, and link it up in Suzy's post!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Importance of Talking About Sexism: How My Mum Is Becoming a Little More Feminist

Women Talking

My mum wouldn't exactly call herself a feminist. It's not a generation thing; she had me when she was quite young, and she's only just approaching middle-age now. It's more that feminism and sexism isn't something that she's thought about, or had conversations about, until fairly recently. She was more like I was before I was introduced to feminism; she believed the misconceptions surrounding feminism, about feminists hating men, and didn't think we were actually doing too badly when it comes to equality. She simply hadn't seen the evidence that shows we are.

But as feminism has become a big part of my life, and I've been learning about inequality and sexism, I would talk to Mum about what I'm learning. We're pretty close, and it's just natural for me to talk to my mum about what I've been thinking about lately, or what I'm reading, and so on. I would bring up topics covered by books like Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole or Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, or things I had read on blogs. She wouldn't always agree with me at first, and I would have to share the evidence and statistics I was discovering, or go into more detail about how something was sexist and damaging. Mum is a fan of Loose Women (I know), and if it's on when I'm home and the panelists are discussing something that touches on sexism, the TV will be paused so we can discuss it, I can share what I know and my opinions. I've become more aware of the sexism around me, so I point it out now when I see it - in TV programmes for example. Again, the TV will be paused while I complain about it to Mum.

Over the last couple of years of having these conversations with my mum, which I had simply to discuss something I was interested in and to rant about inequality, Mum has been taking in what I'm saying, to the point where she is now noticing things she wouldn't have before.

She told me yesterday about an advert she thought, at first, that I would like. One of Match.com's most recent advert's talks about the imperfections of a "Messy  Girl", and how she's not perfect, but that's why her girlfriend loves her. At first, Mum told me, she thought this was great; it's a same sex couple! One of them is a woman of colour! Hurrah for diversity! And she was going to point it out to me as a really good advert whenever it next came on when I was home. But the more she saw it, the more it didn't seem right to her.

The "Messy Girl"'s room was messy anyway, but to highlight how untidy she is, it has her strip off, throwing her clothes around the room. Then enters her girlfriend, who catches one of the items of clothing she's thrown, before the "Messy Girl" helps her take her top off and going in for a pretty passionate kiss - you know where this is going to lead for the couple.

It wasn't just an advert about a same-sex couple, one of whom is a person of colour, Mum was saying. It was about a female same-sex couple, in their underwear, having a snog. Last week I wrote about how a lot of lingerie adverts focus on how women will look to men in their underwear, and I had talked about it with Mum, too. She remembered this, and saw these two ladies in their underwear, kissing, and, she said to me, "It's meant to be titillating to men."

She said how she highly doubted they would have made the same advert with men; men stripping to their underwear and having a passionate kiss. That she didn't think society, as it is now, would accept it - that straight men wouldn't want to see that - and so it's not an advert that would be made. And it made her mad. The advert wasn't about same-sex couples, she told me, it's all about turning men on.

And I had a little moment of wonderful surprise and such pride. Of course, with my conversations with my mum, I would hope she would agree with me, that maybe it would open her eyes a little, but I didn't expect the conversations to change her, to change how she saw things. It didn't even occur to me that this would be a possible outcome of our conversations. My mum being more aware of sexism, my mum pointing it out, my mum wanting to talk about it. It was just so awesome! And I helped that change to come about.

I still don't think my mum would call herself a feminist - at least not yet. But things are changing, and her eyes are open. And it's really shown me just how important it is to talk about feminism and sexism; talking and educating can make all the difference.

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