FLORENCE TRAVEL GUIDE

14/05/2018

We decided to go to Florence for our honeymoon as we both love Italy with the culture, history, architecture, art, fashion and of course the amazing food (food is always high up on my priority list haha!) We went to Venice on our first holiday together, so it felt really special to go back to Italy for our honeymoon and we both really enjoy holidays that give you a mixture of a city break with some relaxing time too which Florence was perfect for :)


GETTING THERE


We flew with Ryanair from London Stanstead airport into Pisa and we then got the train into Florence. When we booked our tickets we couldn't find any airlines that flew directly into Florence (and we met another British couple at our hotel who said the same thing!) but getting the train was good fun and it worked out a lot cheaper than hiring a car. 

We bought our train tickets at Pisa airport and the staff were really helpful with explaining where we needed to go. It was about a 5 minute walk to the airport train shuttle service which takes you into Pisa train station and then it's a direct train into Florence :)


We'd had a middle of the night/early morning flight, so of course our first priority when we got to Florence train station was to track down some pizza! This actually ended up being the yummiest pizza we had in Florence, it was from a cafe called 'La Feltrinelli' which you can sit in or take away. I had my slice heated and it was just the perfect pizza; so cheesy and there was lovely seasoning on the tomato sauce too - mmmm!

(If you've seen my vegan rambles on Instagram and you're wondering why I had a pizza with cheese - I had only very recently started eating a vegan diet before we went to Florence so I didn't feel confident enough to try and ask for vegan options whilst we were there. However I did find a couple of amazing vegan meals which I've shared below)


We got a taxi from outside the train station to our hotel, which drove us through central Florence and our taxi driver was really lovely with recommending places for us to visit and giving us advice on navigating the city. Florence was a lot busier than I'd expected (the roads are honestly mental and driving through the town centre in a taxi is a experience like no other, people just walk in the road and the poor old taxi drivers have to have eyes in the backs of their heads!) 


WHERE TO STAY



We stayed in Hotel Ville Sull'Arno and it was just beautiful. The staff are so friendly and helpful and the hotel goes above and beyond to make sure you have the best stay. 

There were so many little details they thought of; like on our second day it rained in the morning so the hotel left a bucket of umbrellas by the front door for guests to borrow (not just any umbrellas either, but those big fancy ones that are used in the movies!) 



The hotel was about a 2 mile walk into central Florence, which we discovered on our first night when we thought we'd just 'pop' in for some dinner - my poor old feet were covered in blisters and the muscles in my legs and hips were screaming at me the next day!!! It was a lovely walk though and we certainly earned our gelato and cannoli for the walk back hehe! 

The hotel offers a free shuttle bus service in the morning and late afternoon and they also have bikes you can borrow, so they have really thought about their location and how to make getting into the town easier for guests (a taxi costs about 15 euros each way)




We mainly chose Hotel Ville Sull'Arno for its spa facilities and my goodness it didn't disappoint! It was just like paradise and we were very lucky as we actually had the whole spa to ourselves for a lot of our stay :) We used the spa every day whilst we were there, mostly to unwind in the evenings but we did also spend the whole Friday there and I had a full body massage which was incredible. The swimming pool was a hydropool so you could turn it into a jacuzzi; I don't think I've ever seen such a beautiful tranquil swimming pool!


The hotel supplied us with a lovely dressing gown and slippers which were perfect to wear in the spa area to make you feel really cosy and relaxed and they also had jugs of fruit infused water which I'd actually never tried before but absolutely loved. We were both in need of a bit of relaxing and unwinding and the whole holiday really made me think about my life and looking after my wellness a bit more. The heated seat was the most amazing thing I've ever known, it heated up whilst you sat on it and I spent several hours sitting there reading with the heat soothing my sore Fibromyalgia muscles :)



We went to Florence in early April and we were really lucky with the weather as it was about 18 degrees the first couple of days (which we thought was the perfect temperature for wandering around and exploring) and then it went up to 25 degrees, which gave us the perfect excuse to have a couple of pool days :) 


The outdoor swimming pool at the hotel was just heaven and we were lucky enough to have it to ourselves for most of the day! The jacuzzi was huge and I think you can tell from this photo how much I loved it hehe. 

If you visit Florence in the spring/summer I really recommend staying in a hotel that has a swimming pool so you can make the most of the lovely weather. Hotel Ville Sull'Arno offers spa days too, so if you wanted to stay in a hotel more central to the town centre you could set aside a day to book in for a spa day.


THE PONTE VECCHIO



The Ponte Vecchio is an arch bridge over the river Arno that's definitely a Florence must see. The views around here are so beautiful and there are lots of shops and street artists too. It was probably the busiest place we visited in Florence so I recommend trying to go fairly early morning or early evening to avoid the crowds and to try and get some good photos (it seemed to be selfie sticks galore and I had great fun trying to explain my hubby what a selfie stick actually is haha!)


THE UFFIZI GALLERY



Visiting the Uffizi was a little more complicated than we'd realised as the queues for the tickets are absolutely insane (you'd be queueing for at least half the day!) We ended up paying a bit extra to do a special tour which meant we had a tour guide who took us to the 'must see' pieces (as the Uffizi is huge!) and we didn't have to queue. I highly recommend doing this as our tour guide was amazing; she really explained the art and  it's history and we both felt like we learnt so much. I think museums can be a bit overwhelming sometimes and when they're really busy it can be difficult to understand what you're looking at, so the tour guide made sure we got the most from the experience. It was one of our favourite things we did in Florence and was definitely worth every penny! The company who run the tours can be found outside the gallery entrance and they were so friendly and helpful :)


BOBOLI GARDENS


We visited Boboli Gardens on our second to last day in Florence and it was my favourite thing we did :) It was just absolutely beautiful and we were lucky that the weather was so glorious the day we went - it's definitely somewhere you need to visit on a warm sunny day to get the most from it. The views are just stunning so make sure you've charged your camera battery; I think I took about 100 photos on this day!!



There was a little china museum too which I love love loved as it was shabby chic/floral heaven!



WHERE TO EAT




We found a lovely little restaurant on our first night but we were really sad as we were the only people in there and every time we walked past it for the rest of the holiday it was empty :( It was probably our favourite meal of the whole holiday but it was tucked out of the way so it seemed like they didn't get many people passing. I had gnocchi in a beautiful tomato sauce with mozzarella and parmesan on top and we also had a basket of beautiful fresh bread. James ordered some garlic mushrooms which he let me try and as someone who doesn't even like mushrooms that much, omg, I ended up eating half the plate of them haha!!


Our favourite dinner spot was in this square which is beside the Uffizi. It reminded me of Bruges and there was always a really lovely atmosphere here with Italian street music playing. There's quite a few restaurants to choose between and lots of gelato cafes too; we ended up having two dinners here, one breakfast, two waffles and two cheeky gelatos hehe.


I was so excited when I found a cafe which sold waffles (it was called 'Caffe Fiorenza Gelateria' and it was just past the square I was talking about above) I'm a huge waffle fan and this was one of the best I've ever had; I actually had someone come up to me whilst I was eating it to ask where it was from as they said it looked so good and could tell how much I was enjoying it haha!


We were so excited when we found 'Mercato Centrale' - it's a giant food market downstairs which we spent ages wandering around and then there are about 10 restaurants and food stands upstairs which you order from and then can sit anywhere in the middle (this was a dream for me and James as I'm vegetarian/vegan and he's a meat eater so we could both choose whatever we wanted and still sit together) We ended up eating here 3 times as we loved it so much :)



This burger was from Veg & Veg which offers both vegan and vegatarian burgers, salads and soups and also a range of fresh juicies. Me and the hubby both had the apple and lime juice and it was honestly the yummiest juice I've ever had! This burger is called 'L'Arzillo' and it was a vegan burger with baked peppers, lettuce, grilled aubergine, oregano and vegan mayo in a lightly toasted wholemeal bun - yum yum yum! 


Of course one of the absolute best things about visiting Italy is the pizza - I managed to have 3 pizzas and 4 lunchtime pizza slices whilst we were there and this was by far my favourite; it's called a Marinara and it was vegan :) Tomato sauce with garlic, oregano and olive oil drizzled on top...it's simple but oh so, so so good! 


Have you visited Florence? I'd love to hear what your favourite part of it was :) Or if you're planning a visit let me know if you visit any of these places hehe.

Love Holly x

Mr & Mrs Hamilton 13.04.17 - Our Wedding Photo Diary

13/04/2018

COMPLETING MY FIRST TAX RETURN

03/01/2018

I submitted my first self employed tax return for Handmade by Holly last week, and after sharing a little celebration snap about it on Instagram (eeee I'm so relieved it's done!!) I asked if anyone would like me to write a blog post about it - which lots of people said yes to. This makes me think that I'm not the only one who finds the idea of a tax return super scary and daunting (hopefully it's not just me?!) 


When I realised I needed to complete one I found it hard to find any 'accessible' information/advice about it, so I really hope this post is helpful (even if just for one person I'll be happy!) I've tried to include as much information as I can, but if there is anything you think I've missed or you want to ask me any questions please do pop me a message (my email is holly--hamilton@hotmail.com) Obviously this is just my personal experience and I only submitted it last week so fingers crossed I've done everything right hehe!


KEY POINTS 



Why did I submit a self employed tax return
People seem to have different opinions on whether you need to do a tax return if your self employed income is below a certain amount. I just want to stress that I don't want to scare any one by sharing this blog post, but all of the advice I've found online (and from people that I've spoken to in 'real' life) is that if you are receiving any form of earnings, whether they're through ebay/etsy/paypal/bank transfer/cash in hand etc, you are legally required to declare this income, no matter how much it is. You are also meant to submit a tax return if your business made a loss, or you only had your business for part of the tax year.
It's also really important if, like me, your business is what you do full time, so that you are actually registered as employed; I honestly don't think I've ever felt worse than when I've been in situations where people have made comments about me not working or living off of my husband for money which is 100% not true (I had to leave my part time job for health reasons last October, you can read more about that and Handmade by Holly in my about me section if you're interested)

Which tax year & deadlines
The tax return I have completed was for the tax year April 2016 - April 2017.
In order to complete a tax return you have to register for 'self assessment' and for this tax year the deadline to register as self employed was 5th October 2017.
I completed my tax return online (which I will definitely do again as it was a fairly easy process) and the deadline for this is 31st January 2018.
If you're wanting to submit a paper tax return the deadline was quite a bit earlier (for this tax year it was 31st October 2017) but I wasn't given the option to do a paper tax return, which I think was because I registered for self assessment fairly late (I registered on 12th September 2017)

Declaring my small business earnings alongside my part time job earnings
For this tax year I was in part time employment until October 2016, so that made my tax return a little more complicated this time. I needed my P45 (which thankfully I had kept in my important documents folder!) as that had all of the information I needed about my part time employment earnings/tax & national insurance.
On my tax return there was a section about my part time job, and a section about my self employed business. When I registered to complete the tax return (self assessment) I had to enter when my business started and whether this was my only income or if I had another job or another business alongside this (I think I've remembered this correctly but it was a while ago I registered!) You have to enter your national insurance number so HMRC already know certain things, for example some details that I wouldn't have known about my university student finance were already entered on my tax return for me.


Step by step of the tax return process


1. Registered for self assessment 
As I mentioned above I did this on 12th September 2017 and I hadn't planned to write this blog post back then so I didn't keep a record of what this process was like. I started by googling something like 'self employed tax returns' and I ended up on this website https://www.gov.uk/log-in-file-self-assessment-tax-return You pretty much just need to follow the steps and I found that google is a girls best friend in this process hehe. You receive an acknowledgement once you have registered (I think this was sent via email but I printed it off as I like to have paper records of important documents).

2. Self Assessment Activation Code 
I was then sent a document in the post (this was dated 20th September 2017 so I didn't have to wait too long for it) with an activation code for completing my tax return online. There was a step by step on the letter of how to do this and it had to be done within 28 days.

3. Unique Taxpayer Reference 
Towards the end of September I also received a letter with my unique taxpayer reference, which is also needed for completing your tax return online. At this point I did get a bit confused as I was able to log into everything online, but it didn't give me the option to access my tax return - this was just because I was trying to do it too soon after setting everything up though and I needed to wait for the next letter:

4. Notice to complete a tax return letter 
I then received a letter (which was dated 28th September 2017, so I really didn't have to wait long; I was just getting myself in a panic!) telling me that I needed to complete my tax return. This letter contained the link for completing my tax return online and it reminded me of the deadlines.

5. Completing the tax return 
If you have all of your figures from your income/expenses already calculated (see below for more information on how I do this) then this really doesn't take too long; I'd say about half an hour.
The tax return is split into different sections so you have the option to fill out just one section at a time, save it and then come back to it at a later date. You can also check back over everything you've filled in and make any necessary changes.
Once you've submitted the tax return you still have the option to make amendments (this is something I was really surprised about; I must have checked, double checked, triple checked it a hundred times as I was so worried about making a mistake!)
I filled mine out by myself (I had terrible nightmares about having to spend hundreds on an accountant to help me, so for all of the people who've told me how worried they are about it please, please don't worry - if I can do it I promise you can do <3) you just follow the form and each section has a little '?' help box which gives you more information. Again google is a girls best friend for anything you don't understand and there are lots of help videos on youtube too.

6. Once you've completed your tax return 
Once I'd filled mine out it gave me the option to both print and save my tax return, which they recommend you do so you have a record of the file.
I asked my husband to check through it for me before I submitted it, as I always think a fresh pair of eyes are better at noticing any mistakes (thankfully he didn't find any!)
Once you submit the return you receive an email as a receipt of successful submission and this also has a reference number for you. It advises you to wait 72 hours and then you can check what tax you need to pay (or in my case I've actually ended up 25p in credit, wahoo haha!) you can see that your tax return has definitely been submitted, you can still amend the return, you're able to view your 'SA302 tax calculation' which basically summarises your income and tax, and you can also view your tax year overview.


Income and Expenses for my business


Keep spreadsheets!! 
I cannot stress how important it is to keep a good record of both your income and expenses for a small business. I did keep a record from when I started Handmade by Holly in May 2016, but I went with the 'old fashioned' way of doing it all in a notebook, and honestly it's caused me so many hours of stress and piles and piles of paperwork over the past couple of months! So if you only take one piece of advice away from this blog post, it's to keep a computer spreadsheet from the moment you start receiving a self employed income (even if it's really low/your expenses are more than your income etc - it's so much better to have it all on file just in case you ever do need it!)

How I keep a record 
The system that I now use is to have an 'income' spreadsheet for each month where I enter each payment I receive (I also like to keep a record of the fees I pay to paypal on here) and I add this into a total at the end of each month.
I have an 'expenses' spreadsheet for each month where I enter each item that counts as an expense (see next point) which I also add into a total at the end of each month.
I then also have a spreadsheet for the tax year where I enter my total income for each month, my total expenses for each month and then I subtract the expenses from the income to work out my profit for each month. 
At the end of the tax year I can then find a figure for my total yearly expenses/income/profit and these figures are all you actually need for your tax return (so this is your most important spreadsheet!)
Recording everything like this means that when you come to submit your tax return it won't take you too much time/stress as you've already calculated all of the figures you need :)

Expenses 
When you fill out your tax return it gives you a '?' help box on expenses where it advises you of what can count as expenses. 
For my expenses I've included things like the cost of posting my items to my customers (this is obviously my biggest expense), my postage supplies (i.e. postage bags, cellophane, tissue paper etc) and then my supplies for making my items (i.e. teddy bear stuffing, fabric, sewing thread etc) 
I have also heard that if you work from home you can include a percentage of some of your bills for expenses, but I don't know much about this as it's not something I worried about doing as my income is quite low.

My laptop and my folders 
I use my laptop for my spreadsheets and I have a lever arch folder for each tax year which contains two polly pockets for each month; one for my income where I print out my Paypal invoices and my monthly income spreadsheet, and the other is for my expenses, where I keep all of my receipts (both from online purchases and shop purchases) and my monthly expenses spreadsheet.

Expenses evidence 
So this is maybe the most important point for me - I don't know if I'm going to sound like a total idiot, but if only I'd known this before submitting my tax return, I could have avoided many hours of stress, worry and sleepless nights!
I always imagined that you would have to send HMRC evidence of both your income and expenses. I couldn't work out how this would work with submitting a tax return online; I had visions of having to upload hundreds of files and scan through all my receipts (I know this probably sounds completely ridiculous given the level of tax returns they must receive!) but I'm a very conscientious person and I always think things have to be done 100% precisely (I couldn't work out why the tax return was rounding up/rounding down my figures until James told me to take a chill pill and they just do it to the nearest pound rather than worrying about pennies haha) 
Obviously it's really important to still keep a record and evidence of all of your income and expenses as HMRC could ask to see them (which is something the tax return also reminds you of) but when you're submitting your return you don't actually have to provide any evidence. 


It's safe to say I needed a bar of chocolate once mine was finished haha, but now that I have a better understanding of how they work I know it won't be anywhere near as stressful when I have to do my 2017/2018 tax return :)


 I really hope this has been helpful <3

Love Holly x

A LITTLE WEDDING UPDATE...I'VE BOUGHT MY DRESS!!!

18/05/2016

Finding a wedding dress has always felt like one of the most daunting parts of a wedding to me. Not to sound like a right old tight arse, but they really are ridiculously priced considering you're only going to wear them for one day of your life and I've just always felt like I wouldn't be able to justify that amount of money as I'd end up thinking 'but we could spend that money on the honeymoon.' I always knew I'd get my dress from the high-street as my budget was really quite low (I'll never forget a conversation I had with a customer at work where we were discussing how expensive weddings are and she commented on how they'd had to find "a real budget option" for her daughters wedding dress and it turned out to have cost £5000!!! I nearly fainted when she said it) Me and James have been engaged for nearly 2 years now, so even though we only booked our wedding a few months ago I've had quite a lot of time to browse around and get an idea of the kind of dress I'd like. I really can't recommend Pinterest and wedding magazines (as you can probably tell from the above picture my favourite is Perfect Wedding) enough; although most of the dresses featured were totally out of my price range, it really helped me to decide what length/style/colour/detail etc I wanted.

To begin with I was quite set on having a knee length, prom style dress and I completely fell in love with one from Phase Eight. I sent a photo of it to my sister and we were both pretty sure it was the one, but after a couple of weeks I kept getting a niggling feeling that it wasn't *quite* right. I'm really pale and the thought of having my legs on show was starting to make me feel a bit nervous as I'd have to decide whether to attempt fake tan and all that jazz, and then I started looking around for some shoes to go with it and I just knew it wasn't going to work for me at all. Being a chronically ill gal, I really don't get on well with high heels and James is only a smidge taller than me so I hated the thought of being taller than him in heels. A prom-style dress means there would be a lot of focus on the shoes, so I just completely went off this idea and I felt a little bit disheartened and lost with what I was going to go for.

I was then browsing at dresses online one day I promise this isn't what I've been doing with 99% of my time since getting engaged #oops and I ended up on a website I hadn't even considered before (I'm going to be a right old tease and not share where I bought it from until after the big day) and the minute I spotted it I just knew. I sent the link to my sister straight away and she really loved it too; I just couldn't stop thinking about it and *may* have ended up revisiting the website every day to swoon at it. We'd planned to go to Westfield in London so that I could try it on in real life along with a few others as I was determined not to pin all my hopes on this one just incase I didn't love it as much in real life or it didn't suit me or whatever. But then I was making my daily visit to the website one evening and I noticed that it had gone out of stock in every size apart from an 8 and I swear my heart literally dropped out of butt; I was devastated. I'd always thought I'd need a size 10 as I tend to be somewhere between the two, but with a little convincing from my sister and one of my friends at work I decided to scurry off to the local store on my lunch break to order the size 8 *just* to try it so I could at least rule it out if it didn't fit, rather than always wondering (it was certainly the most exciting Monday lunch break I've ever had!! *insert monkey covering his mouth emoji*)

After a *slight* drama with finding a tiny mark on it (cue heart falling out of my butt again and me having to seriously control myself not to cry and be a right old drama queen) and me having to hastily reorder it and pay next day delivery to have it arrive today, I have finally got my dream wedding dress, and oh my goodness me, it is perfect and it fits me like a glove; I honestly can't believe my luck :) I swear it's going to kill me not being able to talk about it and I almost give something away about 1794378742980 million times a day because I'm just so in love with it and want to talk about it all the time pinky promise I'm not turning into a bridezilla I've already got an idea of the kind of shoes I'm going to wear with it and I've seen a couple of options that I really love and it was luckily a really amazing price too, so I basically haven't stopped grinning since I tried it on :) :) :) :)


It feels super surreal to think I actually have my wedding dress hanging in my wardrobe now (in a protective garment bag of course so James can't have a snoop hehe!) after many many months of searching and dreaming about what it would be like. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a tiny panic about whether it's definitely the right one, especially considering it's the only wedding dress I've ever actually tried on. But finding the mark on it made me realise even more how much I absolutely love it and that it is 100% the dress for me; I swear to god I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time waiting for the new one to be delivered today!! So my biggest piece of advice to anyone looking for their wedding dress is just go with your gut instinct; you know when it's the one and it doesn't matter where you get it from, whether you try it on in a shop or in the comfort of your own home or how much it is (obviously as long as you're happy with the price and it's within your budget) - when you know, you know.


Love Holly x

OUR WEDDING PLANNING SO FAR...

24/04/2016


If you follow me on Twitter you may have already seen that me and James have finally booked our wedding!! :) We've been engaged for nearly two years now, but to be honest trying to find somewhere that we liked and which wasn't going to cost more than our house deposit has ended up being a lot more difficult than we anticipated. The venue we've gone for is actually one of the first I found online and it's the only one we ended up visiting; we just knew it was the one from the moment we stepped inside and honestly, we just can't get over how perfect it is *swoons*



We're going to be getting married at 3.30pm on Thursday 13th April 2017 in a beautiful, small hotel in the old-town of where we live. It has vintage inspired decoration throughout and the most beautiful garden which we are keeping all of our fingers and toes crossed we will be able to have our ceremony in if the sun decides to put his hat on! The people who run it are absolutely lovely and I have complete confidence that they're going to do everything exactly how we want it, and seriously just look how pretty that fireplace is *insert all of the heart eyed emojis*


Once we got everything officially booked with our venue and registrar it was time for me to pop a very important question to my sister and thankfully she said yes!! I wanted to do something special for her and we'd already planned to have a meal out together to our favourite Simply Italian restaurant which has kind of become 'our' place over the years, so it gave me the perfect opportunity to give her this little Maid of Honour goodie bag which I'd put together :) I've also been spending quite a lot of time on Pinterest looking for wedding inspiration (it would basically be illegal not to be doing this as a bride to be, right?!) and I've come to the realisation that I'm going to need a little more hair to work with for my wedding 'do' than my graduated bob, so operation 'grow my hair down to my shoulders' has begun! I've heard so many good things about the Lee Stafford 'For Hair That Never Grows Past A Certain Length' Treatment, and I managed to get it on offer 3 for £15 in Boots. I've only been using it for a week but I've noticed a bit of a difference already :)




My lovely sister then surprised me the following weekend with this beautiful wedding planning diary and I absolutely love how she chose a vintage inspired one to match our wedding venue; isn't it just beautiful?! I was finding myself having wedding notes literally here, there and everywhere, so it's been a bit of a life saviour having this to keep everything in one place and I'm very OCD about filling it all in perfectly so that we can keep it as a keepsake as it's so special to me :) The sections are really helpful at giving you a kind of guide of everything you need to organise too and I've been trying very hard not to panic at how much I still have to sort out! #oops

I've been thinking of doing a 'things we've learnt from wedding planning so far' type blog post so let me know if you'd like to see that :) The countdown is officially on, eeee!!!

Love Holly x

5 REASONS WHY THE OC IS THE BEST TV SERIES EVER...

01/04/2016

I will happily put my hands up and admit that I'm well and truly obsessed with The OC. 

I've probably been watching it at least once a year since I was about thirteen and I still love it just as much as I did the first time. The beautiful California setting, the amazing music, the storylines which still never fail to give me goose bumps, complete fan-girling over the gorgeous Marissa Cooper and Summer Roberts, and not to mention the seriously cool diner which always gives me the biggest pancake/milkshake/burger cravings...it just never gets old. 

It feels like I've grown up with it and whilst I could happily talk about it all day (this post has taken a lot of editing as there's just so much I wanted to rave about hehe!) I wanted to write a post about my top 5 reasons why it's the absolute best programme ever. If you've seen it before I'm sure you'll understand my obsession, and if you haven't, well then I'm afraid we can't be chums anymore (LOL only joking <3) 



1. The Music 
Before watching The OC I was very much a mainstream, 'whatever's popular in the charts' kind of gal, but the indie-type music in The OC introduced me to a whole new genre of music which has actually ended up shaping my music taste, to the point where me and my fiance have been considering using one of our favourite songs from The OC as part of our wedding music :) They just get the music so completely spot on to reflect the vibe of the show and I honestly don't think some of the scenes would have the same impact without the songs playing in the background. One of my favourites is when 'Hallelujah' (Jeff Buckley) is playing in the final episode of season one; it gives me the biggest goosebumps ever and always brings tears to my eyes before the really emotional bits have even started!! I also love how 'Into Dust' (Mazzy Star) is used as the background song throughout the series' whenever Ryan rescues Marissa - it's one of those songs which is sad but pretty all at the same time and has become a firm favourite on my ipod thanks to The OC. Some of my other favourites include 'Forever Young' (The Youth Group), Paint The Silence (South) and Dice (Finley Quaye) - whenever I listen to these songs I'm instantly taken back to the summer holidays of when I was a teenager as that's when I'd usually end up having a OC marathon :)


2. Seth and Ryan's 'Bromance' 
Seth is without a doubt one of the best things about The OC; Adam Brody is just absolutely hilarious and not to mention a right old cutie too. I absolutely love how Ryan enables Seth to be who he wants to be (including helping him and Summer to get together!) and from the moment Ryan rescues Seth from getting beaten up by Luke and the water-polo team in the first episode, you just know they're going to have a proper bromance ("Welcome to The OC bitch!") They both kind of rescue each other in different ways ("I don't know what to say except you totally had my back out there. I really think if you were to teach me some moves we could totally take them next time, with a little bit of that, a little bit of that and that") and as Seth describes at the end of season one "before Ryan showed up this place was hell for me. I just can't imagine it without him." I also love how Seth manages to bring Ryan's humorous side out ("maybe you have the 'summer' flu and you should take some 'anna'-biotics") and he enables Ryan to experience life as a 'normal' teenager where they get to play the playstation and spend time with their girlfriends - it makes my heart swell a little bit :)




3. Sandy Cohen 
I've been thinking all day about how to describe why I love Sandy so much, and the word I keep coming back to is 'humble'. Everything about his character is just inspiring and every time I watch The OC I say to myself 'when I grow up I want to be a female version of Sandy Cohen' let's just excuse the fact that I'm actually an adult already ok?! From the very first episode when Sandy decides to help Ryan and tells him "you gotta have a plan, some kind of dream" you just fall in love with him and then watching him help Ryan do his tie basically just makes your ovaries explode! A couple of my favourite Sandy quotes are when he tells Kirsten "I thought I could help him, make a difference. I was this kid...if someone hadn't helped me I wouldn't be here" and then when he tells Seth "We love you, and the door is always open" SWOON! He's also pretty hilarious and one of my favourite scenes ever is when Kirsten is saying she's worried they're stuck in a rut so Sandy decides to defy the satnav lady: "we do need to take more chances. GPS lady says turn left, I'm going right. We're living on the edge hunny!" Also those eyebrows - nuff said right?! They always make me think of the Mean Girls quote "That's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets" *insert monkey covering his mouth emoji here*


4. Marissa Dying 
Oh god, I can feel myself welling up just thinking about this and I swear it never gets any easier to watch despite the amount of times I've already seen it! (I actually went through a phase of skipping this episode out all together because I just couldn't cope with it LOL) It honestly breaks my heart every single time I watch it; the way the episode unfolds and the fact the producers went there with the storyline is, for me, the cherry on top of the cake of what sets this apart from any other programme. Being able to see how everyone deals with their grief in season four and the effect that one character dying has on a whole group of people is just insane and I can't think of a single other programme that's ever had that kind of impact. I kind of love how they suggest in season four that Ryan actually gave Marissa three more years of her life as she would have died from the overdose in TJ if it wasn't for him; I know people have mixed opinions about season four because Marissa was such a central character, but I actually think it's awesome how they do it.


5. The Season Finales 
They honestly get each season finale so spot on and as I mentioned above, even though I've seen them all loads of times before they still affect me just as much now as the first time I ever saw them! I can remember being hysterical at the end of season one the first time I watched it and my mum came in my room wondering what the hell had happened to me hahahaha! The bit that gets me every time in the season one finale is when Ryan and Marissa are dancing at the wedding and then the very end scene with Seth on his boat in the middle of the ocean (thank god I watched them all on DVD as I don't think I would have coped having to wait for season two to come out!!) Marissa shooting Trey in the season two finale and the look on his face before he falls to the floor is probably one of the best, but most shocking moments in the whole programme (I'm covered in goosebumps just thinking about it now and I know I'm a complete a saddo because it isn't actually real, but, oh god!) In the season three finale it's the way that you think everything's working out for them and then bam! I sometimes get irrationally angry with the producers that they could have just let Marissa go off and work on the ship and written her out that way, but then I reason with myself that it wouldn't be the most amazing programme ever if that had happened would it!! I think the end of the final season rounds everything off really well as I love that Seth and Summer get married (even though she had to go off and 'find herself') and we get to see Ryan's success which is obviously all thanks to the kindness of Sandy Cohen, which then inspires Ryan to end the series with the famous words "Hey kid, need some help?" #BESTPROGRAMMEEVER!!!!

Have you seen The OC? Please let me know if you share my love for it and what your favourite moments are :)

Love Holly x

YOGA AS A BEGINNER: MY JOURNEY SO FAR

03/06/2015

I've been doing Yoga for almost two months now and if you follow me on Twitter you've probably realised that I've become pretty obsessed with it. It's had such a positive impact on both my mentality and pain levels already and for someone who's always hated exercise I've been pretty astonished to find myself really wanting to do it every day. I was always a bit cautious about doing Yoga as a Fibromyalgia and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome sufferer as the various medical professionals I've seen over the years have had conflicting advice on whether it would be beneficial for me or not, but I've found a way of making it work for me so I thought I'd share my experience so far incase anyone else has been thinking of giving it a try...

I'll start with the 30 day Yoga With Adriene challenge which I've seen lots of bloggers and youtubers rave about. I decided to give this a try at the beginning of May as Adriene is very motivational and I thought it would help me to get into doing Yoga every single day which was one of my goals for May. Now I really do love Adriene; her youtube channel is an amazing way of doing Yoga at home and she's such a positive and inspiring person. I managed to do up to day 7 and I really was loving it but oh my goodness it was hard work and I went into a pretty horrendous Fibromyalgia flare so I had to take a few days off as I'm always very cautious of doing more harm than good, and unfortunately I think that was definitely what was starting to happen so I decided not to continue with the challenge. Adriene's videos are very active and like a proper workout which leaves you feeling very challenged, pushed to your complete limit and incredibly sweaty (I'm sexy and I know it!), so I wouldn't really recommend this for any fellow chronic illness sufferers.

The Yoga For Beginners DVD is a completely different story though and I cannot recommend this enough for anyone who is looking to improve their core strength and flexibility and wants their Yoga sessions to be focused on relaxing and stretching rather than a really active workout. This was only £10.99 on Amazon and it has both a beginner and more advanced section so is the sort of DVD you'll be able to get a lot of use from throughout your Yoga journey. The woman who guides you through each session has a very soothing and peaceful voice and I love how it's set on the beach with the waves in the background so you kind of feel like you're there with her. The routines are all very easy to follow and the beauty of doing it at home is you can go at your own pace and decide how far you want to push yourself which is perfect if you're a little nervous about starting Yoga like I was. I'm completely hopeless at doing Side Plank Pose as it hurts my wrists too much so I always skip that as it just doesn't benefit me and I don't have to feel guilty for not doing it as there's no one there to tell me off!! The longest session on the beginner section is 30 minutes so they're all very manageable and can be easily fit into your day and another plus of doing it at home is if you need to take a breather for a few minutes you easily can :)

My favourite routine is 'Seated Hip Openers' as I have very tight painful muscles in my legs and hips so although this one is the hardest work and my legs were like the jelly the first time I did it, I can feel so much benefit every time I do it as my legs always feel thoroughly stretched afterwards and have been slightly less painful recently. I also really like the 'Strength and Balance' routine which is 20 minutes long and the 'Backbends' routine which is 10 minutes long and I usually do these together in the morning; I've noticed a huge improvement in what I've been able to do on each routine and my shoulders are more level now than they used to be (one always used to sit a lot higher than the other) plus my neck and back muscles have been feeling a little looser. 'Gentle Unwind of the Day' is 30 minutes long and is really fantastic to do in the evening after work as it really calms and relaxes me whilst giving me a good stretch. I've noticed an improvement in my sleeping since I've started doing this one too as I'm able to get more comfortable in my bed and my mind is more relaxed so I'm not laying there worrying about things which feels like a pretty huge achievement for someone who suffered horrendously with painsomnia virtually every night for two years.

From my experience so far I've found that Yoga really needs to be done every day to get the most benefit from it, but this is easier said than done sometimes, particularly when I'm battling severe exhaustion and pain levels. I've had a few times this month when I've had to take several days off from it to rest, so I'm hoping to manage to do it more regularly in June but I'm trying not to pressure myself too much as any little amount of Yoga is better than none. Now I'm not saying that yoga is a magic cure for Fibromyalgia because it isn't and I still have a huge amount of pain and stiffness a lot of the time, but it feels like a little step in the right direction and has allowed me to do exercise for the first time in about four years which Doctors had made me believe would never be possible again, so I'm feeling the most positive that I have since my diagnosis four and a half years ago which is a pretty wonderful feeling :)


Love Holly x

Lifey Times: Getting Engaged!

31/07/2014

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram then you may have already seen that I've had a rather exciting month as me and James are now officially engaged!! We've known for quite a while that we wanted to get married and we decided on new years eve that 2014 would be the year we'd get engaged. We had a week off work together at the start of the month so we had a special day out in Bluewater where we chose my ring together and had a posh Italian meal :) It was such a lovely day and we are both over the moon with my ring; it was the first one I tried on and was the only one the store had in stock so was a bit of omen that it was in my size. I wanted something delicate and classic and I absolutely love how the diamond stands up from the band :D


Everyone has been so happy and excited for us and I've felt completely on cloud nine; I haven't stopped smiling :) We've had so many beautiful cards from my family and the lovely ladies I work with which has really meant a lot to me and I don't think I'm ever going to want to take them down! I've had them out on the top of our radiator next to our dining room table so they have prime focus in our living room and I can enjoy looking at them all the time :) They're all so special and will be going into my little keep safe box.


My lovely assistant manager bought me my first bridal magazine which has got me incredibly excited and I had great fun looking through it and getting lots of ideas :) We're not planning to get married for a few years as we have a lot of saving to do and we want to just enjoy being engaged for a while, but I do have quite a few ideas in mind already for the kind of wedding I want to have and I've started having a look on pinterest and instagram for lots of inspiration. It's such a special occasion and I want to spend a long time planning it to make it as least stressful as possible :)

Love Holly x