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The Foot on the Ladder

At the start of this year if someone had said to me that I would have my own house I would never had believed them.

But that’s the crazy thing about life; it can take a turn and lead you down a different path and that’s what is so exciting.

Our house is more than I would have expected for a first time home. Somehow we’ve struck it lucky and have 3 bedrooms, a wonderful garden and enough space to swing a cat in but it has been a product of a number of years of hard work and saving, which is by no means easy.

 

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Our beautiful garden!

We managed to complete on our house within 6 weeks of putting in an offer, which I understand from talking to different people is absolutely crazy!

Getting on the housing ladder is difficult but statistics show that in 2006 just over a third (36%) of all house purchases financed by a mortgage were made by first-time buyers. In 2016, this proportion is estimated to have reached almost half (49%), the highest level since 1996.

So as more and more people strive to own their first home, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about the whole process…

  1. Get your finances into shape. This is so, so, so important as mortgage lenders have tightened their belts since the financial crash of 2007/2008 and you need to be able to present to them the best financial version of yourself. The best place to start is Clear Score which is free to sign up to and helps you identify areas which you may need to review before submitting your mortgage application. For example, you should be on the electoral roll at your current address and this needs to match on your credit report. If your credit score is not too great then I would seriously consider building this up before starting the mortgage process. I helped my partner go from a score in the 200/300 mark to him now having a score higher than mine just by ensuring he was on the electoral roll for our previous address and clearing as much credit card debt as possible. He obviously learnt from the best 😉
  2. Research. Having never bought a house before I had no clue about what happens in the different stages. The Money Advice Service has some amazing guides which explain the whole process clearly.  This one I found particularly helpful as it broke down the different stages.
  3. Mortgage Broker. For first timers I think it is best to use a mortgage broker. They have access to a wide range of products and as they know the market, they can advise whether your end goal is achievable or not dependent on your budget. The whole mortgage process can be stressful, so we found it great to have a mortgage broker to ‘lean on’ when deadlines were tight. One thing I’ve learnt is that personal recommendations are priceless, as our mortgage broker and solicitor were suggested by family members who had used their services before so they were tried and tested.
  4. Prioritise. You need to sit down and work out what is important to you as there are so many factors to consider when buying a house. We initially said we wanted a property in the country after living in a flat in the centre of town. But it’s important to not become narrow-minded and to view a range of properties, as you may totally change your mind. In the end, we own a property that was built in 2010 (we initially said we didn’t want a ‘newish build’) yet it is a new development that has a village feel, with country walks nearby but a 20 minute drive to the nearest town. The perfect balance! We realised that being in our twenties we need good road links for employment and socialising…living out in the country is beautiful but it would soon become a chore having to drive miles to get anywhere.
  5. Extra costs. Getting on the housing ladder is expensive. It does pay to be organised and sit down to work out how much stamp duty you may have to pay on a property (this handy calculator can work it out for you). There’s also solicitor and mortgage broker fees, council tax (I Googled the property address plus ‘council tax’ and managed to find a rough estimation), removal fees (we luckily had our families help us out which saved us quite a bit of money), decoration costs not forgetting the bills that will start arriving sooner or later! It pays to log onto a comparison site like this one to see if you can bring the cost of your energy bills down.

 

2017 for me will always be the year of the house. Hopefully this blog post will encourage you to take the leap, work your butts off and get yourself on the housing ladder!

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The Little Corner of Paradise

Living in a flat with no garden or outside space (although exciting news to follow…) I’ve begun to appreciate how lovely it is to have a garden to come home to. At the moment my garden to come home to is that of my Mum and Dad, who have transformed the space from boring concrete to somewhere to relax and unwind.

I always used to joke to my mum that I’d never be into gardening; I would watch her tend to her plants with enthusiasm and would always think of a hundred and one other leisurely pursuits that I could be partaking in.

And let’s face it, gardening it yet to have it’s cool makeover. Baking has had it with Mary Berry and things like sewing and craft work has had a resurgence. But when I think of gardening I still think of Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force days.

But having basked in my parent’s garden in the recent good weather that the UK has enjoyed I’ve come to realise that gardening can in fact be exciting. I suddenly had a desire to share what they have achieved with the world.

Their garden isn’t large and there’s in fact no grass but with more and more first time buyers unable to afford a property with vast outside space (or no space at all if you’re in a city) I thought it apt to share my favourite selection of what they’ve concocted to create their own little corner of paradise.

Reflections

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Mirrors instantly make a space look larger. Once reserved for inside the home, outdoor mirrors are becoming more popular. My parents picked this one up in a local garden centre and I love the shabby chic style of it, as it really fits in with the rustic Mediterranean feel that the garden oozes.

Cacti are a cheap, exotic addition and require little maintenance as they rarely need watering. I in fact managed to kill my recent cactus plant through, I suspect, over watering so less really is more!

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Lights hung around the edge of the mirror give a pretty finishing touch and allows the mirror to become a great focal point when the sun goes down.

Personality

I love the idea of utilising wall space, especially in a garden where ground space is precious.

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Mum and Dad bought this wall plaque when, you guessed it, we went to New York in 2010. It was such an amazing trip and one we all still talk about today.

Instead of staying in downtown New York we opted to stay in Brooklyn, which is (and was unknown to us at the time) very hipster-ish. So in fact this goes really well with the style of the garden; as it’s not all straight lines, greenery and well tended much like the Brooklyn district.

I think it’s great to inject some personality into a garden as a centre piece wall like this will be a talking point for guests and acts as a way to reminisce about the good times.

 

Height

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This was a recent addition to the garden and if space is tight on the ground why not create a mini floral skyscraper and go upwards?

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An old step ladder can be transformed into the perfect place to put pots and the varying heights gives an extra depth to the garden compared to objects all at one level.

Consume

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To grow food that you can eat most people conjure up the image of an allotment. But growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is relatively easy to do and can be done in the tightest of spaces, even on a balcony.

Mum has chosen a selection of herbs as well as a tomato and cucumber plant. The latter is the cutest to grow as it starts out so small (you wonder how on earth it will grow into something remotely edible) and then suddenly there’s this huge cucumber dangling off the plant, defying gravity.

 

I’d love to hear your own suggestions as to how to create your little slice of Eden. Comments are welcome below!

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The Aching Feet

Bank holidays are not to be wasted. I’ve realised that as I’ve got older. Annual leave at work is precious and an extra day off work needs to be utilised to it’s full potential.

Well, I went that one step further and booked off the Friday. That equals 96 glorious hours to pack full of whatever takes your fancy.

I was that annoying person at work who when someone says on the run up to a long weekend ‘thank God it’s Friday tomorrow’ and I smugly retort ‘it’s my Friday today’.

And off I sauntered arriving home to pack up the cool box and gather the last minute essentials before my partner and I whisked ourselves away on a long weekend. You thought for a minute there perhaps we were on our way to Luton airport. Barcelona? Paris? Brussels? But it was the mention of a coolbox that made you doubt yourself; a coolbox doesn’t quite fulfill the definition of hand luggage…

Yorkshire was the destination of choice. Not exactly hip, not exactly cool but we’d considered somewhere in Europe and that doesn’t always equate to ‘getting away from it all’, which we’d decided was high up on the priority list. After all, we’d been on an All Inclusive break in April and couldn’t wait to no longer see the same faces on that trip (read The Fly & Flop), so in fact we knew we wanted the complete opposite.

My partner’s parents had been to Crossbill Cottage twice before, so it had come highly recommended. After nearly 3 and 1/2 hours in the car (including a bumpy ride down a dirt track with suicidal pheasants wandering fearlessly in front of the car) we arrived at our accommodation for the weekend. As soon as I stepped out the car I knew we had made the right choice: tranquility and escapism with only the sounds of nature basking in the evening air.

Waiting for us in the cottage was a welcome pack of bread, milk, chocolate brownies and fresh eggs laid by the resident hens:

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We nicknamed this dashing cockerel Charles, as he had a rather regal look about him

The next morning after filling up on scrambled eggs and toast we set out on our walk with an end goal firmly in mind: food.  We had been told about the Lordstones Country Park and with a rough idea of the direction we were headed and our trusty OS map (did you know that you can hire these from your local library?) we set out, greeted by rolling countryside and cows and sheep  dotted among the hillside. We even saw a cuckoo, which my partner pointed out is quite a rare find!

About 20 minutes walk from the cottage we stumbled across The Wainstones, magnificient rocks that jut out of the landscape. Of course we couldn’t resist a hike up to the top which provided us with uninterrupted views of the Yorkshire countryside and with it being a beautiful day we could even see as far as Middlesborough and the distant sparkle of the North Sea. Lots of people come to the area to rock climb if that’s your kind of thing!

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After a long, arduous hike over a very large hill we descended (what goes up has to come down, much to the sadness of my tired legs) and continued on our journey, with the lure of a burger firmly planted in our mind.

The Lordstones Cafe is nestled away in the Yorkshire countryside (it even has grass and flowers on its roof to blend in with the natural surroundings) and offers a great place to eat for walkers, bikers, hikers, motorcyclists and friends and family from the local area. Even dogs are welcome in the outdoor seating area.

As both of us are avid burger lovers, we went for ‘The Beltie Burger’, a homemade chargrilled beef burger served with dry cured bacon, Yorkshire cheddar cheese & caramelised onions, served in a brioche bun with fries.

It didn’t disappoint:

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During our stay we also managed to fit in: a drive around other parts of the Yorkshire Moors National Park where we turned off the engine and enjoyed the eerie silence, a day trip to Whitby for customary fish and chips on the beach and a 12 mile walk (round trip) to a local pub (local round there literally means 4 or 5 miles away) for a carvery roast dinner where on the walk back we managed to get lost in a field, had to backtrack and walk down a lane with about 30 sheep ‘baaing’ at us, plus we ended up high on a hillside walking precariously close to the edge, whilst being able to see the cottage but having to walk all the way around the edge, scrambling down the Wainstones before finally reaching the home straight!

It certainly got the blood – and adrenaline – pumping. Plus for all you FitBit lovers out there I managed to walk the most steps I have ever done since records began, a whopping 23,000 steps = result!

So next time you are considering a weekend away spare the Yorkshire Moors a thought. We initially had considered going to the Peak District (as for some reason when I think of walking and nature I think of there) but due to there being nowhere available for our dates we had to re-think and I’m so glad we chose Crossbill Cottage.

There’s so much of the UK that I haven’t explored and I feel guilty that I’ve been to some far flung destinations without even checking out what’s on my doorstep, so I definitely need to change that.

But I think that’s always the way whatever nationality you are. I remember someone telling me that Australians love exploring Europe, which I thought was crazy given how large and expansive their own country is and how long and painful the flight is to get to Europe!

We are so lucky to be able to explore a lot of the UK simply just by jumping in a car/train/bus and we definitely need to make the most of that.

I’d love to hear about your favourite UK escapes in the comment box below.

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Who needs Barcelona?

The Fly & Flop

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All Inclusive holidays. For some the idea of luxury; for others they couldn’t think of anything worse.

Having spent a week in Lanzarote at the Elba Lanzarote Royal Village Resort (which is a great place to stay, I’d recommend it) on an All Inclusive package I can now see why many holidaymakers like to fly and then flop.

That is to fly to a destination on a package break, lie on a sun lounger and do absolutely nothing for a whole week (well, apart from lifting the odd cocktail to your lips, the odd occasional swim and eating your body weight in food).

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Soaking up the sun on our terrace. My dress is from New Look and the sunglasses are from TK Maxx. But I’ve been eyeing up the gorgeous sunglasses at cool Aussie brand Quay for some time now…

I’m not 100% sure whether fly and flop is for me. Firstly you end up seeing the same people for breakfast, for lunch, by the pool, at dinner. And secondly it does get repetitive; you almost get sucked into a bubble in your resort where the outside world is a blur.

Also, you almost lose the sense of exploration and adventure that is felt when visiting a new city or place. That feeling where you wander aimlessly but often stumble across some hidden gems as a result of your lack of direction and purpose.

And there’s no getting lost in a hotel resort when absolutely everything is signposted!

So are you thinking of an All Inclusive holiday?

Well let me help you make a decision by reviewing my top 5 reasons to go and not to go on an All Inclusive break.

For

1. Food! Glorious Food! Prepare to put on weight on an All Inclusive break. I love a good buffet and having been to Las Vegas last year I know a good buffet when I see one. I think an All Inclusive buffet steps, dare I say, up from Vegas because you can have buffet breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Where else can you have pasta among paella and bacon eggs followed by a chocolate brioche?

2. Not having to carry around money. Having been away on a holiday with my partner it can get irritating to always have to work out how much of the bill we each need to pay. Then there’s the dilemma of constantly keeping track of how much of your funds are left. With an All Inclusive break you only have to flash that wristband, make your order and enjoy. Simple.

3. Feeling safe. I’ve travelled to places like Thailand and Brazil before and there is something a bit nerve wracking about flying and navigating your way around a foreign and far-flung country. With an All Inclusive package holiday you are taken care of, from the minute you step off the flight to the minute you board the coach back to the airport.

4. Drinks. ‘If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain’… then truthfully you might need an umbrella because you may catch a chill! But in all seriousness, pina coladas were one of the highlights of my holiday. Being All Inclusive they were of course unlimited and could be, to some extent, ‘free’ if you drunk enough of them (NB: divide cost of holiday by number of pina coladas drunk to see how you score. If the figure is higher than the cost of the holiday per person, then you’ve really done your holiday right. And also may be in A&E awaiting a new liver).

5. Activities. There’s no need to step a foot out of the complex if you don’t want to and an All Inclusive holiday is the chance to try new things. Most large All Inclusive hotels arrange an ‘animation programme’, where they arrange activities like water aerobics, Zumba, archery and football. We rented out the tennis court twice during our stay and had great fun so you don’t have to lounge about all day if it doesn’t suit you.

Against

1. Familiar faces. When you’re living, sunbathing, drinking and eating within the same complex you’re bound to see the same people. Again. And again. We overheard a couple on the plane saying they were going to our resort and we always seemed to be seated near them at dinner. I like to people watch but it’s hard to exercise that hobby when the people don’t change!

2. Screaming kids. If you go to an adults only hotel then this will obviously not be a problem but All Inclusive does attract families because of the ease and convenience. Whilst our hotel did have an adults only pool and restaurant we preferred the choice of food in the main buffet and in order to get this variety you need to endure kids running around and making lots of noise. One poor kid was all alone at the pancake station and I ended up serving her a pancake because she couldn’t use the tongs. I don’t hate kids but I don’t really want to have to be getting involved with babysitting on my holiday!

3. Varying entertainment. Whilst the activities are a plus point (point 5 above), the entertainment in All Inclusive complexes can be cheesy and of a poor quality. If you don’t like tribute acts, circus shows and kids discos and are hoping for something to keep you occupied in the evening, then it may not be for you. I missed wandering around a town looking at the bars and actually being able to make a choice, rather than only having the option of whatever is on that night.

4. Routine. There’s not really any room for spontaneity in an All Inclusive hotel. Dinners are set times and it can sometimes feel a bit regimented. If you like to have a fry up at 1pm in the afternoon because when you’re on holiday you deserve whatever your heart desires, then perhaps stick to that self catering break.

5. Cabin fever. Whilst the hotel resort is likely to be large, you do feel a bit caged in as all of your waking minutes are spent in one area. Some people like to hire a car on holiday but there’s not really point doing this on an All Inclusive break because you’d miss out on the lunch and drinks you’ve paid for.

Do you prefer All Inclusive or Self Catering? Let me know in the comments below!

The Dating Game

The Dating Game

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Dating. I’m sure it never used to be hard in the ‘old days’.

When young, often the image of dating conjured up the scene in the film Grease where each girl is selected by a guy and whisked off their feet for a romantic dance. And no one was left behind.

The reality in the 21st century is a far cry from the portrayal of American High School Sweet Hearts at a 1950’s Prom.

But perhaps we do need to revere the fact that we have so much choice. We no longer have to rely on the talent within your village or town. Not only do we get to select a postcode, we get to select a radius.

Now fast forward to the Bridget Jones’ era. Then fast forward even further to the invention of Tinder and you arrive to the era of modern dating.

Or so you thought…

Tired of Tinder? 

Tinder was created in 2012 so is not even ‘so last year’ but more like ‘so 5 years ago’.

Modern dating moves quickly, so if you are hooked on dating apps but bored of just swiping then look no further…

Hater

Rather than matching on likes, you can now match on hates. Sign up  (only available on iOS at present) by using your Facebook and the premise is simple: you are presented with numerous topics and your job is to decide whether you hate it, love it, like it or dislike it.

The categories are updated daily and the app will start finding matches for you, whilst also giving you a compatibility rating. Like Tinder you still use the swipe left and swipe right function to filter out those you’re interested in and those that are a downright no.

This app seems like a fun, novel way of generating conversation starters. There also seems to be a bit of science behind it all; the creator Brendan Alper read in a study that people who dislike the same things form closer bonds with each other.

Lime

If you like to keep fit then Lime may be the app for you. Lime focuses on matching up people with similar exercise levels and by syncing the app with Google’s Fitness App or Apple’s Health App you can easily see fitness data, such as how many steps that person has done that day. Because, er, that is of greatest importance apparently…

Do not fear, the swiping element has not been lost in this app. Both individuals need to swipe right in order to connect with one another and you can easily see at any given time who is nearby. It even shows you how many steps away that person is. Can that be described as a little stalkerish, perhaps?

Time to throw away that gym membership and get moving?!

Bristlr 

Connecting those with beards to those who want to stroke beards

Dating apps have officially become incredibly niche. Love ’em or hate ’em, beards are here to stay (although if you hate ’em then perhaps the Hater app is the one for you. You can then match with someone who will never crave the desire to grow a beard and you get to live happily ever after, bristle free).

The first question that the  Bristlr site asks you is ‘do you have a beard’. And off you go – this one doesn’t mess about.

Focusing on beards does seem very specific and the fact their website states that the founder created it as a joke does lead you to question how likely it is to find love. But with over half a million connections made, it shouldn’t be laughed at.

Just pray that you don’t connect with this guy:

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The Lazy Chef

First came Jamie Oliver and the Naked Chef. Now let me introduce you to the sensation of the twenty-tens…the Lazy Chef.

No, this is not some gadget you find being sold on a late night shopping channel or some new TV chef personality. The Lazy Chef is all about advocating food and flavour but is somewhat lacking time and the culinary experience needed to achieve this outcome.

In short, The Lazy Chef is you, me or whoever wants to eat well without spending copious amounts of money or minutes slaving away in the kitchen.

The Lazy Chef’s favourite tool is a slow cooker. Slow cookers first achieved popularity in the US in the 1970s and are having somewhat of a resurgence.

My memory of a slow cooker is of my Mum and a winter staple: casserole with maybe a few dumplings to add that much needed stodge.

However, the slow cooker has had a makeover with televison presenter and author Sarah Wilson, among many, creating her I Quit Sugar cook book which is sold in 46 countries across the world.

Whilst I own the book I am yet to try any of the recipes; I’m not really a believer in cutting out whole food groups but some of the recipes caught my eye, so I’ll definitely be giving them a try!

Up until now I’ve only cooked a Thai Green Chicken Curry in my slow cooker. First attempt was a winner but my second and third attempts have not gone well. I’ve come to the conclusion that chicken is not the best meat to cook slowly for hours on end, as if you leave it for 7 or 8 hours it just goes mushy and stringy.

Being a lover of meat I was inspired by the BBQ delights of the restaurant Bodeans for my next shot at slow cooking. If you’ve never been to Bodeans then you really need to give it a try (if you’re veggie, perhaps give it a miss as the menu alone gives any carnivore the meat sweats!)

Deciding what to make…

Pulled pork has been cropping up on menus for a few years now. Pulled pork nachos. Pulled pork burgers. Even pulled pork sausages exist. Who knew such a thing even existed? Should they not be called pulled pork pork sausages?

So last Saturday I gave pulled pork a go in, you guessed it, my slow cooker. I followed this recipe but with one tweak at the end:

Instead of putting the shredded meat back into the slow cooker, I strained the slow cooker juices in a colander (put a bowl under the colander to ensure none of the juices go astray). I then put the shredded meat into the juice that was in the bowl to let them soak. I made this change as I thought that getting the meat out of the slow cooker juices would mean getting the chopped up onion and garlic with it and this was the ‘stuff’ I wanted to leave behind!

The Big Reveal

This was what it all looked like at the start (if like me you panic and think how on earth will this ever look like pulled pork, don’t worry I had the same initial ‘oh my god will this be edible’ moment):

slow cooker at start

Oh what a difference six hours makes:

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This was it once taken out of the slow cooker (if like me you think it looks like a shriveled and diseased lung then don’t panic because it does taste good, believe me):

pork at end

Shredding it was the toughest part (although I left that for my partner to do, I’m sure he enjoyed it as it’s quite a manly task):

shredded pork

I made the coleslaw using this recipe:

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And served it up in a bun with seasoned sweet potato wedges and corn on the cob:

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What a treat!

The Secret Tool

Michelle Obama does it. Anna Wintour does it. Rachel McAdams does it.

No, it’s not some elusive celebrity fad but simply waking up before the majority of the rest of the world does to get your exercise fix.

Whilst it may sound horrific at first, altering your routine to exercise before you go to work means that you are raring to go come 9am, from that boost of endorphins that are released when you are getting your sweat on.

Personally I’m an early bird and not a night owl, so it may not work for everyone but one reason I like to fit in my gym session before the humdrum of 9-5 begins is because it means that come the evening, I can focus on my spare time and the evenings seem a lot longer than if I were to cram everything in post 5.30pm.

Let’s face it, by the time you get home from work it can easily be 6pm. Then preparing and eating dinner can bring you to 7/7.30pm. Oh and then there’s the tidying/washing up and the final slump on the sofa come 8pm. Fitting my work out into the evening? Not always possible unless I want to have zero time to unwind after a day at the office.

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The early bird catches the worm

Rolling out of bed at 6am is not a walk in the park. If you want to try and exercise in the mornings then you need to be organised:

  1. Breakfast prepared the night before. Oats with yoghurt and topped with frozen fruit is my go to breakfast on morning gym days. Just find a small container, fill it with the cheapest oats you can find, top it with some yoghurt and finish it with frozen fruit. Leave it in the fridge overnight and hey presto a healthy breakfast that will give you the energy you need.
  2. Gym clothes laid out on the side with work clothes packed in a bag. Morning gym days are not the time to be whacking out your heavy suit clothing; keep it light and pack items that do not crease easily. Don’t forget to pack your towel (oh and a normal bra. I’ve only had my sports bra with me before and ended up putting my dress on with no bra before dashing home to put one on!)
  3. Be brutal with your make-up bag. You may not be able to take all your make up with you in your gym bag so why not use a morning gym day to go more au natural? Keep it simple with mascara, eyeliner, highlighter, blusher and foundation. And forget your fancy brushes as you can just use your own paintbrush: your fingers.
  4. Most gyms have hairdryers that, whilst they may not be the fanciest, do the job. Wearing your hair in a ponytail or neat bun is the easiest hairstyle post workout. Straighteners are, in my opinion, a bit unnecessary as you’ll have to wait for them to cool down before packing them in your bag but I appreciate that they may be the only tool that can tame unruly tresses!

Usually if I go to the gym in the morning I’ll just do my own thing, mixing in some cardio with a bit of weight training such as with kettlebells. My local gym does a BodyAttack class (www.lesmills.com/workouts/fitness-classes/bodyattack) in the morning on a Tuesday which I also love.

I’m yet to try any outdoor boot camp style classes that I’ve seen around but perhaps I should give them a go to mix it up a bit.

Been to any unique classes or have your own way of working out pre-8am? Comment below!

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