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Instagram and THE update – what I’m doing about it.

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this Instagram algorithm debate as although it’s not something I am excited about - I'm pretty happy controlling what I see myself thank you very much, I thought we had it covered with the ‘no-one actually knows what it’ll mean, so lets wait and see what actually happens and deal with it then’ point of view people seemed to have settled into.
But yesterday happened and my feed was taken over with ‘Turn on Notifications’ posts.
I’ll confess, I came close to posting one myself, and then I thought ‘am I turning on any notifications? Am I bollocks’. I don’t want my phone to flash every time someone I follow posts a picture. I have a few insta accounts on my phone and the one for the dogs follows more than a thousand other puppies*. We interact with lots of them regularly – too many to turn on notifications for. No way do I want to know every time they post. My phone might explode. Or I might have a flashing phone melt down. It’s just not going to help me.
And I’m not really that interested in you having a notification induced breakdown over every picture I post of my breakfast either, or every time the puppy does something cute, so I deleted the ‘turn on notifications’ image from my phone, even though it was super pretty, and had gold flecks and a beautiful font!  I am so selfless!
Because as far as we know, turning on notifications won’t mean that when ‘the change’ comes those are the posts that will be favoured, it just means your phone will beep more. But following the Facebook algorithm changes, what we can expect is it’ll be the people you interact with that will be weighted in your algorithm posts. So as far as I can see it, there are two things we should be doing in the run up to ‘the change’;
  1. Start interacting with accounts you like! This way Instagram will know you like them. Start liking. Start commenting. Tag them in other posts. Engage with the people you want to see more from.
  2. Post better stuff! If you are worried about your engagement (and really, who isn’t!) start posting images and captions that mean your followers will interact with you. Pick your best pictures, not the ones that will 'just do'. Write something to make people comment. Encourage engagement.
This is what I am planning to do. And then, if the changes come, and I need to take further action, I’ll address it when we know what we’re up against. But in the mean time I am going to try and make Instagrams algorithm skew in my favourite when it does arrive.

What are your feelings about the update and what are you doing to combat it?   
If you're not following me - you can get on it here too -

*FYI, if you have a dog, dog Instagram is such a friendly place to be. Get on it!

Recent Reads: The Emily St. John Mandel edition

I'd planned for my recent reads to be a regular feature and then I realized I've left it too long, and read far too many books in the time since the last update and I can't include them all in one post, so if I can stop being so disorganised, you'll have a few book posts coming your way soon.

But first up, I am going to tackle this collection all at once because, it just sort of make sense to do them all together I think as they are all by the same author, Emily St John Mandel. 

Station Eleven - I downloaded Station Eleven after reading a tweet saying it was amazing (I forget who the tweet was from, sorry, but thank you if it was you) and I was in a moment without a book on the go. From the start I fell in love with the writing style and was lucky enough to be faced with a snowy Sunday of no plans in which to read it.
The story is set in a post apocalyptic world where the majority of people have been wiped out by 'Georgian Flu', and flashes back the days before the start of the flu (our time I guess). The 'in our day story' focus' on the life of a famous actor, Arthur Leander, who dies on stage the night before the flu strikes. The Flash forwards to the post flu world focus on the people who had known him whilst he was alive, with the majority of the story focusing on Kristin, a young woman in a travelling theatre, who had been a child on the stage when Arthur died. We follow the travelling theatre as they make their way through a world full of pockets of people all trying to survive in a world without fuel or electricity, televisions, internet or phones. The thing I thought was interesting, as someone who watches TWD weekly, is the fact that there are no zombies, or threats beyond the other people in the world. And the fact it almost felt like it could be possible. Like maybe, one day, this could all happen.
As I mentioned, I loved the book, I loved the idea, the style of writing, and the cover tb so when it came to holiday reading and finding books that related to the places we were visiting, I knew I had to download another of her books.

Last Night in Montreal - This book is so very different to Station Eleven, but I found it just as gripping and easy to read. Its more of a mystery book. I read it on the train journey to Montreal from Toronto, and I was so disappointed when it finished. I wanted the story to carry on. I wanted to keep reading in this world.

The story focuses on Lilia who has been travelling since she was 'abducted' by her father as a child, her boyfriend Eli, whom she has just left without any explanation as to why, a private detective Christopher who has spent his life looking for Lilia, and Christopher's daughter Michaela who has been influenced by Lilia's going missing since her childhood.
The story follows Eli, who has followed Lilia to Montreal to find out why she left so abruptly, but as it does we also see what happened in Leila's life to have meant her and her father were on the road so much, and how Christopher and his daughter lives have been changed due to their involvement, and obsession with Lilia.

I guess as I'd got two of the books, Amazon offered me a deal to buy the other two in the series in a package, and I figured as I still had 10 days of holiday left, I'd go for it! 

The Singers Gun

I think was my least favourite of the four books, I'm just not sure I identified with any of the characters, but it didn't put me off reading to the end. 
The story follows Anton, who has crafted himself a careful 'normal' existence to distance himself from the life he grew up in - one full of dodgy deals and crime with his parents and his cousin Aria. Unfortunately, between his cousin wanting him to help with one last 'deal' in Italy, his career falling apart around him after a routine security check, and an investigator looking into his past Anton's life isn't going as he had planned.  
The Lola Quartet follows the life of Gavin, a reporter in New York who's life starts to fall apart after seeing a photo of a little girl who looks identical to his sister as a child, and shares the surname of his high school girlfriend. As his life unravels, it forces him to face some home truths from his youth and reunites him with his school band, The Lola Quartet who are all inexplicably involved in Anna's disappearance in one way or another. 
I really enjoyed the twists in the book - if they were a little predictable at time, but it was easy to read and kept me interested until the end. Although saying that, the end did disappoint me a little bit, but if you read it, you'll have to let me know what you think.....
Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them? Or are they on your reading list? And, now, after reading all the books I had left on my Kindle, I am out of reading material so give me your suggestions on what I should be reading next....... 

Custom Converse - Designer shoes with a red sole my way!

We didn't spend loads of time on holiday shopping because that's not why we went, but we did have a few must buy items. Jim wanted NHL tshirts, hot sauce and maple syrup from our destinations. I wanted shoes and makeup. I did my makeup shopping whilst Jim was watching football. He did some of his shopping whilst I was designing shoes!
One of the things I was excited about was a trip to the Converse HQ. They recently moved their global head quarters to Boston and opened a shop under the offices. If we'd visited on a weekday I'd have stormed those offices and found out who the hell thought it was a good idea to change the Ox Lite fit and given them a stern talking to or something equally scary. Then demand a job. But as it was a Saturday that saw us passing by the shop, I was left to just get myself some custom shoes and ask a lovely shop assistant what had gone on with my favourite pumps (apparently it's the most received complaint they have! Someone at Converse needs to take not of that. Please!)
I'll be honest, I had done zero planning before walking into the shop. I wasn't even sure I was going to get any made, but when we realised that shoes from that shop has a special red striped sole I couldn't not do it. Everyone wants a shoe with a red sole don't they! But as I had no idea what I wanted on my shoes, and I'm not sure this was the best plan, because after about 5 minutes of me blankly staring at the shoe design screen overwhelmed, and complaining about too much choice, Jim announced he was off to do something else. I just couldn't decide between a full all over pattern (mostly galaxy looking ones) or a design on part of the shoe. Should I switch out the laces? Add studs? Change the eyelets? There are 1,000's of options, and colours to choose from in the Converse computers, or if you've planned ahead you can take in artwork of your own! It was just too much choice. 
Eventually though I found a design I couldn't stop thinking about - pink, purple, swirly, perfect! Before I could talk myself into getting another design I signed the form to get them made and wandered off to find Jim who was buying more NHL tshirts.

In hindsight maybe I should have stayed the 45 minutes that it took to make the shoes, and photographed the process and the shop some more, you know "for the blog" but I had the rest of the freedom trail and the 294 steps of Bunker Hill monument to climb (more on that eventually) so I left my newly chosen red soled shoes behind and set off to see more of the city, returning a few hours later to collect them. 
When we got back to pick up the newly customised shoes, I decided to swap out some of the eyelets for ones that matched the new pattern on my shoe, and the lovely lady in the shop also added me some metal lace ends too.
And whilst these might be the most expensive Converse that I've ever bought, I am totally in love with them and they are a great souvenir of the holiday which has to be worth it, doesn't it. I'm just going to save them for dry, sunny, no chance of them getting trodden on by annoying kids sorts of days so that they stay this pretty forever.

What are your favourite types of souvenirs?

And if you're heading to Boston the shop is located on LoveJoy Wharf underneath the Converse World HQ (160 N Washington St, Boston, MA 02114).

The fat stops here!

Last month I got some head shots back from work and they were a big fat wakeup call on how my weight has spiraled out of control. And a holiday of eating and drinking all the beer, like the one we just had, has done nothing to help me on this front at all.

I swear I have some sort of body dismorphia, but one where I don't always see the double chins and the rolls of fat, even though they are there. I feel them when I try and fit into certain clothes, I see them on photos, and it's really starting to upset me. Plus, my physio told me I was fat. Just came right out and said it. Which is awesome to hear from a stranger.

I've not been skinny skinny for a long time, and I'll be honest, it didn't work that well for me, I have big boobs, skinny skinny just looks silly on me. But I don't want to be fat anymore either. So this is me coming out and saying that I have to do something about the weight. Something to change the way I feel about myself. Because a couple of years ago we started a crazy ass diet - we cut out carbs, caffeine, most dairy, sugar and alcohol. It was hard but it worked. I did it for 5 months. I lost quite a lot of weight. It wasn't fun but it was worth it. I felt great. And confident.

I promise this wont turn into a diet blog. I'm not going to start telling you how much I lost every week (because it might be nothing and that would be super embarrassing) and I promise you I wont start raving about crossfit and running (my knees couldn't handle it - which sounds like a poor excuse but I can send you the scans if you don't believe me ;) ) but writing this down means that it's out there. It's here in this space, and maybe there are people who will hold me accountable to this. It also means that if you know me in real life you'll not get annoyed when I don't come out drinking for a while (I can have no booze and still have fun with you, you know), or have a slice of cake or biscuit when I see you. Hopefully we can just go on as normal and we'll not need to make a big thing about the fact I am making healthier choices.

I'm not setting myself unrealistic goals and saying I want to lose 4 stone in a month because I know how hard this is going to be, but I'd like to be a regular size 12 again and sustain it - that's the size that looks best on my frame. I have some events (hen-do's, weddings, festivals - that sort of stuff) in the summer I'd like to be smaller for.

Now I know I can't go back to the crazy ass diet because it made Jim ill (he needs carbs to be healthy his Dr says) and it made me into a horrible human being for the first few weeks but I can't carry on the way I am so I need to figure out what will work for me. 

My main obstacle will be the fact that Jim loves to cook and his cooking is not often that healthy, so unless by some crazy chance I can get him on board it's going to mean separate meals and it's going to require some serious willpower to not eat his food. And I need to stop buying snacks. And I need to stop thinking 'just this one treat won't hurt'. Oh, and I need to start exercising. Not more. I just need to start doing it regularly.

But if you have any suggestions of healthy choices I can make (note. when you're creating me an eating/exercising plan, I don't like nuts, coriander, steak or chilli/hot things. And I don't really have any cartilage in my knees any more. Thanks) And if you can advise me on how I can still get a cheese fix and not be fat, I'm open to suggestions.
Oh, and if you see me eating treats, knock them out of my hand and slap me. Please. 

Travel: Airbnb - How to be a good host

We've been staying in 'whole house' Airbnbs across Canada and America for a few weeks now and they've all  been very different. Different costs and different levels of 'service' so I though I'd pop some thoughts together of what I think makes a great airbnb experience.

Be honest about your facilities. If it says you have laundry facilities but really there's a laundrette across the street, that's not the same thing. We were travelling for 18 days. I certainly didn't take 18 days worth of pants with me so we looked for places with laundry facilities, but a few places might not have told the whole truth. On holiday you don't want to spend an hour in a laundrette you want to put some washing on and go out and deal with it later safe in the knowledge you can!

Make sure your wifi works. We stayed one place where the wifi didn't connect about 80% of the time. It was annoying because I couldn't get whatsapp updates on the dogs from my mum or faff on Instagram, but it was really frustrating when we had to walk round the corner and borrow a cafes wifi to call an Uber. 

Be fully stocked with linens & towels. Have 'extras' available. Like pillows. Not every one just uses one pillow. In fact I hate one pillow sleeping. And small towels aren't fun either. If people are paying to be at your house. Make it comfortable.

Leave a local guide of your favourite places. A few tips on your must see/do/eat places near by is always handy as people probably haven't visited your city before. And info on the best cup of coffee in the neighbourhood can't hurt either.

Extras - is there anything you can do to go above and beyond. 'Surprise and delight'? One place we stayed left fresh baked cookies out for us on arrival (very welcome after 18hrs of travelling!). Another ran a beer concierge service popping local beers you might like in the fridge for you. Some had snacks in the fridge. You don't have to be extravagant but they were nice welcoming touches. Especially after travelling.

What have your best Airbnb experiences involved?

Also. If you're not on Airbnb yet but are thinking of signing up - use my reference EFISHER46 and you'll get some money to spend towards your first stay!

Recipe: Jim's Bakewell Sours

We take cocktails very seriously in our house. We like to have appropriate glasswear and ingredients on hand, which is why I'll buy tiki mugs (for serving Zombies in, natch) as gifts and not bat an eye when I come home to find Jim making his own bitters to create the perfect Old Fashioned. And this is also why when Jim casually hands me a drink and tells me it's amazing, I believe him.
And he wasn't lying. He just might have hit upon the holy grail of cocktail making - The Bakewell Sours.

Amaretto sours are about my favourite cocktail. I mean if I spot a fancy gin drink on the list at our local cocktail house I'll give it a go, but for a cocktail I know I'll love time and time again, bring me an amaretto sours. They are my go to indulgent house drink too.  Add into this mix some cherry and well, things just got seriously good!
What you'll need; 
  • 2 shots of Amaretto
  • 2 shots fresh lemon juice
  • a dash of bitters
  • a dash of cherry concentrate (we got ours from the international supermarket near by)
  • 1 egg white (you can leave this out but it adds the good froth!)
  • Crushed ice
  • Ice chunks
  • appropriate glassware (ours are these LSA ones)
What you need to do;
  • Add the Amaretto, bitters, cherry concentrate and the egg white to a cocktail shaker with your cubes of ice, and shake, shake shake. Shake some more until it's frothy.
  • Half fill your glasses with the crushed ice.
  • Strain the cocktail into the glass and serve. Maybe garnish with a maraschino cherry if you're feeling fancy.
(Serves 2)

Now tell me, what's your favourite cocktail?
(and I totally took one drink of the sours, decided you all needed to know about it, ran off to take some pictures then came back to enjoy it. I am such a blogger ;) )

Want to pin this recipe? Here's an image for you.


Top Collar - Postal treats for your pups

At last years' WI fair in Harrogate my mum came across a stall that she knew would make the most perfect Christmas gift for Flash (Melle wasn't even born when she signed him up!) - Top Collar. They specialise in baking healthy treats for your dog and delivering them right to your door.
I'll be honest, we were a little confused when the first box arrived as it was just before Christmas and this adorable little postbox sized parcel arrived addressed to Flash, with a picture of him on the front popped through the letter box. Quite honestly we had no clue where it had come from, but as Flash is a bit of a diva he demanded we open it anyway.

Inside we were greeted with the cutest bag of Christmas Dinner flavoured treats, hand baked by the Top Collar team. Needless to say, in a house of two food obsessed pooches, they didn't last long at all.
But the best bit was, my mum had bought a subscription of the treats so every two weeks we get a new box through the door. So far we've also had Full English, Salmon & Egg and Sunday Roast, which they have both loved (but I'll be honest Melle *LOVES* food more than anything in this world)! And even my brothers dog, Molly, who is quite honestly the fussiest dog alive goes mad for them too. Which is a high accolade indeed.
I got in touch with the Top Collar team to see if they might have a discount code to use and they have said if you us WOOF1 when  ordering you'll get a discount - so if this sounds like something the dog (or dog lover) in your life might like, give it a go!