December Reading Challenge: Update + Reviews!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Hello Everyone!
 I hope you all had a lovely December, I still can't believe how fast it went. I still somehow managed to find time to work on this months Reading Challenge. It was a bit of a mixed batch of books this month in terms of genre and what I thought of each of them. Doing these challenges has been so great for making me read more, so expect to see a lot more book posts in 2016!

Let's see how I did: 

I started the month with Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater and absolutely loved it. This has been my favorite series to read this year. The characters have completely drawn me into the story, especially Blue. She's definitely a lot like myself and I love that she stands her own so well in a group of boys. I still love how much these books change perspective and a lot of the romance came from Gansey's point of view instead of Blue's, which is what you would expect.

One my favorite parts of the book is when the character Malory is talking about his anxiety to Blue. He explains how he is able to see people's auras and how it makes him feel people, rather than see them. He tells her, "Because when people are too close to me, their auras touch me, and if too many auras touch me, it confuses me and makes me what doctors have foolishly called anxious." (page 238.) Now, I'm not saying I have magical powers (that I know of) but that seriously helped me understand why I might get anxious in crowded places. Thanks Malory, you old chap!

Then I got to re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling. It seriously feels like going back to a childhood home, or something. The magic is never lost in reading these books, is it? However, you will be disappointed in me when I tell you that I never finished reading this in December...I don't know what it was, but I just lost a bit of motivation to pick it up everyday. I never punish myself for not finishing a book if I'm not feeling it, so I'm OK with putting it back on my shelf.

I had good expectations for The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, and I've walked away with a bit of a mixed opinion. The first half was good and I loved both the plot and the characters. It was great when we got a glimpse into the world that Prenna left behind and why we should appreciate how beautiful our world is now. The second half felt a little rushed, I guess. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed this book for what it was and I know where the author was trying to go. It just didn't go how I expected, but that's OK.

Last up was Fangirl and I am so disappointed in myself for not reading this sooner! It was one of those books that I couldn't put down once I started it. I can relate to the main character Cath in so many ways: I hate parties, I'm socially awkward/never know what to do, and I love fandom life. If Cath wrote a blog, we would almost be the same person.

I found it really refreshing that she wasn't just the "shy girl" and you could understand where her anxiety came from, and you could relate to it. Of course I loved Levi, who doesn't? He brought so much wittiness to the book and ever time he made Cath smile, I smiled too. The dialogue in this book was fantastic and it was just so enjoyable to read. I'm definitely going to pick up more books by Rainbow Rowell.

I will be doing another book challenge in January, so keep an eye out for that! 
Let me know if you have any book recommendations, I would love to hear them.

Steph x.

December Instagram Roundup

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Rocking Christmas socks in summer!

Had to treat myself to a coffee on my birthday
My new tattoo! I'm still in love with it. 
Most refreshing smoothie ever from my fav cafe
So accurate it hurts
Finally got to enjoy out Christmas tree!
Having a bit of fun with flat lays 
Coconut Lane haul! You can still use the code "marvelsteph20" to get 20% off

Cozy Sundays are the best
I was proud of my decorating skills this year
Relaxing time before the Christmas craziness starts
The only way to spend boxing day: in bed with chocolate!
Christmas present from my brother; can't wait to start baking!

It's been a fun month with birthdays and Christmas going on; the perfect way to end the year, I'd say!
My love for Instagram has been revived this month and I even started a Pinterst board for inspiration. I'm loving experimenting with flat lays and different ways to edit. I'm definitely getting better and it will help my blog photos too.

Who else has a New Years goal to use Instagram more? Here's my link if you want to check it out.

Leave me your Instagram links and I will come say hi!
Steph x.


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My 2016 Blogging Goals

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Hello Everyone!
If you read my previous 2015 post, you'll know that this was quite the turn-around year for me. I was pretty lost at the end of 2014 with what I wanted to do with my life (quarter life crisis suck!) but thankfully I have now found my feet and I'm definitely on a the right path. I can't explain how much I have loved blogging this year and what it means to me now. So with 2015 being an awkward self-discovery year, that means 2016 will be my time to really kick things up and see what I can do.

In 2016, I will...

Step up my photography game
I've always loved taking photos and one of the best parts of blogging is being creative with how I can visualize my post. I'm also a massive lover of Instagram and have been having a lot more fun uploading this December. I want to get even better and keep putting out content that I'm proud of.

How will I achieve this: Stay inspired by others and experiment with new ways to take photos. Also, make more of an effort to upload onto Instagram more.

Launch my brand/designs
This is something that has been a work-in-progress for a while now and it's something I'm really passionate about doing. One important thing I learned about myself in 2015 was that I need to be my own boss. I simply can't live my life on another person's terms. No, thank you! I've always been a creative person, so owning a small creative business is my dream. It's a good thing I come from a family of entrepreneurs!

How will I achieve this: Keep working on designs and stay inspired. Get the hang of InDesign and launch my designs when I feel proud and ready. 

Make blogging friends
This is a big one for me. Because A) I don't make friends easily, and B) Bloggers are some of the best people and I would love to have some buddies! I see a core group on Twitter all the time and would love to be a part of that. Thanks to #GirlGang hopefully that will change!

How will I achieve this: Be more interactive on Social Media and participate in blogger chats every week. Make the effort to talk to people, Steph! 

Let my little blog grow!
In 2016, I would love to have 500 followers. This still seems like a gigantic number to me, but you gotta aim high right? As much as numbers don't mean a lot if you are proud of your content, it would just be awesome to interact with more people and to get more feedback. It would be amazing to be able to start working with brands too.

How will I achieve this: Continue to work hard on my blog, be smart about self-promotion, and be more interactive on other blogs. Most importantly, continue to write about what I want to write about, not what I think I should.

 I watch and admire a lot of YouTubers and there's a part of me that really wants to give this a go. It would be fun to be able to watch days back when I'm older too. I may not upload my vlogs for a while, but I can have a bit of fun in the meantime while I get on my feet.

How will I achieve this: I will start filming the odd day and practice editing. I want to spend the year getting my confidence up too.

Teach myself HTML 
I feel like this is a great advantage to any blogger. I've seen quite a few designs or blog layouts, and say to myself "I wish I could do that!" Well, I do love a good challenge and this would be great to learn.

How will I achieve this: Use the internet as your teacher! There are plenty of basic tutorials available for beginners that are completely free. Just practice and have a bit of fun with it. 

Be braver. 
As much as I'm getting better at this, being bold doesn't always come naturally to me. I mean, I will rock a red lipstick anywhere, but being bold socially and trying new things can be hard. I will overcome these fears in 2016 and see where it takes me!

How will I achieve this: I will say yes to doing more things, or make more adventures happen myself. I will also ignore that part of my brain that likes to comment "What will people think?" and just be bold about talking to people.

Every single one of these goals are completely achievable, and mostly by just taking small steps everyday. I always see people working on these awesome projects, so 2016 is going to be my year to join them! 

What's your biggest goal for 2016? 
Steph x.

Christmas Snaps Diary 2015

Saturday, 26 December 2015

 Hello Everyone!
Ever wondered what a Kiwi Christmas looks like? Well, today I thought it would be fun to share with you how I spend Christmas day! It's certainly evolved over the years but it has always been about making it a lovely family day for all of us. My Mum always goes to great lengths to keep up traditions and we are also lucky to have the summer weather on our side.

I was up nice and early in the morning! (7am.) I knew we were having a big brunch, so I just made myself smoothie bowl for breakfast (a new love of mine!) with oats, blueberries and banana. My Mum got up too and we watched The Land Before Time, which I remembered being scary as a kid and it still was!

Mum and Me went for a run while the rest of the family woke up. After we got back I hopped straight in the shower and this was my lip color for today: Maybelline Color Drama "Light it Up" and Maybelline Color Whisper "Orange Attitude."

OOTD: I got my shorts and crop top from Dotti as Christmas presents, which I wore with white sandals and my usual silver jewelry. Gotta have new clothes on Christmas!

It's not Christmas brunch without sparkling grape juice!
I got to cooking brunch, which was delicious as always. I didn't end up cooking everything because we ran out of time, but everyone loved it anyway. I myself had two servings of everything...We also opened presents at the table which was a nice change.

Here's our table setting that my Mum was very proud of. I thought it looked lovely and thankfully the weather held up so we were able to sit outside for lunch. My Grandad and Uncle came over at this point and my Dad got the BBQ going (this is key for a Kiwi Christmas!)

And here's our feast! My Mum always goes all out on the food and she changes it up every single year. She glazed the ham in bourbon, which went down a treat. She's going to have to teach me some of her tricks for when it's my turn to host Christmas. 

I had to leave for work before dessert was served, but here's our Christmas cake that we got from my favorite place, Pure Cafe Co. It's GF, dairy-free and Paleo so it's basically guilt-free! Although I took it as excuse to have generous helping of vanilla custard with it. So good!

Three hours later and I was home again to have some family time by our outdoor fire (old fireplace.) This is always one of my favorite parts of the day, when everyone has gone home and we can chill out with a cheese board and toast some marshmallows. Even the dogs came to hang out with us! 

By 10pm I was super tired and full from all the marshmallows, I helped with a few dishes and headed straight to bed. 
I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! What's your favorite part of the day? 
Steph x.

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Christmas Bucketlist Update

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Hello Everybody!
If you remember back to the start of Blogmas, I wrote My Christmas Bucketlist and I thought I would share with you how I got on with it all. I'm really glad I decided to do them and it made December extra creative and fun. I feel like this is the time of year to have a bit of down-time, with Christmas-stress and all that.

 Make Christmas Meringues 

I was quite nervous about making these, but I was surprised by how easy they were to make. I use a Donna Hay recipe with some guidance from my Mother. My only problem was that I kept eating the mixture! They did turn out a bit sticky still so we had them dry out in the oven on a low heat and it worked fine. Can't wait to have them for dessert!

Create my new favorite Christmas drink

I combined two of my loves for this one: dark chocolate and mint flavor! I found a few recipes and altered them a few times to get the mix right. I made it rich enough without being too sweet and you can actually keep it in the fridge for later if you like. I'm definitely going to make this again, especially in winter! Don't worry, I shared the recipe in an earlier post =) 

Build a gingerbread house

 Yeah, see the above picture? That's as far as I got! I knew this one would be difficult and I wasn't wrong. I found a basic recipe and with a little bit of help I managed to bake all of the pieces fine. The assembly was another story...I never found the time to make another one, but 2016 will be my year of gingerbread success!

Make Paper Snowflakes
This was quite fun and really easy once you know how to fold the paper properly. I used this tutorial from Pinterest and then found other pins of shapes to cut. It was great to do whilst waiting for my baking in the oven and watching a movie (I had Star Wars on to prep me for the new release.)

The only thing on my list that I never got around to was making a snow globe, but I can always save that for next year!

Did you do anything crafty or some baking this December? Tell me about it!
Steph x.

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Things I've Learned from Blogmas

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Hello Everyone!
This was my first year doing blogmas and I had a lot fun doing it! I love a good challenge and it didn't end up being as hard as I thought it would be. I learned a lot from participating and props go to anyone else completing the month. If you didn't, then I hope you enjoyed reading along! I really wanted to share my experience and offer any tips I learned along the way.

November-smash is key
I spent most of November getting ready for this month. I planned all 24 days, took photos and wrote out posts. It was really only about half of blogmas that was planned, but it seriously helped in making my posts consistent. I'm not sure I would have made the whole month without doing it. The more organized the better!

Blogger burnout is a very real struggle
Yup, this happened about halfway through the month and I very nearly quit the whole project. I kept working through it though and I'm glad that I did. It's taught me that daily blogging really doesn't suit me and that you won't be excited about every single post you publish. I'm still glad I did blogmas, but I'm looking forward to returning to my 3-4 posts per week schedule.

It's not for everyone
I saw quite a lot of mixed opinions in the twitter blogging world and it was interesting to see everyone's point of view. The main reason for not participating was that the level of quality in your posts can suffer because of how often you have to publish. And I totally agree! It was another reason why I spent my November prepping; I wanted you guys to enjoy my content and still be as best I can as a blogger. Doing blogmas is a personal choice and I love that the blogging community respects that.

Christmas everyday?
  As much as I love December and Christmas, I didn't want you guys to be overloaded by festive subjects every single day (just my personal choice.) I still wanted variety in my posts and it meant that I wasn't bored uploading everyday. A couple of Christmas posts a week made them more special for me, so don't feel pressured to make every post a festive one. 

#blogmas support 
I used and browsed this twitter hashtag a lot during the month and it was great! Supporting each other was especially important through such a busy month. I loved reading everyone's post and it helped to promote mine too. It's easier for everyone to know exactly who's doing blogmas and maybe even get some post ideas if you're feeling stuck.

Overall, I glad I took blogmas on and I'm happy that I've managed to keep it up. Will I do it again next year? Probably not, I might just make December extra special in terms of content.

Did you participate in blogmas this year? What's your opinion of it?
I'd love to know what you think!
Steph x.

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Why 2015 was my best year yet!

Monday, 21 December 2015

 Hello Everyone!
To be perfectly honest, when 2015 began I had very little idea about how this year would go. I had no plan, I just got my first full time job and I still had no idea what I wanted as a career. Fast forward to the end of the year where I'm really happy with how my life is right now and I've definitely changed a lot since the beginning of 2015. This year has made me reassess everything and I know now that I'm on the right path. 
Here's why it was my best year yet:

I've never been fitter or healthier
My health and fitness has definitely been kicked up a notch this year. For starters, I joined a gym and found an awesome personal trainer. I kept it up through the year, although since getting back from Hawaii I'm far more determined and have set some clearer goals. I also ran a half-marathon (yup, the whole way!) and I am a heck of a lot better with my food choices. I'm one of those annoying health food people now, I know this because I got excited over chia seed peanut butter the other day...but I'm in love with my healthier lifestyle! I don't think I've ever had better body confidence.

I started taking blogging seriously
I love blogging. I really do. Most of you won't know that this is actually Hello, Steph 2.0 since I was so unhappy with my first blog, that I only had for a few months so I deleted it. I'm quite proud of how I've stuck to blogging this time and I absolutely love it. I'm still finding my feet, but I can't imagine giving it up now.

I conquered my fear of the ocean
Yup, this year on our trip to Hawaii we decided to go on a Dolphin experience which meant swimming out in a bay. Usually, if I can't see or touch the bottom of the ocean I will freak out thinking something might grab me. But I got in that water! It was all worth it when I saw a pod of dolphins swimming about 8ft from me. I wouldn't rush back to do it, but I'm still proud of myself. I only started to panic once, but that was my brothers fault for abandoning the buddy system and leaving me by myself. I don't think I've ever swam faster than I did to get back to the boat!

I learned to understand how my brain works
Before 2015 I only had a vague idea of what it means to be introverted or have anxiety. I just used to think I was weaker than other people for not being able to control my emotions. How stupid I was for thinking that! I know now that my brain just works in a particular way, and accepting this has made my life a lot easier. I know I can't handle over-stimulating situations, which is why I politely decline invitations to go clubbing. There's nothing wrong with me, and I'm definitely not the only one.

I finally decided on what I want to do with my life
I think I'm finally over the "I've left uni, now what do I do?" phase of my life, thank goodness. Because that time was incredibly horrible! This year when I took up blogging I don't think I realized how much it would start meaning to me. It never feels like I'm doing work, and the fact that I was happily spending my days off my actual job working on my blog showed me how much I wanted to do it everyday. I also realized how much I NEED to be my own boss and to have a creative job, which is why I am currently trying to build my own brand. #GIRLBOSS in the making!

#LOVEMYSELF and being happy on my own
 I think it's been a blessing to have been single for the first few years of my twenties. While I've always been independent, there's an art to being alone but not lonely. I mastered this in 2015, even as all of my friends either got boyfriends, got engaged, or had babies. I also learned to love and accept myself, as well being my own best friend, which will most definitely help me in future relationships. I'm like the Niall Horan of my group of friends, waiting for what I know I deserve and enjoying life along the way.

A nice productive year, if I do say so myself. Here's to 2016 being even better!  
How was 2015 for you?
Steph x.

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Weekly Snaps Diary #5

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Hello Everyone!

It started raining when I went out for a run, so I set myself up for a a cozy afternoon: home-made soup, reading lots of lovely blogs, and having a Captain America marathon.

This is my dogs new spot that he goes to on a hot day (my closet) we can usually only see his feet poking out.

I made my Dad some chocolate chip cookies for his birthday! They were supposed to come out flat and chewy, but I accidentally used self-raising flour instead of plain (oops!) They still tasted amazing! I used the recipe from the Tea With Bea cookbook (one of my all-time favorites for baking).

Finally got my hands on it! I felt quite groggy all day, so I took a social media break to just lay in bed and watch it. It was just what I needed!

Check out what I got my brother for his birthday! It's BB-8 from the new Star Wars movie and he loved it. It's remote controlled and makes the cutest noises. My brother may be 26 years old now, but he is still one of the coolest people I know. 

My weekend lip color: Maybelline Baby Lips Candy Wow "Raspberry" and Fleur de Force lip gloss "Starlight." It came out a lovely rose-pink! I'm thinking it will be my new favorite pairing.

We actually had two birthdays in our family to celebrate this week, so we all had dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. It was amazing as always and satisfied my cravings I had been having all week.

 To finish off the evening we went off to see the new Star Wars movie on Saturday night! I absolutely loved it. I REALLY want to see it again...

Spent my Sunday getting ready for Christmas! I wrapped some of my brother's presents while my Mum was busy making sugar cookies. Anything to make Christmas Eve less stressful.

I set out to complete another item on my Christmas bucket-list, making meringues! I was surprised by how well they turned out, to be honest. It makes me excited for Christmas food already!

Only 5 days until Christmas! How are you guys getting ready?
Steph x.

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