Reasons to be Cheerful 2014

Monday, 29 December 2014
Happy (almost) New Year!  Hope you all had a lovely Christmas and have spent the last week with the people you love, eating your body weight in chocolate and cheese.  I've been trying to put my holiday time to good use by planning blog posts and youtube videos, as I really want to try be more organised in 2015.  Yep, I do indeed say that every year.  

As an end of year blog post idea I thought I'd follow up on last years' resolutions, but it turns out I didn't actually make any so instead I looked back at the ones from the end of 2012.  Depressingly, 2 years later and I haven't even achieved half of them, which I think just goes to show that resolutions are a bloody waste of time.  I feel like I've done a lot of things to be proud of in the last year but if you judge me based on my resolution keeping abilities I'm a huge failure.  

I could go through the list of 13 resolutions and explain how badly I've done but that doesn't seem like a particularly positive post to end the year on so instead I'm saying F the resolutions, let's focus on the great things that happened in 2014!



I got engaged!  If I'm honest, this has been a secret resolution of mine for the last few years - haha!  Words cannot express how excited I am for our wedding next year.  It is going to be AMAZING.

Talking of milestones, as well as our engagement, I also went to 2 great weddings, and celebrated big family birthdays with my cousins 40th and my grandpa's 90th in the same month.

I got a promotion at work, took on more responsibilities, gained a lot more confidence in my abilities, and did a fair bit of solo travelling (which is something that would have terrified me a few years ago).

As well as travelling to Paris, Rome & London with work, I also went on two holidays with B to Bruges and Copenhagen (where we got engaged).

One of my resolutions in 2013 was to "reach my goal weight" which would mean losing about 4 stone.  I haven't quite got that far, but I did join Slimming World in May this year and I've stuck at the classes and managed to lose 1.5 stone so far.  I've had a pretty off-plan Christmas but I'm feeling really motivated to get back into it once I'm back at work next week, so am optimistic I'll get to my target before the end of 2015.

Another thing I've stuck at is my blog which is coming up for its 3 year anniversary in Feb.  Also, one of the 2013 resolutions that I actually can tick off is "set up a Youtube channel", as I've been uploading videos now for about 18 months and am pretty pleased at how that's going.  I really like the whole filming and editing process and definitely don't plan on giving it up any time soon.  If you've been toying with the idea of setting up your own channel I encourage you to go for it!


Also on the blog front I had the opportunity to go to some great events this year, including a bake-off,  cocktail making, numerous restaurant and bar launches, pop up shops, the science festival, and the ballet.

On a personal level, I feel like 2014 has been the year where I've become a lot more sure of myself, as cheesy as that sounds.  I think it comes with getting older, but I feel like I've developed more of a backbone and I care a lot less about what people think of me (I still do care, just not as much!).  I feel much more confident saying no to things and don't feel as much of a need to please people - so if I don't feel like going to a party, or I want to drink soft drinks all night, or I've had enough and want to go home, then I just do it and don't care that people might think I'm "boring".  If you ever feel like you're agreeing to things just to keep your friends or partner happy then I encourage you to also adopt this new attitude, believe me you'll feel much happier.

Another area of my life that I feel has strengthened in 2014 is my friendships.  In 2013 I met a lot of new friends through blogging, and towards the end of the year we got a lot closer, but 2014 was the year I really cemented those friendships.  In particular, Kirsty became a really true friend and I now can't imagine not having her in my life.  You know it's proper friendship when you send each other photos of you trying on bras, wearing scary sheet face masks, or pointing out newly discovered grey hairs.  Other girls that I became a lot closer to include Lianne (a fellow bride to be), Jade, and Lynsey, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them even more in 2015.

So screw the resolutions, 2014 was a pretty damn good year for me and I've got a hell of a lot to look forward to in 2015 too including turning 30 and getting married (eek!).  It's going to be a biggie!  

How about you, let me know what you're looking forward to this year, and what you're most proud of from 2014.

Visiting an Abandoned Theme Park

Saturday, 13 December 2014
Visiting an abandoned theme park - spreepark berlin


When I went to Berlin on holiday last year Blair and I booked a tour of Spreepark, an abandoned theme park on the outskirts of the city.  I've always had a bit of an obsession with looking at photos of abandoned buildings online (like this) so when I saw an opportunity for us to visit an abandoned theme park I jumped at the chance.  Especially as it had featured in the film Hanna which we'd watched only a few months earlier.

I briefly wrote about it in my Berlin Day 3 post with a couple of photos, but I was looking through the albums on my laptop the other day and there were tons of pics from the theme park so I thought I'd share some more.

When we went on the tour it was unfortunately mainly in German so I didn't really get the full story, but having read up on it afterwards there's quite an interesting history there.  The park first opened in 1969 and was the only theme park in East Berlin during the Soviet rule.  After reunification the park was expanded and eventually turned into a more Western style amusement park with a fee to enter (rather than paying per ride like it was before).  It was plagued by debt problems though and after increasing the entry fee they saw visitor numbers decline and in 2001 announced closure.  The owners, Norbert Witte and family, then moved a couple of the attractions to Peru and opened a new park called Lunapark in Lima.  Unfortunately though Norbert Witte was then imprisoned after attempting to smuggle cocaine from Peru to Germany, and a couple of years later his son was also imprisoned for drug smuggling.  Up until recently the Spreepark was still owned by the Witte family who offered tours (like the one Blair and I went on) but I've since discovered that earlier this year the park was sold to the City of Berlin and tours are no longer available.

Sadly, I've also just read that in August this year major parts of the park were destroyed by fire (which is believed to have been deliberately started).  So unfortunately you won't ever be able to visit and see it as it was in my photos below, a real shame!


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I was planning on recommending that if you ever visit Berlin you should try book a tour, but now I know that's no longer possible.  It was a really cool experience though walking around the place imagining what it would have been like in its heyday.  There were quite a creepy element too as it was like being in a ghost town - the big wheel still slowly turning and creaking in the wind, trees growing over the roller coaster tracks, buildings lying empty, covered in graffiti.  Definitely one of the highlights of our trip and something we'll always remember.

Living Room Wishlist

Thursday, 11 December 2014
I posted recently about some redecorating we've been doing in our living room and kitchen.  As I mentioned, we live in a rented flat so the changes we can make are mainly aesthetic - buying soft furnishings like cushions, curtains and candles etc, rather than painting or changing the carpets.  It's also a furnished flat so the majority of the furniture isn't ours.  If I had my own way though our next task would be replacing our sofa as it's starting to feel really old - the leather is wearing away in places as is the padding on the inside, particularly on the arms where you can really feel the wooden frame.  Not the best for lounging on!  

My ultimate dream living room would definitely include a corner sofa - it's been top of my wishlist since we visited a friends' flat a few years ago and they had a huuuge corner sofa that just looked absolutely beautiful.  Whenever I mentally plan my fantasy house (which is more often than I care to admit) the living room always involves a big corner sofa covered in lots of cushions.  That's the dream!

I adore this grey sofa from Furniture Choice - I can just imagine B and I lounging on it, surrounded by cushions on a cosy evening.  I've put together a little wishlist showing how my dream sofa would fit in my living room, incorporating a couple of festive touches in there since it is almost Christmas after all!
Speaking on fantasy room planning - check out my Home Pinterest board, it's full of amazing furniture and homewares for you to swoon over and help plan your own dream home!

Post written in collaboration with Furniture Choice.

Best of Christmas Advent Competitions

Tuesday, 9 December 2014
The only thing better than a chocolate advent calendar (Malteser this year, thanks for asking) is an advent competition.  Normally I find it really annoying seeing my Facebook and Twitter timelines spammed with comp entries, but for some reason when it's in the lead up to Christmas I don't mind as much.  I particularly enjoy advent calendar style competitions that have become really popular in the last few years, with brands giving away prizes every day in December.  It's like lots of potential wee Christmas presents up for grabs everywhere you look!  

I've tried to seek out the best of the best competitions out there and have listed them below so you can go and enter.  There's a mix of beauty, fashion, travel and food comps, so something for everyone.  Best of luck to you all!   Although I mostly want to win them all myself….


Competition runs until the 12th of December with prizes including Green & Blacks chocolate (day 1) and Pizza Express vouchers (day 6).



A Facebook game where you click on one of three presents and see if you've won a sk:n product, treatment, or a discount.  You can go back every day to try again, so if you don't win the first time you've got more chances later in the month.



Rocco Forte Hotels are giving away weekend breaks at each of their ten 5 star hotels - so that includes The Balmoral in Edinburgh, Hotel De Russie in Rome, Browns in London, and Astoria in St Petersburg.  The prize changes every 48 hours, so make sure you go back to see which hotel is being showcased that day.  



New Look are giving away prizes every day on Twitter with a mix of fashion and beauty bits up for grabs.  They gave away a unicorn clutch bag(!) on day 6 which is one of those things that I'm pretty sure I'd never buy for myself but now that I know it exists I kinda really want it, haha.



With 5 winners every day this is probably one of those competitions you're more likely to actually win -  although you need to answer a Bourjois related question so you might need to do a wee bit of Googling first.  If you're a Bourjois makeup fan then definitely check this one out.



Another beauty related competition, with Glossybox giving away prizes from various brands in the run up to Christmas.  



As a big fan of the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer I was excited to see that the brand is running an advent competition with products and discounts up for grabs.  Will be keeping my fingers crossed for a win, as my poor damaged hair is crying out for some help!


"Scratch" away the door on the womens or mens Whistles advent calendar to find out the daily prize - the day I checked they were giving away a trolley dash in their flagship store - imagine!


Another Facebook game based competition where you can win jewellery, bags, and accessories from high street fave Accessorize.  


Guess the prizes on their Facebook page each day for your chance to win products from the Debenhams beauty hall.  As this is one that requires a bit of research/guess work the number of entries will be lower so your chances of winning are that little bit better.



Ahh my favourite fruit cider….Rekorderlig are giving away prizes every day on their Facebook page, as well as sharing things like festive cocktail recipes.


Even just writing the words Patisserie Valerie is making my mouth water at the thought of their cakes and pastries.  Needless to say I'll be entering their Facebook giveaways every day in the hope of winning a treat box.

Let me know if you spot any other good competitions!

Christmas Party Wishlist #3

Sunday, 7 December 2014
Time for round 3 of my Christmas party wear series, and this time I've focused on one of my high street favourites - New Look.  I think my favourite outfit is the first one, that dress is so festive and sparkly!




Look 1
This is such a statement dress that you could go fairly plain with the accessories, although I think this ombre floral garland would finish it off nicely.

Dress £49.99
Shoes £24.99
Clutch £15
Ring £5.99



Look 2
Another classically festive outfit - so many sparkles!  Add a smoky eye and a nude lip and you're good to go.

Skirt £19.99
Top £17.99
Heels £22.99
Necklace £4.88
Clutch £29.99



Look 3
I couldn't let another outfit wish list go by without getting a black dress in there, my party staple.  The polkadots on this give it a little something different, and I love how "poofy" the skirt is!

Dress £44.99
Clutch £10
Belt £7.49
Necklace £7.50
Shoes £24.99


If you're also a blogger you might be interested to hear that New Look are currently running a competition where you can win lots of prizes including £150 of New Look vouchers.  To enter you just need to write a blog post about your perfect Christmas party, showcasing some of New Looks fantastic party wear - like the outfits above.

For me, my perfect Christmas party would involve a delicious dinner with all of my favourite pals, lots of cocktails (of course), and maybe some games if we're feeling wild (because I'm old and board games make me happier than dancing in clubs).

What would your perfect party involve?  Let me know in the comments, or you can enter the competition yourself too! :)

Bloggers Guide to Google Analytics #2

Friday, 5 December 2014
This post is a follow up to my intro to Google Analytics post that I did back in June.  I originally thought I'd get part 2 up a couple of weeks later but, emmm yeah didn't happen!  Better late than never though I guess…

So in my first post I gave an overview of Google Analytics basics, showing you how to set it up and how to navigate the reports.  If you haven't already read that one then I'd suggest popping over here first as this post assumes you have knowledge of the basics.  

In this post I'm going to go through some of the reports that I think are most useful for bloggers, as well as showing you how to save and schedule reports for easy monitoring.

Traffic Sources
Acquisition > All Traffic



One of the most interesting things that Google Analytics can show you is how people are finding your blog/website.  This can help you see what sources are working well for you (e.g. which social networks are driving the most traffic) so you can plan how to best promote your posts going forward.  T.co is Twitter by the way.

You might also find sites here that you didn't even realise had a link to your blog.  You'll also find some random sites in here that are just robot/spam type traffic that you don't need to worry about (like the semalt.com one in mine).  If there are any surprising results here and you want to find out exactly what page on that website the visitors came from you can use the All Referrals report (also under Acquisition) and if you click on the website in the list it will drill down and show the exact URLs.  The little box/arrow symbol in each row  will open that page in a new window for you.



Keywords
Acquisition > Keywords > Organic



Potentially the most interesting report of them all - this shows you the keywords people looked for in search engines when they clicked a link to your blog.  You'll notice that the top result here will be "Not Provided" - this is because Google now doesn't share keyword data for the vast majority of users (for privacy reasons), so the keywords you see here are normally from other search engines like Bing and Yahoo.  Tip - look for the keywords sending just 1 visit each, these are normally the weirdest/most interesting….!





Visitor Location
Audience > Geo > Location


You might be interested to find out what part of the world your visitors come from, so this report will show you the top traffic driving countries.  If you click on a country it will drill down to a region level, and you can change this to city by clicking the "city" link above the table.  Although bear in mind that city is determined by your IP address so it's not exact.



Most Viewed Pages
Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages


Similar to what you'll see in the posts report in Blogger, this report shows you the pages (or posts) that have received the most page views during a particular time frame.  The list shows the part of the URL that appears after the .com or .co.uk bit, so the first one in the list is generally "/" which means it's your homepage/main page (e.g. in my case "/" refers to www.cocktailsanddaydreams.com).

Devices
Audience > Mobile > Overview


This report shows you a breakdown of the type of device used by your website visitors.  The Overview report will show the split between Desktop, Mobiles and Tablets, but if you want a more detailed view then look at the Devices report which will show you the name of the device used.



Languages
Audience > Geo > Language



Perhaps not relevant for most of you, but if you're lucky enough to be able to speak more than 1 language and you're thinking of maybe writing blog posts in multiple languages then this report will show you the language used by your visitors so you can see if there's a potential audience there.


Demographics
Audience > Demographics > Age 
Audience > Demographics > Gender
Audience > Interests > Affinity Categories





If you're using the latest version of Google Analytics tracking code (called Universal Analytics) then you'll have access to these demographics reports which will tell you the age, gender, and interests (well, categorised interests based on the type of sites they browse) of your visitors.  Can be pretty interesting to see a bit more about who is viewing your blog.


Time saving tips



If you're regularly using Google Analytics to check on your data then there's a couple of things you can do to make things a bit easier for you.  Firstly, you can use Shortcuts to bookmark the reports you use most often so you don't have to seek them out in the menu system each time.  Simply go to the report you want to save, add in any filters or change the table view (e.g. viewing 25 rows instead of just 10) and then hit the Shortcut button right at the top left of the screen.  Now a link to this report will be saved in the Shortcuts section in the navigation on the left.




If you want reports emailed to you on a regular basis then you can use the Email button and fill in the form to indicate how often you want it sent out (Daily, Weekly, Monthly etc) and the format you want it in (for a spreadsheet choose TSV for Excel).



I really hope this was useful for you, but if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I'll try my best to help :)  I plan on doing one more Google Analytics post which is about the more advanced features, but I'm not sure when exactly that will go up so make sure you follow my blog on Bloglovin (or follow me on Twitter) to see when it's up.