National Tea Day has to be one of the most magical national celebrations for lovers of a cuppa wrapped in a blanket on a cool autumn night, first thing on the porch on a crisp Spring morning (well come on we all would if we had one), or tucked up in bed on a lazy Sunday.

Well today is Friday but that means tomorrow's the weekend so all the more reason for festivities. Tea themes festivities, with digestives, and cake, and scones with cream and... I'm getting carried away.

Getting back on track today is National Tea Day and there's no excuse not to get on board. 

Did you know #NationalTeaDay was the top trending hashtag on Social Media in the UK in 2016? Think we can make it the world this year?!

In celebration of National Tea day I've partnered with Hoogly Tea* to bring you a Tea Lover's giveaway!

Founded on the Danish way of life 'Hygge'.

"Hygge is an experience; a year-round feeling of warmth, wellbeing and cosiness."

The motivation behind the Danish ethos of Hygge, Denmark is voted one of the happiest nation year arfter year, and with Hoogly Tea to soothe the body and calm the mind. Hoogly Tea combines Tina, the founder's, love of tea with this mindful Danish concept to create a unique and healthy range of blends, made with luxury natural ingredients.
Blended and Packaged in the UK, they are ethically sourced fairly traded, and soil association certified.

If you just can't wait to win the Giveaway to try that taste of Hygge, you can see the whole range on the hooglytea website.


In celebration of National Tea Day we want to bring you the most luxurious of tea drinking experiences. 

Not only will you win a great selection of hoogly tea's most beautiful and hand picked teas, but you'll also be able to enjoy your organically sources loose tea in the sweetest Manatee tea diffuser.

To enter all you have to do is follow the steps below to get up to 11 entries today! You can also come back every day for extra entries by Tweeting about the Giveaway.

The Giveaway starts on National Tea Day (21 April) and ends at midnight on 19 May.

The lucky winner will be announced on 21 May on theasthinkings twitter account. Be sure to follow so you don't miss it! (Did I say following theasthinkings on twitter gets you an entry? All the more reason to do so!).



a Rafflecopter giveaway



Good luck everyone! Winners will be announced on 21 May on Twitter be sure to watch out for it and a Happy National Tea Day to everyone, have a brew on me!

*This Giveaway was sponsored by hoogly tea. The Diffuser was however purchased personally by Thea from theasthinkings.
Not everyone may know, but as well as Blogging I also manage social media accounts for quite a few bloggers now, and with my services growing I've been curious to see if what management can offer, matches up with the wants and priorities of Bloggers. So with that in mind just a few days ago I ran a Twitter Poll to see just how Bloggers are using Social Media and what they thought about it.

Are we using it to it's full potential?What do bloggers really want from Social Media?What are bloggers using as milestones for successful social media management?

I had amazing feedback with over 400 responses, so I thought I'd share the outcomes with you!

Here's the questions I put out last week:


That seems to fit with my expectations. Lately it's rare for anyone to use just one social media platform but it's clear Twitter and Instagram as still in the lead with Pinterest not far behind, and a few people commenting to say they're now getting a lot of traffic from LinkedIn. It really depends on your genre.


But even though we know the power of social media we still find ourselves not using it as much as we'd like to.




It's also clear to see that while some blogger aren't sure what they're doing on social media a lot really do and they want to engage with their audience which is luckily great.


Blogging in itself can be incredibly rewarding but it's when you engage with your audience and the community that you really find the value in blogging.


Time and knowledge play big factors though, and like the majority of bloggers I too understand the challenge of balancing life, work and blogging. Without management or scheduling systems it can be really hard to keep on top of it, and promote your hard work for people to find and enjoy.


It was also great to see engagement as top priority for bloggers. It can sometimes seem that following is everything online, but the reality is you can have a lot of followers and no one reading your tweets. 


It's far better to grow your audience through truthful and honest interactions and effective promotion of your content through effective photography and clearly linked content, which will have far more impact on your blog traffic and create a far more rewarding experience. 


Time and money are the classic things to keep us from getting the most out of social media and are blogging as a whole, but it's so important to growing your blog.

When I started blogging I really had no idea how important social media was, and in the past few years it's just grown and grown.

The reality is most bloggers simply don't have the time to really utilise social media to it's full effect, I know I didn't when I started! Unfortunately social media services also aren't that available to bloggers so unless you're already a blog with a strong reach you probably wouldn't be able to access any support.

That's really why I started to help fellow bloggers. I decided to take what I'd learnt from the last several years and do something to give back to bloggers who might not know how to utilise social media, might not have the time because of work, family and life commitments, and more than likely don't have the funds because let's face it most of us aren't making enough money to survive from blogging alone!

That's how I came up with my budget packages especially for bloggers and small business owners. With budget packages from £5 a month and bespoke packages from £1 a day I wanted to make something that could actually help bloggers take their social media to the next level.

Since then I've worked with tens of bloggers some on an on-and-off basis and more staying with me month after month. Some lovely bloggers have also written testimonials:

"Since Thea has been managing my Social Media, I have seen such a HUGE increase in engagement levels not only on my Social Media channels, but also on my Blog as well. I love working with Thea, and I hope we can continue to work together for the foreseeable future".@misssmiley32

"As someone who works full time having the time to organize content and promote my blog on Twitter regularly is something that can be quite a struggle to maintain. Because I work such long hours and work more than one job, having an organized individual like Thea schedule and promote my content on scheduled days each week is quite honestly a life saver. I run several projects outside of blogging and Twitter scheduling can take up so much time so this has given me the freedom to dedicate more time to other projects. Not only is Thea organized but she is understanding, dedicated and committed. I have seen my social media following grow and reach new accounts who might not have seen my profile otherwise@Faded_Spring

It's been such a rewarding experience for me and I'm so glad to be able to support bloggers build their social media and in turn watch their blogs grow.

I also offer advertising packages now!

If you'd like to work with me please feel free to read the page and contact me on theasthinkings@gmail.com.

What's been your experience of using Social Media? Do you take full advantage or wish you could be doing more? Let me know in the comments, and thanks to everyone who took part in the poll!

Gift giving - some people love it and some people loathe it. I am of the former category.

I just love giving gifts to my friends and family. I've been known to be working on a gift idea for years before finally finding what I'm looking for - but once you've found that perfect thing, the fun comes in the wrapping. Picking out some chic paper or maybe some fun washitape, getting your creative flare on can be the best part of gift giving.


But wouldn't it be great if you're gift wrapping was more than just paper to throw away?

What if you're gift wrapping could be a gift in and of itself?

Well over the years I've been experimenting with re-usable gift wrapping and I want to share one of my favourite DIYs with you. Not only are they re-usable, but they can be fun, beautiful and a great way to give old things new life.


Inspired by Furoshiki, the Japans art of cloth gift wrapping, here's my tutorial for making your very own cloth gift wrapping just in time for Easter!


For this DIY you're going to need:



  • Some unwanted white material
  • Fabric Dye
  • A Marker
  • A plate for a template
  • A metal sink or wash basin
  • Scissors
  • Ribbon (1cm thick)
  • Needle and thread (matching your dye)

How-to:
1. First make sure your material is clean. Then using your marker pen draw around you plate twice. Before drawing I'd recommend putting down a dust sheet to make surer you don't mark your surface through the material.


Tip 1: Don't go out and buy something new. Find something old lying around the house. I used an old bed sheet that had seen better days. Dying it will give it new life, and it won't cost you a penny.



2. Next simply cut out your circles and we're ready to get dying! I used a rotary cutter - a god send, but normal scissors work just fine. Make sure to cut inside the marker pen so there's no marks left on your circles.

Tip 2: Use assorted plates to create smaller and larger gift wraps. I made 10 out of one sheet!.




3. Now to give that material a new lease on life. To dye your cutouts make sure you read the instructions on your dye packet carefully. I want to use lots of colours so I'm measuring out just small batches of each of these Dylon fabric dyes*. I left them in to stain for about an hour to be safe, and after a rinse left them out to dry.


4. If you'd like, you can repeat this with your ribbon in your choice of colours. I chose a white ribbon which I think adds that Easter/Spring time look.  Next you want to iron your circles just to give them that finished clean look. Don't worry if they're frayed we'll be dealing with that next.




Tip 3: Be sure to make sure you're using cotton or silk. Some materials won't die. I learnt that the hard way when I cut up an old 100% polyester fitted sheet the first time round...gutted.


5. To make your Gift wrap, you want to take two circles the same size, and placing them face - to face you want to stitch around the top edge leaving about a half centimetre hem. Before you complete the circle you then want to reverse your material so the correct side is now showing and finally close up the whole.




6. Then below your stitch line you want to take your scissors and cut horizontal slits into your fabric roughly every 2cm being careful not to cut across any of your stitching.

7. And to finish of. Thread your ribbon through the slits weaving in and out to create a drawstring-like tie and an extra touch to your gift. Draw the ribbon and tie in a bow to cut to size.




It couldn't be more simple, but makes for such a sweet gift wrapping! I've chosen colours especially for Spring and Easter, but you can choose whatever colours you like and maybe even experiment with some tie dye effects.




Just wrap your gift, tie it with a bow, and you've got a gift in a gift. Let your loved one keep it and use it for trinkets, let them re-use it and pass it on to someone else or maybe make it a special wrap you always use for that one person and make it a treasure with many fond memories to come.




I like nothing more than a gift that keeps on giving.


I hope you enjoyed this simple DIY and try it yourself, and let me know in the comments if you have any DIY's you'd like to see this season.

*This is not a sponsors post, all ideas are my own. Dylon dyes were kindly gifted to me by Dylon.
Release Date 6th April!


Blurb

The sequel to the bestselling YA debut from international phenomenon Cecilia Ahern...
When we embrace all our flaws, that's when we can finally become PERFECT.

"There's the person who you think you should be and there's the person who you really are. I've lost a sense of both"

I'm Flawed.
But I'm a survivor.
And I'm not about to give up..."

This sequel is the perfect follow on from Cecilia Ahern's bestselling YA Debut of 2016 - 'Flawed'. Following the life of the young Celestine, living in a dystopian society where ideals are strictly upheld and punishments are fierce. 

In 'Perfect', Celestine finds herself in hiding and on the run, but will she get caught? Filled with plot twists, adventure, action and a smidgen of romance, Cecilia tells a gripping tale of one young woman's fight for freedom. Will she escape this perfect world, or will she find perfection in her flaws?


With this new novel also comes the chance to take the test yourself! Are you perfect?
I tried the game to find out and...

Well innocent old me was convinced I'd come out on top but I got branded!
The Guild has judged me FLAWED with a morality score of 30% and a sentence of 4 brands...ouch.

If you'd like to take the test and find out how perfectly flawed you are you can give it a go yourself.

Would you rather be perfect or branded flawed? 
PLAY THE GAME


The Review


And so to the review...I'm not normally one to read Young Adult fiction. I consider myself a little bit passed it now...she says in her later 20s (early life crisis?!). But being a fan of Cecilia's other works, like P.S. I love you, when I was offered the chance to review the sequel to the best selling novel 'Flawed' I was more than happy to give it a try and I'm pleased to say it opened my eyes to the YA genre.

Celestine is a young, intelligent girl fighting for equality and against the branding society has put on her. Despite her kindness, determination and brilliant personality she still finds herself doubting her abilities and her place in the world. Regardless of your age as a reader she's a character that's immediately relatable to all of us.

From the off I found Perfect and incredibly smooth and easy read. The writing moves with a quick pace and keeps you gripped from start to finish, I couldn't put it down. In total honesty I was worried - I hadn't read 'Flawed' and I'm usually a stickler for starting at the beginning but I really didn't need to worry, the book is a great read in it's own right. Despite my limited knowledge I never felt lost or left behind, Cecilia has a way of writing that keeps you filled in without being overly indulgent by repeating too much from the previous book - Something I really appreciate as a serial series reader.

Broken into small bitesize chapters, Perfect makes for an easy 417 page read. If ever I had 5 minutes to spare I could pick it up, speed through 3 chapters and carry on with my day (although lets be honest I stormed through it in a matter of days, I didn't want to put it down).

I think we can all see how the standards of the morality court also reflect the lives we live as well. Perfect may be set in a dystopian world, and the punishment of branding may be more fierce, but I'm sure we've all felt unjustly judged at one point or another by our peers or society around us. And when the lines between good and bad aren't so simple as you might think, even you or I might be branded flawed in Celestine's world.

Well the game may have branded me four times for being Flawed, but now I've finished I'll keep my brands. I'd much rather be flawed than perfect.




Author bio

Cecilia Ahern resides in Ireland and is the award-winning and bestselling author of many novels, including P.S I Love You and Love, Rosie - both of which were major motion pictures. FLAWED, her Young Adult debut, was the bestselling new YA title of 2016, and this is the much anticipated sequel.

Release day is 6th April. If you'd like to purchase the book you can do so here.
And if you've already been lucky enough to get your hands on a copy let me know what you thought in the box below - but remember - no spoilers!

#Ad - This is a sponsored book review. All content, thoughts and opinions are my own.



As with every Spring, this year I've been making some big changes in my life, to get some long overdue balls rolling, and generally give my outlook on life a gentle spruce.

I've been focussing on two main areas my career, and my fitness & health.

I could talk about careers forever so I'm going to leave that one to the side for now and tell you a bit about my fitness and health goals for 2017.

Over the winter months my body took a bit of a knock as is typical for a lot of us. I was staying in more (which really means watching movies and stuffing my face with snack food...but it tastes so good!), my hips have gone done hill with the cold (I won't bore you with the details here but you can read more about that here and here if you're interested), my Gym pass has been lost/hidden for a good few months, and my skin care routine has become a no-care routine.

Time for some change.

Keeping a good skin routine really doesn't have to be difficult, the hardest part is getting into a habit and sticking to it. But over winter with my skin causing a fit over the cold weather, I ended up incorporating just too many products into my routine and in the end, when it was time for bed I was just way too sleepy to do all that.

So to get back into a good healthy routine I've stripped it right back down to the bare essentials, a micellar water make-up remover, a simple intensive moisturiser for my dry skin, and Moringa Oil* - a new addition to my routine.

I'd not heard of Moringa oil until recently but as it claims to be a natural anti-aging oil, good for joint paint and acne - two of my adult body struggles - I thought I'd give it a shot.

Of course being me I didn't just take their word for it, I did my own research too, but to my pleasant surprise a very quick search on google scholar brought up several papers on the antioxidant values of Moringa oil, and also indicated it had good anti-bacterial properties making it a good candidate for treating skin conditions like acne and eczema.

For about a week now I've been keeping to this same routine twice a day: Removing my make-up in the evening with Micellar gel for sensitive skin (I much prefer it to the water, it works really well to remove my make-up and leaves my skin feeling fresh and clean). My only comment would be that it does dry out my skin somewhat so the intensive moisturiser is a must to follow.



Then to finish off I pump the Moringa oil into the palm of my hand two or three times, and rub it in circular motions into the crease and curve of my hips, and into the skin on my arms and shoulders that troubles me with adult acne. You need to be generous with this oil and is soaks in and dries quickly, but has a very mild and pleasant natural scent.

So far it's difficult to say whether the oil is helping my hip pain, but I do feel like I've seen an improvement in my acne. My skin is softer and any dry skin from old blemishes has completely gone. I'm definitely going to keep with it to see how it goes, and if I can notice any improvement in my hips.

I'll be sure to update this post in a few weeks with my final verdict.

If you'd like to try it out for yourself I've joined up with Wikaniko to offer you a sample bottle for only £2.50 (inc. postage). If you'd like to pick up a sample bottle simply e-mail quoting reference code THEASTHINKINGS to Wikaniko.

Overall I think it's a great product, and I much prefer the idea of using a natural product to keep my skin clear than a lot of stringent and harsh chemicals that are often in acne products.

So my new skin routine now takes me all of about 4 minutes and I'm feeling really good about my skin. Are you using any of these products, or do you have a skin routine you'll always stand by?
Let me know in the comments!

This is not a paid for advertorial. This product was gifted to me for review. All opinions are my own.

At the end of last year I set myself some goals. Little did I know I would get to doing so many!

I never blogged about it, but here's how my goals looked for 2016:



Find a new career πŸ‘
Move to London πŸ‘
Get my hip movement back πŸ‘
Take an acting course πŸ‘
Give my first performance
Try out for my first audition

After moving to London, fixing a place to live and a job to earn some money the next thing on my list was drama classes.

Acting is something I’ve wanted to do for along time now. It wasn't like most of the stories you hear, I hadn't wanted to do this since I was a child, but after turning maybe... 21 it really became a real interest of mine and over the years that desire has just grown and grown.

At first I didn’t know what options were available to me I lived in a small town, with a small community of actors but really no opportunity for adult beginners. Slowly though, by starting online I found recommended books and began reading what I could. I bought DVDs, watched interviews and classes and started to build an understanding of some of the methods, practices and skills needed to act. But still I’d never said a line to an audience.

In 2013, I made my first big step. On my travels across America (I’ll leave links to my travel diaries below), I spent a few weeks in LA and being one who likes to do as the locals do, I got myself an acting coach for a month.

Travel Diaries


(There are more of these I've not uploaded yet. Let me know if you'd like to see them!)

That was a great experience. I don’t think I was great, but I wasn’t terrible, and I came away having picked up a script, memorised some lines, and most importantly I’d pushed myself.

When I came back to the UK however everything came to a bit of a halt, with no classes available in my local area I was back to my books for another few years. Skipping back to today, a career change, a health change (after my big surgery!) and I’m now living in the heart of London with opportunities galore.

I took my first class in my first few weeks, and although I was absolutely terrified (I was so close to not showing up!) I went back to class every weekend for a month and now...well I’m hooked. I’m loving every part of the experience. It’s pushing my comfort zone, my boundaries and my confidence. I’ve done things in the last few months I never thought I’d do. There are times I’ve gone home deflated because frankly I sucked! But that’s ok because everyday I went right on back and I’m working harder all the time. The whole point about doing these classes isn't about finding out that you're already good at something, it's about improving yourself every time you try.



Since my first course a few months ago, I've lost count of the number I've attended since, and in just a few days I'll be giving my first showcase performance. It's going to be such an exciting milestone for me I can't wait.

Who knows where this adventure will go but I can’t emphasise more how important it is to embrace your fears and reach for your goals. If you’re in it for the right reasons the end goal won’t matter, its all in the journey and I’m loving every step of the way.

When I wrote my goals for 2016 I was bed ridden, living alone in a small town with not all that much going on. The likelihood of hitting those goals was pretty slim. But look at me now. I'm hitting goal after goal and I can’t wait to hit the next one – auditions!

If you’d like to know more about my classes, my experiences and advice on finding the right teacher for you let me know. I have a few idea up my sleeve for a blog series and possibly a matching youtube series and I’d love to share more with you. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes and especially those up coming auditions, but do leave a comment if you're interested!


So have you had any goals this year you’ve been knocking out the park, or anything you’re trying to pluck up the courage to do?
Winter is the best time of year for a cup of something hot and a big ol' slice of something yummy. My all time favourite cake (to bake) has always been a coffee cake. A family favorite, and the first cake I ever mastered when I was a kid I know the recipe off by heart.

But seeing as its Winter and spice is everywhere, I thought I'd try changing up my usual recipe and throwing in some extra treats to make is extra soft and give the coffee a warmer wintery flavour.

After a few attempts, here's my Sticky Spiced Coffee Cake


This cake is one of the easiest fail safe cakes I know. An All-in-One recipe that will hopefully still impress your friends and family.

Ingredients

175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
175g room temperature salted butter
50g soft chewy toffee chopped into very small pieces.
3 Large eggs
3 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp instant coffee
2 tbsp boiling water

Icing
225g icing sugar
125g room temperature butter
2 tbsp instant coffee
2 tbsp hot water
1 tsp cinnamon for dusting

Loaf tin
Loaf cake case or butter for greasing
Icing bag

Instructions

Pre-heat your oven to 170°.

Before you start I recommend sifting all your sugar, cinnamon, flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, then throw in your butter and eggs and mix with an electric mixer until smooth, light and creamy. Dissolve your coffee in your hot water and add to your mixture slowly while you mix making sure its blended through all your mixture, finally add your toffee pieces and distribute evenly through mixture with a spoon.

The toffee will completed melt and dissolve into your mixture inside the oven making it extra moist and rich. If you want to have little chunks of toffee sprinkle them on top of your icing as a finishing decoration.

Spoon your mixture into a greased or lined loaf baking tin and place in the middle of the oven for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. While you set it aside to cool you can get started on your icing.

First dissolving your remaining coffee into your hot water again combine all your ingredients into a clean mixing bowl until light and smooth. You want to make sure you have no lumps from the butter or icing sugar.



To finish off remove your cake from the tin and cake case (if you've used one) and place on a kitchen towel to remove any excess oil from the toffee. Then when completely cooled place ice and dust with cinnamon.

This cake has just a subtle spice but add cinnamon to your hears content for an even warmer wintery flavour.

I hope you enjoy trying this recipe yourself and as always if you try it be sure to send me photos on twitter I love to see them.
It's the middle of the week and if you're anything like me between work and play you've got a gazillion blog posts to publish and for more reasons that you can count half of them are no where near ready to go! 

When I blogged a few weeks ago about struggling to blog and trying to find my blogging identity I heard from quite a few of you through twitter offering your words of encouragement and support. 

I really want to thank all of you for being such a wonderful and uplifting community, I'm so thankful to be a part of it! 

Well more to the point though, you inspired me to take action so on a search for shared experience I took to twitter to ask all of you 5 questions about blogging motivation. What stops those posts going up and what you do to keep yourself on track (or get back on it!). 

Here's what you had to say:
32% of you said the hardest part of getting those blog posts published was writing them! I found that really comforting. So often do I find myself struggling for the words, or re-writing posts I'd already completed. Finding the angle you're looking for, writing in an engaging way and keeping to who you are can be quite a challenge!

And for some people just mustering that energy to sit down at the screen and start can be the hardest part of blogging.


For me the hardest thing is getting my photos done. I always have so many ideas for posts, and plenty of drafts written but getting the oomph to plan, set up and shoot photos is always the thing that takes the longest. Like Jamie said finding the right lighting in winter is hard too! I know some bloggers invest in lighting so I'm definitely considering it. Do you have any tips for getting your photos done? Do you write your posts first, or take photos first?
It was really interesting to see what motivates people to get proactive with their blog, and responses were really mixed, but it looks like most bloggers swear by a good routine.

I must admit in the past I've been really on top of TheasThinkings when I've had a good fixed routine in place but I find I have to be in the right frame of mind when starting a new one. You don't want to put pressure on yourself when your not ready. It's important to read the signs and trust yourself.

Coming back to photos again! Stocking up on images and ideas it on almost everyone's list! I can't go anywhere without a trusty notebook, plus its a great excuse to fuel my stationary addiction!!!

I was surprised how few people are using spreadsheets though, I admit I'm way behind these days but in my blogging heyday (I'm on the way back!) spreadsheets were my bible. I planned out all my posts, what categories they fell into, I set deadlines and kept a track of what had been done (writing, photos, etc) and what was still to do - It was brilliant!


Does anyone else use spreadsheets, or if you don't would you like to see how I've been using them?


It looks like a lot of people are going digital now too, I'm terrible at using apps, I don't take advantage of half the capabilities of my phone, but you've inspired me to try more. I do keep notes on my phone when inspirations hits on the tube, but that's my lot! I need to get on this!

Well that I found unsurprising, I definitely love to find a cosy nook to write in, but I also love writing in public spaces. The change of scenery and buzz of activity definitely make a refreshing change and kick starts my brain into action!

Well thank you so much to everyone who voted and left comments. We had almost 200 responses in the end which came as a complete surprise! I think I might start doing a regular weekend Q&A about blogging. If you'd enjoy taking part leave some suggestions for a great #hashtag and I'll announce the new hashtag next time!

Final thoughts - If you have any thoughts on blogger struggles and how to keep yourself motivated to keep posting leave your comments in the box below, it would be great to share ideas!

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