27 December 2016

Nikki in New York: Day Three


Join me for a trip around Union Square Market, Washington Square Park, the Friends building and Times Square. 


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18 December 2016

Nikki in New York: Day Two


A beautiful day in Central Park, a quick trip to The Met, and drinks at a rooftop bar.


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16 December 2016

Nikki in New York: Day One


Let's spot the stars from the Empire State Building...


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29 November 2016

Autumn through Instagram


Hello!

I'm quickly trying to squeeze this post in before things start to get categorically un-autumnal on Nikki's Notebook. I'm off to New York tomorrow and I'm expecting my next few posts to be filled with twinkling lights, dusky cityscapes and jaw-droppingly beautiful window displays. I can't wait!

But back to autumn - I'm sad to see it slowing down. It's probably my favourite season, although it never stays for long. I like the chill in air (y'know, before it turns absolutely baltic), the piles of amber, rust and cherry-red leaves, and the excuse to wrap up warm in cosy jumpers and scarfs. I like the hot drinks, the dark evenings spent reading and movie-watching, and the delicious, hearty meals.

Here's what I've been up to this autumn


Walking through leafy paths. I found this one by my office and seem to have coordinated my accessories with the ground 🍁🍂🍃

I treated myself to a Cambridge Satchel Co bag, something I've wanted for years! Even Jude seems impressed. Coat - Topshop | Dress (out of stock) - Topshop | Boots - New Look (similar)  | Bag - The Cambridge Satchel Company 


I went pumpkin picking for the first time, it was so much fun! Word of warning: they're heavier than they look

I love Bonfire Night. I don't think this is the recommended way to photograph fireworks, but my (accidental) slow exposure captured a pretty magical image 

I didn't expect to find a fairy door in Chiswick. It comes with a flag, toadstool, welcome sign and lights - so cute! 

I love baking, especially when it involves chocolate. I've been trying to eat a bit healthier, so when I saw this Fearne Cotton recipe for a chocolate cake with no refined sugar or dairy, I decided to give it a whirl. Looks pretty good, huh?

My Halloween costume, darling! I bucked the scary monster theme and went for Holly Golightly, as I've always wanted to recreate this costume (I love Audrey Hepburn). It was so much fun to do and I would have liked to do a tutorial, but I don't have many photos! Boo!

Spending a chilly autumn day by the beach with a hot chocolate is perfection for me. And Jazz Cafe is one of my favourite spots for an epic hot choc!

The best bit about autumn? The delicious, warming food! This mac'n'cheese from Brewhouse & Kitchen was much needed on a Friday lunchtime

And that's autumn. Now I'm off to do some panic packing. If you want to see my New York adventures as they happen, follow me on Instagram @nikkimcmullen and Snapchat @nikkimc91. Eep, so excited 💕
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24 November 2016

How to make a good blog


When I started blogging, one of the first questions I had was: 'how do I make something good?'

It's taken several years, four names and two platforms, but I think I've finally got something that resembles an answer. Blogging is an ever-changing medium, so I can't rest on my laurels - but I can share a few tips I've learned along the way.

With hundreds of millions (yep, really!) of blogs out there, how do you get yours noticed? How will you make your blog look good? And more importantly, how will you make it sound good?

I'm going to assume you don't have some insane degree that covers web design, social media, content marketing, photography and creative writing under your belts. So let's start from the beginning...

What's in a name?


I'm going to confess: I've spent weeks worrying about potential blog names.

'The name is what you first notice!' I'd reason. 'It needs to be perfect.'

Well, now I disagree with myself. Why? Because I don't think you'll see many bloggers who still love their blog name after a few years - and it's the same for most titles. Alex Turner said the name Arctic Monkeys is 'so bad that the tribute bands don't sound worse' and Nora Ephron couldn't even name When Harry Met Sally... - it was an anonymous crew member who came up with that particular title!

So don't get too het up about the name. To paraphrase Shakespeare: 'a blog by any other name would be as subscribable'.

I still have a few tips to help you out, though!
  1. Avoid being cool or trendy. Suddenly it will be neither of those things and then you're stuck with a name you don't identify with.
  2. Make a list of everything you love/do/are - you might find a combination of words just jumps out at you. It's very bloggy to go with '[Noun] and [Noun]', like 'Cupcakes and Cashmere' or 'Netflix and Noodles'. But, as I mentioned before, fashions fade. You do you.
  3. When in doubt, go with your name (or a variation of it). It won't go out of style and you will never outgrow it. Think What Olivia Did or Lly Mlrs

Where should I blog?


There are so many platforms to choose from, it seems an impossible decision. 

For traditional bloggers, it's generally a choice between Wordpress and Blogger. I've used both and there's no right or wrong choice, it's all down to personal preference.

There's two types of Wordpress site: Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com. The first requires quite a bit of digital know-how. You have to host the website yourself, but you can basically create your blog from scratch and make it exactly as you want it. Wordpress.com is much easier to use - you just choose from and customise the available templates.

Nowadays, I use Blogger (I think I prefer the interface). Like Wordpress.com, it's easy to set up and use. And on both platforms, you can buy pretty templates to make it look just as professional as a self-hosted, fancily-designed blog. The only downside is that it's less customisable and controllable. I'll talk about this more in the next section.

Some people blog just using Instagram. You can put pretty long pieces of text into the caption, you know? So, if you're going to be heavily image led, this is a viable option. Think about @MuradOssmann, Instagram is all he needs.  

And some people manage to blog entirely through Twitter. This is a form of succinct sorcery I've not yet mastered. 140 character limit? I'd struggle. But if that's your thing - maybe you like writing your posts in Haiku form? - go for it.

There's also Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Wix, Joomla and many, many more. Do a bit of research (this is a pretty good article), work out what your favourite bloggers use, give a few a test-drive and you'll be away. Promise.


How do I make my blog look good?


I'm going to make two assumptions:
  1. You are not a web designer.
  2. You don't want to pay lots of money to hire a web designer.
Therefore, you have two options:
  1. Use one of the preset templates your blogging platform offers and tinker with the HTML (it's not too hard to find help with this on Google).
  2. Buy a nice template. My last two have been from Pipdig, who I really rate because their customer service is awesome (shout out to Phil, who fixes all my problems). It's also not too expensive (around £30), so you can freshen up your layout from time to time.
Whatever you do, make sure your blog is mobile optimised - which means the design will also work for mobile or tablet users. I know that sounds quite minor, but if you ever use a site that isn't mobile optimised, with it's tiny font, awkward, in-the-way menus and impossible-to-click links, you'll know what a ball ache it is. Most platforms and templates are mobile optimised, but it's always worth checking. 

Design-wise, try and keep it as clean as possible. A simple heading*, plenty of white space, nice clear headings and handy side bar links will work wonders. 

*My heading isn't so simple, but I'm very attached to it because it was designed by the lovely Ella Masters. Most blogs seem to have some nice typography as their heading. That's easy to achieve with a trial version of Photoshop and something from dafont.com.



How do I make good content?


This could easily be a whole blog of its own, but I'll try and keep it short. To me, there are three principles of good online content:

Make it easy to read 


In a physical sense, this means breaking up your posts with headings and subheadings. You don't want to intimidate your reader with big chunks of text, so try to add a line break every few sentences.

In a wordy sense, I mean coming across as approachable and friendly, avoiding language that's overly formal or overly slang-ified (and maybe don't make up words like slang-ified). Write to your audience as if you're talking to a friend - it helps to make you sound more, well, you.

 Make it visual 


It's tough to read a middle-long blog post without images to break up the text or illustrate a point. For blogs, I'm a big advocate of the full-sized images which take up the width of the post area (otherwise they look tiny on mobile!).

Landscape images work best, as full-length portrait shot will end up taking over most of your screen. In some cases, this can be effective - but use it sparingly. 

Make it findable 


I'm sure you'll be sharing your posts on social media, but search engine traffic will almost certainly be your second biggest source of views! You need to help Google (and other search engines) find your blog, so that when people search for things relevant to your content, you'll show up!

Now, mere mortals like us don't exactly knows how Google works - but there are a few tips and tricks that can help improve your ranking (that's how high you appear on Google's search results).

 1. Google knows when you've used a heading or subheading and scans them for information about your page. Therefore, make your headings/subheadings descriptive and informative so Google can easily grasp the main topics of your post.

2. Use keywords. Think about what people might Google to find your blog. If you can do this, you've just 'search engine optimised' your content, and you should feel pretty smug about that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you spam your post with key phrases - your number one priority should still be writing something people want to read.

A final tip? It never hurts to get a friend or family member to take a look over your blog post before you publish it. They can help spot typos, point out any spots where your writing doesn't flow, and make sure you're coming across as clearly as possible. Then you'll feel confident when you finally hit that big publish button.


Enjoy yourself


Blogging is a fantastic way to develop a whole host of skills: writing, social media, HTML coding, web design, photography - and many more! It can open a whole world of opportunities you never knew existed, like getting to know some great fellow bloggers, attending events you never dreamed of, and partnering with brilliant brands.

I just have one small request: when you blog, try and spread some positivity. Whether that's making someone smile, sharing a word of encouragement or a shedding light on a dark situation (I might have gone a bit Harry Potter there, apologies).

I hope you've found this guide helpful - that's all from me for now,

Nikki

(Hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions! I'm @nikki_mcmullen
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26 October 2016

Nine reasons to love a black cat

Did you know it's National Black Cat Day today?


This is Jude, he's my cat.

Two and a half years ago, I came home from a night out and found him - just born - on my living room carpet. It's a long, strange story, but we've been inseparable ever since.

So we're celebrating #BlackCatDay on my blog, because it's a brilliant cause that's close to our hearts.

Cats Protection recently released some stats that showed black cats make up nearly half the number that come into care and take longer to find a home than any other colour of cat. There are thousands of poor, unloved black cats, just because of the colour of their fur. Why? No-one's quite sure. There's the old superstition that black cats are unlucky. And some people think black cats just aren't as attractive.

Well, me and Jude are going to change that.

Nine reasons why I love my black cat

1. He's beautiful


I know everyone thinks their cat is the most handsome feline in town, but seriously - look at him. That sassy face, those huge amber eyes, his soft fur, the outrageous mane. He's bloody gorgeous!

I once read that people think black cats are less photogenic than their colourful counterparts. They're quite clearly wrong.

2. He allows me to channel my inner Parisian


And, given my love of the City of Light, that's very considerate of him. You can't walk around the cobbled streets of Paris without encountering some sort of Le Chat Noir paraphernalia. It receives nearly as much prominence as the Eiffel Tower! I don't know how the black cat became a Parisian symbol, but it does confirm how very chic they are, right?

3. Black goes with everything, darling


Accessories complete the outfit. And as much as I'd love a Mulberry Bayswater on my arm, I'd choose Jude any day.

This is how most of my evenings go:

I leave work, jump on the bus, and get off at my stop. There, waiting for me, is a black cat. He runs towards me - realises it makes him look too keen - and slows to a medium-paced trot. We walk the rest of the way home together. Who else dreamed of an animal sidekick as a kid? Admittedly, we attract a few funny looks, but I'm sure they think we're adorable.


4. He's really good at helping me wrap presents


Think Santa's elves, but hairier and cuter.

P.S. I'd like to formally apologise to all my friends who will receive cat hair with their Christmas presents this year.

5. He makes a brilliant hot water bottle


I love autumn and winter, because Jude and Maggie want to hang out indoors more. So when bedtime rolls around, I have two furry friends to keep me warm!

So, to recap: black cats are beautiful, helpful, and save on heating bills...

6. He makes me laugh


'Jude, do something hilarious with the wrapping!'

He has an excellent sense of humour.

7. He doesn't shed on my black clothes


And let's face it, unless you're an extra on TOWIE, you're far more likely to be wearing a black ensemble than white.

8. He literally takes a good selfie


There's a reason I call him Katdashian. He's also thinking about releasing a book of selfies next year.

9. He was a beautiful kitten


Tell me that didn't melt your heart.

That's all from Jude and I today. But if you want to help out gorgeous black cats like him, take a look at the Cats Protection's black cat page. And while you're there, have a peek at their Tinder-themed campaign video!
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25 October 2016

Happy Blogthday!

*Why cookies? I didn't have time to bake a cake.

Happy 2nd birthday, Nikki's Notebook!

A video posted by Nikki (@nikkimcmullen) on


On one hand, two years seems like no time at all - especially as I've been blogging for about a decade. On the other hand, when I looked back over the last 48 months and realised how many changes I'd been through (and posts I'd written), it felt like a lifetime.

So, I thought I'd share some of my favourite posts from the archives. Enjoy!

The One Where I Tried Tinder


I think this is one of the most popular posts I've written on here. It's definitely the one people mention when they see me around! It was a nerve-wracking moment when I hit the publish button - I knew it'd either go down a storm or fall flat on it's face. Thankfully it was the former, eh? If you haven't read it before, prepare for some epic cringiness.


The One With The Halloween Costumes


Sometimes you need Halloween inspo - and you need it fast! Two years ago, I donned five different Halloween costumes (each of which took next to no time to create) and started snapping. I uploaded a new costume each day and, voila, my Halloweek was born. I was surprised to see this still floating around my top posts - so, you might be excited to hear there's a new costume tutorial coming next week...

Read my Halloweek >


The One With the Long Distance Friendship

Nearly all of my blog posts are inspired by things that actually happen to me (no sponsored content here) and this was no exception. After several of my friends started to experience the shock of a best friend moving abroad, I realised I'd gathered quite a few long distance friendship tips since Queenie moved to Hong Kong in 2012. If it's provided comfort or inspiration to anyone, I'll be very happy.

Read the long distance friendship >


The One Without the Alcohol


I've always felt a bit of an oddball for being teetotal, so I decided to write about it. It's something I'm questioned about a lot - from taxi drivers, to relatives, to randos at the bar. But I do remember getting some really nice feedback from you guys, so thank you <3 

Read being teetotal >


The One In the Beginning


And finally, my first ever post! It's really weird looking back over this one, as it seems to capture all the likes, dislikes, goals and thoughts of my 23 year old self. So much has changed since then, but I think most of the 25 things are still true! I've also been marvelling at how much I've changed my hair in the last couple of years. Maybe that's a post for another time.

Read 25 things about me > 


Whether you've been reading since October 2014 or you're brand new to my blog, thank you so much for stopping by. It means an awful lot to me. 
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15 October 2016

Pumpkin picking


Grab yourself a hot beverage and a blanket, because this post is deliciously autumnal.

Today, I met my friend Jasmin for a delectable brunch at Jenkins & Sons and an afternoon of pumpkin picking at Sopley Farm!




From paper to pumpkin

A couple of weeks ago, I started thinking about fun things to do this autumn. At the top of my list was pumpkin picking - but I had no idea where you'd find a pumpkin patch in Dorset. Luckily, after a bit of research, I found Sopley Farm. And my big, orange dreams became a reality.

I was worried our humble British pumpkin patches couldn't match the endless rows of giant orange squashes I'd envisioned (I watch way too much American TV) - but, you know what, Sopley Farm was pretty brilliant.

From the adorably decorated pumpkins on the way in to the red sleds built for lugging your produce around, the farm was set up to make the ritual of pumpkin picking fun and photogenic. A quick tip: use the sleds - we had aching arms after carrying our pumpkins back to the car!







Have a wonderful weekend! I hope you're enjoying autumn x
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7 October 2016

What it's really like at Fashion Week

And so Fashion Month draws to a close: the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris have been and gone, the fashion editors have filed their reports and the fashionistas have retired their heels and handbags for another season.

There's always a lot of glitz, glamour and excitement surrounding Fashion Week. The thrill of seeing what your favourite designers will be unveiling, the proximity to fabulously expensive dresses, the hair stylists, the make-up artists, the beautiful models, the celebrity-studded front rows and the delicious prospect of goody bags. 

But the thing is, unless you're a VIP, Fashion Week isn't quite as fun, glamorous or enjoyable as you might think. 

Before nabbing the bloody lovely job I have now, I used to write for a fashion site. One of the few perks was getting packed off to London twice a year and watching a couple of fashion shows. In that time, I learned that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Unless your name is Alexa Chung, of course.

This is what the magazines don't mention:

(I look like I've been taken hostage)

You have to queue outside for about an hour

The ticket - I mean, invitation - tells you to get there early. You show up nearly an hour before the show. Outside you see a mile-long queue of writers, bloggers and fashion students. So, you join the queue and wait to get inside. London Fashion Week usually falls in September and February, so it's usually bloomin' freezing. Naturally, you're not wearing anything terribly practical, it's Fashion Week after all! You're left standing in the queue, watching your fingers turn into rather chic icicles. 

You have to queue again once you get inside

You're finally inside and your frozen fingers have started to defrost. But you realise: there's another queue to get into the show! Well, it's not a queue so much as a holding pen filled with buzzing bloggers an grumpy editors waiting to get through the doors. It's starting to get seriously warm, making you miss the freezing temperatures outside. There are PR girls running around with trays of non-fat FroYo - although you risk losing a hand trying to grab one. 

No one seems happy

Everyone here loves fashion, right? This is like Comic Con for the sartorially minded! Aren't we all ecstatic!? Not so much. The people actually working the show - generally trendy girls in all-black, wearing headsets - look just about ready to snap. The fashion writers look stressed too - they have another 6 shows to attend today and this queuing is simply wasting their time. Some of the bloggers have an unspoken competition running - think high school yearbook style - who's the most popular? Best dressed? And then there's a few innocent souls desperately trying to network, throwing their business cards at people like confetti at a wedding. Basically, what I'm trying to say is: there's not a lot of smiling going on. 

Seeing the show? Forget about it

You're teetering desperately on the edge of your toes, trying to get a photo of the models as they stroll down the runway without that dude's awkwardly giant hat in shot.  As you do so, you're trying to remember themes, colours, shapes and cuts to report on later. In your haste to play photographer, psychologist, historian, writer and analyst, you kind of end of missing the actual show: the models pass in a blur and before you know it, it's all over. Ah well - onto the next queue!

But it's not all bad

The invites can be pretty cool:

(My personal favourites - although 2016 Nikki regrets the filters 2014 Nikki chose)

You get to dress funny

Not mandatory. But my advice for someone going to Fashion Week who's looking for a bit of attention is: don't dress nice. It's very difficult. Dress slightly silly instead. People will love your outfit.


One day, I wore a blue gingham dress, white (!) tights, black brogues and a pink coat. I looked like Alice in Wonderland meets Dolores Umbridge. But compared to the day I wore a normal-nice black dress and ankle boots, I got way more attention. People wanted to take my photo for their street style blogs - and I don't think they were being ironic. 

You might meet someone interesting

I never managed to bump into Chung or Cara Delevingne, but I met one or two nice bloggers along the way. And I even sat next to someone well-known in fashion retail circles! I didn't realise who he was and sassed him for patronising me. Oops.

And admittedly, the setting is pretty great

I'm not going to lie: Somerset House is a stunningly beautiful backdrop. It's also a pretty great place for outfit inspiration - once you look past the neon pleather and wildly asymmetric hemlines. *shudder*

And that concludes my very biased account of Fashion Week. Have you ever been?
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30 September 2016

Arm candy

It's time for a review! Here's my recent purchases from Olivia Burton and Merci Majolie:

Merci Majolie

 A few weeks ago, I was passing time by aimlessly perusing Pinterest. Among the outfits, cityscapes, interiors and recipes, I saw these pretty, dainty rose gold bracelets. 
I'd been tempted to try wearing rose gold (I'm usually a silver kind of girl), so I pinned them and made a mental note to find something similar. 

But days went by and I couldn't find anything quite as nice. I decided to try and hunt down the bracelets from my Pinterest picture. They were a brand I'd never heard of called Merci Majolie

I typed their URL into my browser, bracing myself for stomach-churning price tags (the general rule is: I like what I can't afford). Cue a huge sigh of relief when I spotted everything on their website was under €15! And I found the bracelet from  Pinterest - a couple more goodies accidentally fell into my basket too. Luckily, they didn't take long to arrive...

Why I love it:

The packaging

I hope this doesn't make me sound vapid, but attractive packaging instantly warms me to a product. High-quality boxes with a clean embossed design? Check. Cute, stuffed shapes that serve no discernible purpose, but look adorable and make for a great Instagram flat-lay? Check. Illustrated thank-you card? Mais oui, et check'!

The bracelets even came with a drawstring bag. Perhaps it's just another way for Merci Majolie to push their branding - but for me, it's fantastically practical. If you travel, little bags like these are perfect for storing your jewellery. Wave goodbye to losing rings and bracelets in your suitcase!

The personal touch

How often do you get a handwritten note personally thanking you for your order? Basically never, right? It's a small gesture, but reading it made me smile - and was great French practice!

The product (duh)

With every bargain piece of jewellery, there's an element of apprehension. Will it turn green? Will I turn green? Will it fall apart?

Well, I've been wearing my bracelets non-stop for a few weeks now, and I can confirm both the bracelets and I are in good condition. The chains could be slightly sturdier, but as long as you're not rough with them, they'll be okay. If you're a bit of a clumsy oaf (me too), I'd recommend the bangle-style.

Bottom line: Will I be buying more pretty pieces? That is a definite OUI!




Olivia Burton

I've had my beady little eye on an Olivia Burton watch for years.

Delicate, feminine, timeless.

Slightly expensive. Not bank-breaking, but not something you can purchase on a whim unless you're loaded. Here's the thing: I am a whim-buyer. Until it's going to cost me more than £50, then I become a terrible over-thinker.

That's why it's taken me so long to get one of these watches - I can never decide which one to buy.

'Better get something that goes with everything. Would that be grey? Tan? Black? White? Nah, I'll get the white one too dirty. Now, do I want a rose gold or a silver face..?'

Having plenty of choice is brilliant until you feel incredibly indecisive. This is why I'm on my fourth year of agonising over a Cambridge Satchel Co. bag.

But as you can see, I did finally make a decision! The rose gold goodies from Merci Majolie convinced me to go for rose gold, and a recent shopping trip made up my mind that I bloody love lilac-grey.


Why I love it:

The quality

Soft, supple leather, rose gold plating that's unfailingly shiny. It looks good, it feels comfortable and I know it'll last me a long time. Now I know why mums always tell you to invest in good quality items instead of splashing your cash on cheap high street pieces.

The versatility

I opted for the lilac-grey, rose gold design - and it goes with everything! Whether I'm wearing something slouchy, something edgy, something girly, it still looks good. I'm only a couple of weeks in, but I feel like this is a timeless piece I'll enjoy wearing for years. Lucky it's good quality, huh?

The piece

It ticks! I find it oddly reassuring to hear the ticking before I go to sleep, when it's quiet in the office, or when I'm sitting on the bus. And wearing a watch, which I haven't done since Year Seven, is quite awesome - I feel more grown up, and I can look at my wrist pointedly when people are faffing around.



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