Thursday, 28 February 2013

Book 6 of 2013: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Back last year I saw the film of War Horse and it didn't take me long to realise that I needed to read the book. As luck would have it, The Book People advertised it at the time that I was looking for one or two extra books to give me free delivery, so I added it to my basket. It arrived, I promptly put it on my bookcase and then never actually got around to reading it.

Like the film, the book of War Horse tells the story of Joey the horse who is purchased by a farmer and adopted by the farmer's son, Albert, before being sold to the army to go away to help in the war. Although he starts on the British side, his story sees him join the Germans as well as a French family, and it's all told through his eyes.

I really enjoyed this story. I wondered how it would work, knowing that it was written to be told from Joey's point of view. It was done very simply with Joey acting as the narrator and talking quite simply about what was going on around him. I've read a couple of Michael Morpurgo's stories and I think that this simple writing is characteristic of him; it succeeds in drawing you in and I was able to read it in about two sittings.

I have to admit that it made me tear up at the end. Animal stories are one of those things that really get to me; the though of an animal suffering or being scared is enough to do it for me. Even though I knew what was going to happen because I'd seen the film, there were several differences at earlier points in the story, so I wasn't entirely sure how it was going to end.

It was clever the way that it showed the war from the perspective of the British, Germans and French. By using Joey as the narrator, there wasn't really any taking of sides; it was just presented as 'this is how it was here and that's how it was there'. I think that would make this good to study in the primary school classroom; it's written using language that older kids would understand and I think it would be a good way to open discussion into what life would have been like for the men on the front line.

I was also pleased that Joey doesn't actually speak at all, not even to other horses. Although he narrates the whole story, and relates discussions that take place between human characters. It's suggested that the horses can communicate with each other but they don't actually have any moments in the book where they speak directly. It's something I was glad of because it makes it feel more real somehow, as real as a story narrated by a horse can be anyway.

There were a few little bits that I didn't like; towards the end a character is killed who was only introduced to us a few pages earlier. It's obvious that this affects the other characters, but we didn't really learn much about him and so it didn't really bother me as much as the loss of some of the other characters featured earlier in the book. Aside from that it was a really good book and not only am I looking forward to seeing the film again at some point, I'm going to be on the lookout for more books by Michael Morpurgo.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Quick Statistical Interlude

I'd planned a post about War Horse today, but I couldn't let a little milestone like 10,000 pageviews pass without comment. From Sunday I knew it was coming, and I knew it was going to happen this week, but I couldn't be entirely sure exactly when it would happen, which led to a little bit of obsessive compulsive checking of my blog stats at the beginning part of the week.

Just over 10,000 pageviews
I've mentioned before how much I enjoy checking my blog stats, it's interesting to see what people have been looking at (and what search terms have been bringing people to my little blog).

It's also interesting to see how my pageviews change over time:
Pageviews to date (as of 26/02/13)
December always seems to see a bit of a spike in page views due to my Christmas film review posts I did a couple of years ago. My most view post to date is my book review for A Game of Thrones which has had over 1,500 views, the next most popular posts are both Christmas film reviews (with 500 and 425 pageviews respectively). Most of my popular posts are from 2011 but there's a couple from last year and one from this year which are sneaking up the listings which I'm pleased about.

From what I can tell, most people find my blog via various combinations of 'the/der Grinch' or 'game of thrones'. I've had some pretty interesting search terms in the past though, my favourite being 'men having a wee'. I'm not sure which disturbs me most; the fact that someone actually wanted to search for that, or the fact that my blog was one of the pages listed as the result for that term!

I'm curious to see how my blog statistics change over time, it's always interesting to watch the little spikes and see what's causing them. I'm fairly certain that the recent increase in traffic is largely due to my signing up for the A to Z Challenge because it's exposed me to a bunch of new blogs, several of which have followed me back in return. I'm wondering if my A to Z Challenge posts will help to change the search terms that are bringing people here.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and checking out the place, hopefully you've seen something you like and will be coming back in the future. Here's to the next 10,000 pageviews. ;-)

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Day Zero Project: Finish Every Knitting Project

I actually modified this one after I started when I realised that my original target of completing one knitting project each month wasn't really practical. At certain times of the year I just don't get as much knitting done and I also started last year with a project that I just didn't feel too inspired to work on.

It was a pattern that I'd adapted myself from a couple of others, plus sort of made up as I went along. I'd already knitted a hat and some fingerless gloves so needed a matching scarf. The problem with it was the fact that there was a sort of lacy pattern running through it which meant it was a little too complicated to sit and do whilst watching TV, but was too simple to devote all your attention to.

In the end I just sucked it up and forced myself to finish it, once I got over the halfway mark it became much easier. The thing is as tall as I am and looks pretty impressive with its wavy pattern which I adapted from Island Waves a free pattern on Ravelry.

Since then I've been going on really well. But I think that's largely down to my choices of knitting patterns. I've moved away from knitting clothes and accessories and moved on to cuddly toys, which have featured rather a lot on this blog recently. It took me a while to get Father Christmas finished, but he's so cute that when I saw him coming together that it really motivated me to finish (and even though you still end up with a bunch of ends to weave in at the end, it's not nearly as frustrating as something like a stripey scarf where you need to make sure none of them show).

Those Roley Poley kids are great fun to work on because you can do them in a day if you're feeling particularly dedicated. As much as I like to knit hats, depending on the design, it can take a while to actually take shape, whereas the toys seem to come together more quickly.

Right now I do still have a couple of projects waiting to be finished. I've still not gotten around to sewing and stuffing my last two Roley Poleys and I'm slowly getting on with my Puss in Boots toy as well. So far, so good. I think the key is continuing to find things that interest me, rather than things which will just use up wool; that's why I'm holding off doing the Roley Poley parents, after doing seven little guys I couldn't really face doing something that was basically just a larger version of them.

After Puss in Boots I'm planning on doing a Humpty Dumpty person from one of Jean Greenhowe's pattern books and then one from her Clan MacScarecrow family. If I start talking about sewing something up later because I'm going to start knitting something more interesting, please nag me to get it finished.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes Boxset

I'm a wee bit late in reviewing this, but as I've been studying Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four recently (and have an assignment about it due) now seems as good a time as any to share my thoughts on the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

I've mentioned before that Mr Click is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and he owns several different adaptations. The first one we watched was the Basil Rathbone films which date from the 1940s and most of which transport Holmes to that era to pit his wits against the Nazis. Those are his favourites. I have to admit I was pleased to move onto the Jeremy Brett ones purely because they're more my style. Although until we watched these ones I'd seen less than a handful of the Brett episodes, he's such an iconic representation of Holmes that he's who I tend to picture as I'm reading, even if I've got the Sidney Paget illustrations on the page!

The boxset that Mr Click owns features every episode, divided into four sets; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It's nicely designed and looks like a pair of books; I'm a big fan of funky looking DVD cases, this one suits the contents well.

Most episodes run to about an hour on DVD though there are some feature length ones which run to about double that. It tends to be the bigger stories, like The Hound of the Baskervilles. Often it's obvious which'll be the longer ones because they're on a disc by themselves but some aren't so you don't always know how long it'll be when you start watching. The earlier episodes are often direct adaptations of the books, which in my opinion are usually stronger than the later 'original' ones which are just missing that Arthur Conan Doyle spark.

Watching these so soon after watching the Basil Rathbone versions, I have to say I prefer the way Watson is presented in the Brett-era. Nigel Bruce's Watson is a bit of a bumbling fool whereas the Watsons portrayed by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke (after the first set Watson is taken over by the latter) are intelligent men who help Sherlock solve the crimes rather than just seeming to be there for comic relief.

Image from Jeremy
And of course I can't mention the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes without mentioning Jeremy Brett himself. I wasn't aware of what a tough life he had until Mark told me when I said we'd finished watching the series. Reading about Brett it seems he was tortured by mental health problems and his sexuality, I can't help but wonder if that affected some of his intense portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a bit of a tortured soul himself; this brilliant mind which is constantly in need of fuel to such an extent that he feeds a drug addiction to help stave off boredom. Brett seems to throw himself into Holmes and become the character; there are probably parallels that can been drawn between the man and the fictional character.

Since finishing the series we've decided to stay in Victorian England and are watching a selection of BBC adaptations of Charles Dickens stories. It's been a nice easy shift from one to the other and coincided nicely with my studying the Victorian period for my course. We're almost finished with Mr Dickens so I'll post a note of my thoughts on it then; hopefully a little sooner after we finish than this review.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Week 8: Distorted

I'm actually quite pleased with this photo this week. The theme was distorted and luckily it coincided with my first attempts at playing with my new tripod which gave me a chance to play with some techniques I've not really been able to try before.

My first go was with some 'light writing', where you basically turn all the lights off, set the camera for a long exposure and write words in the air with a torch. I was trying to write the word 'distort' but it was tricky to get a longer word written in the air, without actually being able to see what you're doing while you're doing it. I'll probably have another go at this in the future for another theme, in fact, there's one coming up in a couple of weeks that I think'll work as well.

So I started trying to think of other ways to play with the idea of 'distortion'. It made me think of the 'ghost photos' I'd been playing with; it sort of distorts your expectations of a photo when you realise that there's someone in the shot who's sort of not entirely there. After playing around with stop motion photography, I left my tripod set up, set a 10 second exposure and took this:

Week 8: Distorted
It's probably a bit of loose interpretation of the theme, but I like the way it's worked out, epecially the fact that my arm has worked out being clearer than the rest of me so it's sort of emphasising the distorted bit. So that's me being a ghost (and also the most you're likely to see of me for a self-portrait for a while) and I'm reaching for The Duchess of Malfi.

I was really pleased that I managed to step out of the frame so quickly, because in some of the long exposure 'ghost photos' I took at the beginning, I'd move too slowly and leave a sort of ghost image behind as I went. The hardest part of this was standing perfectly still for the five seconds it took before I could step away.

I'm proud of it though, like I said, the tripod's giving me the chance to play with some next techniques. Next up is high-visibility which I think will be fun to come up with... I've got a couple of hi-vis Red Cross jackets upstairs, I'm thinking they might find their way into the photo...

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The To-Read List

A few years ago I got a Moleskine Book Journal which I use to keep track of what I'm reading. I'm onto my third volume now and it's become a proper habit now.

It's got alphabetical tabs down the side with space for the book title, author, date you read it, when it was first published, the edition you're reading, the author's nationality, the original language and any awards it's won. The one thing I think it's missing in my opinion is the number of pages so I just add that in on the line for the publisher. It's also got space for notes about the book, quotations and your opinion at the end.

The book has a Moleskine pocket at the end with various stickers in it which you can use for reviews but also to label the final six tabs which are left blank for you to label as you like. In each incarnation my labels usually vary but, without fail, the first is always for my 'To Read List'.

Two of the three pages of books I'm hoping to read
Each year I organise this slightly differently. Sometimes it's just books I own that I plan to read (with a separate section for books I want to read but don't own); sometimes it's anything I fancy.

Since this year I've got most of the books I intend to read out on display it's made the To Read List compilation a little easier. I've even gotten then sorted into different categories. At some point I'm planning on rearranging all the books on the bookcase and in the cupboard so they are in a similar order to my journal, but that's just me being a bit over-organised.

The To Read List is currently standing at approximately 179 books, that's not counting the earlier books in series that I'm working through, or books that I've already read in the first month or so of the year. Obviously, I won't get through all of them this year, but I'm hoping to make a sizeable dent to them over then next ten or so months. And of course, I'll be recording my progress here.

Do you keep a To Read List? How do you keep it under control?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Book 5 of 2012: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

When I first found out the list of books to be covered during my OU A230 literature course, I set out to find and read a couple of them in advance of the course starting; Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was one of those books. At the time I read it, I hadn't read too many books from that era and I have to admit that I didn't think very much of it. I think on this second attempt I did enjoy it a little more.

Fritz Eichenberg Woodcut from Wuthering Heights
Despite taking a little longer get through on this go around, I found it an easier read. Reading it alongside the course book helped because I know one of the problems I had the first time was keeping track of who was who as well as who was actually telling the story. The course book helped me to keep things straight so I didn't get quite as bogged down and was actually able to just read it. That was something that had been worrying me about rereading this, purely because I knew I'd have to look at it in greater depth than the first time.

I'm putting my ability to remember who was who during this read-through down to the fact that the course book basically took the novel stage by stage. Although it was largely dealing with critics reviews and the context in which it was written, that still helped a huge amount. I think at one point it actually says that it's easy to get confused when you're reading it because of all the names or events that keep on getting repeated.

This time around I felt more sympathy for Edgar and his daughter Catherine; when I first read it the only one I really sympathised with was Hareton who really didn't have any chance to avoid the situation he ended up in. I still can't feel entirely sympathetic for Catherine Jr because seriously, why couldn't she just do as she was told? But I did pity her more this time for how Heathcliff used her. I'm glad that Cathy and Hareton got a happy ending together.

I think I found Heathcliff scarier this go around. I'm not sure if it's something I really picked up on a huge amount the first time, and maybe the course book helped with this because it did spend a fair bit of time talking about the supernatural and 'uncanny'. Heathcliff's death really creeped me out, partly because I was reading it at night. The thought of him and Catherine's spirits lingering around *shudder*. I suppose that makes it an effective story though.

I'm fairly certain that this one will crop up in the exam so I'll probably revisit bits of it closer to the time of that. From a point of view of the course, I'm enjoying learning about the period this was written in; I've always been interested in the Victorians and it's been interesting hearing about their opinions at the time it was first published.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Silent Witness Series Review

Silent Witness has come a long way in the last sixteen years and this latest series has seen some pretty big changes. The big one that I was expecting was that Tom Ward has left.

What was disappointing is the way he left. The last series was pretty poor and it aired out of order which meant that it ended with Harry moving in with Nikki after an explosion in his flat. This series had a quick mention of Harry accepting a professorship in America. And that was it. The only real reference to him all series.

It was frustrating that there's been years of build-up with Nikki and Harry, they've had this brilliant connection and play off each other so well, and it's all for nothing. I understand the actor wanting to leave, and I understand the fact that they couldn't change the last episode into his last one, but I think they could've done something just to include him a little more; maybe a couple of emails or something, just to make his disappearance more credible.

I also still haven't totally warmed to the new boy, Jack. On a totally shallow level, he's not as nice to look at as Harry. I'm also not that impressed by the tough guy routine. That said, he's an interesting character and I'm glad they've brought in someone who does forensics rather than just another pathologist; it's given them another angle to focus on with cases.

While it's taking me time to get used to Jack, I liked Clarissa from the off. I didn't like Jack's attitude that if they had him, they'd have her too, but I like her as a character, she balances out Jack.

During the last series Leo got on my nerves. A lot. It was his own fault for ditching Janet. The last episode of the series (before the gap due to an episode being too similar to a real life case) was just weird and I didn't like him in it at all. In this series he felt like the old Leo again, I really liked him, which I think is why the last episode shocked me so much.

Of the whole series I feel like the really standout episodes were the third (True Love Waits) and the fifth (Greater Love). The first episode was a strong start to to the series but I don't remember too much about the second; I'm sure I enjoyed it, but it's obviously not lodged in my memory.

The third episode really stuck with me, I think because it was so creepy. I was actually scared to go outside after watching it so made Mr Click take Tara out that night. The fourth episode felt like regular Silent Witness and then there's the last episode, and what can I say about that?

I haven't read any spoilers for this series, so aside from knowing Tom Ward wouldn't be in it and that David Caves and Liz Carr would, I had no idea what to expect. I always used to be a bit of a spoiler-fiend, looking out for what was coming next, but I've honestly enjoyed not knowing what was coming (except for some odd comments on Twitter about who Nikki was snogging). I think I'll try and stay spoiler-free about other TV series in the future now.

Leo's exit was cleverly done so that anyone who knew it was coming would think it was happening at the end of the first episode of Greater Love, especially as there were no clips of him in the preview. And then he was better and everything was good until the end! As it was happening I was thinking 'how are they going to get him out of this?' And the answer was, they didn't. He's gone.

Whenever a character dies in a TV show and you see the funeral, it's disappointing if former cast members don't return. I realise it's not practical but it still feels wrong. We've spent almost ten years watching the relationships between these characters and it doesn't feel believable to me that Harry wouldn't be at Leo's funeral. I'm in serious need of some fanfiction featuring Harry's flight being delayed so he couldn't be there and then a bit of he and Nikki comforting each other.

Thinking about Leo's departure, I think it was really the only way he could have gone. With Harry it's plausible that he could move on to better things but the shot at the end with Leo's name on the gravestone with his wife and daughter felt right (even if it does seen to have moved since we saw it last). Apparently Emilia Fox has signed on for the next series, which is good because the show improved in leaps and bounds since she joined. I can't help but wonder what direction it will take next year, especially as part of me wonders whether Tom Ward and William Gaminara were jumping ship because last year's series largely seemed disappointing.

I really hope that they don't run it into the ground and then cancel it. If it's going to end I hope it's at the end of a strong series which you can look back on fondly (I'm looking at you Waking The Dead and ER), rather than something which just fizzled out. It's such a great show and it's proved it can survive a major cast change before, so I want it to survive this one.

And if they're taking Leo away, the least they can do is let us have Harry back.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Blog Comments

When I was reading through some of the blogs taking part in the A To Z Challenge I caught a post talking about commenting on blogs and it got me thinking about the comments that I leave.

I follow quite a few blogs and I think it's polite to leave a comment behind if there's a post that I've read and enjoyed, if it's made me think about something or if I just want to acknowledge that I've visited. I only usually get online properly once a week to read all the blogs I follow, though occasionally if someone on Twitter posts a link then I'll read it there.

If I'm reading a post on my phone I don't usually comment because it has a habit of eating my replies. For some reason if I backspace while replying it stops typing and I have to start over. It's frustrating so I try to remember to post comments when I'm online on a Sunday.

I like to try and read through all the updates posted through the week but I have a habit of not knowing what to say. The time I'm most guilty of this is probably with my friends who have different interests to myself, like my friends with nail blogs which I enjoy looking at the pictures for but I don't often paint my nails so often can't think of anything to say beyond 'that looks cool'. Thinking about it, I probably should comment on these more often because it's nice to get an acknowledgement that someone's read something and I'm sure those girls would like to know I appreciate their designs and not just following them because I feel like I should.

The other time I struggle to post comments is when it's someone I don't know. Unless you're a friend I know from a particular site if I stumble across your blog and start reading it regularly I feel a bit stalkerish just commenting out of the blue. I should really get over this because blogs are out there for people to read and it's probably even more stalkerish to just lurk in the background reading blog posts without actually saying anything about them!

So I've started trying to make a conscious effort to comment more often on the blogs that I read. Obviously that won't be on every blog, but I think it's better than I have been. I think it's important to say something meaningful, to say you agree or disagree with what's been said or to share an experience. What's helped with this is getting an app for my phone which allows me to read the blogs I follow without coming online via Blogspot (which is really time consuming). Then if there's something I want to read, I open it in Safari and leave my comment; it means I don't have to try and remember what I was going to say until I get online at the weekend.

I also like to reply to comments on my blog. Sometimes you can end up with interesting conversations going on or ideas for future posts. The problem is, I get an email regardless of who the reply is from so I get excited to see I have a new reply, then I realise that it's my own post!

How about you? What influences your blog comments?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Day Zero Project: Read 52 Books

I kind of set this one as an easy challenge. The year before I read 145 books, so I knew it was highly likely of manage to read 52 (though in my defence, in 2011 I was unemployed for a month so read 33 books alone then). I was originally going to put 75 but decided on fifty because I thought that was a more realistic target; one book a week.

I managed to clock 107 so it was a done deal from about halfway through the year. I have slowed down somewhat over the last few years but I think I probably could've aimed a little higher, maybe 75 books in a year. I think that I might make that an unofficial target for this year, though I only managed three books (plus most of The Idiot) in January, so maybe I'm not being very realistic there.

This year I'm taking part in a couple of reading challenges, one of which you set a personal reading target for the number of first-time reads you intend to get through. I've set a target of reading 50 new books this year. I think this might be a better target to work towards because I have a habit of revisiting old familiar books when I could be reading new ones.

I think so far it's stretched me a wee bit, but when I was writing up my To Read list the other day, I've realised there are quite a few that I've read before. Though I suppose it does make a good excuse to buy more books...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Lucid Dreams & Nightmares

Although you're reading this on Monday, it was actually written in the early hours of Sunday morning when I woke up after a scary-ass dream and was too frightened and freaked out to go back to sleep. It was truly bizarre so I won't recount it here but suffice to say it involved people's arms coming off and was kind of like The Ring (right down to the way it ended with a sort of video and I'm not saying anymore because I'm feeling creeped out again).

I think what made it worse was the fact it started out as a lucid dream that I lost control over. For those who are unaware of what lucid dreaming is, it's basically where you know you're dreaming and you have control over what happens. Apparently it's something you can train yourself to do (you can even buy sleep-masks with LEDs in them which flash words to remind you you're asleep) but it's something I've been able to do for as long as I can remember. I've got memories of these fantastic Bedknobs and Broomsticks dreams (one of my favourite dreams circa. 1992) where I knew it was a dream but I was able to decide where we went and would be able to pick up the thread the following night.

I wasn't even aware it was a thing until I read an article about it online when I was in my late teens. It was weird to find out it wasn't something that everyone did when they were asleep because I'm so used to it. It's a good way to plan out ideas for stories or to create your own fanfiction when things haven't gone the way you like in a TV series. It's a wee bit like Inception which is possibly why I love that film so much.

For me it tends to work in two ways; I'll either start a dream knowing it's a dream and gradually it'll fade off into random dreamness (that I don't have control over) or I'll be having a dream and I'll suddenly realise I'm dreaming and then I'll take control of it. Sometimes I'll do both and there'll be a bit in the middle which I can't do anything about before I start thinking 'this is silly' and change what's happening or rewind it back to the good stuff. It's a good way to handle nightmares because, like the bogart in Harry Potter, you can change the thing that's scary and stop it from frightening you.

Just when you thought it was safe to have an early night!
Suffice to say, that's not what happened on Saturday night/Sunday morning! I'm not entirely sure where the scary bit came from considering the scariest DVDs we have in the house are the Omen boxset and the Thriller TV series (which is mostly just scary how bad the later storylines are). We'd been watching Mr Holland's Opus which inspired the school setting for the dream, but as for the rest I have no idea what my brain was playing at.

What made it worse that when I woke up I reached out for Mr Click only to find the dog in between us in the bed; so he stretched out an arm for me to cuddle. Not so reassuring when the scary dream you're wanting comfort for involved people being separated from that particular limb!

And yeah, it's kind of funny now. The memory of it is already starting to fade so it doesn't seem too bad. All the same, I'm refusing to move from this bed until I can see daylight outside... Oh and if I do drift back off to sleep it'll be with a nightlight on my phone...

I can't help but think my subconscious would make a great horror film director, if only I could get over the fear of actually watching my creations.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Project 52: Week 7 - Baking

I had a pretty good idea of what to do for the theme of baking. Unfortunately it didn't really go according to plan. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to post the recipe we use when we make a loaf of bread in the breadmachine. I intended to take a photo of each of the ingredients and then share the measurements and settings that we use with the picture of the week being the finished product.

But then I ran out of half the ingredients. Normally we stay pretty well on top of the things we need for bread, I take sandwiches to work almost every day and we usually have soup at least once a week (the bread machine makes a lovely top crust which is perfect for dunking in your soup). It's a post I'm going to share at some point in the future... once I've been shopping for more supplies!

Week 7: Baking
So since we ran out of granary flour, and oil, and started getting low on the brown sugar, we've been cheating a little bit. We're planning a big shop at the end of this week so until then we're making do with what we can get at the local supermarket. A couple of these bread mixes worked out the simplest way to do things.

It didn't make a bad loaf, not quite to the usual standard. The top sort of sunk, which was okay for dipping in soup, but it tasted good. I realise that making bread in a bread machine doesn't really take much baking talent, but somehow this feels even more like cheating than normal. You see it says 'just add water' that's really all you do, the hardest part was getting the mix out of the bag without throwing it everywhere!

I know that this is a bit of a bland photo, but I like that I took it of the empty packet, rather than a full one. I like how it's all crinkled, it makes it look marginally more interesting than had I just opened the cupboard door and snapped that.

Next week's theme is distorted which I think should be fun. A couple of weeks ago Mr Click ordered himself a tripod from eBay because he was having problems with his radio in the bedroom and he thought he could mount his antenna on it. Then it turned out that the problem was with a cable which was two feet longer than it was supposed to be. I have no idea about any of this stuff, but what it has meant is that we've got another tripod in the house which he doesn't need but which is the perfect fit for my camera.

I'm wanting to play around with some long exposures, which I'm sure will be interesting and hoping that I can do something like that with the theme of distorted. I expect that I'll get some fun mistakes that I might be able to use.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Tara's Travels

When we got our Tara!pup she’d never really been in a car before. On the journey home she alternated between sitting or standing beside me in the backseat and sitting or standing on my lap. Aside from being a bit restless she wasn’t too bad and we quickly got her used to sitting in the boot to travel.

Then she discovered that she didn’t have to stay in the boot because she could actually squeeze between the headrests on the back seats and climb into the back seat while we were driving. Huge distraction for the driver. Tara thought this was a brilliant game however. We quickly resolved it by getting a dog guard fitted which kept her securely in the boot and us safe in the knowledge that if we had an accident we would be faced with a labrador-sized pinball flying around the car.

Then she realised that when the boot was opened she could hop right out and take off wherever she wanted. This was solved by fitting a sort of doggy-seatbelt in the back that she could be clipped to when she was in the car, so when the boot is opened she can’t just run off whenever the mood takes her. Within days of getting this put in she suddenly got really good about not getting out of the car until we told her she could, silly pup.

Of course, the back of the car can be really boring at times, especially when you’re having to travel a whole five miles or so at a time. It can be touch to entertain yourself when you’re a young black lab back there, which is probably why they invented these really yummy mat things which you can chew on when nobody’s looking. Yeah, the mat in the back of the car got nibbled. Being the cruel dog owners that we are we had it replaced with a wooden board which isn’t nearly as fun to chew on; though the blanket we put over that definitely makes up for the mat removal.

Then a couple of weeks ago I nearly had a heart attack when I got out of the car and realised that our Tup-Tup had all but shredded one of the seatbelts in the back. The way the car is designed the seatbelts pass through the dog guard, tantalisingly close to her nose where they bounce around invitingly while the car’s in motion. It seems as though our pup had resisted temptation for long enough and decided to have a little nibble. Unfortunately shredded seatbelts lead to cars failing their MOTs (not to mention not being much use for the passenger forced to wear them), so we had to order a replacement.

Along with the £35 replacement seatbelt, we ordered a stylish basket muzzle for her. Which she promptly wriggled out of and ate! I’m a little bit curious as to what she’ll come up with next to challenge us on our little journeys around the island. Luckily even with Tara’s slight modification to its design, the basket is doing its job and she’s back to being as good as gold in the car, for now at least.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Feeling Crafty

During the last couple of weeks my knitting has slowed down somewhat. This is partly due to the fact that I virtually ran out of stuffing, so I carried on knitting away and have two and a half things that are just awaiting the motivation to get them sewn up. I do actually have a big bag of stuffing now so all that’s stopping me is the fact that I’ve started knitting something else and I’m wanting to get to a good place to stop with that before I go back to sew up the other stuff.

I’ve also been working really hard to get ahead and stay ahead with my OU stuff as well. I slipped behind a little bit just after Christmas and spent a while playing catch-up whilst preparing for TMA 03, which isn’t really the ideal way to study because it’s so easy to miss things. On past courses there have been times when you could skip stuff because it wasn’t covered by an assignment, but this one has an exam at the end (June 13th, looking scarily close now!) and I don’t want to miss anything. Unfortunately this means that sometimes you have to study instead of knitting, depressing as that is. And now I’ve gotten caught up, I feel like I’ve hit my stride and I don’t mind spending the evening poring over a course book rather than clicking my needles.

From left to right: Polly, Roly, Rosie, Paulie & Posey.
I’ve got all seven of the Roley Poley kids knitted up, I’m just needing to stuff and sew the last two (who I’ve christened Rory and Ruby). Originally I was planning on going straight on to do their parents (basically larger versions of the little Roley Poleys) but I decided that as I’ve got a stack of new Jean Greenhowe knitting books waiting for some attention I’d move onto one of those and come back to Mr and Mrs Roley Poley. The kids are fine, they’re hanging out on the back of my chair with Scrat from Ice Age!

I did learn an important lesson when knitting last week. You should always read all of the instructions, and follow them right through to the end. My current knitting project is Puss in Boots. His legs, body and head are all knit in one piece with various little embellishments knitted and sewn on afterwards. One of these add-on bits is the top of his boots which have a sort of a scalloped edge in the picture with the pattern.

Now when I knit, I copy the pattern out by hand onto a separate sheet of paper so I can tick off each row as I do it (so as not to lose my place) and also so I can make any amendments that I need to make. As I copied out this pattern I thought I knew better than the person writing it, so made a slight modification here or there. Imagine my disappointment when I completed this little ten or so rows of knitting to discover that I’d made a little rectangle with a row of holes across its middle, nothing like what I could see in the picture. I tossed the scrap into my knitting bag determined to tackle it again the next day and get it right this time. I put a big cross through the pattern I’d copied out into my notebook; I wasn’t going to make that mistake again!

The next day I read through the pattern again and started copying it out once more, only this time I actually read to the bottom where it says ‘to make up’. First you sew the ends together, then you fold the thing in half and sew the cast on and cast off rows together. I dug out the little scrap from the day before and experimented with folding it in two. Suddenly I had the scalloped edge I was seeing in the picture!

So that’s my lesson learned. I’m just glad I didn’t unravel the whole thing when I first thought it wasn’t going to work.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

What are you loving?

Every year Mr Click and I agree that we’ll just do cards and not exchange gifts, and every year he slips up and buys me something. Luckily this year I slipped up too and I’ve got him a little treat. It’s not what I wanted to get him which was the newest Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows, because for some reason it was more expensive to buy it on its own in blu-ray format than it was to buy the two films in one case, which I refuse to do because we already have the first one!

Anyway, you don’t need a special day to say you love someone, but as it’s Valentine’s Day, here’s a few of the things I’m loving at the moment:

My new bookcase and having access to my books:

My daft dog (and my lovely girlie!rats):

The good TV we’ve been watching recently:

The fact I got to catch this beautiful sunrise last week:

And of course my wonderful husband who’s been keeping me really well fed recently.

So what have you been loving recently?

Proof we were destined to be together?

I suspect this is evidence Mr Click and I were mean to be together.

Yup, we picked matching Valentine's Day cards.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Book 4 of 2013: The Idiot by Fydor Dostoyevsky

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky was another book from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, plus it fulfilled a requirement for the Winter Reading Challenge (the letter I). I actually couldn’t decide between The Idiot and Ivanhoe but I made the choice based on the fact that I’d had a bit of a bad day and a book entitled The Idiot suited my mood better. As I’ve been gradually adding as many of the free to download ‘1001 Books’ to my Kindle, I went for the ebook version.

Image of Dostoyevsky from Wikipedia
I’ve wanted to try reading some Russian literature for quite a while. I went to St. Petersburg when I was eighteen and there’s something about the place that I just fell in love with, there’s so much history there. Aside from a bit of Chekhov, I’ve never really read anything by any Russian authors so picking up The Idiot felt like I was able to tick off another box for my own personal reading challenge.

I didn’t have any real expectations for it because the free download version didn’t actually display a synopsis. There was obviously a description about it in ‘1001 Books’ but as some of them give the endings or significant plot points away I avoided reading that as well, so I honestly didn’t know what it was going to be about. It started quite well; I began it quite late at night and only manage to read a few pages because I had to be up for work the next day. I actually found it to be quite funny and I remember thinking that if it was going to be 389 pages of this, it’d be a breeze.

But then after the first fifty or so pages, nothing really seemed to happen for about two hundred pages. I really felt like I could have read the first six or seven chapters and then skipped to the last hundred pages and not really have noticed much of a difference. It took me almost two weeks to read because it was so easy to put it down and when I started it again, nothing seemed to happen, and it would be late, so I’d put it down again. Then suddenly things picked up again and I spent the last night reading the final ten percent of the book fairly quickly. It’s a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t have gripped me so strongly.

I did enjoy reading a book set in a foreign city that I’ve actually been to. There were only a few place names that I actually recognised (one of which I’m going to have to look up because I’m sure I’ve been there but I can’t actually remember). I don’t think that there was a huge amount of description of what the places looked like, there wasn’t much that stuck with me, but I found it really easy to picture the places because I spent so much of the trip to St. Petersburg studying all the architecture. It’s a beautiful place.

One thing that I think that the book could have benefitted from, and perhaps other editions, have this, is a list of characters and their relationships to one another. The way that Russian naming works means that many of the characters have several names, all of which are used interchangeably. It meant that it was a bit tricky to actually keep track of people at times. There were times when I would forget who was who in a scene because I thought there were five people but actually there were four but one or two of them were using two different names depending who spoke to them.

It was a heavy-going read and I think that perhaps at another time I might have enjoyed it a little more than I did on this read through. It’s not put me off attempting another novel by a Russian author, but I’m planning on taking a little break from the ‘1001 Books’ for a month to read some books that I really want to read rather than ones that I think I should read.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Liebster Award

On Saturday I was merrily working away on my OU chapter for the week when I got an email to say that I’d received a comment on my blog. The comment was from my friend Bob @ Nailey Ma Bob and included a mention that she’d nominated Click’s Clan for the Liebster Award.

This is an award for bloggers who have less than 200 followers and helps to highlight new blogs. I’ve been trying to find some new blogs to read for a while, I’m incredibly satisfied with the ones I already follow, but they tend to be written by people I know from other sites and I like to think that part of the reason I blog is to ‘meet’ people I don’t know. That’s part of the reason why I’ve signed up for the A To Z Challenge. The Liebster Award has rules which help to promote other blogs, so I’m definitely on board with that.

These rules are:
  1. You must post 11 facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the questions set by the blogger that nominated you.
  3. Choose 11 blogs and link them in your post.
  4. Come up with 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
  5. Go to their blog and tell them you have nominated them.
  6. No tags back!
So here goes…

11 Facts About Me1. I love to read aloud. Some books just sound better when you speak the words out loud, any time that I’m alone and I have a good book, I’ll read it to myself. I can’t wait to have kids because reading bedtime stories will make this so much easier for me.

2. We don’t have TV in the house; that’s actually a bit of a lie, we have a TV but we don’t have Sky/broadband/a phoneline/etc. to actually watch programmes while they’re on. My lovely in-laws let us access the internet when we visit and we record Bones on their Sky+ but when we moved in we said we’d wait to get all that stuff for ourselves because it wasn’t top of our list of priorities. We thought we’d just finish watching some TV series boxsets that we owned and then we’d get around to it. Well, it’s over a year and a half down the line and it seems like the longer we go without ‘live TV’ the less of a need we feel for it (and the more DVD/Blu-ray boxsets we seem to acquire)!

3. When I was twelve I travelled to America by myself to spend Christmas with my Uncle and his family in Atlanta. Travelling to America as an unaccompanied minor was the coolest thing ever; for the last twenty minutes of the flight I was bumped up to first class, then I was the first off the plane, escorted through all these little corridors and handed over to my family before the rest of the travellers had even disembarked. Coming home I was left on the plane until last and was seriously beginning to think I’d been forgotten until someone came and got me.

4. I love taking photos, they’re not always very good photos, but I enjoy it and I think I’m slowly getting to grips with my DSLR camera. I live in such a beautiful place that it’s a shame not to try and capture as much of it as I can.

5. I’ve delivered several lambs by myself. A couple of consecutive years I spent first two days and then a week on a farm during lambing season. I’ve always said I wanted a pet sheep and a family member arranged it for me. It was a fantastic experience – I showed up on the farm at about 6am on the first day and was delivering my first lamb within roughly twenty minutes.

6. After nearly three years of trying to start a family was diagnosed with endometriosis and learned that the only way I’d ever conceive would be through IVF. I went onto the waiting list last April and I have to wait until next April before we’ll be anywhere near the top of the list. We’re hoping to get the funds together to go private but, living on an island, we’re tied to the seasons as we couldn’t have treatment during the winter months when there’s the most disruption to the ferries which could mess up our appointments. I’m sure one way or another I’ll get to be a mum some day.

7. All of my pets prefer my husband. It all started back in 2008 when I got two male rats named Nero and Finn. Mr Click wasn’t too sure about handling these tiny little fluff balls because he’d never been around rats before and was scared of hurting them. They grew up to be big, confident, squishy ratboys and they won him over with his charms; of the two, Nero was his best friend. He’s like the Dr. Doolittle of rats because all of our subsequent rats have loved him over me. It’s not just rats either! I begged and begged for a dog when we got a place of our own. We adopted Tara, our lovely black labrador, and she would much rather cuddle him than me. Actually, that’s a lie, I’m her best friend if I’ve got a biscuit.

8. I have a huge phobia of talking on the phone. My job involves talking on the phone all day. For some reason this doesn’t particularly bother me, but the moment my mobile rings I panic.

9. I am a massive Tolkien fangirl. I first read The Hobbit at the age of six, though I didn’t get into The Lord of the Rings until I saw the first film (then I devoured the books). I have a massive collection of Tolkien books and other related doodads. One of my most treasured possessions is a very early copy of The Silmarillion which my Grampy gave me.

10. I’m very accident prone, in fact, this is the longest I’ve actually gone without seriously injuring myself or warranting a trip to the hospital (though I came close the other week when Tara stood on my eye). I’ve spent three weeks in plaster though not for a broken bone; I’ve broken a rib and a bone in my foot, neither of which needed/could be plastered. My person best injury was driving four and a half inches of wood into my leg whilst teaching a primary school maths lesson.

11. I dream of someday having a house with a room which I can use as a library, that said, recently we’ve been rearranging things in the house and I’ve roughly half of my book collection out on display in the living room. The other half is in the spare bedroom that we’re turning into a hobby and craft room, so all I need is a comfy chair up there and it’ll be almost like having two libraries.

Questions from Bob
1. What is your TV guilty pleasure?

I have a soft spot for old kids TV shows, in my defence, I think they can now be classed as ‘classics’. Among my collection I have all the episodes of The Clangers and Bagpuss, I’ve also got a Hairy McClary DVD, Stoppit and Tidyup as well as Button Moon. They’re great for when you’re feeling under the weather, but not the sort of thing you really want to own up to having spent your weekend watching.

2. Have you got a party trick?Not really a party trick but I can recite the whole of Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ off by heart. I used to use it when I was in the drama group and we needed to keep talking to test our microphones. I learnt it in English when I was about 16 and it’s one of my favourite poems so it’s just sort of stuck with me.

3. What is your favourite item in your wardrobe?I’ve got a couple of lovely long cardigans. They’re lovely and comfortable and when I wear them I kind of feel like I’m wearing a Harry Potter-style wizard robe. I got the first with some gift vouchers we got when we were married, the second one Mr Click bought me (and I need to sew up because I’ve got a hole in one of the arms). They look nice and smart for work, or are comfy if I’m wanting to wear them with jeans as a sort of smart-casual.

I also like my big baggy hoodies and jumpers I’ve stolen borrowed from Mr Click. I’d wear them out if it was more socially acceptable, but mostly they’re just for lounging around the house in winter.

4. You’ve been given £/$100 and you have to spend it in an hour, what do you buy?Right now? I’d put it with the money I’ve already got put aside and toddle down to our local electrical shop to buy the chest freezer we’ve been saving up for. Any other time? I’d splurge on DVDs and books. Top of my DVD list right now is the ER boxset.

5. What is your favourite all time movie?Jack and Sarah. Richard E. Grant is a man whose wife dies in childbirth and he’s left to raise his daughter on his own, and then he acquires a rather unconventional nanny. It’s got Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in it and I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember, even though it makes me want to cry.

The Lord of the Rings films are a very close second but as they’re three films I don’t think they count.

6. What annoys you the most?Rude people.

There are ways to say things if you’re unhappy about something and there are ways not to say things. People who talk over others, put people down, say things behind people’s back, don’t listen, it’s all the same and it’s not nice.

7. Who would play you in a movie of your life?Ooh, tough question. I don’t really resemble anyone famous so I couldn’t pick that way. I asked Mr Click and he said Billie Piper or Honeysuckle Weeks, so yeah, I’d go along with that. They’d have to get my accent right though, I’ve got a terrible West Country twang, hehe.

8. What’s your favourite joke?After studying two OU linguistics courses I have a new respect for puns or anything involving a bit of wordplay. I like funny business names like ‘Lettuce Eat’ (a sandwich shop) and ‘Sherlock Homes’ (which I think was a rental agency).

I know one about an email which is sent to the wrong person, but it’s long and I always muddle it up.

9. Who is your role model?I’ve not really thought about who my role model would be, there are lots of people who I admire though. I think in terms of role models, J.K. Rowling is pretty much up there. She made it through really difficult times, worked hard and does so much good now. I think that I’d probably class her as a role model.

10. What is your favourite website?Probably HTV. I joined back when I used to watch Casualty because it’s a community for fans of the TV show, but there’s something about the place that just sucks you in. I’ve not watched Casualty in about two years but I still hang around HTV, mostly in the Chit Chat and Books forums. I’ve made so many friends on there and some day I will actually make it to a meet-up. I can’t even say exactly what it is about the place except that everyone is really nice and caring, and just slightly insane, which makes it a fun place to be.

11. Do you drive & if you do, what car do you drive?I don’t drive yet, someday. I’m hoping to start lessons again later this year, just as soon as I’ve got a new provisional license, my old one expires this year and I’ve never actually gotten around to getting my maiden name removed from it. Mr Click has a car which is ‘our car’, it’s a Renault and it’s nice and high and comfy (and I would love it even more if it was an automatic which I could happily drive). Since getting Tara it sports a dog guard, seat covers and a sort of seatbelty thing in the book for her, oh and we’ve recently had to get a new seatbelt for the back seat because she ate one. It’s a sort of silvery colour and sometimes it’s a bit slow going up hills. I’m really not a car person.

My Questions for my nominees1. How old were you when you first started using the internet?
2. What’s your favourite memory from school?
3. You can invite five people, living or dead, to a fantasy dinner party. Who do you invite?
4. If you weren’t doing your current job, what job would you be doing?
5. What is your favourite photo or picture? (If you can’t share it, describe it).
6. What is your favourite room in your house?
7. Why do you blog?
8. Who was your first crush on?
9. Do you still have your first teddy/stuffed toy?
10. Where in the world would you like to visit?
11. What is the worst book you’ve ever read?

My Nominees (all blogs I've recently found through the A To Z Challenge)
1. Oh Frog It!
2. My Baffling Brain
3. Reading, Writing and Everything In Between
4. My Creatively Random Life
5. Domestic Evolution

Monday, 11 February 2013

A To Z Challenge

On Twitter last week I spotted a fellow OU student posting about something called the A to Z Challenge. I'm not sure what made me click through to the link she'd posted, but after reading about it I thought sounded like a good idea to help me with my goal of posting a blog post every day.

I signed up almost straight away, well, not straight away, I opened my page on my phone, got frustrated with trying to read it there, borrowed my mum-in-law's computer and then signed up, but it was fairly soon after learning about it. At the time I thought I'd just post more of the same. I've been trying to get into a routine with book reviews, Project 52 posts and stuff for my Day Zero Project so I though that would help catch me up and inspire me.

Then last week I was sitting at work, in my lunch break, writing a blog post about trying for a baby and it struck me, why not do the whole challenge about infertility?

I never meant for this to become an infertility blog, when I picked the name 'Click's Clan' I thought it would be a good name for talking about all my family; pets, myself and anyone else who happened to come along. I kind of like reading 'mommy blogs' where mums post photos and stories and things they've been up to with their offspring and I wanted to do that myself.

But since finding out that I'm going to need IVF that's kind of become an important part of who I am; I've got something that causes infertility which means my journey to have a family is taking a slightly different route from lots of people. And I've been wanting to say more about it in my blog, but haven't really known what to say.

I'm thinking using this for my A To Z Challenge my be a good way to say some of the things I've wanted to in the past, show what it's like to be waiting for so long to start a family and hopefully show some other people out there that they're not alone, because believe me, it feels that way at times.

So I've been frantically planning things I can write about which will cover each letter of the alphabet. I've managed to gett something to say for each letter of the alphabet bar four and I've got until the beginning of April before I need to start actually posting. I think it'll be fun.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Project 52: Week 6 - Self-portrait

I was hoping that this week’s challenge might encourage me to try taking a photo of myself for a change, but I just didn’t get around to finding anything that I really liked. I’m going to have a look at some portrait photography blogs and sites that I like to see if I can see if there’s something I can attempt myself to try for the future.

My two immediate ideas were to take a photo of my shadow being cast on a wall, which would’ve been perfect if I could’ve rigged up a lamp or something to actually cast a shadow on one of the walls in our house. I think this would also work best with a tripod and a remote for the camera. Mr Click has recently bought a very expensive tripod at a bargain price for his radio equipment (and since discovered he might not actually need it) so I’m hoping I might be able to borrow it at some point in the future.

My other idea was to take out the contents of my bag and lay it out to take a photo of it. I’ve seen this done before and I like the effect of it, especially when everything’s laid out very geometrically. The problem with this one would be organising it someplace where Tara would walk through it/run off with bits and pieces as well as finding an interesting way to arrange the things in my bag. I think what’s in a person’s bag is really interesting and can say a lot about that person. Mine will always have a book in it, there’ll be my phone and some pens, random medication, my purse and usually some old receipts and things that’ve just been tossed into the bottom.

Then I got a better idea while rearranging the book boxes in the spare bedroom. I found my old baby book. This is one of those big hardback things that my mum filled in after I was born with all sorts of little things like when I first smiled and took my first steps. One of the first pages has a card from the hospital glued in with all the details about how much I weighed, the time I was born and how long I was. I was so new when it was filled out that the name slot just says ‘Baby Girl’. One of my favourite toys from when I was younger wears the hospital bracelet that was put on when I was born (so tiny I can only fit two fingers into it now), and it says ‘Baby Girl’ too.

Week 6: Self-portrait
So I thought that would make an interesting ‘self-portrait’. I realise I’m taking the term loosely but I think it still counts, it’s a photo that I’ve taken of a snapshot of my life nearly twenty-seven years ago. It’s a little weird to think of myself as just a baby girl, not Cait, with such tiny little wrists. It’s like I was a whole other person, but at the same time, it’s still me.

I had to be careful when I was taking the photo to make sure that my surname back then wasn’t showing, I just didn’t want that in the photo. I wanted to make sure that the fact it said ‘Baby Girl’ on the card and bracelet was really obvious as well. I wish I knew the exact moment that I stopped being just ‘Baby Girl’ and started being me. The other little bits of information weren’t quite so important somehow, but I’m glad I included some of them in the photo as well. Somewhere I have my hospital bracelet from my operation last year, I should fill in a new card with my weight and height and do a then-and-now version of this photo.

Next week the theme is baking so I guess this will be an excuse to whip the bread machine into action and get a photo of whatever comes out. We’ve been running low on bread making supplies so this may be a tricky challenge after all.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Changing Rooms

Over the week we've been playing musical furniture at home. It's been a double pronged attack coming about because we decided we actually wanted to do something with our spare bedroom but also because we had run out of room for our books and films.

While Mr Click started work clearing things out of the spare bedroom to make room for the desk his parents let us have, we started looking out for new bookcases for the living room and front lobby. We already had one big bookcase which we got shortly after we moved in but it just wasn't enough to hold my vast collection.

Unfortunately bookcases were in short supply at our local furniture recycling place, but we did manage to find a nice deep shelf unit which would work for books in the living room. And so we started a Tetris-like process of moving furniture around the house.

We emptied the old bookcase and moved it to make room for the new one. Then I had plenty of fun moving all the books across.

Then we had to clear all of the DVDs out of the cupboard in the front lobby, move that into the living room and then move the old bookcase into the space where the cupboard had been. I thought it was going to be a huge job but it didn't take long at all.

By far the most time consuming part of the job was moving all the films and TV series around in the front lobby. It was good fun too; until this point we've had to keep most of our boxsets in plastic tubs in a cupboard but now they're all out on display. It looks really bright out there now and it's so much easier to pick what we want to watch now we can see it all.

Now we've got a desk in the spare bedroom as well, all we need is a sofa bed and well be practically sorted up there!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Another Word Cloud

I enjoyed making word clouds for my TMAs so I decided to have a play with a word cloud for my blog, as I said yesterday, word clouds are a good way to see what you're talking about the most (which I know, I can see from my tags but this looks prettier).

I thought it was fairly obvious that I talk about books most of all, with 'read' a very close second. I think it'll be fun to do this again in a couple of months time to see how things change over time.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A230 So Far

Back in October I started my fifth OU course, I'm working towards a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature and after this I've only got one more course to go before I graduate. The course I'm doing at the moment is A230: Reading and Studying Literature, it's been a bit of a learning curve because it's less concrete than my last couple of courses. There's a lot of analysing texts, which is starting to become good fun, but it's also a bit woolly as well, because you're not referring to the course book as much as whatever text it is you're considering.

I've recently submitted my third TMA (and after being about a week behind since the second TMA I've caught back up again and if I keep going as I am I'll be ahead soon, which I always prefer) and although I can't exactly post a copy of the entire assignment on here, I saw someone on my course on Twitter doing this and I thought it was a cool idea. By the way, for those not in the know, a TMA is a Tutor Marked Assignment, basically an essay. When you start a course you get a book of all your TMAs and it's kind of fun to read through them and give yourself a heart attack when you realise that within the next few months you'll have to be answering all those questions!

TMA 01
The first TMA involved analysing an extract from Othello. I like that the three main characters in the scene come out as the most commonly used words. You can also see 'Washington' and 'Walder' in fairly large print, those are authors of chapters in the course book and I'm slowly learning not to throw a reference back to the text book unless it's absolutely necessary, which I think is evident in the next two word clouds.

TMA 02
The second TMA involved a comparison between Candide and Oroonoko which is fairly obvious from this word cloud. Part of this essay was looking at the narrator of the text, which shows here as well. I think making a word cloud is a good way to test whether your essay is actually on target because you can see fairly quickly what the most common things you're saying are.

I managed to make slightly fewer references to the course book in this essay (that would be the 'Pacheco' down in the bottom left hand corner), which is again evident in this word cloud. I also got a much better mark for this one than on the last (I think I moved up a grade band).

TMA 03
And this is the one that I'm just waiting to find out how I got on. The focus of this one was the speaker (which is fairly obvious from this word cloud) and also the landscape (which is prominent but not quite so obvious from here) in two poems, one by Wordsworth and one by Shelley. This was a two part assignment and I think a word cloud of the second part might make 'landscape' look a little larger, but also I used more specific words for the landscape like 'lake', 'nature' and 'Ravine' which I think skewed the results a little bit. I'll have to wait to see what the tutor thinks about that.

Now we've moved onto Victorian books which I'm quite enjoying, though not quite enough to say that I'm looking forward to my next TMA, but still, I am enjoying the course. It's taken me a little while to get into it, mainly because it's been a long time since I've had to analyse texts in this way.

Honestly during the second TMA I felt a little like I was banging my head against a brick wall, but I think somewhere along the way something has clicked, though again, I'll have to wait to see what my tutor thinks of TMA03 to see if things have really sunk in. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Book of the Month: January

I didn't manage to read as many books during January as I had hoped. Normally I like to read a book every three days or so, I don't mind spending a week on a book, but when it's taking me longer than that there's usually a good reason. Sometimes that's because life is getting in the way, I might be ill or working an awkward shift, but sometimes it's because I'm just not enjoying it a great deal. I hate giving up on a book as well, especially when the end is in sight.

In January I only made it through four books (and one of those wasn't finished until February). Those were:
  1. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Eugenie Grandet - Honore de Balzac (ebook)
  3. Flash and Bones - Kathy Reichs
  4. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (ebook)
Of those books The Fellowship of the Ring was definitely my favourite book of the month, with Flash and Bones a very close second. The two ebooks were both taken from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list because since starting my literature course I'm very aware that there are a lot of 'classic' books out there that I've never read.

Unfortunately this is proving to be a bit of a challenge to me so far, part of this may be before I've picked books to fill slots in a reading challenge I'm taking part in, rather than picking books that actually sound like they would appeal to me. That's not to say that I didn't like the sound of the ebooks that I picked, I just didn't get into them as much as I hoping having read about them.

So what am I going to read in February?

Well, I've got several books which are being covered in my OU course; Wuthering Heights and The Sign of Four both of which I read a couple of years ago when I first decided I was going to do this course, but which I need to revisit for course work and assignments. The first time around I found Wuthering Heights to be a bit of a drag, but having started looking at the Victorians now (a period of history that fascinates me) I'm hoping that I might enjoy it a little more; The Sign of Four I'm not too worried about, I enjoyed it first time around and we've watched a couple of different versions over the last few months. My only worry about this one is that my edition is different to the one used in the course book, but I'm surviving with an older edition of Wuthering Heights (where all the page references are one page out), I'm sure I'll get by with that one too.

We also had a friend pop round with some paperwork the other week and spotted my bookcase with all the Kathy Reichs books on it and suggested I might like to read some Patricia Cornwell novels. Several people have told me this and I've thought about picking them up for ages, but I've always been a bit put off because I didn't want to start reading in the middle of a series. He lent me the first one so I've got that on my shelf to read now as well, I don't like having borrowed books hanging around too long so I'll get onto that quickly.

And there's War Horse which I bought to make up a Book People order after seeing the film. I selected it as a challenge read on HTV so need to get that out the way before the end of February. I've only read a couple of Michael Morpurgo books but I've loved what I've seen so I think this'll be a fairly quick read for me. I'll also probably move onto The Two Towers as well, I'm wanting to draw out my Tolkien reading a little this year though so I might see if I can hold off on that one til March.

As for ebooks, I've still got the A Song of Ice and Fire series which I'm about halfway through just now. I stopped in between the two volumes of one of the books which is split into two (luckily my Kindle remembers where I've left off because off hand I honestly can't remember where it was now without checking my Book Journal). I like to alternate between book-books and ebooks so I might see if I can get at least one of those books read this month as well.

Of course, now I've got more books out on display in the living room because we've moved around our furniture, I might change my mind because I've got access to a lot more books than I used to. I think the main thing will be finding time to read, not reading material.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Project 52: Week 5 - Tradition

I actually got confused about the challenge for this week and jumped ahead two weeks in the beginning, which means I have some really good ideas for when the theme is baking but I was a little bit rushed when it came to thinking of a photo for tradition.

My initial plan was to take a photo of a family tree or perhaps Mr Click's instruments because those are both things that instantly spring to mind when I think of 'tradition'. But things didn't really work out for me to actually take a photo of one of those things. I also took a few photos of my bookcase because I have a tradition of reading the Lord of the Rings books each year, but I've taken loads of photos of my books and things so I wanted something a little different.

Week 5: Tradition
In the end I decided to go for a photo of a photo (mainly because I couldn't get a decent photo of my engagement and wedding rings because I've got gross excema all over my hands). This is a framed photo which was given to us by one of the witnesses at our wedding alongside a wedding gift from our drama group.

Getting married is one of those traditional things to do, though ours was a fairly non-traditional wedding. We had a small ceremony, just family and a couple of close friends on Christmas Eve. I wore a dress I got for a Christmas dance when I was seventeen (and it fitted me better in my twenties than in my teens). We had a buffet lunch for a reception on the day and then the drama group organised a meal and party for us (including cake) later on. We also ended up spending very little and thanks to a dowry, which can be applied for providing the bride lives on the island and the wedding takes place in December, we actually ended up with more money afterwards than we spent on it - funds which got us set up in our new home two years later.

Considering our wedding was totally non-traditional, it was exactly what we wanted and I remember the day fondly (and things have just gone on getting better and better since then). It's funny because although I was certain when I was younger that I'd never get married, it was the perfect day for us. And in hindsight, it was more traditional than I thought at the time. There was a pretty dress, people in suits, we exchanged rings and used the traditional marriage vows, there was a party (or two) and cake. Turns out I might be a bit of a traditionalist after all.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Better late than never...

Just came up for my shower (possibly the last one in a while since we've got a plumber in about a leak tomorrow and I'm not sure where it's coming from), looked up at the window and saw this:

Actual snow!

While the rest of the country has been struggling through inches of the stuff my little Scottish island has just been cold, wet and windy.

Of course it's stopped now, but maybe we'll get more in the night. It'll make getting to work tomorrow interesting...

Day Zero Project: Project 365

Last year I set myself the challenge of taking a photo for every day of the year. In the past I've attempted this and normally fail a couple of months into the year. Setting it as one of my Day Zero Project tasks gave me a bit of an added boost because to stop taking photos would mean failing two projects instead of just one.

And I succeeded.

I have to admit I was a little bit surprised, I honestly was half expecting not to make it all the way through the year. I did struggle to find interesting things to take photos of; looking back there are some fairly boring and crappy photos. I don't seem to do enough to take an interesting photo each day; when you've spent best part of the day in your pyjamas, watching films, there's little to make an interesting photo out of.

That's why I decided against doing the same project again this year. I'm trying to take one really good photo following a theme. And so far it's worked to inspire me, I'm looking for creative ways to link what I've got to the theme. It means I take a different photo each day to experiment what works.

I've got a lot of favourite photos from last year but my favourite has to be:

It's a lovely photo of my Bell-rat and it kept on cropping up on Google searches. I think that's one of good things about trying to take a photo every day, you end up with lovely memories which you know you can look back on in the future.

I know that lots of my photos have been plain iPhone ones, but it's what they're pictures of that's important to me. And I'm glad I've got them posted on this blog, they're all in one place so I can see them whenever I like.

Now I've moved onto my new Project 52, which I'm still taking a photo each day but I'm just selecting the best one or the one that best represents the theme of the week. It's stretching me a little more than the plain Project 365 did.

And I'm not abandoning my photos from last year. I'll maybe weed out some of the boring ones like my feet or my dinner, but the others I'm hoping to get printed towards another of my Project Zero projects: making a photo wall.