Sunday, 31 March 2013

Project 52: Week 13 - Early Morning

I thought that this would be easy what with the brighter mornings and the fact that I've been getting up early enough to enjoy them. However what I didn't count on was my complete and utter inability to actually remember to take photos until the evenings this week. This meant that capturing a photo conveying the essence of Early Morning proved a little tricky.

I did remember to take a photo in the morning today, though it wasn't particularly early. I suppose halfway there wasn't too bad. I didn't really know what I should take a photo of to show early morning, beyond the sunrise or something like a clock and our breakfast things. In the end, forgetting to take a photo actually helped to inspire me.

The curtains in our bedroom are quite thin and, being light-coloured, the sun shines through in the morning and evening. This is useful for reading without turning the light on, but I tend to wake up naturally when the sun shines through in the morning. In the summer that can mean waking up any time after about 4:30am. I like to enjoy the sun, but sometimes that's a little bit too early.

Week 13: Early Morning
This picture doesn't quite do justice to just how bright the sun was in the bedroom window this morning. It didn't really make much of a difference to the brightness of the room when we opened the curtains, it was that light.

We keep on saying we're going to get some new curtains, something a bit thicker, though I quite like the lighter ones. I like the natural light. Though I suppose I could do without the early morning wake up. These ones were already there when we moved in though and I've got used to the way the room looks with them.

Next week's theme is intense and I have no idea what I'll take a photo of. But I'll try and go for something a bit more imaginative than my bedroom curtains.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

OU TMA 04 Word Cloud

I quite like making word clouds out of my OU assignments, it's an interesting way to see what you've been writing about and hopefully will give you an idea of whether or not you're hitting the assignment specifications.

My last assignment was due in at the very beginning of the month and I found it quite a tricky one to get through. From the way I understood it, the assignment brief was asking you for a bit more information relating to the course book, whereas previous essays have asked for evidence to be more text-based. I've gotten so used to that approach that switching back to the other method felt a bit odd.

The fact that I referred to the course book quite a bit is evident in the fact that 'Towheed', a chapter author in the course book, is easily as big as the authors of the actual books. As you can probably see, this essay dealt with Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four and Stevenson's 'The Beach of Falesa'.

I really struggled with this one. Not helped by the fact that I was coming down with a cold at the time and I just really struggled to get motivated to write this. As I kept writing it, more and more things came to me and it got to the point that I went well over the word count. This meant that I had to chop bits out and I ended up cutting out bits that I thought were relevant but which were less relevant than other bits. It's so frustrating when that happens.

I'm still waiting to find out my mark for this one, though by the time this is posted I might have it back. I don't think I'll be too bothered by a low mark, so long as I pass, that's the main thing.

In other OU news, I'm just waiting to find out my location for the exam in June. I got an email asking if I wanted a local examination venue. I said yes, but then it showed up online as being some place in Glasgow. Luckily it's now switched over to 'TBA' so hopefully that'll come up soon online. I'm hoping for either the school or the Pavilion, but as long as I don't have to get a ferry to get there, I'm not going to complain.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Liebster Take Two

So I've been nominated for the Liebster Award again. I did it a little while ago but it's always nice to be recognised. This time it was Jai from And Then...., thanks Jai. For those not in the know, this award is for blogs with fewer than 200 followers and aims to help introduce readers to new blogs, it's also a good way to learn facts about the bloggers you like to read, and it's fun to take part in.

Liebster Award Rules
1. Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award, and link back to his or her blog. Check (see above)
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator; list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees. Check (see below)
3. Present the Liebster Award to 11 bloggers, who have blogs with 200 followers or less, whom you feel deserve to be noticed. Leave a comment on the blogs letting the owners know they have been chosen. (No tag backs.) Technically not
4. Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog. Check (see above)

Eleven Questions from Jai:
1. If you could have a super power what would it be?
I grew up loving the X-Men and always wanted to be Jean Grey. Telepathy would be great because I would know what people were thinking; that would be really handy for getting presents for people. I'm kind of lazy too, so telekinesis would be useful for those times when I've just sat down and realised I left my drink in the kitchen!

2. Coffee or Tea?
Definitely tea. I'm a massive tea fan and I just can't stand the taste of coffee, though I do like the smell of it. I have my tea black first thing in the morning and with milk and sugar later on, caffeine free too as well.

3. Favorite color?
Green, as may be evident from the general colour scheme of the blog. It reminds me of being outdoors, in forests or fields.

4. Why did you start blogging?
I love reading blogs that people write about their kids and things they get up to with their family, so I kind of wanted to do that myself. It's become a place where I share my photos and craft projects, talk about my pets, post book and other reviews, and it's also where I'm planning sharing my journey as I (hopefully) overcome my infertility. It's a multipurpose blog.

5. Who was your favorite teacher and why.
Pretty much most of my English teachers. I loved reading from an early age and they all encouraged me and pushed me outside my comfort zone. Particularly Mr Logan who introduced me to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and encouraged me to write.

6. Who is your favorite author?
Without a doubt, J.R.R. Tolkien. I revisit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit each year. I love the way he writes and he has such an interesting life. Each time I read them I feel like I'm revisiting old familiar places.

7. What kind of music do you enjoy?
I like a bit of everything, particularly stuff like Taylor Swift - poppy with a bit of country. I like songs that tell stories, or songs from films. Soundtrack films

8. Do you have a favorite movie?
I have several. It depends what sort of film I'm in the mood for. Obviously I love The Lord of the Rings films; for Disney it's Beauty and the Beast although I also love Wall-E and Monsters Inc.; Jack and Sarah is still one of my all time favourites too.

9. What would be your dream vacation?
I would love to go back to North Yorkshire again. I've only been once but I fell in love with the place. It's so beautiful and all the people are lovely. If money wasn't an option, I'd love to travel to New Zealand, Canada, America and Europe.

10. What is your favorite healthy food?
I like fruit and vegetables. I've always been a good girl when it comes to eating my veg. In terms of fruit I like the simple stuff like apples and pears. We usually get them tinned which is nice because you get all that extra juice.

11. What is your guilty pleasure?
Disney stuff. I'm a massive fan of Disney. I'll watch any of the films, even the ones geared for, let's say, a younger audience. If it was socially acceptable I'd fill my bedroom up with Disney paraphernalia, but I think my husband would complain.

Eleven facts about me
1. I'm a compulsive shipper. When I start watching a new TV series or reading a book, I can't help but look out for which couple will be 'the one'. I've actually done this since before I knew what 'shipping' was. I vividly remember obsessing about a couple on Casualty when I was aged about eight or nine.

2. I'm scared of heights. Bizarrely, I'm not scared of all heights. Sometimes I've got to climb a step ladder or over a fence or something and it doesn't bother me at all. Other times I climb up to the top of the steps on the ferry, look back and feel all queasy. It just creeps up on me at inconvenient moments.

3. I love having 'me' time, but I never really know what to do with myself when I've got it now. Usually I should be studying but I invariably end up reading or playing on my computer, then feel guilty about not getting things done. I've had quite a bit of 'me' time recently because my in-law's have both had hospital appointments and so Mr Click has left me at home with Tara. I'm so used to having him around the house with me when I'm not at work, but I have to admit I quite like it.

4. Rats are one of my favourite pets. The only problem is that they've got such short lives. There's been very few occasions when I've been without rats in the last fifteen years. In that time I've either owned or shared the care of twenty-three rats. I still remember all their names, their colours and funny stories about each one.

5. If I won the lottery, I would spend one day a week just shut in a room reading. If someone offered me a job where I could just read for twelve hours a day I would snap it up. I'd be especially grateful if I could read aloud, but I'm not sure my voice could handle that five days a week.

6. My favourite time of year is probably Christmas. I love the magic of the season, particularly for kids. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that time where it was so much more magical than it is as an adult. Mr Click's birthday is in December and when we were planning our wedding there was no doubt that we were going to be married in the month of December. I kind of secretly believe in Miracle on 34th Street, Santa's totally real.

7. My online name, Click, is a smush of my first name and my surname. One of my log-on names at work is my first initial followed by my surname and I was constantly writing Click instead. I needed a new 'online name' and Click seemed to fit. Unfortunately it's not as unique as my previous name so I sometimes have to come up with variations on it, the problem then is remembering which site uses which name!

8. I've recently gotten back into digital scrapbooking. It's something I used to do years ago, but since I've been taking loads of photos with my digital camera, I never seem to do anything with them. Digital scrapbooking is basically regular scrapbooking but you do it using graphic editing software on your computer. Nice people make free elements that you can download and use on your creations. I'm still a bit rusty but when I've got some I'm proud of I might get some printed in a little photo book.

9. I really resisted getting an eReader, but now it's one of my favourite things. I love the fact that I can fit so many books into my bag. I don't like the idea of never reading another book-book again, but I like that if there's a book I don't feel quite so concerned about having a hard copy of, I can try it out there first and then if I feel like I want it I can buy it as a 'real book'. It's also introduced me to lots of classics that I wouldn't have otherwise read, because I'm picking them up as free downloads as well.

10. I love going to the cinema and watching films. I'm one of those people who will happily watch a film over and over again. I also love reading about how they were made and watching special features on the discs. I don't get to go to the cinema quite as often as I'd like to, mainly because we have a busy social life and we've got to get someone to watch Tara if we go, but we make up for it by having a big DVD/blu-ray collection. Mr Click and I have also recently started Amazon wishlists so we can see what the other one wants if we're wanting to order something.

11. I was vegetarian for about six years from the age of sixteen. I just developed this weird problem where I couldn't stomach it anymore and eating meat was making me ill. It gradually got worse and worse until I was nineteen and struggled to even eat too much dairy, and then gradually it got better to the point where I carefully reintroduced meat back into my diet. The best explanation we had for it was that it was linked to stress, now I've cut out those sources of stress, I've got absolutely no problems whatsoever. So strange.

Eleven questions
1. What was your best Halloween costume?
2. What's your favourite housework task and why?
3. What sort of phone do you have?
4. Share a crafty creation that you've made and are really proud of.
5. Do you have a nickname for your significant other? What is it and how did it come about?
6. What song could you listen to every day for the rest of your life?
7. Share your proudest moment.
8. When was your most embarrassing moment? (We won't laugh, honest).
9. What is your dream pet?
10. Have you taken part in any blogging challenges? Which ones?
11. Do you schedule your blog posts, or just write them by the seat of your pants?

Now, here I'm supposed to tag eleven people who have got less than 200 followers, but as most of the people I would pass this on to have already done it, I'm just going to leave it open to anyone who fancies it.

If you do what to take the award, let me know and I'll post a link to your blog here for you.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Day Zero Project: Go to a concert

This is proving to be a bit of a tricky one for me at the moment. Every year I used to go to see Status Quo with my family, I was brought up listening to them and I always loved the atmosphere (plus there were a couple of occasions when we got to go to the meet and greet with them which was fun). It's not something I can do now as there's been a bit of a fall out with that side of the family, so when I made my list for Day Zero, I thought it would be a good thing to do again.

It's not something I've achieved yet. When I decided I wanted to go to a concert I mean a big concert, as in something at the Glasgow SECC or Exhibition Centre. Though it's honestly not something I've looked into too much, I couldn't really name one band or artist that I'd really be happy to pay all that money to go and see. We've got the added difficulty of finding someone to mind Tara overnight if we went away because a concert in Glasgow would mean a night in a hotel. So at the moment I'm still waiting.

On the other hand, I have been to several concerts put on by our local community band; not quite on the same scale, but equally enjoyable. If all else fails, at the end of the 1001 days, I can always just use one of those ones as my 'go to a concert' target.

I did have the opportunity to go to T In The Park with the Red Cross this year but it's around the time of my OU exam so that's off the cards. Maybe next year then...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Book 10 of 2013: A Storm of Swords: Part 2, Blood and Gold by George R.R. Martin

When I read the first volume of A Storm of Swords I got totally sucked in and thought 'I'm going to go on and read the next one as soon as possible'. Then of course other things happened and I didn't actually get around to it. After feeling a bit disappointed by the books I was reading on my Kindle for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die challenge I set myself, I decided I needed to read something just for me. The obvious choice was A Storm of Swords: Part 2 Blood and Gold and it definitely revived my reading mojo.

Warning! This post will contain spoilers. Read on with care.

In some places these two volumes were published as one, so the story pretty much continues where it left off. Edmure Tully is all set to marry one of the daughters of Walder Frey,  Jaime Lannister is making his way home, Jon Snow is making his way back to Castle Black, and Joffrey gets married. Of course, by the end of the book, lots of people have died, strange and magical things are happening  and no one is in the same place as they were at the beginning.

It took me a little longer to get into than I was expecting, mainly because it's been several months since I read the last one (October, I think) and I'd forgotten what had happened. I wouldn't recommend going with this long a gap between these books, particularly this one. Looking back I probably should have refreshed my memory by reading a quick synopsis of the story so far to make it easier to pick it back up. That said, it didn't slow me down particularly, I picked up the threads fairly quickly and got sucked in just as before.

One thing I'm learning with this series is that nobody is safe. Anyone can die and usually they will. There were three significant deaths in this book; one of which I was kind of expecting, two of which totally shocked me. I ended up reading over that bit a couple of times convinced that I'd misunderstood it and was reading it wrong. I found myself wondering who would be next and scanning ahead on the list of chapters I have on my phone (as my Kindle version doesn't have working page numbers) and feeling reassured if I could see someone's name up ahead.

My favourite characters to read about were Tyrion and Sansa. I've liked Tyrion from the start, he's beautifully flawed, but he's also really geniune and he does things for himself but also for the good of others too, he's one of the only characters like that. Sansa annoyed me in the beginning, but as time's gone on I've developed a real sense of sympathy for her. I found myself enjoying Jaime's chapters as well, I didn't like him much before but he's growing on me now.

I was really into this one by the end. I ended up staying up really late one night reading because I had less than ten chapters to go, and I just couldn't do it. There's nothing worse than having to put a book down because you just can't keep your eyes open any more.

It ends with loads of questions. Magic seems to be starting to play a greater part in the story now and I'm curious to see what direction it's going to go in. I'm really looking forward to the next one (though slightly worried because I've only got a couple more on my Kindle after this, one of which is another two-volume one, and then I'll have to actually wait for the next one to be published).

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

BBC Charles Dickens Collection

For Christmas my in-laws bought me a boxset of eight BBC Charles Dickens adaptations. When we finished watching Sherlock Holmes it seemed like the logical thing to move on to, sticking with the Victorian theme.

This set comprises of The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. They originally aired between the mid-80s and 2000s; the order above is the order they are in the box, rather than order of transmission. The episodes also vary in length with the older ones tending towards 30 minutes in length, while the newer ones run to an hour or 90 minutes.

In terms of who is in the series, it would probably be quicker to list the British actors who don't star in any of the adaptations. I could probably just fill this entire blog post with a list of who is in each one. It's one of those things that you can't help but watch playing spot the British Crime Drama Star or Who's Been In Harry Potter (up to and including Harry Potter himself)!

We watched them in the order that they were in the box, which meant that we jumped back and forth between the decades when they were made. We started with The Pickwick Papers, which we actually have an old black and white version on DVD and we'd watched it not all that long ago, but this adaptation featured more of the adventures of the Pickwick club than I remembered in the film. I didn't really recognise anyone in this one apart from Clive Swift (who was in Keeping Up Appearances).

I'd quite like to see a modern version of this one, it was very funny and I think it would go down well with today's audiences. I couldn't help but do a bit of fantasy casting as I watched it, and I thought that Mr Jingle (who speaks with a weird sort of rhythm) would be played perfectly by David Tennant.

Oliver Twist took a bit of getting used to, as they didn't keep bursting into song every five minutes. Like The Pickwick Papers, this was divided into 30 minute episodes. I have to admit that I've not actually read Oliver Twist so knowledge of the story comes from the various adaptations I've seen over the years, bits of it came as a bit of a surprise to me. Of course, we had to go and watch the musical when we got to the end of the mini-series. The notable cast members of this one were Miriam Margolyes and Lysette Anthony (who played two parts, I recognised her from Dracula Dead And Loving It).

I've totally overdosed on adaptations of A Christmas Carol this year, we watched around six or seven in the run up to Christmas (sometimes more than once). This version was only half an hour long and seemed like quite a stripped down, low budget version. It featured Michael Hordern as Scrooge as well as John Le Mesurier and a very young Zoe Wanamaker. I think I might have appreciated it a little more had we just not watched so many of them in such quick succession.

Martin Chuzzlewit was slightly more modern and was one of the first ones which had dozens of people who I recognised from other TV series; Pete Postelthwaite, Emma Chambers, Julia Sawahla Lynda Bellingham and John Mills to name just a few. These episodes were longer and I preferred that because you had longer to get involved in the story. All I knew of Martin Chuzzlewit was that it featured in one of the Jasper Fforde books, so I'm thinking I'm going to have to make an effort to actually read these books now.

My absolute favourite of the set was David Copperfield, it featured a good chunk of the case of Harry Potter (a teeny tiny Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith and Zoe Wanamaker), assorted members of British crime series (Emilia Fox, Trevor Eve, Alun Armstrong and Pauline Quirke) plus Ian McKellen and Bob Hoskins. It was in just two parts, which made me sad because it was over so quickly. It was funny and sad and although I could pretty much predict what was going to happen all the way through, I really enjoyed it.

It's perhaps because I enjoyed David Copperfield so much that I struggled with A Tale of Two Cities. It was very political, dealing with the French Revolution and I found it a little bit tricky to follow what was happening. Two characters are played by one person which was maybe one source of (intentional) confusion, but also the fact that everyone spoke with English accents so it was hard to tell exactly who was French and who was English. The fact that Mr Pickwick (Nigel Stock) showed up in it didn't help matters either. I think this one might improve with repeated viewings, but I'll wait a while for that.

Great Expectations starred Ioan Gruffudd, Charlotte Rampling and Tony Curran. The casting did a great job with the young characters, they really matched their adult counterparts. I did struggle a bit with following this one, it all came together in the end, but I didn't find it to be 'satisfactory'. I do want to read the book though. If nothing, these books have introduced me to a whole new selection of books that I'm going to have to pick up and study.

The last one in the set was Our Mutual Friend, with Paul McGann, Keeley Hawes, Pam Ferris, Timothy Spall and David Morrissey. This was probably a close favourite after David Copperfield and Martin Chuzzlewit. It was quite complicated with favourite different connections between people and a big hidden secret, but I really enjoyed it. I figured out what was going to happen before the end but I was mostly right.

I probably should've (and definitely could've) written a whole review for each of the adaptations that I watched. There were so many points I could pick out that I loved from most of the stories. They were all imagined so well, everything from the actors to the sets and the way that the story unfolded.

While there were some that I didn't enjoy quite as much, I think that I'll definitely go back and revisit some of these in the future. The set has also made me determined to read as many of the books as possible, I've not read as many Dickens novels as I should have. I'm going to add them to the list of books I want to read and then I'll go back and see if my opinion of the series has changed.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Under the weather

I don't often get colds, on the whole I'm quite a healthy sort of person, but the other week I came down with an absolute stinker. In the run up to my TMA submission I was feeling generally bleh, but I put that down to the fact that I had a deadline that I was trying to ignore.

Then came the scratchy throat and the general lethargy and I knew I was going to end up feeling rotten. The Sunday and Monday I felt tired and achey and my throat was sore but by Tuesday I was hanging.

My job involves talking all day so you can see why this would cause me a bit of a problem. So far in over eighteen months I've not had to take a day off sick (a little personal record I'm kind of proud of). I kept on promising myself that if I made it through that day then I could have the next one off. The last thing I wanted to do was call in sick and then end up losing my voice and having to make it two days or more; if I'm going to call in sick, it's going to be because I'm really sick.

I got over it quickly enough but there was that nasty period in the middle feeling all sweaty and snotty. Luckily I had plenty of cold and flu capsules (and Mr Click kept me well supplied with Soothers, and didn't even complain too much when I passed it on to him).

When I'm not well I like to take it easy. The essentials are hot chocolate, plenty of cold and flu remedies, good TV viewing and plenty of reading material. I have certain 'comfort reading' books that I especially like to revisit if I'm poorly; when I was little it was Esio Trot, now it's the familiar ones like The Hobbit or Harry Potter series that I go for.

How do you make yourself feel better when you're not one hundred percent?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Project 52: Week 12 - On The Edge

I had big plans for this week’s photo, but I just didn’t get the chance to take a photo the way I wanted to. When I saw the theme was On The Edge I thought that it would give me a chance to play with some different sorts of photos to what I might normally take.

Specifically, I wanted to take a photo down on the seafront. All along the front is this blue railing that stops the people on the path from falling down onto the beach or into the sea. I wanted to stand up against the railing so that my toes were right on the edge of the path, then lean forward and take a photo looking down at the sea below.

Alas, the weather this week foiled this plan. This photo would’ve required me to take my camera with me to my in-laws’, not such a big deal because I was there on Tuesday and Thursday, but the weather wasn’t great and it was late in the day. I thought ‘no worries’ I’ll take my photo on Friday when I’ll be there during daylight hours; but that day it snowed and we had a power cut, so I didn’t get a chance then either.

If I’d brought my camera with me today I could’ve had a go at it. At least it’s dry and the sun is shining, but it was quite windy when I left the house this morning and so I left it behind. When we walk Tara along the front in the wind we don’t stop moving, otherwise you get really really cold, so there’s not much opportunity for taking a photo then.

So I did the best with what I had at the time. I stood on the stairs in my fluffy socks and took a photo looking down.

Week 12: On The Edge
 Just imagine I’m wearing sensible outdoor footwear, and instead of standing on a carpeted staircase they’re standing on the edge of a path, and instead of a carpeted floor beneath them, it’s a bunch of rocks and water. I like to think it would look slightly more dramatic than my fluffy socks.

My only other option (which I did seriously consider) was taking a photo of the DVD case for Dancing on the Edge, which Mr Click suggested. It was a very good suggestion, but I thought the socks were marginally more interesting. Next week will be Early Morning which should be slightly easier to work with!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Mini Kong & Hammock Pants

About a month ago we went to Pets at Home to pick up supplies to keep Tara in biscuits for another couple of months and I spotted this:

After we spent a small fortune on random toys for Tara, all of which she promptly destroyed, I invested in an Extreme Kong for her. She loves it and almost a year on I've bought her a second one because aside from a few tooth marks the first is still like new.

So when I saw a little mini version with a sign next to it I thought 'my girls have to have that'.

It's tiny, about the length of my finger. I managed to break up a mini dog biscuit into three and it just about fit in. I gave it to the girls to play with on the sofa and left the packet on the table. You can guess what they wanted to play with!

Luckily on round two they showed a little more interest in it.

Speaking of the girlie!rats, I ran out of hammocks made out of old jeans at the beginning of the month (after they managed to rip it in two and dragged it down to make a nest at the bottom of the cage), so I made them a hammock out of a pair of Mr Click's old (but clean) boxers. Most popular hammock ever!

Excuse the out of focusness, the camera was overwhelmed with cute!
Our little lady rats are starting to get a bit old and have started to slow down a bit now. Both Carol and Holly have lumps now; Carol has two. We've made the difficult decision not to have them removed because of the two rats I've had develop lumps, neither have survived the operation. We're keeping an eye on things and if it comes to it, we'll make the ultimate decision.

In the meanwhile, they're happy and cuddly and hopefully will figure out what they're supposed to do with the mini Kong in the next few days!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Sharon Welch's Knitted Toys: Roley Poley Kids

After about three months of work, I finally finished off my final Roley Poley kid. These guys were knitted using the pattern from Knitted Toys by Sharon Welch. I picked this book up in a charity shop (I'm about 90% certain it was one of the ones in Oban, I went through a phase where every time we went there I found another lovely little knitting pattern book there). It caught my eye mainly because the style of the patterns reminded me of the Jean Greenhowe toys that I'd loved when I was younger.

I found this book when I was going through my pattern books looking for some ideas for projects that would help with my stash-busting. I'd honestly forgotten I had it and when I found it I had to check online to see that these were made by someone different to the Jean Greenhowe ones because they are very similar in style. I used this book for my Father Christmas before Christmas, purely because I wanted to make something festive and I actually had the right colours to make him.

When he was completed I knew that I wanted to try another pattern from this book for my next project. There are so many different patterns to choose from, they're divided into different sections so he picked one of the first ones in the 'Dolly Mixtures' section - The Roley Poley family.

This pattern gives you the instructions for making Ma and Pa Roley Poley and their equally rotund offspring. There are seven children pictured as an example in the book, so I decided to follow those (in terms of hair styles and outfits) but you could easily do your own thing to mix and match however you liked (which would be particularly nice if there were several young family members so each could have their own Roley Poley kid).

I'm glad that I decided to follow the book's designs for hair styles, because it gave me the opportunity to try out different techniques that I've never attempted before. Plus these kids each stand about four inches high, so if something went horribly wrong, you wouldn't be wasting a huge quantity of wool on them.

The Roley Poley Kids: (back row) Polly, Roly Jr., Rosie, Paulie, Posey, (front row) Rory & Ruby
All of the kids follw the same pattern (the only difference being if you're doing a kid with a belt in which case there's just an extra colour change around the middle. The body is all in one piece, the feet are two pieces, plus two arms, two sleeves, hair and a hat; the jacket is an extra piece as is the dungaree front and straps or braces.

As you can see above, the pattern allows for lots of variation; the hair style for the boys is always the same, but all four of the girls are sporting different looks. You are also given two different hat patterns (one for boys and one for girls) but you could probably make changed to those by adding a little bobble or something. The sleeves come in long, short and puffed (Posey on the end is sporting the puffed sleeves whereas Ruby at the front has plain short ones, though they're hidden somewhat by her hair). It was good fun coming up with different colours for their outfits, though I started trying up on colour combination ideas partway through and on at least one occasion I turned to Twitter to pick for me!

The pattern is lovely and simple, everything is clearly broken down and explained for you. I did make a slight mistake on Polly (the first one I knitted) but that was purely my fault and not due to the pattern at all. I did too many increases so her head is a funny shape and her hat doesn't fit properly, but once I knew where I went wrong I was very careful not to do it again.

At one point (by about the third or fourth kid) I was able to churn out best part of a kid in a day. I wouldn't recommend this if you've got course work to be doing and essays to be writing though! I had originally planned to go straight onto the parents, but after doing seven of these little guys I decided I'd try something different (and only partly because I'd just got four brand new Jean Greenhowe knitting pattern books).

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with all these kids in the meantime. I think they'll just hang out at our place for a little while, I've become quite attached to them (they used to hang out on the back of my chair but now there's too many of them for that). Besides, I can't give them away until I've finished their parents!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Day Zero Project: Complete My Degree

I'm really pleased to say that I'm well on the way to completing my degree. When I made my Day Zero Project list at the beginning of January 2012 I was in the middle of my fourth OU course. Now I'm onto my fifth and come October this year I'll be starting my final course. It's quite scary when you think about it.

I'm doing pretty well so far with this course so far. I'm averaging fairly good grades and I definitely feel like I'm learning new things.

During the course so far I've changed my mind about studying history (with a focus on medicine and technology) and switched over to English Language and Literature. Settling on that as my degree was like coming home, I suddenly realised that this was what I wanted to do. I particularly fell in love with the Linguistic strand which I finished last year.

I was particularly pleased with my results during U211, the second level Linguistics module:

Technically this is my second degree. I already have one in Primary School Education (the result of feeling totally let down by my university on my final Primary School placement when training to be a primary school teacher), I don't tend to think of that as a proper degree any more. I think I'll feel a lot more proud of myself for completing this one because I'll have done it while holding down a full-time job as well as surviving all the other stuff life has thrown at me.

The good thing about the OU as well, I know that if things get too much and I don't think I can do the next course right away, I can take a little break and come back to it after a year. Not that I'm planning on doing that, but I've got so much more flexibility. And I'm really enjoying it now.

I've already started planning the next couple of courses I'm thinking I might try. I'm really keen to try Latin, I'm tempted by the third level Creative Writing, as well as a couple of other language ones. Then again, they're bringing out new courses all the time, perhaps by the time I finish next year there might be some new ones which appeal to me. I'm sure I'll post about my progress on here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Book 9 of 2013: South Sea Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson

My current OU course came with a list of set texts that you have to read, plus, once you received the traditional goody box with all the course materials in it there was a bonus book of short stories; South Sea Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson. The course required us to read (and write an essay about) the first story in this collection, 'The Beach of Falesa', but I don't like to just dip into a book like that, so I set out to read the whole thing.

There are several stories in this collection, of varying lengths, but all set around the Pacific islands that Stevenson made his home. A large portion of the course chapter look at the location of the story, 'The Beach of Falesa' and the relationship between the white traders or settlers and the native Pacific islanders. As well as 'The Beach of Falesa' there are also two shorter stories; 'The Bottle Imp' and 'The Isle of Voices'. There's also a longer story called 'The Ebb Tide' and two short little snippets that are sort of fables.
'The Beach of Falesa' is the one that I, obviously, read in most depth. To begin with I wasn't too sure whether I liked it or not, and despite the fact that I was studying it alongside the chapter dealing with it in the course book, I felt like I maybe didn't totally appreciate it. When we were talking about it in the tutorial, people kept on mentioning things that I'd missed. Though when it came to writing the assignment about it, I didn't have any problems thinking of things to say.
I enjoyed the shorter stories more than the longer ones. My least favourite was 'The Ebb Tide'. It just seemed to go on and on and on, and even now I can't remember how it ended. I think part of it was because the characters went by a couple of different names and so I struggled to remember who was who and what had happened to them. Plus, at the time I was reading it, I was gearing up to write my assignment and had my mind on other things.
Of all the stories 'The Bottle Imp' was probably my favourite. This tells the story of a magic bottle with an imp that grants wishes. The catch it that if the owner dies while possessing the bottle, they'll go to hell, and the bottle must be sold on to the next owner for less than what they paid for it. I liked the fantasy element to this one (and 'The Isle of Voices').
The stories all gave you a real sense of their setting and made me long to read more set in that sort of Pacific location (or watch films there). I did enjoy studying 'The Beach of Falesa' and it wasn't actually that bad to write an essay about. Overall though, I didn't enjoy chunks of this book, particularly the annoying notes throughout the text (there'd be a star, so you knew to flick to the back where the notes were contained, but if it was something that had been mentioned before, you'd then have to flick back to another note several pages earlier) they were frustrating; it was an interesting read and not something I'd normally choose myself.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Anyone want a campervan?

If you're in the market for an orange Volkswagen campervan, look no further. Well, actually, look here.

In order to raise some more funds for our IVF treatment, we've made the big decision to sell our campervan. We've actually been wanting to sell it for a while, but since we visited the hospital open day on Saturday we've decided to really try hard because basically that van could potentially pay for us to have a baby. As you can imagine, I'm pretty invested in finding a good home for that thing.

So, if you're looking for a cheap holiday, and you like to travel in style, why not check it out? Or pass the link on if you know someone who might be interested.
If a bright orange camper isn't quite your thing, I'm also listing some of my stuff on eBay. I'm caitakrosa on there and right now I'm selling old OU textbooks and the first five series of ER. I've still got a bunch of books to list as well as one or two other bits and pieces which'll find their way up there in the next couple of weeks.
I'm pretty confident that this stuff is going to go, it's just a bit slow moving at the moment. There's something quite addictive about eBay. I love the thrill of bidding when you know you're getting a good bargain, but I also enjoy watching the pageviews, watchers and bids mount up on the things I list.
I'll let you know how we get on. ;-)

Monday, 18 March 2013

Comic Relief

You may have noticed that last Friday was Comic Relief. I vividly remember sitting up late into the night watching it almost all of the way through when I was about nine or ten, I think that was the first time that I truly understood what it was about.

I had the opportunity to go to take calls for Comic Relief this year, a chance I sadly had to turn down because the journey back up would have meant I wouldn't be able to go to the open day at the Nuffield hospital. As going private for IVF treatment is something that we're seriously considering it wasn't something that I really wanted to put off while we waited another six months for the chance.

I was slightly disappointed at not being able to be as involved with Comic Relief as I would have liked, so when I saw a post on Facebook about how we had the option to go to work in a football shirt or pyjamas and to bring your favourite teddy, I knew I had to join in.

I'm a bit of a shy sort of person and I don't generally like to draw too much attention to myself (though I'm sure people who know me would disagree) so going to work in my jammies felt like a really big deal. I kept telling myself I'd just go in dress-down gear, but lying awake on the Friday morning I kept thinking about what I could wear.

Which is how I ended up going to work looking like this:

As you can see, I was very carefully coordinated. And yes, I wore the Eeyore slippers all day. Technically Eeyore isn't my favourite cuddly toy, but he went well with the rest of my outfit.

Somewhere there is a photo floating around of me wearing this outfit complete with a Red Nose. Hopefully that'll never see the light of day!

I think we raised a good amount of money. I'm looking forward to finding out the final total, and perhaps watching some of the highlights of the night on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Project 52: Week 11 - Mozambique

I had no idea what I was going to take a photo of for this week's challenge of Mozambique. I've never been to Africa and aside from a postcard a friend sent me from Ghana, I don't have any African trinkets.

Luckily a scoot around on the BBC news site gave me an idea. Next year's Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow and one of the competing countries is none other than Mozambique!

I'm really not a sporty sort of person. I tend to get bored watching most sporting events because I don't take part in any myself so they don't hold my attention. But that said, with the Olympics last year, I got really into it. I found the diving strangely compelling, I loved the triathalon, the gymnastics and equestrian sports which I thought would bore me actually drew me in.

As a result of this, I'm really looking forward to the Commonwealth Games. I know it's unlikely that it'll be viewed in quite the same way as the Olympics, but it's just down the road from me (figuratively, there's a ferry to catch before you're on the road) so I feel that much closer to the action. Plus when I was in Glasgow at the Science Centre last summer I saw one of the buildings where events will be taking place. It's quite exciting really.

Week 11: Mozambique
For my photo this week, I did a little bit of googling to find out exactly which countries would be taking part in the Games and then took a photo of the results on my phone. Not the most imaginative photo, I know, but it's serving its purpose. Plus I learnt a little about the countries involved as well, so it was an educational photo.

Next week is On The Edge which I'm sure I'll find a good idea for, I've got a few ideas already.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Light writing

I've loved looking at long exposure photography for as long as I can remember, so having got my hands on a good tripod I realised this was the perfect opportunity to have a go at it myself. I probably could've done it before with my old tripod but my new one gives me more height and better adjustment options.

It was something that I understood in theory, but had never really played with myself. The way I understood it was that you basically just put your camera somewhere steady, turned out the lights, grabbed a torch and went wild while your camera took ten seconds to take the photo.

The first thing I learned was that you have to make sure that all the lights are turned out, otherwise this happens:

I turned the living room light off but left the stair light on, which kind of does create a cool effect. I'm trying to think of a way that I can play with that I can make this actually work for me. So far I've not come up with anything, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

So, once I turned the light out, I was able to do this:

I discovered that if you turned the torch off in between each letter, you don't end up with them being all joined together. Of course, if you're wanting to write you have to either write the letters back to front while you're facing the camera; you could write them the right way round and flip the image as well, but that didn't occur to me until after I'd spent ages carefully writing them backwards.

I only edited these pictures slightly, just to make sure that the background was totally dark (in some there was a bit of reflection from the hi-fi unit I was standing next to). By the time I was writing my name I was beginning to get a better idea of where the letters were in relation to each other in the air in front of me.

And of course, what needed to be done then was to search the house for other interesting torches and lights that I could play with. This is my favourite:

That's done with the special flashing light that we got for Tara so that she would show up when we take her for walks on the estate in the dark. It flashes red and blue which made that pretty pattern. I had good fun playing with different shapes and waving them around all over the place.

It's a good effect and I've already got a few ideas that I'd like to play around with. It's basically the same idea as those funky photos you see of roads with lines of light zooming along them, or ferris wheels which are just big circles of light. Living on a quiet rural estate I don't get many opportunities to take those sorts of photos, but I'm just itching to try it.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Blog Spotlight: Nails by Kaylz

Since signing up for the A to Z Challenge it's got me thinking about blogging a lot more than I have in the past. I like that little communities spring up around particular blogs and it's made me aware that there are quite a few blogs that I read, but which I don't necessarily comment on.

I was trying to think of a way that I could acknowledge some of those blogs, without just posting a random comment on a random blog post because I think I should. Then I thought, maybe I could just share them on here and perhaps people who wouldn't otherwise visit their blogs will check them out and might find another blog they like.

So I'm starting this off with my good friend Kay from over at Nails By Kaylz. I've known her from the HTV forum site that we both frequent, but since then we chat on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Nails By Kaylz banner
Her blog is predominantly a nail blog (the clue is kind of in the name), though her lovely kitties, Dennis and Freya, often get little mentions too. I have to admit that I'm not that knowledgeable about nail art, but I do like to look at the pictures.

I should probably mention here that I actually have a bit of a nail phobia; I used to grow my nails quite long, purely because I hated clipping them. Now the words 'bend', 'break' and 'snap' in relation to nails makes me freak out just a little bit. Most of the bits and pieces you get in manicure sets look like instruments of torture to me, which just makes me admire people who can do pretty things with their nails all the more.

My personal favourite of Kay's nail designs has to be this butterfly design (you can also see it in the banner above). Seriously, is that not the most amazing thing in the world. As someone who has a bit of a butterfly collection, I think that is a brilliant design. It's part of a year long challenge that she's taking part in with three other girls from HTV (Saz, Bob and Sammie - I'll share some of my favourites from their blogs in the future); each week they have to come up with a different design following a particular theme.

Every time I look at these nail blogs it amazes me, I think about getting my (meagre) supply of nail varnishes out and then change my mind and decide to leave it to the experts. If that's something that you're interested in, you might like to visit her blog.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Day Zero Project: Start A Family

I added 'start a family' to my Day Zero list on the 1st of January 2012, even though at that point we'd already been trying to do just that for two years and one month exactly. We made the decision to tell Mr Click's family that we were 'trying' that day too and I figured that 1,001 days to do that in makes it an easy target to achieve.

Turns out that getting pregnant is hard!

There's a distinct possibility that I won't manage to achieve this one before the end of the time period this is running for. After all, I'll have spent roughly 730 days on the waiting list for IVF by the time we reach the top, not including the first three months of 2012 while we were waiting to be referred to a specialist and then waiting for results, plus however long it takes to actually start a cycle once we hit the top of the list (if I need more surgery that'll push us back by another six weeks).

I think it's safe to say achieving this one in 1,001 days may have been a bit optimistic.

On the other hand, while we've not achieved what we set out to do, we are on the waiting list waiting for hundreds of other desperate couples to have their dreams come true, we know why all the 'trying' has been fruitless, and we're seriously looking into going private to give us an extra chance. I hope that all this waiting is helping to make us more ready for when it does happen; that we'll be more financially stable than we were three years ago; we've got a more comfortable home, supportive friends and family; and when it happens we'll appreciate it all the more because it's been so long in coming.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Book 9 of 2013: Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

A few weeks back a friend dropped into our house and noticed that I had almost all the Kathy Reichs books lined up on the bookcase and mentioned that I might like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series of novels. The next time we met him, he handed me a copy of Postmortem, the first book in the series, to borrow.

This book introduces the character of Doctor Kay Scarpetta, County Medical Examiner, as she works to prove her lab's innocence and track down a serial killer. Her niece, Lucy, is visiting; the child's a little genius but has had some issues at home, but Kay doesn't have the time that she really needs to spend with her. And there appears to be a leak to the media coming from her lab, which may or may not have come from someone hacking the computer system there.

I don't think that this really drew me in quite as quickly as the first Kathy Reichs book did. I think part of that was my own fault; I couldn't help but make comparisons between the two books. The voice was different to Brennan's voice, obviously, because they're different characters, but it meant that it took me a little while to get used to. I've read almost all of the Temperance Brennan books over the last year or so, so I suppose I've just gotten used to that voice; I guess I was just expecting more of the same, and I had to keep reminding myself that this was about a different character.

The more I read, the more I got into the story. It really was completely different to the Kathy Reichs style. One of the first things I noticed was that fact that the chapters are much, much longer. There's also not the same cliffhanger chapter endings that I've come to expect from my crime reading. Cornwell gives you a long chapter, with the big reveal at the end. That made it easier to put down at the end of a long night's reading; you'd be rewarded at the end of the chapter with what you've been waiting for, but it didn't quite give you the same incentive to carry on going late into the night.

This book was written in 1990 and like many crime books, it shows its age. At times it was a little bit funny; bits about wishing there was a DNA database and characters lighting up any time, any place (including in the morgue just after examining the body). But this book also relied heavily on technology of the time to tell the story, there's a database at the coroner's office which is hacked but the computer systems are totally unfamiliar to modern ones.

It was unintentionally funny in places because of the changes that have taken place in the twenty-three years since it was funny. But there was also an intentional element of humour, particularly between Kay and the dectective on the case. They sparred off each other well and I liked some of Kay's little internalisations. There were also some lovely little lines as well about the state of the world. It was a nice combination and I think that helped me to get over the fact that I wasn't reading a Kathy Reichs book.

I'm definitely going to read the next one; luckily I have a couple of friends who are willing to lend me them (saving my bank balance and bookcase from being overloaded). I think that as they go through the series and become more 'current' I'll enjoy them more, and I'll enjoy the characters more as well. This one felt like it was just a taster, introducing the characters and setting, I think the next ones will draw me in more.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Making Bread

I've been wanting to write about our bread making for ages. Many of the blogs I read regularly post nice photos of yummy foods they've been making and I'm a bit jealous. Mr Click is in charge of cooking in our house, but the one thing I'm allowed to do is make bread.

I should include a note here about the fact that this isn't 'proper' bread, it's the 'throw all the ingredients in the mixing pan, press the right button and wait until it beeps at you' variety. It's on exactly the right level for my culinary skills.

And the bread is pretty yummy and looks good too. Most of the time.

What happens when you try to make a 1.5lb loaf on the wrong setting. Yummy.
The recipe I use is one that came with our original bread machine, a big clunky thing that expired shortly after its warranty. It's been modified slightly (it used to call for Vitamin C powder) and I'm none too careful about the exact measurements anymore. You just throw them all in and watch it rise.

And here's how I do it:
3 tablespoons semi-skimmed milk powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 cups strong white flour
2 cups granary or whole meal flour
1 tablespoon yeast
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 & 2/3 cup water (I usually measure this as one cup, plus 150ml)

I put all those ingredients into the mixing pan, in that order. I'm not too exact with the measurements any more, if some are a bit over or under it doesn't affect it much.

You can also modify it slightly if you're running low on one type of flour. It needs four cups total but if we're running low on granary I might make it three cups white to one cup granary.

On our bread machine I set it on the whole meal setting, which is our option 3. This makes a 2lb loaf; I usually vary between medium and light depending on if we'll be eating it with soup or as sandwiches. This takes three hours, forty minutes, and I recommend eating it with chocolate spread on while it's still warm.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A to Z Challenge & Changing Blogging Habits

Less than a month to go until the A to Z Challenge now. I'm quite looking forward to it (though so far I've managed to get a grand total of one post actually written for it, and it's not even the first post... which is logical).

When I signed up for it I thought that it would be a useful way to get into the habit of posting something on my blog everyday. I've always wanted to post more frequently and I thought that even if when I got to the end of April I stopped posting every day, perhaps I'd be able to get into a good routine with my posting. I mean, I don't exactly do enough interesting stuff to make it worthwhile to post every day, do I?

Then I sat down with my phone and made up a little calendar to try and plan some blog posts. After completely cocking up what day of the month April started with I started over and quickly started planning posts for the A to Z Challenge. I enjoyed it so much that I started doing it for the remaining days of February, then ran out of days and made a start on March as well, and suddenly I had a blog post planned for each day of the month.

It was kind of scary how quickly that happened. Especially as after I planned something for each day, stuff actually happened in my life (little things like getting a hair cut or finishing a knitting project or mastering a technique with my camera) and suddenly I was having to rearrange things to make room for another post.

I don't think I have the most interesting life in the world. I read, I watch TV and films, I take my dog for walks, I knit and I study, but some how I keep on finding things to say online. I was expecting the A to Z Challenge to push me to come up with something interesting to say every day (and I was relieved that I had a month and a half to come up with it), but it's actually worked earlier than I was expecting.

Originally I was planning on taking a break from the things I normally blog about during the Challenge, but things started creeping in. I thought 'I can't take a break from my book reviews, I've been slow reading this year, but I don't want to fall behind and have to spend a whole week at the end of the year posting book reviews like I did last time'; so the book reviews started to be slotted in to the time table. Then I thought 'I've been enjoying doing my little reviews of how I'm getting on with my Day Zero targets, I don't really want to stop doing those'; I've gotten into a routine of posting them every Thursday so it made sense to just carry on scheduling them through the month too. Sundays are a 'day off' from the Challenge, so I'd always been planning on posting my Project 52 posts through the month anyway.

Can you see where this is going?

I justified it by telling myself that there will probably be people who read my blog but aren't interesting in the Infertility/Trying to Conceive posts that I'm planning, so it makes sense to carry on posting regular posts through the month. I'm sure I read somewhere on the A to Z Challenge site that you should try to carry on with normal posting during the month so that's why I'm trying to do.

I won't feel too guilty if I miss a day here or there, but in theory it shouldn't happen. Hopefully I won't annoy people by bombarding my blog with posts. I've not had any complaints about the recent increase in posts, in fact, since getting involved with the A to Z Challenge my traffic has positively increased, which has been nice.

It's made me a bit curious. For those of you who've done the Challenge before, did it change your approach to blogging? And for those who're doing it for the first time, have you noticed a change in the run up?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Project 52: Week 10 - Disguised

These photo themes on the BBC News site are getting a bit challenging for me now. This week's was disguised which probably would've been okay had it come towards the end of October, but during the first full week of March meant it was tough to find something to actually photograph.

Perhaps I could have postponed my hair cut by a week to make it a self-portrait, showing me with my new hair style (and therefore in disguise), hehe. I don't really have any fancy dress costumes I could pull out and the weather's been a bit wet so I couldn't get out and about to look out for things in nature which could be classed as disguised.

A deer or bird hiding amongst foliage or trees was really my first choice, but on our regular Saturday walk it was spotting with rain so I didn't take my camera with me. We did see a deer but it didn't hang around very long so I probably wouldn't have gotten a photo of it even if I did have my camera.

In the end, I went with one of Mr Click's ideas. He picked up a balaclava for when he walks Tara along the seafront in cold wintery weather. I've warned him a couple of times that he'll have to watch out if he forgets to take if off before going into a shop because they'll mistake him for a robber... in disguise! Uh, yeah, I know, it's a bit of a tenuous link.

Week 10: Disguised
I wanted to go for something that looked a little bit like a mug shot. Mr Click wanted to take his glasses off but I though it looked kind of funny with the balaclava and the glasses so made him keep them on.

This looks quite good post-editing. I wanted a plain background so had Mr Click stand up against the kitchen door (which is plain white). I'd hoped I could avoid using the flash but that side of the room doesn't get the light as well as the other half so I increased the contrast slightly and reduced the highlight from the flash. I also reduced the saturation to make it a little paler.

This is how it looks straight out of camera:

I usually do a little bit of editing on my photos, not too much, because I'm lazy. I shoot everything in RAW format when I can so I can fiddle with the white balance. The main bits I'll change are contrast, highlight and saturation. Plus I might do a bit of cropping and then I'll usually reduce the size for on here and obviously convert it to JPG. I don't often go back and look at the original once I've got something I like but I think it's quite interesting to compare the difference like this.

Anyway, next week is Mozambique. I have no idea what I'm going to do for that. Suggestions on a postcard please!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Communication - The Cardigans

It's been a little while since I posted about the music I've been listening to. I think this is partly linked to the fact that when it's dark and blowy out when I'm walking Tara my MP3 player stays home so I can hear what's going on around me. And I've been putting newer music onto my phone rather than my MP3 player so it's all new instead of stuff I know off by heart because I have loved it for years.

While clearing out the notes in my phone the other day I found a list of songs I really like. As I listen to them on my MP3 player, if I think I can write a blog post about them, I add them to the list, and then apparently forget about it so the posts never get written.

Until now, that is. At the top of the list was a song by Swedish band The Cardigans, called Communication. I first found it on a Bones fanvideo, of all places, and I kept on finding myself going back and watching it over and over because I liked the song.

I started looking out for more of their stuff and happened to find one of their albums in a charity shop and later bought another couple from a lovely little indie music store in Greenock which has since closed down. At the time I was buying these CDs I wasn't even sure that I really liked their music, but I thought if they could produce one song that I liked so much, there'd have to be others.

I was right. Quite a few songs by The Cardigans now top my favourites lists, I'm sure I'll post more here in the future. For now, enjoy Communication.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Mr Holland's Opus Review

Mr Holland's Opus is one of those lovely feel good films. In a sense, it's timeless because it's set in the past and although it ends in, what was at the time, the present-day, the way it's set up just makes it feel like almost twenty years down the line, it's just showing you another decade from the past.

It was released in 1995 and stars Richard Dreyfuss as Glenn Holland, a musician and composer who takes up a position as a high school music teacher to give him time to save up enough money to work full time on his composing. It begins in the sixties and follows him and his family through the next three decades.

At first he's the only one who wants to be at the school less than his students, but he gradually grows into his role and discovers how to connect with the kids; by linking their modern Rock and Roll to Bach, to the horror of the deputy principal. And things don't go quite according to plan, his wife gets pregnant and so they move from their apartment to a house, meaning he needs to carry on teaching a while longer before he can afford to give it up and compose.

Although the main story is that of Glenn Holland and how he changes over time, it's broken down into smaller chunks by the stories of the kids he teaches and his family. There's the girl who just wants to be good at the clarinet because everyone else in her family has a talent and she doesn't (which makes the end pretty satisfying); the boy whose a great sportsman but has been kicked out of the football team because his academic grades are low and the coach is going to lose him from the wrestling team unless he can get him an academic credit from somewhere, so Mr Holland is persuaded to take him on as a drummer in the matching band; there's the stoner who has the book knowledge but is missing the appreciation part of 'Music Appreciation' class; and there's the girl who wants to be an actress who develops a (not entirely one-sided) crush on her teacher.

Alongside all this is the over-arching story of Holland's inability to connect with his son who is profoundly deaf and (so he believes) is unable to share his father's love of music. As well as budget cuts to the school's programmes which put the arts curriculum under threat, which Holland fights.

The film runs to a little over two hours and with all those little strands it does have the potential to become disjointed; but it doesn't. The passage of time is cleverly indicated through little montages of video clips from each decade (shots of Vietnam War protests, Martin Luther King's speech, Woodstock, John Lennon's death, etc.) as well as music from that time too. Mr Holland changes with the passing years too; he's fresh-faced and young, he grows a moustache, starts going grey and finally becomes very grey; his wife and son age too, with his son being played by various actors. And as well as all that there's the change in fashion, hairstyles, cars and the sign welcoming the kids back to school with 'Welcome Class of [whatever year]. It's a combination if little touches which make sure you're never lost in time.

There are some really powerful messages in the film too, from the simple 'practice makes perfect' to the heartwarming 'small actions can make a big impact on other people'. But there's also some serious ones too, the one that I always think of whenever I hear about funding cuts to schools or overhauls of the curriculum is towards the end of the film; Mr Holland says that they can keep cutting the arts to make sure there's more money for 'core' subjects like English, but if they keep on cutting and keep on cutting, soon the kids won't have anything to read or write about. This film should probably be compulsive viewing to anyone wanting to work in the education department of the government.

It's one of those films that you can revisit time and time again and catch new bits or see old bits in a new way. I first saw it when I was about twelve when it was rented for my birthday sleepover and since then with each viewing I find myself appreciating different bits. As I've grown older and learned more about each decade shown I find myself understanding things that I might have missed before.

And I dare you to watch it without wanting to cry at the end; when we watched it on the Saturday following Valentine's Day (the film was a Valentine's Day gift to me from Mr Click) I started tearing up at the beginning just thinking about the end! P.S. The video below is the ending, don't watch if you've not seen it and don't want to be spoiled.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Day Zero Project: Win NaNoWriMo

For those of you not in the know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a competition taking place in November each year where you aim to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It's absolutely crazy and the best thing is, thousands of people around the world take part in it at the same time, which just helps to amplify the craziness!

Like my target of reading 52 books in a year, this one was maybe a bit of a cop out. I've completed NaNoWriMo before and on several occasions I've written 100,000 words in the month, so I did know that it was something I could do.

However, since the time that I'd last won I'd moved into a job where I couldn't get away with working on my NaNo at my desk during the day. And an attempt to write by hand during the first year at this job caused me to give up somewhere around Day 6. A large part of the problem in 2011 was that I just didn't get into my story and I didn't have internet access at home so I couldn't update my progress or check on the NaNo site; it just wasn't as fun.

I thought setting it as part of my Day Zero Project would encourage me to go for it again in 2012. It's something I really enjoy and it'd be a shame to give it up because of one loss. And it worked.

What also helped was posting my progress on Facebook. I'm friends with people at work on there and so they started asking about it and encouraging me. That's a wonderful motivator. Internet access meant I could update my word counts and make use of my competitive streak by comparing my counts to others, which helped too.

I also found a useful idea on the forum which suggested starting with higher word counts and then gradually reducing the number of words you write each day. Normally to hit the 50,000 word target you'd need to write 1,667 words each day; this other method meant you to started writing over 3,000 during the first few days but by halfway through the month your daily targets would be approaching 1,500.

I always tend to start strong and then struggle as the story goes on. Especially if I'm writing over 50,000 words, I'll hit the target and then take a break for a week or so, then barrel out more in the last week. This method meant that I wasn't losing out on words as my momentum slowed and also got me ahead from the start so on days when I couldn't manage the suggested word count, I was able to coast until I could.

Despite getting another NaNo win under my belt; I'm yet to actually complete a NaNoNovel. I'll either work on them for a little bit during December before abandoning it as Christmas gets nearer, then never get around to picking it back up (until the following NaNo when I might pull it out, make new notes and try writing it again in a different way); or on November 30th I'll log my final word count, close and back-up the document, and forget that it ever existed.

So while I've technically completed my Day Zero Project challenge for this, I'll probably give it a go again this year (because I do hate to see others suffering through it without me), but this time I might aim to write a complete story and actually get to the words 'The End'.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Book 7 of 2012: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

I first read The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle a couple of years ago. Mr Click was never a big reader when we were going out, but he's always been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so when The Book People advertised the complete set of Sherlock Holmes books for less than £10 he took the plunge (and now some nights before bed he reads for longer than I do)!

I was quite pleased when I found that The Sign of Four was going to be one of the books I'd be studying for A230, I thought 'great, at least that's one book that I know I can understand', hehe. Now I'm having to write an essay about it I'm starting to change my mind though.

This is the second of the Sherlock Holmes stories to be published and is a single story, as opposed to a collection of short stories. It sees Holmes and Watson approached by Miss Mary Morstan whose father disappeared in mysterious circumstances shortly after returning from India some years before. Mary receives some equally mysterious gifts each year until finally she is invited to meet with someone who has some information about her father. Throw a strange death, a bungling police detective and India treasure into the mix and you've got a classic Holmes story.

This book is a nice quick read. I almost managed it in two sittings but I think it would be a good one to snuggle up with on a rainy holiday or cold day in winter when you've not got anything else to be done. One of the things that the course book mentions is the fact that it's actually a very short novel; originally it was published in serialized form, which is why it's broken up the way that it is.

This time as I read it, I kept the subject of this part of the course in mind; 'home' and 'abroad'. Although much of the action takes place at 'home' in London, the final chapter includes a lengthy description of life in India. I didn't realise until I studied the course book that the events described here refer to the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857. This is something which would be clear in the minds of readers at the time that it was published, probably the way that someone in a modern book might make reference to the events of 9/11. It would've been widely discussed by popular culture of the day.

It's something that I didn't appreciate the first time that I read it, but which I feel that, knowing that now, helps me to understand the story a little more. Since reading the book I've studied the chapter of the course book and I've also revisited it for a TMA, so I think that knowing that little bit more about the context it was written in has given me a better understanding of it.

Of course, while I was reading it, I couldn't help but be reminded of the adaptations that I've been watching. Most recently we saw the Jeremy Brett version, but I've seen others in the past as well (living with Mr Click, it's hard not to)! I've got a pretty distinctive picture in my mind of the way that the story would play out, but I kind of had Jeremy Brett in my mind as I was reading.

In terms of the actual story, it's a good old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes story, but I forgot just how funny it is too. Holmes is terribly sexist and comes out with some awful, but hilarious statements, and Watson gets muddled when he's around Mary Morstan which leads to him saying some ridiculous things (particularly regarding his being in India, having a double-barrelled tiger look into his tent and so firing a tiger cub at it). There were several occasions where I laughed out loud as I was reading, I don't remember doing that before, but I think it definitely helped me to enjoy the book.

So far this has definitely been my favourite book to study, even if I'm using a different edition to the one covered in the course materials, making page references a bit hit or miss.