Friday, 29 January 2016

Make: A Mini-Zine For Your Valentine (or Galentine)

These mini-zines are the easiest but loveliest gift to make for someone you love, be that a partner, friend or family member. I am by no means an artist so the simple black-and-white line drawings and DIY feel of these mini-zines suits me down to the ground.

You will need:
An A4 piece of white cardstock
An A5 piece of coloured paper
A shaped punch or a very steady hand with a cutting knife
A black fine liner

I use the technique on this how-to from Design Sponge but amended slightly: instead of the faffy folding of paper to make the zine, I use an A4 piece of white cardstock, chopped in half and then half again before folding down the middle to make an 8-page booklet.

Once your booklet is made, the fun bit begins: deciding what to write and draw! In the past I've made mini-zines for friends that tell, in scrappy and very DIY-feeling sketches, the story of our friendship. For Thomas, I've made one zine giving the many ways and reasons I love him ("more than books" was one - I know, it's a bold claim) and, to celebrate the end of his PhD, I put together a silly story about his journey to becoming Dr S.

The beauty of these mini-zines is that they're a completely personalised gift that will always be appreciated but that are actually super fast and easy to make. If you don't fancy giving a mass-produced V-Day card this year, they make the perfect alternative.

* I should probably explain that Thomas, being both very large and very hairy, has the nickname 'Bear', hence the frequent bear references!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

January Reads

1. 2. & 3. On the one hand, Karou is a seventeen year-old art student living in Prague, drinking with friends and squabbling with her ex. On the other, she's an errand girl for a monstrous half-beast in the world she calls "Elsewhere", which she slips in and out of via portals hidden in doors around the world. Compared to both Pans Labyrinth and His Dark Materials (a comparison I don't think is entirely accurate), I quickly became completely caught up in and enamoured with the Daughter Of Smoke & Bone trilogy: with Karou herself, with her friends, with the world of seraphim and chimaera that Laini Taylor creates so perfectly. I loved all three books and, if  you like fantasy novels (or even if you don't - I'm not normally a fan) I would strongly recommend you read them soon.

4. 5. 6. Char very kindly sent me Stephanie Perkins' trilogy of loosely connected YA romances, Anna & The French KissLola & The Boy Next Door, and Isla & The Happy Ever After. I wanted to love them - I'm a sucker for a cheesy romance and each heroine is likeable and the books very readable - but (with the exception of the last one) I really didn't. Why? Both Anna... and Lola... contain some very dodgy relationship ethics at work. In the first, Anna falls for the hot guy at school and makes, if not a play for him then she certainly doesn't discourage him, despite her best friend being in love with him and him already having a (different) girlfriend (and no, I'm not saying that a man can be 'stolen' like a piece of property, but her behaviour is truly not very friend-like to the one girl who's made her welcome at school). In Lola..., the heroine is ridiculously blind to her own feelings, such that stretches credulity, and spends a lot of time messing with both her boyfriend and the guy who loves her. Neither plot line sat well with me, frankly. So I was glad that Isla... was a much less complicated love story, and all the better for it, with our titular heroine and her long-term crush, Josh, making a super cute couple. One thing I will say for all three books, though, is that they have a positive and healthy attitude to teen sexuality and a more diverse cast of characters (I especially liked Isla's best friend, who has autism, and Lola's overprotective gay dads) than most YA fiction.

7. Yuki Chan In Bronte Country* has one of the most beautiful cover designs I've seen in recent years. Sadly, the content doesn't come close to matching the jacket. A quasi-detective story, with the titular Yuki visiting Haworth in order to discover more about her mother's visit ten years earlier, I found it difficult to care about Yuki and the various scrapes she gets herself into; there's something detached about the prose that meant I didn't feel involved at any point.

8. Isabel lives a quiet life in Portland, working in a library, collecting old postcards, and daydreaming about her childhood in Alaska. Glaciers Isabel over the course of one day, as her calm existence is shaken by her attraction to a co-worker, and is a small but exquisitely written book, almost poetic in its use of language.  

9. This Is Where It Ends* takes place over the course of an hour in an American high school where, the principal having finished assembly, the students discover that they can't get out of auditorium. And then the shooting begins. I found this difficult to get into and, although it's well written, I never felt the characters were real and therefore had a hard time feeling engaged or invested in their fates.

10. The Moth Catcher was one of my favourite Vera mysteries in many ways: it's tightly plotted and the characters felt both real and sympathetic, with the central mystery - of how two men came to be murdered in the idyllic setting of Valley Farm - being satisfyingly knotty. However the classism and fat shaming is horrendous, exposing the author's own prejudices rather than adding anything to the plot or characterisation.

11. Julia is a successful musician, but when she buys an antique music score it sets in motion a chain of events which are both decidedly creepy and somewhat silly. Playing With Fire* is a departure from Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles crime series, and is instead a thriller with hints of the supernatural. The vivid descriptions of the Venice settings were wonderful and I found myself turning the pages with increasing fervour, but it wasn't something I'd read again.

12. Looking for something to read on a train this weekend, I picked up a copy of A Pocket Full Of Rye for 50p in a secondhand bookshop. My only complaint with this mystery - which sees a successful London businessman poisoned in a manner suggestive of a nursery rhyme - was that Miss Marple's appearance was limited to a fairly fleeting visit towards the end. I do love Miss M, and the more of her the better, I feel.

13. Even Dogs In The Wild is the 20th outing for Rebus and all the essential ingredients are there: brooding and atmospheric Edinburgh settings, gangster Big Ger Cafferty, conspiracies and cover-ups, and, of course, the indomitable John Rebus himself, together with sidekicks Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox (the latter of whom seems to be becoming a series regular but, for me, strikes the only bum note of the book).

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Blogger's Guide To Spelling & Grammar

As an English teacher, spelling and grammar are close to my heart. I didn't have the benefit of a great education (my secondary school was so bad that, at one point, we were rated the 6th worst school in England and Wales) but was lucky that my parents encouraged me to learn at home, and we had a house full of books from which I could pick up the basics of decent sentence construction. Still, when I began my teacher training I realised just how much I didn't know about the rules of English, either because I'd never been taught it at all or because I'd been too busy writing love letters to my girlfriend when I was at school. In the ensuing years I'll admit to having become a bit of a grammar bore: spot a misplaced apostrophe and I'll have whipped my red pen out before you can say "you're".

It's ok not to know this stuff - hell, I didn't - but I do think that as bloggers, people who make a hobby and in some cases a living out of writing, it behoves us to educate ourselves. So, I thought that a quick round-up of some common errors and misunderstandings might come in handy.

brooch = a piece of jewellery
broach = to approach or raise a topic in conversation

defiantly = to do something in a defiant (uncooperative) manner
definitely = without doubt

This is often an auto-correct fail, but definitely is almost always the one you need. For example:

WRONG: "I defiantly want to see the new Star Wars film" = you want to see the film whilst having a strop.
RIGHT: "I definitely want to see the new Star Wars film" = you want to see it for certain, you will see it. 

Something that actually happened; not metaphorical (e.g. made up for effect). For example: 

WRONG: "My belly was literally bursting after eating at Five Guys" = Might make your reader call an ambulance, because if your belly is literally bursting then you're in trouble.
RIGHT: "My belly was bursting after eating at Five Guys" = I was really full after eating at Five Guys so I've used the metaphor 'bursting' to show how full I felt.

sneak peak/sneak peek
I saw a major denim brand get this wrong on Twitter recently and it made me rage. Just remember, peak = hill, peek = to take a look. For example:

WRONG: "I had a sneak peak at the Boden SS16 collection" = you sneakily took a hill with you (although good luck sneaking a hill in ) to the Boden SS16 collection launch.
RIGHT: "I had a sneak peek at the Boden SS16 collection" = you had a look at the Boden SS16 collection before anyone else.

And while we're on the subject of peak... 

pique = to prompt an interest in something, e.g. "the review on your blog piqued my interest".
peak = still a hill

wander = to take a leisurely walk
wonder = to think about something 
For example: 

WRONG: "I took a wonder around the lovely city of Venice" = I thought my way around Venice.
RIGHT: "I took a wander around the lovely city of Venice" = I walked around Venice. I used to tell my students that if you ever forget which is which, remember that wander and walk begin the same.

would of/would have
Despite, when spoken, sounding like "would of" in many areas of the UK, the correct written usage is always "have", e.g. would have, could have, should have. 

your = something belonging to you, e.g. your laptop, your favourite book
you're = contraction of 'you are', e.g. you're (you are) working on a new post 

me, myself & I
I left this till last because it's a bit long-winded. The trick is to take the other people being grouped with me/I out of the sentence and see what sounds right. For example:
"Me and Shilpa went to Brewdog for a drink." 
Take away Shilpa and you're left with, "Me went to Brewdog for a drink." Clearly not right, so instead it needs to be "Shilpa and I went to Brewdog for a drink."

However, if the sentence includes a "my..." then "me" is needed. For example:
"My mum gave my sisters and I pyjamas for Christmas." 
Remove the sisters and you're left with, "My mum gave I pyjamas for Christmas," which sounds ridiculous, so it needs to be, "My mum gave me and my sisters pyjamas for Christmas."

Finally, "myself" should only be used when there's also an "I" in your sentence. For example:
"I bought myself some new Lush goodies." It's often used incorrectly in place of me or I (e.g."Jo and myself went to the product launch", which should be "Jo and I went to the product launch").

Phew! I'm feeling in need of a drink after all that grammar and I didn't even get on to apostrophes...

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 16th January

I don't know how an entire month has already passed since December's Photo An Hour, but somehow it has. I'm becoming an old woman who bemoans the speedy passing of time, as month after month whizzes by in the blink of an eye. Anyway, I was excited that Photo An Hour fell yesterday as, unlike last month, I had plans to leave the house and actually do stuff!

8.30am: Awake, reluctantly, and it's freezing cold so I'm staying snuggled under the duvet for as long as I can, with a book to keep me company (I'm reading Days Of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor, the second in her Daughter Of Smoke & Bone trilogy, and really enjoying it so far).

9.30am: Thomas has popped into town to have his hair cut so I've settled in with a mug of tea and a pile of magazines.

10.30am: My sale bargain fox jumper from Sugarhill Boutique has finally arrived, hooray!

11.30am: While waiting for Thomas to get home I decided to start my new cross stitch pattern. Unfortunately, an essential skill in cross stitch is the ability to count, which I lack. Within the first 20 minutes it became clear that I'd have to unpick all my work (which really wasn't many stitches as I'm so slow, but still).

12.30pm: Finally dressed and ready to leave the house. This outfit - H&M cardigan, H&M dress, H&M boots (off camera) is my absolute favourite thing to wear at the moment.

1.30pm: A train ride later and we've arrived in Nottingham to beautiful blue skies.

2.30pm: Thomas looking extremely excited because his stonebaked pizza with vegan cheese was on its way. A visit to Oscar & Rosie's was the main reason for our trip today, and I can safely say it was well worth it.

3.30pm: "Anarchy is everywhere" graffiti on the columns of Nottingham City Hall.

4.30pm: A stash of vinyl in the Sue Ryder vintage shop. And no, the Cliff Richard album didn't come home with me.

6.30pm: I forgot to take a photo at 5.30 as we were on the train, but by half 6 we were firmly ensconced in our favourite Leicester pub with pints and something to read.

9.30pm: At 7.30 & 8.30 we were still in the pub, so no photos. We got a taxi home and I, slightly tipsy, decided that the neighbours would really love to hear my playing some of the day's purchases really loud. This Dilly Dally album is great but the cover's pretty gross.

10.30pm: The last thing I do before bed most nights is fill in my Q&A A Day diary.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

So You Want To Read More?

Whenever I talk or write about books, a response I often get is, "Wow, you read so much! I'd love to read more." So, because I know that "read more" is a goal for many people as we start a new year, I thought now might be an opportune time to offer some advice.

For me, reading a lot is a clear choice I make. Reading is my main leisure activity, not something confined merely to the 15 minutes before sleep at night. I think nothing of spending a whole evening - or indeed a whole day - curled up reading, becoming completely lost in the world of a book. However, as with most pastimes, when it comes to reading the most important thing is to make it into a habit; something that becomes a natural part of your day. So here are 7 ideas to help you develop a reading habit.

1. Make time to read
This one sounds obvious, yet I lose count of the number of people who say to me, "I wish I could read more but I don't have the time," while they spend the nth hour that day thumbing through Twitter and Instagram. If you want to read more, you have to make time for it: simple as that. Prioritise reading over your other hobbies for just a week - cut down on the podcasts, put aside your sewing, turn off Netflix, and, most importantly, turn off your phone/tablet/laptop - and you'll be amazed at how much reading you can get done.

2. Think about the books you're picking
If it's taken you eight months to struggle through half a book, maybe don't try to kick-start a reading habit with War & Peace. There is no - I repeat, no - shame in not reading so-called 'literary' books. If you enjoy romances, or crime novels, then read them! To kick-start a reading habit a well chosen Young Adult novel is ideal, being quick and easy to read yet still with enough narrative 'meat' to satisfy. I'd recommend Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, E Lockhart's We Were Liars, or Jenny Han's superior YA romances. Prefer a more thrilling read? Go for something with a pacy, fast-moving plot to get you turning the pages quickly. Crime fiction is ideal for this, with the recent preponderance of female-penned thrillers such as Gone Girl, Apple Tree Yard and The Girl On The Train all guaranteed to keep you reading. Finally, if you prefer a more literary approach, you can't go wrong with the novels of Sarah Waters - Fingersmith is atmospheric, beautifully written and packed with narrative twists and shocks.

3. Read little but often
In this world of 140-character tweets and 15-minute podcasts (and attention spans to match) settling down to read a novel with 70 page chapters can feel an impossible task. Instead, pick non-fiction with bite-sized chapters or short vignettes - perhaps Mindy Kaling's comic memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, or How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. Both have enough variety and humour to keep you engaged but with chapters short enough that you can finish them in the course of a bus journey.

4. Take a book with you...
... And think about the moments in your day when you'll have a chance to read. If you commute by public transport, use the time to read. Commute in your car? Try an audiobook rather than listening to the radio (and yes, audiobooks count as reading). I always have a book with me at work so I can read during my lunch break (hooray for no longer being a teacher and actually having a lunch break!) or while I'm waiting for appointments. Even dentists's waiting rooms seem less bleak when I've got my head buried in a book. And one fail-safe way you can ensure you always have a book with you is utilising e-readers and apps, which leads me neatly onto number 5...

5. Don't be afraid of technology
Yes, we can all agree that physical books are superior in almost every way to ebooks, but the sheer convenience of the latter cannot be understated. An e-reader - or even just an app installed on your phone or tablet - gives you instant access to hundreds of thousands of titles, meaning that wherever you are and whatever you feel like reading, you can.

6. Use external means to set deadlines & reading goals
For many people, having a goal helps to motivate them in their reading. Joining a book group is a good way to ensure you have a deadline for finishing a book, and if there's not a group near you then try online book challenges. Lots of bloggers run reading 'events' (for want of a better word). If you're into feminist reads, Tara has recently started a feminist book club on her blog, and Alex is always after people to take part in her Blogging Good Read series. Or simply set yourself a goal - a book a month? A book a week? Make sure your goal is realistically achievable, though, otherwise it's all too easy to become disheartened and give up entirely.

7. Join the library
Borrowing your books from the library rather than buying them will not only save you heaps of money (and support a valuable public service), it will also give you the freedom to discard books you don't enjoy. After shelling out the best part of a tenner on a new book, people will, understandably, usually persevere with something even if it's not for them. Borrowing from the library enables you to try and little bit of everything so you can find out which authors and genres make you eager to read, and which you can happily leave on the shelves.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Adventures In Swapping (No, Not That Kind Of Swapping)

I love taking part in gift swaps: the challenge of picking gifts for someone I only know online, the thrill when I find something perfect, and - of course - the excitement when my own parcel arrives.

This Christmas I did three swaps: Char's Blogger Secret Santa, and my own Thrifty Gift Swap, which I ended up doing twice due to a late sign-up. And I have to say, this year's swappers really knew their stuff because I was thrilled with everything I received.

Donna's was the first swap parcel I opened, on the Saturday before Christmas, and I was blown away with how thoughtful and how very 'me' her choices were. I mean, look at that little collection: a vintage bicycle notebook with pencil, a collar necklace, a cute cross-stitch, and very best of all, a typewriter brooch that perfectly matches my blog logo (also included in the parcel was a packet of sweets from Donna's recent trip to Poland and a tin of loose-leaf tea, but I've long since scoffed the sweets and drunk the tea).

I was super chuffed that someone who'd only 'met' me online was so spot-on with their choices, as I don't think even Thomas could have picked a better selection of presents.

I saved my Blogger Secret Santa gifts to open on Christmas Day, although it wasn't so secret in the end. By funny coincidence, I had sent to Emma in last year's BSS swap and as soon as I saw the return address on my parcel, I knew it must have come from her.

Emma had obviously done her research as my gifts were perfect. An amazing glitzy statement necklace, a lovely Paperchase writing set, polka dot gel pens, a yummy smelling Christmas candle, and my favourite treat - sweets - were teamed with a very cute goat Beanie Baby (who my niece quickly took possession of and hence doesn't feature here!)

My final swap parcel was sent to me by Jennifer, and contained a cotton tote bag (I love totes!), a beautiful (I think vintage?) glass jewellery tray, a tiny Christmas tree ornament and a handmade needle case. Unfortunately, I managed to leave the box of gifts up at my mum's, so wasn't able to photograph them, but they were all spot on too.

Despite being so busy in the run-up to Christmas, I'm so glad I decided to take part in (and indeed run) swaps. If you took part in a gift swap this Christmas, did you enjoy it?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

December Reads

1. I loved Cloud Atlas and so approached The Bone Clocks with eager anticipation. The two books are not dissimilar in structure, both consisting of interlinked stories across different settings. However, The Bone Clocks focuses on one central character - Holly Sykes - first seen as a teenager in 1980s Kent and then glimpsed at intervals, through point-of-view chapters from different characters, until she is an elderly lady in a dystopian future Ireland. There was lots I enjoyed in this book, but lots I didn't, too: a tendency for the chapters to be given over to fairly tedious detail with no pressing narrative need to do so, and an irritating reliance on dumb cod-sci-fi-speak throughout being just two. Overall, I'm glad I persevered with The Bone Clocks, but it's not something I'd hurry to read again.

2. The story behind Carry On is a complex one. Rainbow Rowell wrote a book, Fangirl, about a teenage girl, Cath, who writes successful fan-fic based on a fictional series of books about a wizard (or mage) called Simon Snow, which are not-so-subtly based on Harry Potter. Although I really liked Fangirl, I wasn't keen on the Simon Snow parts (the action of the novel is interspersed with extracts from both the 'original' Simon Snow books and from Cath's fan fiction), so when I found out that Rowell's new novel was a Simon Snow book - basically a fan-fic of a series she herself had invented - I assumed it'd be terrible. Well, just goes to show you shouldn't make assumptions, because I LOVED Carry On. Simon and his roommate/nemesis Baz are both well realised, and Rowell did a superb job of capturing the cadence and rhythm of British teen speak. And yes, it is basically Harry/Draco slash-fic but it's entertaining as all get out and the central romance is gloriously sweet.

3. The Woman In Blue* is the latest in the series about Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist who, it seems, gets dragged into every murder investigation in North Norfolk. This one involves threatening letters to female priests, ghostly sightings, and the murder of a young model in the village of Walsingham. As Thomas and I spent a week there on holiday in October, I particularly enjoyed this book as the descriptions of the slightly eerie village are spot-on.

4. I've only read a couple of Sayers' famous Golden Age of Crime novels featuring Lord Peter Whimsey and, on the evidence of The Nine Tailors  I won't necessarily rush to read more.  It's not that I didn't enjoy it - I did, especially some very Christie-esque touches of humour - but it seemed to go on forever, with a tedious amount of detail about campanology that wasn't necessary for the plot.

5. A Boy Called Christmas is the story of a young boy, Nikolas, in 18th Century Finland and its entirely sentimental and emotionally manipulative, but enjoyable nevertheless. Kids will love it - exploding troll heads, cute mouse sidekicks, Father Christmas in-jokes and all - and this adult liked it a lot too.

6. Hush Hush is a hugely enjoyable psychological thriller in the vein of Gone Girl. A mother drives to the river near her Baltimore home and sits under a tree to shelter from the boiling sun. Meanwhile, her two month old baby cooks inside her car. A decade later, she's back in town and financing a film about post-partum psychosis. And, as is par for the course, all is not what it seems: with the mother (Melisandre, which made me think, distractingly, of GoT) and her ex-husband coming across as nasty pieces of work, and their surviving daughters both having hidden agendas too. The character of Tess Monaghan, a PI who has been recruited to help with security arrangements for Melisandre and through whose eyes we view much of the action, was immediately likeable and I quite liked that some threads of the narrative were left unsolved, although others may find that irritating.

7. 8. & 9. was looking for something to read that wouldn't require me to think too hard, and ended up re-reading a load of YA romances: To All The Boys I've Loved Before (which I reviewed here), Fangirl (and what do you know? I actually quite liked the Simon sections this time!) and the very festive short story collection My True Love Gave To Me (reviewed last December).

10. And while I was rereading Fangirl, I decided to give Landline another try, which I hadn't entirely liked on my first read. Set at Christmas, it's an It's A Wonderful Life-esque tale of only knowing what you've got until you almost lose it, but I have to say it's still not my favourite Rowell.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The Buyer's Archive: December

Last year Elise started a series called The Buyer's Archive as a way to track her purchases from year to year and figure out which items had been worth it, and which had already found their way to the charity bag. As reducing my spending is always a goal, I decided to give it a go too.

I'm now approaching the 12 month mark of doing these posts and am beginning to see patterns emerging: so much of what I've bought in the past year has ended up being re-sold or given to charity and it's clear that I need to be a lot more reflective about my purchases. December, though, was a good month.

Polka dot top, £2 charity shop
I've been wanting a simple, loose-fitting polka dot top for so long that finding this one in a charity shop was cause for a celebratory dance in the changing room. Really. With my boobs of doom this style of top often fails to fit - usually stretching over the chest and then hanging far too loose and tent-like elsewhere. However, this vintage BHS version is perfect. I already have plans to use it as a pattern and try and sew a few more versions

Mary Jane shoes, £10 Primark
I wanted a pair of comfortable flat t-bar shoes that wouldn't be as chunky and heavy to wear as my current pair from Office. Lo and behold, I found a single pair of these beauties left in stock and they happened to be in my size, so I broke my Primark ban to buy them. So far, so good, as they're comfortable and go with most of my wardrobe.

Burgundy circle scarf, £7.99 New Look (no longer online)
I'm really into burgundy this winter and am also loving snood/circle scarves, so buying this was a no-brainer. I've already got lots of wear out of it, despite unseasonally high temperatures, so I'm confident it will turn out to be a good investment.

Which brings my total for December to... £19.99. Not bad at all, and I'm particularly impressed that I managed to resist the lure of the sales.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My Favourite Moments In 2015

Andrea wrote a wonderful post about her favourite moments of 2015, and I liked the idea of reflecting on both the big events and the small moments. So, in no particular order, my moments of 2015 were...

- Being offered the job at Willoughby. Receiving that phone call made me realise just how much I wanted the job, and how much I needed a change. I feel very lucky to have been able to find a role that is just so perfect for me.

- Celebrating with lots of cocktails after Thomas submitted his PhD thesis. His viva is only a few weeks away, so fingers crossed there'll be more celebration then.

- Sitting in a pub in Walsingham, Norfolk, listening to a group of priests gossip about how their colleagues conduct Mass. It was like something out of Father Ted and very, very funny.

- Watching my brother and Stephanie getting married.

- Seeing Joanna Newsom live at the Albert Hall in Manchester, especially when she played Cosmia.

- Opening the email that told me I had permission to visit Canada.

- An impromptu Saturday bike ride and picnic with Thomas that turned into a long afternoon in the pub talking rubbish.

- Playing games with my niece; she's very into imaginative play, so I've variously been an incompetent police officer, a journalist, a teacher, a private investigator and a murder victim this year.

- Being upgraded to first class on our flight from Reykjavik to Toronto.

- Every moment of the time I had with family in Canada. Our family's a big one - my mum is one of five children and there are fifteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren - and we live across three continents, so any chance to see my cousins, aunts and uncles is precious. But this reunion was our first chance to all be together (apart from a couple of cousins who couldn't make the trip) since 1991, so it was even more special.

- Being adopted by two local cats who proceeded to spend most of their summer hanging out with us.

Getting the train down to London for an enormously fun Monday evening in the pub with friends. Tuesday morning was less fun.

- The wonderful speech that my Head of Department gave on my last day at school in December, followed by a rousing song he'd composed about me to the tune of Once In Royal David's City.

I mentioned in yesterday's review of 2015 that in many ways it was a tough year but looking back at these memories also reminds me of what an incredible time I've had, and I'm looking forward to more great moments in 2016.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015: A Year In Review

Well, 2015 turned out to be a funny old year. I remember, back in January, deciding to have a year off from my Q&A a day journal on the grounds that 2015 was going to be exactly the same as 2014.

It didn't quite turn out that way.

From battling with some pretty serious anxiety (which sometimes made all our amazing travel opportunities hard to cope with), to changing my entire career, 2015 was anything but the same as 2014. I can't quite decide if it was a good year: in total, the good definitely outweighed the bad and I've had some amazing moments this year, but it was also tough and gruelling at times. Put it this way, I'm not sorry to see the back of it: roll on 2016!

I wrote about why we're planning a feminist wedding (sum total of planning actually achieved in 2015= zero), listed the music that's soundtracked my life, and discussed why talking about abortion is important (a subject I expanded on for The Olive Fox later in the year).

I posted a how-to for a 'Feminist As Fuck' slogan embroidery, finished our office makeover, and wrote about 10 things I'm good at, as well as going on some half term adventures.

Thomas and I visited Saltaire, I considered the problem of solidarity on International Womens Day, and I wrote about the shitty bits that often get glossed over when blogging.

We visited Glasgow for some time with Thomas's family, inspired by Sarah, I wrote about the five things I swore I'd never do, and I commenced my now-annual week of making.

We spent a weekend in Bristol and a week in the Netherlands, I reflected on a devastating election result by suggesting five ways to resist, gave some reasons why travelling alone rocks, struggled with some MH issues, and failed to blog every day.

I made the most of my weekends, celebrated my birthday with Photo an Hour, and hosted a guest post on gender identity by Siobhan.

I spent a super fun Saturday at Indietracks festival with Laura, completed the travel-themed, budget makeover of our spare room, and we jetted off to Canada via Iceland.

Thomas and I visited Montreal followed by Toronto, I wrote about what to expect when your partner has a vasectomy, and most importantly, we attended my family reunion in Canada, an experience I haven't yet found the words to write about.

My mum and I had a day out in Haworth, I wrote about feeling disillusioned with teaching, and our lives took a radical new direction when both Thomas and I got new jobs.

October was a very relationship-focused month: Thomas and I celebrated our third anniversary, went on a date in Nottingham, and spent a week in Norfolk. Plus, this was the month by little brother got married: so exciting!

By November I was working two jobs and averaging around 70 hours a week so not much blogging happened, although I did find time to share some outfit photo out-takes.

In December I shared some budget gift-wrapping ideas and wrote about some great festive reads, as well as rounding up my favourite music and books of 2015.