Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Challenge Update - July 2015

My 2015 challenges are:-

1) Read one book each month.

1a) Read Agatha Christie books in chronological order.

2) Watch films from IMDb's top 100 movies of all time.

3) Support charities.

I'm early with my challenge update post this month as I won't be around at the end of July. This also means that July has been a short month for progressing with my challenges, but I have managed to meet them once again.


The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley was a free book on my Kindle. I don't think it's a book which would have caught my eye if I'd had to pay for it but I loved it. The setting in Cornwall is described beautifully and the story, spanning two time periods, kept me thoroughly interested. It's a book I'd definitely recommend.



The Big Four was my Agatha Christie read for July. This is a Poirot novel but has a different feel to it than other Christie books. Poirot is involved in seeking an international group, The Big Four, who are set on world domination. I enjoyed this book and I'm now interested to see how the change of style in this book affects her next one.


I only got round to watching two films in July.

I knew I'd heard of Snatch before but I couldn't place where from. It was when Vinnie Jones, the footballer, popped up that I remembered it was his follow up to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (which I haven't seen either). Snatch isn't a film I'd choose to watch but it was watchable and kept me interested.

Grave Of The Fireflies is a subtitled Japanese animation which tells the story of two children, brother and sister, trying to survive during the Second World War. I had no idea at all what the film was about when I put it on but I was glued to the screen. It's terribly sad and I think the fact that it's in animation makes the story even more harrowing. I'd recommend this film.



It was Eleanor's birthday on the 15th of July and she received lots of presents, she's never gone without. I decided that this year, one of the presents I'd buy her would be a gift for someone less fortunate. I decided to buy the gift from Good Gifts as this company guarantees that your money buys the actual gift you have chosen. Eleanor's lucky, she's had the opportunity to go to school and will hopefully be carrying on with her education at university so I thought a good gift to buy would be text books for a school. This will help allow children in Africa to go to school, giving them the chance of a better future. There's lots of different gifts to choose to suit all pockets and the recipient gets a little card detailing the gift which has been bought on their behalf. I have to say that Eleanor was thrilled with this, she loved the idea that text books had been bought on her behalf for children less fortunate than herself.


The Big Issue Foundation helps enable people who are homeless take control of their lives and earn a legitimate income. The magazine is published on behalf of and sold by homeless or vulnerably housed people. They buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it on for £2.50. I'm a big fan of helping people to help themselves, and besides, the magazine itself is a good read. This week's copy has an interview with Andrew Flintoff, something Mick will be reading when I've finished with it.


This will be my last post for a while, on Saturday we go on our summer holiday. This year, we're staying much closer to home travelling just an hour away for our first week. We're staying in a cottage in Pickering which is handy for days at the Yorkshire Coast and North York Moors as well as being very near to the Dalby Forest which Archie will love. We're staying in a cottage in Northumberland for our second week. I've only been there once and that was on a school trip thirty five years ago so I'm really looking forward to it. We should have wi-fi at both cottages but I'm looking forward to a fortnight away from all stresses so I doubt I'll be using it. I'll see you all in August.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Photo Medley - July

I'm a little early with my photo medley post this month, there's still another eleven days of the month to go, but I won't be around at the end of July so here's a round up of the photos I've taken so far this month which haven't made it on to the blog. There aren't many.

I sowed two kinds of sunflowers this year, the tall ones didn't make it but these dwarf ones, Big Smile, are flowering away. I won the seeds in Mitzi's giveaway last year on her Lazy Days & Sundays At Willow Cottage blog.


Daniel arrived home from university at the start of the month with all his stuff, he's gone back to York now for the summer but left most of his belongings behind. I've got them until September.


A beautifully wrapped gift from a friend. I'll tell you more about it in a future post.


We celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary on the 7th of July. These beautiful roses were delivered in the morning before we set off for our day out. Sadly, they're no longer around, roses don't last very long at all.


Another surprise parcel in the post, the RAK (Random Act of Kindness) which I wrote about in my last post.


Thank you to those people who said they'd like to play along with the RAK. The two names chosen at random are Cheryl from My Little Piece Of England and Pam from A New Life In Wales. Can you both please let me have your addresses and I shall get a surprise parcel out to you sometime between now and the end of the year. I'm hoping that with this timescale, you won't be expecting the parcel when it arrives and it'll be a surprise.

Friday, 17 July 2015

I Received A RAK

It was at the end of last year when Sally from Crafty Northerner asked if anyone would like to receive a RAK, a Random Act of Kindness. It's no wonder then that after I'd put my name down and said that I'd love to receive one that I promptly forgot all about it. I'm glad that I did as it was a lovely surprise when I received a parcel at the start of the week. Inside were some beautifully wrapped goodies and a lovely card.


So what did I get? Well, lots of lovely, happy things. Some sheepy socks - so cute, a badge - already pinned to my coat, some paper drinking straws - these remind me so much of my childhood, especially drinking yucky warm milk through them at school. I shall find something much nicer to drink through them this time.


I also got this cute little angel pad. I love the cover, it's just the sort of mishaps that happen to me.


Archie wasn't left out either, Sally's beautiful black labrador, Anni B, sent a treat for him too. She must know the way to his heart is through his stomach. I'm having to ration them otherwise they'd be all gone by now, he's such a greedy hound.

Thank you so much Sally, I'm thrilled with everything.

Sally asked that anyone participating should pass on the love by offering to send a RAK themselves so would anyone like to play along? Please leave a comment letting me know if you'd like to take part and I'll pick two names at random who will receive a little happy gift in the post sometime between now and the end of the year. Again, I'd ask that if you want to participate, you should be willing to pass on the love again and offer to send a RAK yourself. Go on, you know you want to.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Sixteen Going On Seventeen

Happy birthday to my darling Eleanor.


No longer sweet sixteen, seventeen today.


She's spending her birthday in school but she's going out in to Leeds tonight for a meal with her friends to celebrate.


The above photos were taken last week. She went on a residential trip to Leeds Beckett University from Wednesday until Saturday and had a brilliant time. Those who attended were split in to four groups according to what they're interested in studying at university and then they got to choose from a number of workshops in the field they're interested in. Eleanor took workshops on Molecular Biology, Physiology and Physiology of Pain and Clinical Skills. In the evenings they did team building activities as well as having a barbecue on the first night, went in to Leeds City Centre for a meal and to the cinema on the second night and spent the third night in the student union building having a meal and disco. They also had photos taken, complete with props, in a photo booth. I've cropped the above photos but she was with lots of new friends she made, many of which she's keeping in touch with, which is nice.

She had a wonderful time and loved the whole university experience. I think she got a lot out of the residential.

Happy birthday, Eleanor. I hope you have a wonderful birthday.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Jesus Christ Superstar


Thank you to everyone who left good wishes for Mick and I on my last post on the occasion of our Silver Wedding Anniversary. We had a lovely day and I was thoroughly spoilt. Mick had a beautiful bouquet of red roses delivered to me first thing in the morning.


He also bought me a gorgeous angel pendant, made from two hearts which join together to make the angel form with a halo and diamond encrusted wings, really unusual and I love it. He knows I don't wear silver so it's in gold, and to top it all off he bought me my favourite chocolates. I bought Mick a watch and we got lots of cards and gifts off family and friends.


We did end up going to the Dales afterall, it was quite dull for most of the day but the sun did put in an appearance every so often. We didn't get home until quite late, had a quick change of clothes and then headed out to a restaurant for a meal. We spent a lovely day together.


On Monday evening, the day before our anniversary, Eleanor, Mick and I went to see another show at Leeds Grand Theatre, this time it was Jesus Christ Superstar.


It was the opening night and there were lots of spare seats in the theatre so we had our tickets upgraded which was a nice surprise.


I hope the rest of the shows are sell outs as it was a fabulous show and they deserve to be playing to a packed theatre.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Silver Wedding Anniversary

It's twenty five years ago today that Mick and I said our vows and became a married couple.


When I look back over the last quarter of a century and everything that's happened since that day back in 1990 it seems so long ago, yet on the other hand it doesn't seem two minutes since I was walking down the aisle.

Mick's taken some time off work so we're spending the day together, just the two of us. We were hoping to head off to the Dales but the weather isn't looking too good so we probably need to move to Plan B, whatever that may be.

Now we're looking forward to the next twenty five years together and whatever that may bring.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Home For Summer

Daniel's just finished his second year at university and as he's changing accommodation again, last weekend was his moving out date for the house he's been sharing with five friends. He doesn't move in to his new house until September so I thought I might have him home for summer this year but that's not to be, he stayed from Saturday until Wednesday and then went back to stay with his girlfriend until he's able to move in to his own house.

His girlfriend has also changed accommodation but there was only the gap from Monday until Wednesday when she was without anywhere to live, and as she's American she doesn't have parents here to go home to so she came to stay with us too.

Daniel may not be home for Summer, but all his university paraphernalia is. These are the boxes taking up room in my conservatory, there's more upstairs in his bedroom and it's even spilled out on to the landing.





Goodness knows what the pink wig's for, I daren't ask.

One thing which Daniel doesn't bring home any more is his washing, he's become very domesticated as well as independent over the last two years, something I thought I'd never see. If it's done nothing else, university has certainly taught him how to look after himself.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Sammy

2008 - 29th June 2015.


Eleanor's bunny, Sammy, died on Monday. We're all so upset. It was only February when his brother, Monty, died. Even Archie seems to be missing him, well, both of them. When he goes in the garden he looks for them, but of course they're not there.


RIP beautiful bunny.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Challenge Update - June 2015

My 2015 challenges are:-

1) Read one book each month.

1a) Read Agatha Christie books in chronological order.

2) Watch films from IMDb's top 100 movies of all time.

3) Support charities.

June has been a steady month as far as my challenges are concerned. I've managed to read two books as well as an Agatha Christie book and I've watched four films.


It seems everyone's reading, has read or is going to read The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins, it's very popular at the moment. I think the first half of the book was better than the second half, I'm not sure if it's because of all the hype but I expected more from it. The beginning kept me interested as I didn't know where it was taking me but because it had had such great reviews, the second half was a bit of a let down, especially as I guessed what was going to happen. If you haven't yet read it, don't let me put you off, I did enjoy it but I wanted a bit more from it.

The Highway by CJ Box was a free book for my Kindle so I thought I'd give it a go, even though it's not the type of book I'd usually read. It's about two teenage girls who are kidnapped by a serial killer and the race to find them. Some parts, as you might expect with a book on this subject, are quite graphic but I think the author has put in just enough detail without going overboard with the more gruesome descriptions. It contains a twist which I never saw coming and I thought the ending was very good.


The Agatha Christie book I read in June was The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. This is her sixth book and in my opinion, the best I've read so far through this challenge, even though I knew who the murderer was before I started. I watched a documentary about Agatha Christie a few months ago when this information was revealed without warning, I was so annoyed, but I have to say that the plot was very clever and even knowing the ending didn't spoil it for me.


I crossed another four films off the IMDb top 100 movies of all time list this month.

I didn't know anything about American Beauty other than it won five Oscars. It held my attention though I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again, but I did think Kevin Spacey was very good in it.

I'd never heard of Boyhood before I watched it, though I got to one particular scene which I recognised and then realised that I'd seen Eleanor watching it a few days before. Boyhood was filmed between 2002 and 2013 and follows Mason grow from a young six year old right until he reaches eighteen. Although there was no major plot to the story, I thought it was very clever how it was filmed over such a length of time to see the actors actually age in the film. It kept me interested and I enjoyed it.

The Usual Suspects is another Kevin Spacey film. I wasn't sure I was going to like this crime thriller when I started watching it but I did. It has a twist and although I guessed it very early on, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of it.

Double Indemnity, made in 1944 and starring Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman and Barbara Stanwyck as a housewife who wants her husband dead, is another film I enjoyed this month. This film was nominated for seven Academy Awards but didn't win any yet it was ranked at number thirty eight on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best American films of the 20th century. I thought it was very good and had a great plot. It kept me watching right to the very end.


You can read my earlier post about H2Only, the campaign run by the RNLI to get people drinking more water and in turn, raise money for this good cause. Eleanor took part and I made a donation.


Earlier this month I had a bit of a clear out in one of my kitchen cupboards. I love mugs and often buy them when I see one I like and it had got to the stage where I couldn't close my cupboard door. I had a bit of a clear out, getting rid of the boring mugs which came with a couple of dinner services and an old High School Musical mug of Eleanor's. They were taken to the St Gemma's Hospice charity shop where the staff were only too happy to take them off my hands, in fact, they were putting them in the window as I left.


It's a beautiful day today and the weather's set to get hotter as the week goes on. I don't like it when it gets too hot so I'm sure I'll be spending a large proportion of the week indoors venturing out first thing in the morning or last thing at night. I hope it's just as nice where you are.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Photo Medley - June

I can't believe we're nearly at the half way stage in the year, very nearly at the end of June already. Time for this month's round up of photos which haven't yet made it on to the blog.

We've been pulling lots of rhubarb this month and I've discovered this, Crumble Mix. Lazy I know but it's very convenient to have it ready made to just pour over the stewed rhubarb. It makes a lovely crumble.


Here's one of the crumbles destined for my mum and dad, along with a cottage pie, both ready to just pop in the oven. I've been trying to help them out with a bit of cooking while my mum's been poorly. I'm happy to say that she's much better now and is managing to get out and about a bit again.


The chives have gone mad this month flowering away. The bees adore them. Perhaps that's why they've made their nest nearby, there's always plenty of flowers for them in my garden.


A feather on one of our walks. I wonder what sort of bird dropped it.


Some bargain pansies I picked up at the garden centre, they were reduced to half price so I couldn't resist.


My little family of pigs. I bought the first one from Mevagissey when I was on holiday in Cornwall and the family has been added to gradually since then. I've got quite a few animals dotted around my garden.


That's it for another month. I do wish the days and weeks would stop whizzing by so fast.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Buzz Off

When choosing flowers for my garden I try to buy things which will be good for wildlife, bees especially as they need all the help they can get. Many bumblebee species are struggling to survive, mainly due to changes to the countryside. Agricultural techniques have changed which means there are fewer wildflowers than there used to be which is bad news for bees.

Bumblebees are great pollinators and without them fruit and vegetable yields would suffer.

However, as fond as I am of these furry little creatures I don't want them living in my house and that's where I think they may have set up home. Last week I noticed about half a dozen bees buzzing around the guttering. Since then I've been doing my homework and a little bit of research has led me to believe that they're tree bumblebees or bombus hypnorum. They may have a nest around the guttering, underneath the fascia boards or more worryingly, in the loft, I daren't poke my head up there to look.


There's only three bees in the above photo but there's many more than that buzzing around when it's a sunny day, perhaps up to a dozen at any one time.

From what I've read, they don't seem to do any damage and bumblebee nests don't survive long, the nest dies naturally within a few months.

Tree bumblebees are new to the UK arriving from Europe and Asia. The first sighting was in 2001 and since then, they have spread rapidly throughout the UK and Wales. These type of bees build their nests well above ground, many in bird boxes using old nests, though they've even been known to evict blue tits from their nest before using it for themselves.

I've been watching them swooping down to the cotoneaster, a favourite of the bees, before flying back up to rejoin their buddies dancing around the nest.

There's some great information in Clive Hill's Introducing the 'Tree Bumblebee' Bombus hypnorum article if you want to read more about this species of bumblebee.

I suppose I'm going to have to put up with them until the end of summer but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a new queen doesn't take a fancy to the same nesting space again next year.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

H2Only

I can't remember now where we first saw it mentioned but Eleanor and I thought the RNLI's H2Only campaign at the beginning of the month was a great idea.


H2Only was a ten day challenge set by the RNLI to drink only water, to raise money for this deserving charity. I didn't take up the challenge but Eleanor did. She did really well and drank nothing but water for the whole ten days, there was no cheating at all. I was quite surprised that she managed it really as she does like her fizzy, sugary drinks. It saved me some money not having to buy Eleanor's favourite drinks when I did my shopping so I donated what I'd saved to the RNLI.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution provide a 24 hour lifeboat search and rescue service around the UK and Ireland as well as a seasonal lifeguard service. It's funded by charitable donations and has saved over 140000 lives since it was founded in 1824. A very worthy cause.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

An Anonymous Donation

You may have heard the story in the news about the donation of a vintage wedding dress which was received by a charity shop. There was a note pinned to the dress saying how the gentleman who donated the dress has spent 56 happy years with his wife and how lucky he was to marry her.


Pictures courtesy of St Gemma's.
The media got hold of the story and it made the nationals. A call was put out to trace the gentleman who had donated the dress and eventually the charity shop found out who he was. He lives in my little town but wants to remain anonymous. The charity shop supports St Gemma's, a local hospice, and they're auctioning the wedding dress on Ebay. The bid is currently at £6400.00 but there's still five days left to go.

It's such a heartwarming story, so nice to read something positive in the news instead of all doom and gloom. I hope the dress raises lots of money for such a worthwhile cause.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me who has terrible trouble with energy companies? The last one I was with, Npower, made such a mess of my direct debits, claiming from the wrong account and then not crediting my bill with the amounts taken, that it took them ages to sort out, in fact, they didn't put it right until I involved the energy ombudsman. It was many months before I got a correct statement from them. It doesn't leave me with much confidence when a company fails to listen to what you're saying after many phone calls so I did what I think everyone should do when companies offer such terrible customer service and changed suppliers.


I decided to give Scottish Power a go, surely I couldn't be unlucky twice in a row, could I? The answer is yes. If I thought Npower gave bad customer service it was because I hadn't yet encountered Scottish Power. I changed to them last August and since have spent numerous hours on the phone trying to sort out my account. The first bill I've had since changing to them last August was last month, apparently, a computer glitch meant that a bill couldn't be produced so I've had to guess the amount I owe up to then. I've been promised call backs from different departments which haven't materialised and had many requests to speak to a manager or someone who knows what they're doing refused. Again, I have had to involve the ombudsman who gave them twenty eight days to sort the problem out. I received a letter yesterday with a bill enclosed telling me that it was now all sorted out. Guess what, the bill's wrong. They should know it's wrong because I called them back in May telling them it was wrong and explaining why but they haven't done a thing since then, just sent this letter which I received yesterday enclosing a copy of that exact same bill.

I feel like banging my head against a brick wall, I really do. Even the energy ombudsman can't make them listen to their customers and sort out problems, what hope does ordinary Joe Public have? I wonder how people who are not as competent at dealing with matters like this are affected by the mistakes and subsequent lack of customer service these companies offer, I'd hate to think that my elderly parents were in dispute with an energy company as I know that these companies don't listen to a word you say to them and seem to have a total disregard for their customers.

I wonder, is it just me that has these problems? Surely not. Which? press office published the results of their annual customer service survey of the top 100 big brands last September and all the Big Six energy suppliers were the worst offenders when it came to poor customer service with Npower at the very bottom, second from the bottom was Scottish Power.

I've gone back to the ombudsman as the twenty eight days they gave Scottish Power to sort the problem out has now elapsed. What do you think they're going to do? The answer is give them a further ten days. Like I said above, even the energy ombudsman can't make them take their customers seriously.

I don't often write posts like this so I hope you don't mind this one slipping in, it's just that sharing my frustration over these incompetent companies is making me feel slightly better, though I still feel like screaming.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Second Time Around

It doesn't seem two minutes since we were visiting university open days with Daniel but he's now just coming to the end of his second year and we're starting all over again looking at universities for Eleanor as she'll, hopefully, be starting next year.


On Saturday, Mick and Eleanor had a trip to Chester to look round the university there. This is the first open day she's been to and she liked the look of the university, though of course, she doesn't have anything to compare it with as yet. Mick looked round quite a few with Daniel when he was making his choice of which university to study at, and said that he thought it was very small, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There's four more open days to attend over the next four weeks and then more after the summer holidays. Eleanor's only recently come to a decision over which course she's wanting to take. Unfortunately, many universities require Chemisty to at least AS level in order to be considered for the course but Eleanor hasn't taken this subject. Luckily, some universities will accept her with the subjects she's taken, she just needs to get the required grades now. It's so important when choosing A levels to really look at the requirements for any particular course you ultimately want to go on and study. Eleanor had done this but has since changed her mind about the course she wants to study so is limited to which universities will accept her.

In July, Eleanor is going on a university summer residential from Wednesday until Saturday where she gets to attend workshops in the subject she's interested in as well as staying in student accommodation and attending leisure activities on an evening. I think it will give her a bit of an insight in to what student life is all about. It's being held at one of the universities she's interested in so it will also allow her to see a bit more of that university before making a choice of which ones to apply to.

It was all new to Mick and I when Daniel started looking at universities, neither of us went to university ourselves, in fact, we both left school at sixteen after our O levels, we didn't even go on to take A levels. We're both so proud of Daniel and Eleanor, that they've put the effort in to get good grades and that they're following their dreams.