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


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.

Friday 5 June 2015

A New Repertoire

Do your eating habits tend to change when the better weather arrives? I find that we don't want the warming stews and casseroles or pies of winter, the stodgy comfort food which we eat to keep warm. Now it's time for lighter meals to take over, though because my family aren't very keen on salads it can be quite a challenge thinking what to make. I have to confess that our winter eating habits have continued for a much longer period this year, down to the bad weather we've had so far I suppose, but the sunshine we had yesterday has prompted me to search through the cook books for some new recipes.

I don't use books very often for inspiration, the recipes usually call for lots of things which Mick won't eat. I was going to say that he's a fussy eater but I realise that he's come a long way in the years that I've known him. When I met him he wouldn't eat any vegetables, nothing with a hint of a tomato in it, tomato based sauces were a real no no. I credit getting an allotment with him starting to eat vegetables but even though he'll give many more things a go these days, he's still essentially a plain eater. He doesn't like spicy food so curry and chilli is off the menu. I've found a few things in my cook books which I can adapt though so we'll give them a whirl.

Whilst pulling the cook books off the shelf I came across this Women's Weekly Big Book of Kids Cooking which I bought Eleanor many years ago.

I thought this was a brilliant book for teaching children to cook as there are some really simple recipes in it and recipes for things which children would enjoy eating. You can tell which recipes were enjoyed in our household as the pages are stuck together where something must have dripped on them whilst the book's been open on the worktop. These Pizza Scrolls were a favourite.

I had to look and see which recipe had been earmarked by the page marker, Oven-Baked Chicken with Spicy Wedges, another favourite.

I'm pleased that Eleanor has taken an interest in cooking over the years, it means that I get a night off sometimes now, in fact, her boyfriend's coming over this evening and she's cooking for us all. It will give me a chance to have a good look through my books and pick out some new things to try. I wonder if any of you know of any cookery books with good, plain recipes in which you can recommend.

Monday 1 June 2015

A Sweet Treat

We visited a garden centre yesterday which had a farm shop attached to it. There were some lovely looking produce but the thing which really grabbed my attention was the bakery counter. We couldn't resist and decided to take some goodies home with us.

The fruit meringue is mine, the chocolate cherry bomb is Mick's and the strawberry cheesecake is Eleanor's.

We didn't eat them yesterday so we've got them to look forward to after our roast chicken dinner tonight.

Which of the three would be your choice?