Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Breaking up with Snapchat

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Hi!


I wasn't going to write this post, but I've gotten messages and comments on every platform every day for the past three weeks asking where I am on Snapchat - I'm done with it. Done. Gone. Not coming back. Over. Finished.

The Honeymoon Period
I joined Snapchat when it started to become a popular platform for bloggers, so maybe 2015? I'm a stay at home Mum and it was such a brilliant way to chat to other people. I loved the novelty of seeing other peoples daily lives, and as someone who has never gone to a blog event, I loved seeing those too. I enjoyed watching super famous people like Reese Witherspoon and the Kardashians (and Britney's sister), it was a total novelty.

As my views went up, more and more people started to send me messages. Which was lovely, for the most part. I got a bit of hassle early on and it really got to me (so much so that I wrote this post) - I left for a couple of days, and got hundreds of supportive messages from people. I came back, skin thicker than ever, and kept snapping daily life - but I just got so tired of it. It got to the point where I was expected to answer questions daily - I've no issue with general questions, but it got incredibly intrusive ("what should I buy my mother for Christmas" "show us your husband" "what does your husband do" "where abouts do you live" "why do your kids not go to playschool" "why do you not have a dishwasher [complete with Dermot Bannon style plans on how I could fit one in - who needs cupboards anyway]" "why have you so much crap on your worktops" "why don't your kids have a playroom" "why don't you snap your cat" "why don't you let your cat in the house" "why do you have a cat around kids" "can I have a shoutout" "can you post about my blog" "can you mention my charity fund" "can you mention our sale" "can you mention our discount" "can you mention my birthday" "can you snap your cat for my sister" "can you snap that recipe again that you snapped six months ago" "how do I cook this turkey" "why are you wrapping Santa presents" "why are you leaving presents out before Christmas" "what are the last order dates for beauty bay" "can u email me your PR contacts I want to start a blog" - all real questions I was asked.


You Changed, Man
Over the past year, in general, the atmosphere on Snapchat changed. As advertising increased (no issue with this by the way - I did an ad too) - people began to question motives more. Anonymous threads began to appear, Instagram comments started to turn sour, the rise of the term "influencer" took over and seemed to sweep us all down the river. Anyone with a public Snapchat account was called an influencer and was discussed, questioned, and examined. Can I add here, for the record - nobody has any obligation to declare something as an #ad if money hasn't changed hands. That's a really common misconception - that people are being misled intentionally. And that's how I felt Snapchat had turned - people were now watching with an overly critical eye, ready to pounce on a slip-up. It was really uncomfortable and led to the constant re-filming of Snaps. Also, the term "blogger" was thrown around when discussing Snapchat, leading to a huge increase in ACTUAL bloggers throwing in the towel because of the negative connotations attached to the title. Every time someone mentioned something "bloggers need to avoid" it all related to Snapchat. A blogger is someone who writes and posts on a website, not someone with a Snapchat account.


Seven Two Year Itch
I love chatting. I do. But it got to the point where I was getting so many messages that I didn't want to open my app at all, and I didn't want to turn my WiFi on at all some days. I'd get a sense of dread every time I looked at the phone. I began to censor myself more and more. I also got really paranoid. I got paranoid that people were talking about me, or that I was doing something wrong, I got paranoid about showing products I liked. I didn't like the idea of people discussing me. I didn't like having to justify myself constantly. I didn't like having to censor my snaps in case a child was in the background because people would screenshot them. I tried closing my messages but then it felt like I was talking to nobody and it was all a bit pointless (plus, the minute I opened my Snaps again all the undelivered messages would come through anyway and I'd be back at square one). Being 100% honest, my family got a bit pissed off with me snapping when we were out too. And my grocery shopping took FOREVER because I snapped so many shelves. All the craic went out of snapping.


Packing My Bags
The final straw was when my children were in bad form and I hadn't really snapped much - I tried to put on a happy face and snapped about going out for a burger. The first reply I got was "state of your nails tho..." and I thought - right, that's it, done. I'm no longer prepared to put myself under that scrutiny, this isn't my job. I don't have to do this. I chose to share, so I choose to stop. By the end, over 5,000 people were watching me - people I know in real life who don't speak to me in real life were watching me and it freaked me out. Imagine walking into a room with 5,000 people in it, everyone knowing your name, your home, your daily routine - and you haven't a clue who 4,750 of them are. It made me feel very vulnerable. One night I got a message with a video of a guy my husband worked with years ago - how did they find him? How did I even come up in conversation?! I said to my sister "I feel like I'm being watched all the time" and she replied ".........but............you are?!".

Freedom
I've been snap-free for almost a month now and I have to say, my mood has improved dramatically. I wake up knowing that my day is my own, I'm not under any obligation to share, I don't have to sit answering questions for hours (and it took hours), I can still have chats with people on other social media platforms, and I'm talking to people I lost contact with because they didn't 'do' Snapchat. I've more time for the kids, I've more time to read, I've more WiFi and Data left so I can catch up on Netflix more often - I can genuinely say there hasn't been one single downside to leaving. I miss a couple of people very much and I need to make more of an effort to interact with them on other platforms but apart from that? I don't miss a second of it. I'm out of the bubble, and my mental health thanks me for it.

I'm not coming back. I really, really appreciate the support and nice messages - but I'm telling you, I'm done.



I still love talking shite and sharing bargains, tips, food, books, daily life stuff - I'm on Instagram (I do the odd story there too), I'm on Twitter, I'm on Facebook -  I've still been blogging here regularly too, I never stopped that. I haven't gone away. I'm just done with the anonymity and pressure that comes with snapping. I've actually got much more time now for the other platforms and my engagement across all of them has been so much better since I left Snapchat - so please do get in touch!

Thank you to every single person who followed or snapped since I started - thanks for the shoutouts, for the laughs, and for the support.

It's not you, it's me.






Blogger Tricks

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Look Fantastic Beauty Box March 2017: The Elle Magazine Edition

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Hi!

This is my second box from Look Fantastic this year, it's the Elle Magazine Edit. As always, the box comes with a copy of Elle magazine - usually I just dump these (because beauty magazines are just full of crap designed to make us feel bad about our bodies) but I like Emma Watson so I said I'd give it a read.

There were 80 pages of ads before the Editor's letter at the start. Then another 6 pages of ads before we got to our horoscopes (mine said I should go globetrotting), then another 18 pages of ads that brought us to a one-page piece about how fashion is feeling at the moment. Then another 36 pages of ads until the next article - so I just gave up, sorry Emma. I will say, if you're someone who likes to use high fashion ads as blog/instagram backgrounds - Elle is the magazine for you.


Inside this month's box were six products chosen "to push the boundaries of beauty, to bring you the most exciting products in the industry".


Starskin Eye Catcher Eye Mask | Worth: approx €5.23 (Full Size: €10.45 for 2 pairs)
I've had these in a beauty box before - they're nice, they're cellulose eye masks that claim to reduce puffiness, fine lines and dark circles. I can't say I noticed any of the above, but as with most of these products, they give a temporary fresh look to the eyes and feel nice. 

Pür Minerals Disappearing Act Concealer | Worth: approx €12 (Full Size €23.45 for 2.8g)
This is a lightweight concealer that promises to eradicate dark circles while giving good coverage. I received the shade 'light', which is still a little dark for me, but it seems nice. I'd compare it to Catrice's Camouflage Cream, it's a very similar consistency and gives similar coverage.

Caudalie VineActiv 3 in 1 Moisturiser | Worth: approx €14.42 (Full Size €38.45 for 40ml)
A moisturiser for face and neck containing anti-pollution technology and something that helps with pore blocking. This smells really, really strong - like leaves, cucumbers, gardens - it's not completely off-putting but I prefer my facial moisturisers to be less fragranced. It's very lightweight, and feels lovely, but the smell is strong. 

St. Tropez Instant Tan Finishing Gloss | Worth: approx €4.33 (Full Size €14.45 for 100ml)
Apparently this was first seen on the catwalks at London for Spring/Summer 2017 - personally I feel like products of this sort have been around for donkeys years. It can be used alone or over tan - it just gives a shiny look, with tiny particles that catch the light. Not a product that interests me, unfortunately, but if you want shiny skin then you may like it. 

SkinChemists 24hr Aqua Repair Facial Serum | Worth: approx €48.39 (Full Size Product)
This is a lightweight facial serum containing rose water and aloe vera, that work together to nourish the skin while healing and hydrating. It smells gorgeous (it smells expensive) and a pea-sized amount is all that's needed, meaning the 30ml tube will last ages. This does leave my skin feeling hydrated and plump, it's a lovely product. 

Redken Professional Heatcure Treatment | Worth: approx €5.60 (Full Size €22.45 for 4)
This is an innovative hair treatment - gone are the days when we had to boil the kettle to steep a tube of hot oil in a cup, this is a self-heating conditioning mask that begins to heat up when you peel the label back. You use the conditioner as normal after shampooing, just leave it on a little longer then rinse. I used this today - I'll have a mini review on my Instagram later about it. 


So, overall, when I opened the box I thought - meh. A concealer that probably won't suit me, a tan product, and some skincare. So, it's 50/50 for me on this one - 3 meh products (the Caudalie moisturiser, the leg gloss and the concealer). On the other hand, I was delighted with the Skinchemists serum, eye masks and the hair mask, they're things I really enjoyed but would never have bought for myself - and isn't that the whole point of a beauty box? I'm not entirely sure if everything fits in with the 'innovation' theme - (how innovative is concealer?) - but I'm glad that it's not full of lip gloss and kohl pencils like some other box brands I've tried.

Again, I'm looking forward to next month's box already. 

Total Box Worth: €89.97
Cost of Box: €16.20 approx as part of 6 month subscription
Verdict: Could do without tan products, but a nice box with some really interesting brands. 




Friday, March 10, 2017

Buffy and Me - #BuffySlays20

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Hi!

Now - firstly, I'm already giddy at the thought of writing this and trying to get everything I want to say into one post, so forgive me in advance. It's going to be wordy, it's going to be full of Buffspeak, and it's going to descend into waffle and/or fangirl territory fairly quickly. This is my sickness.

Here's the soundtrack just to put you in the mood - if anyone can get past the two minute mark in "Close Your Eyes" without getting teary, you are made of stone, my friend.

 

I've just deleted two paragraphs of waffle, including air dates for various countries (see what I mean?) - all I need to say, really, is that TV3 began in Ireland in 1998 and brought with it a plethora of American TV shows, including Buffy (and the gloriously ludicrous Sunset Beach). From the off, my sister and I were all over it - we video taped every episode off the telly beginning with episode one.

Our Homemade Script Books

A lot of people my age seem to have a bit of a grá for witches, witchcraft, and all things magic in general - so when the Season One episode "Witch" aired, my sister and I knew we had found our people. We began taping it off the tape off the telly - let me explain. We'd use the video recorder to tape the episode off the telly. Then we'd set up a cassette recorder and record all the audio. Then we'd make a copy of the cassette so we each had one. Then we'd spend a day or so listening and pausing, listening and pausing, to write down every. single. scrap of dialogue from the episode on A4 notebooks and each pick several parts to play and we'd run dialogue. I'm sorry, Stephanie, if this outs us for the absolute nerds we were, but it's something we adored and we did it well into Season 2 when it became - well, a ridiculous amount of effort. We had entire folders full of scripts. This is probably the reason that myself and Steph could mouth the dialogue of the first - at least the first 12 - episodes.



Merchandise

Getting merchandise of any kind wasn't easy when you lived in Leitrim and you had very little money - but by 1999, I had a part time job and was able to buy the odd book. We'd both read the books from the library, but our favourites were The Watchers Guide and The Sunnydale High Yearbook. There was also a quiz one that we used to test each other regularly with. Now - there are thousands of Buffy books out there, I know that there are a few of the old story ones on thebookshop.ie (just search 'Buffy'). My most recent addition to my Buffy collection has been this colouring book, complete with quotes and scenes from various episodes. I love it so much that I don't want to colour it. A family friend from America once sent us the most 90's backpacks - silver, slightly shimmery, with the Buffy logo on it. Mine is still floating round somewhere, it resurfaces every so often. My sister bought the soundtrack on cassette, I later bought it on CD.



Favourite Personal Buffy Moments


1. The time my sister and I wrote to Kathleen Tracy, author of "The Girl's Got Bite" - to ASK HER IF SHE COULD SEND US CAST PHOTOS. You need to remember here that we had no internet access and nobody was printing photos or posters of Spike or Drusilla - so because Kathleen had lots of photos in her book, and we had her book, it seemed totally reasonable to write a letter to this woman telling her how much we loved her book and asking her for copies of the pictures she used. To her credit, despite the fact that we probably appeared absolutely crazy (and demanding), she wrote us a lovely letter back explaining that that's not really how it works, but with a black & white picture of Spike & Dru printed on to the letter. That letter immediately became one of our prized possessions.

2. The time I whittled a stake to use as a prop for a nail polish post. For those wondering, I didn't whistle a jaunty tune.

3. Well, this. Clearly. I changed my twitter handle this year but the tweet is still there - I still get a little bit giddy every time I search for it regularly remember it, tbh.


4. Having toddlers that treat sleep like it's some kind of challenge can have benefits sometimes.


This is unlikely to happen again (those people are HARDCORE) but it's a great way to remember little details about the show. (That's from the Quiz Up app btw - it's free, my current special subjects are Buffy, Friends, and 2000s Music).

5. Realising that there were others who loved Buffy just as much as I did. It's awesome, it's fantastic, and it's still amazing to me how much people LOVE Buffy. I'd love if the 20th Anniversary could introduce new fans to the show, because it's such an important one. The twitter hashtag #buffyslays20 is just fantastic. When you grow up and you find other fans, there's a solidarity there. We get it. We're like a Scooby Gang, only we're scattered all over the world. We were there together, we watched together, we experienced it all together.



Buffy saved me. Buffy, Willow, Jenny, Joyce, Faith - they all showed me that women could be strong, women could be powerful, women could change the world. They showed me that we can do anything we want to. They taught me that no matter how hard life gets, no matter how much we have to sacrifice or fight, that things CAN get better and things CAN change. The entire gang taught me to stand up for what I believe in and to fight for Good. And, also, that High School (or Secondary School) can be a little bit shit for everyone. You just need to get through it.

"If Joss Whedon had had one good day in High School, we wouldn't be here." - David Greenwalt



20th Anniversary: Welcome to the Hellmouth Buffywatch!

Recently, I've become severely addicted to the Buffering the Vampire Slayer podcast. I've mentioned this here before, but it's just like sitting down every week to meet up with friends and chat about Buffy - only they're the type of friends who don't think you're crazy for talking about continuity or pop culture references, they positively encourage it. Hosts Kristin and Jenny are rewatching from the start, and documenting their thoughts after every episode. Plus, there's an amazing original song at the end of every episode. Prophecy Girl made me cry. They're holding a Facebook Live event to celebrate the 20th Anniversary tonight, on March 10th - unfortunately for those of us running on GMT, it's at 1am, but I really want to join in - the plan is to get your Season 1 DVD, or your episode online, however you watch - and press play at the same time, so we can all join in chat and watch together all around the world. You'll find the event on Facebook:  20th Anniversary: Welcome to the Hellmouth Buffywatch!

Favourite Buffy Episodes 

I could go on for years and years but there are so many things I love about every season - I'm not mad about Season 7, truth be told - I've learned to tolerate Riley and Dawn more with every rewatch, I've learned that even though Xander does my head in he's pretty important (Buffy would've stayed dead without him) I've a new admiration for Joyce since I watched it again after having my kids, and I'll always love Giles.

It goes without saying, if you're planning on watching Buffy and you haven't seen it before, there are some fairly big spoilers in the videos below so proceed with caution. Also, they're not in chronological order.

1. Once More, With Feeling
Musical episodes can be dodgy (all of that Grey's one apart from Sara Ramirez was pretty cringe, tbh) - but the gang nailed it here. I still listen to this soundtrack regularly, that last part when they find out what really happened to Buffy.....heartbreaking. It's so clever.


2. Hush
A silent episode? How will that work? That'll never work... IT WORKS. The Gentlemen are easily one of the scariest Big Bads of the whole show, but a lot happens in this episode. It's a really important one for Willow and Tara, as it's the first time they see how strong they are combined. The scene with Giles and the projector is one of my favourites of any show, ever. It's just hilarious from start to finish.


3. Prophecy Girl
This is when shit got serious. Up to then, Season One had been kickass, it had been amazing, Buffy had been fantastic - but this is where she realised she the choice between saving the world and saving herself. We see her really afraid, then face those fears head on - It's a brilliant episode.


4. Becoming, Part II
Both episodes in the 'Becoming' two-parter are emotionally draining, they're just perfect. I still remember the first time I saw Part II and how much it made me sob - I'll still never forgive Xander, and I still can't get through "Close Your Eyes" without BAWLING. I don't want to embed a video here because the title pretty much gives away the plot, but if you fancy putting yourself through that particular hell again (I've just done a full-on Dawson cry here), you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UklpzSAKLfo

5. The Prom
Buffy is determined that her friends will have a perfect Prom - so she does all she can to protect them. This is the first time that other students acknowledge that Sunnydale isn't the safest place to live - and the scene where Jonathan (GRRRRRRR) gives her the Class Protector award is really lovely, she finally gets some appreciation and recognition from her peers. Plus, that super proud look on Giles' face? Adorable.




Thank you Joss Whedon.


In honour of the 20th Anniversary (and because I'll probably fall asleep long before the Buffering Facebook live event), I'm going to start rewatching from episode one at the weekend. This time, I'm going to blog it - I'll wait until I have a couple of episodes at a time to chat about and aim for 1-2 posts a month, they'll be weekend posts. Please use this as an opportunity to watch with me if it's something you're interested in!


Still holding out for Xander, Giles, Faith and Tara Funkos...



Friday, March 3, 2017

L'Oréal Beauty and the Beast - Color Riche Lipsticks (The Beast and Lumiere)

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Hi!


The internet was ablaze a few weeks ago with the announcement that L'Oréal would be launching a limited edition line to coincide with the launch of Beauty and the Beast in March. Featuring 7 lipsticks and 7 nail polishes, the collection was made even more desirable by the fact that it would only be available to purchase in Italy.

Never one to let geography get in the way of a gimmick, I went to amazon.it and ordered two of the lipsticks. They cost me approx. €17 each delivered - they would have been less, but I bought them individually. They keep coming back in stock - so if you're really after one, keep checking the site. The nail polishes don't ship to Ireland. At the time of writing this, Belle, Spolverina and Lumiere are all in stock for €9.99 each plus postage.







Lumiere (Sepia Silk) is a medium nude that looks darker on the lips than in the bullet.

Beast (Oud Obsession) is a dark warm 90's brown that leans towards wine.

They're just standard Color Riche lipsticks with stickers on the packaging. I assumed that the bullets would be printed, but they're literally just heavy paper stickers, and they're not even on that straight. I'm also not impressed that the shade names are "Oud Obsession" and "Sepia Silk" on the bottom - surely it wouldn't have killed them to print "Beast" and "Lumiere" on this batch?

All of the colours are part of the standard Color Riche range - which, in fairness, is a decent lipstick range. The lipsticks themselves are creamy and pigmented, and last a decent amount of time. But - they're not limited edition, they're just a selection of seven already available shades with new stickers on the bullets.

Once again, I fall for a marketing gimmick hook, line, and sinker.

It is indeed, a tale as old as time.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

February 2017 Reads & World Book Day Books 2017

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Hi!

How is February over already?! January felt like an entire year, while February whizzed by. I managed to finish 10 books in total. I'm going through one of those weird reading phases where I'm midway through 4 books at the same time, so hopefully I'll have those finished this week and I can add them to the March total.

As with every month, you can go to my Books 2017 page to find a clickable cover for every book I read - that'll take you directly to my full Goodreads review.

The Rick O'Shea Book Club

One of my reading resolutions was to read (or try to read) every choice this year, because it pushes me out of my comfort zone and introduces me to books I'd never have considered. I've found some amazing books through it (The Thing About December, Station Eleven) so I'd really recommend it if you're looking for inspiration. This month, I read both choices.

  

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
A psychological thriller about a woman named Louise, who meets a man at a bar. Unfortunately for Louise, the man turns out to be married - and her new boss. When his wife befriends Louise, she's caught between the two - but there's something really strange happening, and someone knows much more than they should...
I liked this, I really did. I thought it was sharp, clever, and it hooked me from the beginning. Much fuss has been made of the ending (even on the cover) - it has its own hashtag on twitter (#WTFthatending). I'd avoid the hashtag, and reviews, until you've read the book, then come back to me and tell me what you think. Personally - it didn't work for me - I HATED the ending, but I liked the rest of the book.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon
I had never read anything by Michael Chabon before. I enjoyed his writing, his use of language is gorgeous. This is a story about his Grandparents, formed from tales Michael's Grandfather told him in the final ten days of his life. It's not certain whether or not the story is fact or fiction - the author says he embellished or changed facts where necessary - but I'd love to think it's true. His Grandmother was a wonderfully interesting character, her story alone is worth reading the book for.


Non-Fiction

I've been going through a bit of a true crime phase, so four of my choices this month were non-fiction.

  

Madeleine: The Truth is Out There by Peter Scharrenberg
The truth may be out there, but it's not in this book. The facts are presented as we know them: Madeleine McCann went missing while on holiday in Portugal aged 3. After that, it's pretty much speculation. While this book may be of interest to people who are completely unfamilar with the case, there isn't much here for those who have been following from day one.

Shannon: Betrayed From Birth by Rose Martin
After the recent BBC documentary "The Moorside" (available on YouTube for those who missed it) I decided to read this book, one of the only ones available on the case. It's the story of Karen Matthews and her involvement in the kidnap of her daughter Shannon in 1998. The book reads like a Daily Mail article - there's a lot of stereotyping and  "Shannon must have felt" or "Shannon would have assumed" - but if you look past that it's an interesting, if very sad, case.

  

Maddie: The Truth of the Lie by Gonçalo Amaral
This is the book that the McCanns went to court to have banned. The ruling has since been overturned, but the book is still fairly hard to find. It has been made available freely online - I read it here: http://frommybigdesk.blogspot.ie/2010/01/maddie-truth-of-lie.html. It's easy to see why the McCanns don't want people to read it - it doesn't make them look good - but at the same time, it's not speculation or hearsay, it's facts taken from evidence and statements. A really interesting and worthwhile read. 

Who Killed Jonbenet Ramsey? by Dr. Cyril Wecht & Charles Bosworth, Jr.
Jonbenet Ramsey was a six year old pageant queen who was found dead in her home at Christmas over 20 years ago in Colorado. Nobody has ever been caught for her murder, and camps are fairly evenly split between "it was an intruder" and "it was someone inside the house". This is a good fact-led book that pretty much blows the intruder theory out of the water. For those who have been following this case for a long time, or those who have seen all the documentaries, there probably won't be anything new in here - but for those new to the case, this would be a good starting point. 

Young Adult

  

Who Runs The World? by Virginia Bergin * ARC from Netgalley, Published June 1 2017
Having read both of Virginia Bergin's other YA books (The Rain and The Storm) and enjoyed them, I requested this via Netgalley. It's due for publication in June, and it's set in a world 60 years into the future where women rule the world and men are all but extinct due to a virus. When 14 year old River finds an injured boy in the woods, what will this mean for society? This was an interesting read, I did enjoy it, but I felt it needed work. Some of the subject matter seemed a little mature given the age of the main characters, but overall I think it could work well to help prompt discussions of a matriarchal vs patriarchal society, feminism and gender with teenagers.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
I received this in my February Owlcrate (reviewed in full here), I picked it up to scan the first few lines and ended up reading it in two sittings. It's a fantasy novel about two sisters, Tella and Scarlett, who flee their small island in favour of Caraval, a world of performance, bravery, riddles, mystery, terror and lies. I really, really liked this a lot - I got sucked in and I'd definitely read more if this were turned into a series.

Other Fiction

  


The Wrong Girl by Laura Wilson
I've had this on my Kindle for a long time, and it just jumped out at me one morning. It's a thriller about a little girl named Molly who believes she is actually Phoebe Piper, a girl who has been missing for years - is she right? Meanwhile, there's a historical mystery going on when the little girl's Uncle passes away and her Grandmother comes to stay. There's a bit too much going on here - one plot would have been sufficient, but there are a host of subplots happening and I found it confusing.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
This is one of the Richard & Judy Book Club picks for Spring 2017. It's the story of a man in a strained marriage who is trying to build a relationship with his young son, who is on the autism spectrum. Through the game of Minecraft, they begin to understand each other. I did enjoy this to a degree, I found it very similar to Us by David Nicholls. Others have compared it to About a Boy by Nick Hornby and that's not an unfair comparison either. I think I'm too cynical for stuff like this - but it was sweet.

World Book Day Books 2017

Every year for World Book Day, 15 million book tokens are issued to give children a chance to own a book of their own. This is hugely important - books can be expensive, so the chance to give a child a free book is wonderful. The tokens are handed out in school, and can be used to get a free book from the ten specially released editions below. In Ireland we have an eleventh choice. Or, if none of those appeal, the token can be used to get €1.50 off a full price book. Most book sellers honour book tokens - just check with your local one before bringing your child to avoid embarrassment and to make sure the books are in stock (larger retailers like Eason are a fairly safe bet). The tokens are vaild until Sunday 26th March. You can also purchase most of the books on Amazon, some are even available for Kindle. 

Here are the choices this year:



And the extra Irish one courtesy of Judi Curtin and The O'Brien Press:


It's a great way to encourage children to read and to get excited about books. I know people give out about costume day in school (myself included - 24 hours notice means you'll be wearing your mother's shirt as a Death Eater robe, my son) but anything that can get a child to want to read is amazing. Reading and a love of books is a gift you can give your children at any age - but if you give it when they're young, they'll benefit from it even more.

So - have you read any of my February Reads? Or what are you reading at the minute? Read anything lately you really loved? Or wanted to fling at the wall?




Friday, February 24, 2017

Podcasts I've Enjoyed Recently

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Hi!

I've only recently gotten into Podcasts. I used to like Audiobooks, but I find it hard to listen to fictional books on audio (I tend to drift off) and I've had enough of celebrity autobiographies for now.

I heard about the infamous "Serial" Podcast last year, and wanted to see what the fuss was about - I find Podcasts so unbelievably handy, I can listen to them on a walk, or when I'm cleaning, or in the background when I'm blogging or editing photos.

First things first, how to listen to a Podcast. There are a number of apps, the ones I use are Castbox (free) and Spotify (partially free). Most can also be listened to on a laptop, tablet or PC. They can be streamed live or downloaded for offline use. Soundcloud, Spotify, Google Play, iTunes all have most of the ones I've listed here.

True Crime

Serial: Season One

Season One. This is a true crime story. In Baltimore in 1999, a high school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared. Her body was found in a park a month later, she had been strangled. Hae's 17 year old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. The main evidence against him was that of his friend Jay, who said he helped Adnan dispose of Hae's body. Adnan swears he had nothing to do with it.

This is a 12 episode series about the case, each episode is around the hour long mark. Host Sarah Koenig has access to a huge amount of information and is determined to get some very odd questions answered.

In the Dark: Season One
This is a 9 part series about a true crime that took 27 years to solve - the abduction of 11 year old Jacob Wetterling in 1989 in Minnesota. Originally intended as a series to examine why the case hadn't been solved, it came full circle late last year.

This is uncomfortable to listen to at times (as any true crime case involving minors would be) - but it's a scary look into how cases can be botched and how evidence can be misconstrued.

Criminal
The Criminal Podcast is short and sweet - it's a collection of episodes about various crimes, all presented in short bursts of anything from 10 to 30 minutes. There are over 60 episodes so far, some are more enjoyable than others, but the beauty of keeping them short is that you don't feel like too much time has been wasted if an episode is boring. The first minute or so of the earlier ones is usually an advertisement, so just skip that. Host Phoebe Judge is very easy to listen to, and episodes are short enough to listen to in a waiting room or on a commute.

My favourite episodes include -

  • Episode 18: 695 BGK (a Policeman runs the wrong licence plate number and as a result shoots the wrong man)
  • Episode 20: Gil From London (a woman arranges to meet a man she has been talking to online but her son starts digging to find out if the man is being truthful)
  • Episode 37: Hastings (a school goes into lockdown when a 14 year old brings a gun to school)
  • Episode 48: Eight Years (a woman who runs a Harry Potter fan site receives  death threats and abusive messages from a stalker...for eight years)

Archive
If you have an interest in high profile or strange crime cases, this is a great podcast. A recent episode centres around Kerry Max Cook, a man who was wrongfully jailed for murder. I've actually read his book (I mentioned it here at the time) and his case is fascinating. They've also got episodes about things like Cropsey and Mothman, conspiracy theories about cases like Titanic and the suicide of Kurt Cobain, plus famous unsolved cases like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It's a clever, witty Podcast that's well produced and easy to follow. 


Film/TV Related

Archive
A podcast hosted by Matt Gourley, featuring interviews with people who had non-leading roles in popular movies. Really, really interesting and funny, with some fantastic episodes. I'd really recommend the Collected Stories: Vol 2 episode for snippets from people involved with Alien, Carrie, Aladdin, Pulp Fiction - it's a great podcast.

Archive
Hosts Jenny and Kristin are rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the very beginning and making a podcast for every episode. Join them on their journey as they try to only mention Smashing the Patriarchy once per episode and sing along with a new specially-written jingle at the end of every recording! One of my favourites, it only took me until the "Witch" episode recap to realise that I had found more of my people - I mean who DIDN'T try the odd spell or two then almost shit yourself in case it worked? I was also going to use this as another opportunity to put a screenshot of the time GILES TWEETED ME BACK or the time I WHITTLED AN ACTUAL STAKE but I mean, come on, the 20th Anniversary is coming, I have to leave something for that... 

Fiction 



Homecoming
Homecoming is a short 6-part fictional series set around a woman who once worked at a top secret base designed to rehabilitate soldiers using a highy experimental treatment. Roll on 5 years, and the woman is working as a waitress with no recollection of the project.....

This stars David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener, and Oscar Isaac. Every episode is around a half an hour, so this is something I devoured over an evening - I really enjoyed the style and the voice acting was spot on. Very engaging.


Limetown
A fictional 7 part documentary about a woman named Lia Haddock who is investigating the strange disappearance of an entire town. As Lia starts to dig around to find out exactly how 300 people could vanish without a single trace, someone wants to make sure she doesn't let the town's secrets escape.

The voice acting is brilliant, it's convincing (convincing enough to make me Google "is Limetown real" like an eejit), it's set up in the same way as Serial, presenting facts and results of investigations. Really good, really addictive.

Episode One
MDWAP is a comedy podcast that's part fiction, part reaction. On the back of the success of E.L. James, Jamie Morton's Dad decided to have a go at his own version of "Fifty Colours of Grey". The result is a hilariously inappropriate romp called "Belinda Blinked", a story about a woman who goes for an interview for her dream job as manager of an international pots and pans company (including an £85k a year salary and company car). Jamie reads it out along with friends Alice Levine and James Cooper. You can't listen to this around children, and definitely not at work, but it's hilarious provided you're not offended by descriptions like "her vaginal lids popped open". What makes it great are the reactions of the three readers, it's proper laugh-out-loud stuff if you're into that kind of humour. And yes, you can buy the Kindle book.

Please, PLEASE leave suggestions below if you've come across anything else that you deem worthy of a listen!




Monday, February 20, 2017

Distance Learning and Online Courses - My Experiences

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Hi!

I've been a stay-at-home parent for a number of years now. It's good and bad in equal measure - I love that I get to see my children grow up, I love that I'm here for them, I love pottering about the house doing cooking and organising, but I hate that I've lost that little bit of independence and interaction with adults. I hate that I don't have a Christmas party anymore and I hate that in spite of the fact I'm constantly doing something for someone else from 6:30am-8:30pm that I have to say "I'm not working at the moment" when someone asks where I work.

One of the things I like to do to make sure that I'm still Sharon and not just "Mammyyyyyyyy" is to keep up to date with skills and interests. I've done a few online courses - one fairly expensive one, one bargain one, and a few free ones.

Paid Course - Nail Technician with Kilroy's College



This was a 12 month course done via online and distance learning. At the time I did it, it cost nearly €500. I paid a deposit and then paid monthly installments (I think they were around €45 at the time). It's still €495 here.

Materials Provided
Text book, starter kit (included buffer, tweezers, base coat, top coat, nail art brush, a few shades of nail polish, etc)

Content
Health and Safety, Nail Art, Business Management, Manicure & Pedicure, Anatomy & Physiology, Advanced Treatments.

How it Works
Your first module is sent in the post - essentially a workbook that you have to read through, and then answer the questions at the end. When you do that, you need to log your answers online. If you pass, you get your next module sent out. This is what I did the whole way through - not once did I interact with any tutor or have any human input. It was me, alone, with my workbook. I was particularly annoyed at the nail art module - I assumed that there would be the need to submit photographs or some kind of proof that I was taking the information in - but no, just the multiple choice questions at the end of that module. There were suggestions made in the workbook as to how to expand each module but it was very much left up to the student.

Certificate?
Yes, I was sent out a certificate at the end when I passed all modules.

Beneficial?
Not really. I could probably see the benefit if I were already in the profession and wanted to brush up on a certain area, but it didn't cover Shellac or Gel treatments, nor did it leave me feeling any the wiser about how to attempt to do somebody's nails. I learned a bit, but not €500 worth.

Bargain Course - Diploma in Photography with Shaw Academy



I picked this up on a Groupon deal for about €25. I wasn't expecting it to be as in-depth - all I wanted was to be able to understand my DSLR camera a little better and stop relying on Auto mode so much. This was a 10 week course with live webinars and homework. It's priced at €395 but pops up regularly on Groupon for around €20-€25. Info here.

Materials Provided
None, strictly an online course. You need your own camera.

Content
Demystifying camera functions, Capturing the light, Motion and depth, Composition, White balance, Shutter speed & Aperture.

How it Works
When you enrol, you are given a choice of dates to start. Pick one that suits you, then you'll get an email or text telling you when your first live Webinar is. If you can't attend, you can watch back on demand. During the Webinar, one of the tutors goes through the lesson plan and invites participation. Questions are welcomed, then there's an exercise given at the end. You're encouraged to practice and share your images with the course tutor via the Shaw Academy social media pages, and you can use these to interact with others on your course. The tutor also rang me on a few occasions to see if I was up to date with Webinars and to check and see if I had any difficulties or issues with any of the modules.

Certificate?
I don't think they're automatically sent, I think you have the option of purchasing one. I didn't get one.

Beneficial?
Absolutely - I learned loads about how to use my camera and what makes a good photograph. I still put some of the tips into practice whenever I take blog photographs - the rule of thirds, perspective, natural framing, etc - I found it really interesting and useful (even if I still tend to rely on Auto a bit too often)

You can choose a free course from the Shaw Academy here - there are a great range of courses, including this photography one, nutrition, social media marketing, photoshop, lightroom, digital marketing, graphic design, beauty, viral marketing, guitar - loads to choose from.

Free Course - Identifying the Dead: Forensic Science and Human Identification with the University of Dundee via FutureLearn



This was a course I did last year - it involved author Val McDermid and took students on a journey from the discovery of a human bone right up to identifying the victim and finding out how they died. Register your interest here.

Materials Provided
Downloadable worksheets and print-outs.

Content
An introduction to the world of forensic anthropology, including biological profiling and reconstruction.

How it Works
I think it was over 7 weeks - at the start, we were all introduced to the specialists who would be working on the case. There were YouTube videos to watch, printouts to fill in, and discussions online with other participants. Then, at the beginning of the next lesson, we'd be told whether or not we were right (about a particular bone type, for example) and given some more information to try and decipher. At the end, we were given access to an exclusive story written by Val McDermid featuring the victim.

Beneficial?
I'm not ready to go out and investigate anything, but as someone who has always had an interest in forensics and crime, it was wonderful to have access to the professional people who worked on this course. I learned a lot about how forensics works at its lowest level, and how much work goes into even determining what kind of bone is found, let alone discovering who the victim is and what happened. It was really enjoyable. Some parts hit close to home too, like the exercise we were given on missing persons - it was horrendous to imagine one of our loved ones going missing, but also a lesson in how unobservant we can be - lots of us couldn't remember exactly what our loved ones were even wearing when we last saw them.

So what's next? Well...


Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation - The Open University via FutureLearn



Hosted by Graham Pike, Psychologist & Professor of Forensic Cognition at the Open University. This is a free online course beginning on March 20. Register here

Materials Provided
No physical materials provided.

Content
Exploring how the limitations of the human mind can lead to miscarriages of justice. Examining eyewitness testimonies, going behind the scenes of a police investigation to see if you can solve a crime using only eyewitness statements. Building your cognitive skills. 

How it Works
You register your interest, then you'll get an email nearer the time. When the course starts, you'll be able to log in and see your course materials. It's an 8 week course. 

Beneficial?
I'll let you know!

Upcoming free courses on FutureLearn include: An Introduction to Dutch, How to Succeed at Interviews, Modern Building Design, Talking About Cancer, Research Ethics in Society, The Many Faces of Dementia, Exploring Copyright, Archaeology, Cyber Security for Small Business - that's only a handful of a huge variety. 

Have you ever done an online course? Or would you consider one?