31 December 2013

So long, 2013.


2013 has not been the year I expected it to be. It hasn't been a bad year as such, but I wouldn't exactly say it's been a good one either.

I completed my Masters and graduated with commendation, something which I am very proud of. I tackled a 15000 word thesis on a really difficult and emotive subject and I feel that I did it justice which I felt to be most important when dealing with something which so drastically affects lives.
After completing my Masters, I was adrift, unemployed and also out of education. I ended up having to sign on just to be able to have a bit of money. That was a definite low point for me. I felt like a total failure; I had no prospects and it was very much a 'what is the point of anything?' time for me. I cried a lot over those few months, until a surprise phone call from my old boss came, offering me a job for Christmas. So I ended up with some money AND got myself some half-price books with my staff discount, which was a very nice way to end the year.

I also got my first ever 'grown up' job interviews, something which had proved elusive since I graduated from my first degree in 2012. Unfortunately, these also led to my first ever 'grown up' job rejections which, although coming in pretty frequently now, are not something I think I will ever get used to. Even a job that pretty much appeared as a sure thing judging by an email I got after the interview slipped just out of reach.
 I know the job market is not a fun place to be right now, but I guess the naive part of me expected that I'd be out of it by now. All I can do is keep the faith and keep trying and really hope that in 2014 someone will give me a job.

I wanted 2013 to be the year Pete and I were finally able to live together, but the lack of job interview success put the brakes on that one. It's tricky maintaining a long-distance relationship at the best of times but at the moment there doesn't seem to be an end to it and it is so frustrating to be in a kind of limbo. My aim was for us to have something concrete, if not actually be living together, by the time we celebrate our fifth anniversary at the end of April, but I'll just have to see what happens when we get there.

I'm not going to turn this post into a huge downer though. 2013 has been a year of a lot of new and exciting things.
I graduated with commendation. I passed my driving test. I actually got some job interviews which is an achievement in itself and some of the feedback I got was really helpful. I read some great books, discovered new music and watched some wonderful films. I think I have finally cracked the secret of winged eyeliner!
Pete and I took our first foreign holiday together and I fell in love with Prague. I visited Bath and Manchester for the first time and I saw Iron & Wine again, which was one of the most magical evenings of my life. He even played a song about me, which is one of my favourites.

One of the most important things was that I really started to be happy with myself. OK, so I haven't got a job yet, I don't even live on the same landmass as my boyfriend and I still find it totally impossible to keep my room tidy but I feel so much more confident in myself than I did at the end of 2012.
It's not always joy and happiness in my life and there are days when I get down about absolutely everything and wish I could get an entire body transplant but they are getting less and less frequent. I am a nice person, I'm kind and friendly and even if I'm heavier than I'd like to be and spottier than I'd prefer, there are so many worse things to be than chubby and spotty. Plus I look great in red lipstick and, really, how can I feel bad when I have that.

I hope 2014 is the year I get a job and can move in with Pete. I hope by this time next year I can add more names to the list of amazing new places I've visited. I hope I continue to feel better about myself and I won't care so much about being chubby or spotty. I hope my eyeliner skills go from strength to strength. And I hope I still look great in red lipstick.

I hope all of you have a wonderful New Year too. I hope you get what you want and what you need and I hope you are happy. I hope 2014 is a wonderful year full of joy and excitement and I hope we can share in it together.

18 December 2013

Book Club: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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Mary Katherine Blackwood, known as Merricat, lives an isolated life in her family home (note: it's not actually a castle!) alongside her older sister Constance and elderly Uncle Julian who is confined to a wheelchair. Constance was previously acquitted of murdering the rest of the Blackwood family by poisoning them with arsenic but the community continues to eye the three remaining Blackwoods with suspicion, effectively ostracising them. Nevertheless, the three of them trundle along fairly happily until long-lost Cousin Charles appears and upsets the balance of their lives, prompting Merricat to take action in an attempt to protect her family; action which has life-changing consequences for the Blackwoods and the hostile townspeople.

I initially found We Have Always Lived in the Castle a little slow to start with and was worried I'd be left disappointed. The book is quite short, weighing in at around 150 pages and I wasn't sure it would be able to draw me in properly. I'm so glad I persevered though, as in the end I was completely captivated by the Blackwoods and wild, impulsive Merricat, who will stop and nothing to get Cousin Charles away from her beloved sister.

I actually think the book's brevity is a real bonus; it allows you to devour it in one sitting if you want and if possible I would recommend doing so; in any case, the action is buoyed along so well that you probably won't be able to help yourself once it gets going.

Although not overtly scary, Jackson's writing has an eerie, menacing quality to it and as the book edges toward its climactic middle section, as well as the huge reveal (although to me it was fairly obvious what it would be, the unveiling of the truth is still expertly done, just dropped into the story so you have to go back and read it twice) the writing picks up its pace and energy, urging you along with the action before returning to its original slower pace as the dust settles in the aftermath of Merricat's plan..
Merricat is also great as an unreliable narrator, and the slowly revealed back story of the Blackwood family really helps to pique interest in the story, compelling you to read on in the hopes of unraveling the mystery for yourself.

I would definitely recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle if you like stories full of suspense and mystery. It's extremely well-written and Jackson is adept at pacing the story and drawing you into the world of the Blackwoods, creating characters who you really feel like you know even after fewer than 200 pages. It seems like a particularly fitting book for the darker nights to read while warm in front of the fire with a cup of tea- just be wary of the sugar...

Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or any other Shirley Jackson novels? What would you recommend for winter evening reading?

You can see more of what I'm reading on Goodreads; feel free to follow me there!

15 December 2013

Online Shopping Can Change the World!

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Christmas Day is now less than two weeks away and if you've been as lazy as me you'll have only just started your shopping. If you've left your shopping as late as me you may also find that the high street is absolutely heaving no matter what time you decide to brave it, making it nigh-on impossible to even get near things you might be interested in buying.

I'm working in retail this Christmas period and being in a busy shop for 8 hours means the last thing I want to do when leaving work is traipse around the shops, elbowing fellow shoppers out of the way while hunting for gifts. As a combined result of my laziness and inability to cope with other people, I've resigned myself to doing most of my Christmas shopping online this year. As well as meaning I don't have to even get out of bed to shop, it also gives me the opportunity to use Give as You Live while getting my presents, allowing me to give money to charity through everything I buy.

Give as You Live allows you to help raise money for charity while simply doing your shopping online as normal. Over 3000 online stores have signed up to donate a commission on online sales to charity, including huge companies such as Amazon, ASOS and Debenhams. There's no extra cost to the customer as all of the commission comes from the amount paid by the customer. Put simply, a percentage of what you spend online at websites which have pledged to donate goes to a charity you get to choose and you don't have to pay anything extra at all.

All you have to do to get a little more from your online shopping is head to the Give as You Live website and click the 'Get Started' button. You can then choose the charity you would like your donations to go to (I've opted for Refuge) and install the toolbar. Then, when you go on a site which has signed up to donate to Give as You Live, you just turn the toolbar on at the top of the page and it does all the hard work for you, automatically donating part of your payment to your chosen organisation. It really is so simple to do and puts your online shopping to good use with so little effort.

I began using the Give as You Live system last year when, you've guessed it, I had to do all my Christmas shopping online. Since then, I've enjoyed watching my total donated amount build up and it's really nice to know that I'm helping out a charity, even when helping myself to a new lipstick or five. The Give as You Live system also works all year round so you also have an excuse for treating yourself year-round.

Do you think you'll use Give as You Live for some guilt-free Christmas shopping? If you do, please let me know; I really hope you'll give it a go and enjoy using it.

This is not a sponsored post and I was not asked to write it for Give as You Live or any other company. I just wanted to share the website on case any of you were interested in using it while doing online shopping and wanted to get involved.