Thursday, 27 April 2017

University: Semester 2, Week 11

When life gives you lemons , make lemonade - Copyright CLSS 2017
What a first week back! Getting started again with essays and class has been a stressful, occasionally heavy, process. But it is beginning to take shape now I think. There is definitely some form of light at the end of the tunnel though I can't quite make out what it is yet. My first day back was the longest and most difficult, especially as I wasn't feeling as sunny as usual through not feeling the best. But getting through the day made me feel a bit better. Largely because it proved to me that anything is possible if you really set your mind to it. That was a Monday largely spent studying essay + poetry technique. Not the most engaging of topics, but important to cover nevertheless. 

The rest of the week has sped by. Towards the beginning of the week, I felt quite homesick and found it difficult to concentrate on my work as a result. Particularly when time is limited as it is right now, this wasn't ideal. Luckily, with my lovely friends here to help, it wasn't too long before the cogs started turning again. The essays are starting to get underway again now. I think it is just that initial point when you begin the week thinking you know what to expect and than it just that little bit harder than you thought. Even though it is only a little bit harder, it becomes impossible to do anything but tread water at first as you become a bit afraid of what the next hurdle you need to face might be. It turns out in the end that there is nothing scary about the unexpected - we are simply afraid of not knowing. And in the end, it can turn out to be a pleasant surprise. 

Despite spending a lot of hours in class and at the library doing research, I did go exploring York to reacquaint myself with what is currently my second home. Other than a few random snow showers, the weather has been beautiful. It has been ideal for sitting in the shade of the cherry blossom near York Minster and reading. So much work has gotten done just because of that factor. I also called at Fossgate books and the vintage store to look for some new reading material, because it wouldn't be York without a book crawl. Additionally, I went to Clifford's tower for the first time. Looking out and up from the hill made me feel, for a few seconds, like I was flying. 

Hey Mr. Blue Sky - Copyright CLSS 2017
Whilst a fun week in many ways, I'm glad it is coming to an end. I am ready for a few days off before getting back to those deadlines. Only a week now till my first one! Previously when I wrote my sickness survival kit here, I spoke about being kind to yourself and being patient. I think that the best course of action for this next few weeks is to take my own advice. To work hard yes, but to also take the breaks I have been doing because most of the time, just getting up and going outside has been enough to help me re-adjust my thought process. So that when I come back, the page is a clean slate that words pour on to as long as Iv'e done my research. One week down, one more to go.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Erasmus Diary: Plans + Modules

My Eramsus (Study abroad) registration is now officially underway. It's taking up a lot of time and work, but knowing that it is nearly done is a huge relief. There are few things more stressful than deadlines, especially when they are in relation to something as life changing an experience as this. It is difficult to believe that it was only in March that I was so excited to have just found out I'd been offered a place!

Since then there have been a million and one different things to consider. Firstly, I had to wait for the application to be sent from the university itself. That first step seems to take forever, but in hind sight it was only a few weeks - less time than it took to hear back around my initial application from December. I think that it is easy for time to become overexaggerated in your mind when you can sense that something new and interesting is just around the corner. You are bouncing on your toes, with a thousand and one questions, ready to go. It's a great feeling at first - like being a jack in the box ready to leap up and out. But after a while, as with all things, it can start to cause stress.

Iamsterdam - Copyright CLSS 2017
To be honest, I don't think I'd be as relaxed about a lot of it right now (which is saying something as there is definitely still stress...) if I hadn't really organised and prioritised all of this. Like I say, it's an ongoing process that is quite difficult to manage a lot of the time. But once you do have that application sent to you by the university, things quickly start to set into motion. I had a bit of a problem with my application initially because modules don't add up in the Netherlands the same way that they do back home here in England. In Amsterdam my 60 credits is 30 credits, which require 5 modules in the semester instead of 3. They're also graded in different percentages meaning I have to do written exams again, something which I have mixed feelings about as a whole. But mostly, like with all of this, I am just excited!

The issue at first was that I had picked too many modules, but this was easily ammended. The modules I have chosen might change if there are any alterations to the schedule, but should hopefully still be in place by the time I am settled in. The first of my modules is American literature. This was an obvious choice for me - everything about the USA is engaging, in particular the literature.

At the moment I love American travel and space themed literature. Everything from Kerouac to Weir, I'm likely to have it on my book shelf somewhere - I'm even, rather geekily, currently in the process of decorating my walls at home with maps of America and old covers from editions of my beloved New Yorker (more on that soon!). Initially I was considering studying American studies at uni. This was a module I had previously been looking into studying here in York if I didn't get the opportunity to study in Amsterdam, so it was one of the first things I was looking for when told that modules were available. I was also able to find a Gender module, Europe and beyond, which sounds quite similar to my current gender and writing class - with a few twists.

My other three modules all focus on Amsterdam. One of the biggest reasons that I want to study abroad is that I love languages and culture - whenever I travel, really feeling a part of the place I am travelling to is what is most important to me. When you feel at the heart of a place, so burrowed into it you don't realise it is actually under your own skin not vice versa, it is one of the best sensations in the world. Especially with a place like Amsterdam which I feel is often underrated. By developing my Dutch skills, I hope to go into publishing and translation one day - maybe I will be able to help promote the culture and art of Amsterdam.

Naturally then, a good choice was Dutch Literature and the Period of the Golden Age. After reading about the Golden age in the work of Shorto, this is something I want to explore further, alongisde the historical element itself. That historical aspect will be explored in quite a lot of detail in Dutch Heritage: Amsterdam. My final module, and the only other Netherlands themed one, is Jewish Culture in Amsterdam. This is a class which caught my attention because it addresses a specific part of history in relation to Amsterdam which I haven't explored in much depth previously. Of course, elements of faith, religion and identity are always a part of exploring literature but I am interested to learn more on this and to hear the stories of this particular element of Amsterdam's culture.

Beyond choosing my modules and a few other things, there isn't much more I can do now other than wait (like I say... frustrating!). But me and my friend Izzie have already started making plans. We must have a mind map bigger than a giant spider. Some of them are things I did last time I visited, like stand in awe looking up at all of the books of the Centraal Bibliotheek. But others are bigger - travelling around the area and seeing more of it. I want to go to Leiden and beyond. There are so many facets of this place I cannot wait to lose myself in. But just to make sure I don't get too lost in learning about as much as I can, I've got a pocket dictionary - no doubt it will come in useful!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Coughs + Sneezes

Recently I've found myself facing the impossible challenge of getting better quickly so that I can be well enough to complete the work for, not only my last few classes of the academic year, but also to complete my last 3 deadlines! It's been proving a challenge for sure, but because it is a stressful time of year it's proving a little slower than usual. What you are reading is in essence a survival kit of sorts, on getting better whilst at university.

You might think it sounds silly right now to describe it that way, or perhaps you are a fellow cold sufferer in the same place who wants a few words of advice. University is a great place but, especially in the first few weeks or when you get back from being at home for a while, it is very easy to get poorly if you don't take good care of yourself. There are a few obvious steps which can help, but there are also some less obvious ones which can be equally helpful once you do know. Stressful periods of time aren't enhanced by illness. Never once have I got tonsillitis and thought - wow! I am motivated to finish my essay! But getting through these tough moments make us stronger as a whole. We are able to prove to ourselves that, even if it requires a little help from friends and family from time to time, we do have it in us to help ourselves get on the road to recovery.

Almost Summer - Keep Smiling! - Copyright 2015 CLSS

1. Rest + Indoors

Whilst being stuck in doors is no fun, sometimes it is a necessary evil. Especially in the incident where you aren't feeling your usual self, make sure that you try to keep indoors as much as possible. It's still quite cold out, even though it is spring, so make sure you take a coat and a fold up umbrella of some sort. If you carry extra clothing in a lighter format, it doesn't add too much of a burden. Staying indoors also has the plus of you reaching your deadlines more efficiently and getting work done, so the bright side is that there is one plus to this.

Don't just stay indoors because you have classes or work to do. If you aren't feeling well, one of the best things you can do for yourself is make sure that you catch up on the Zzz's. 8 hours sleep a night on a deadline schedule doesnt' always work - the feeling that you are running out of time can be scary and make it difficult to stay sat down. If you are feeling stressed, make sure you keep talking about it because you'll find you're not the only one in that boat. You'll also find that people equally stressed as you, and who know what that feels like, will try to help you the best they can. One of the first things they will recommend you do is get some sleep. Being well rested will do wonders, making it easier to get better as quickly as possible - but don't rush it, just relax.

2. Regular Meal Times 

Stick to healthy eating and regular meal times as much as you can. This might mean some days you are only able to get through soup and bread at lunch time, but as long as you are making sure you get something to eat that is all that matters.

 Your immune system is just like one of those amazing super fast double decker trains in Berlin - you need to give yourself the fuel to keep running. For me that means making sure I get a good portion of fruit and vegetables throughout the day. It is different for everyone. Now probably isn't the best time to go out, buy a cook book and start experimenting. Instead look for quick an simple options, such as an omelette or some pasta, which will be quick to make, tasty to eat, but good for you too.

3. Keep Hydrated

If you think sleep works miracles, you haven't even got started with the water yet! Meet H2O - your new best friend. Always carry a bottle of water with you to sip from when you're thirsty. A hydrated mind is a healthy one. By the time you actually feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. It's not the most delicious of drinks, but it keeps you hydrated and awake if you stick with it. Don't fall into the trap of drinking too much caffeine and thinking you're feeling better - caffeine works in the short term but when it wears off you will be tired! Most likely it will leave you feeling worse. Do yourself a favour and stick to the water.

4. Think Positive 

There are only a few short weeks left of term now. We have that finishing line in sight, and if we give ourselves that one final push we'll soon reach it. Stay motivated - whilst it is easy to let feeling sick pull us down, if we break up the work into chunks and keep positive, it will be much easier to reach that finishing line. If you push yourself too much without giving yourself small reminders of the positives, then you'll soon lose sight of them.

Make reminders of those positive things so that you surround yourself with them. Whilst eating healthy and getting lots of rest is equally as important as doing some of your deadline work, you still deserve a bit of a break when you're feeling sick. Have a bit of chocolate as a reward for getting something difficult done, or have a long bath once you have completed a long day of classes. Taking care of yourself by thinking positive is just as important as making sure you do all of those other things like sleeping and eating. Keep positive - as Roald Dahl said, think lovely thoughts and they will shine out of your face like sunbeams.

5. Be Kind To Yourself!

And a final quote which will hopefully make you feel a bit better comes from Cinderella: Be kind and have courage.

It isn't always easy to admit that we're run down, under the weather or hurting. But if we don't feel well, not acknowledging it will not make the problem go away. What will make it better is talking about it, going to the doctor if necessary (it might be a virus) and doing whatever you can to help yourself get into that better, healthier place. Before deadlines, before appointments, before anything else comes yours health. Have the courage to admit to yourself that you aren't feeling well, and then accept the kindness which will come as a result. It is very easy for others to be kind to us, but is not always the easiest thing to be kind to ourselves. You need the courage to give yourself time - so be patient and (to use one my mum's favourite phrases) you'll soon be right as rain.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Inspiration: Margaret Atwood

So far, this small series of blog posts has largely featured on my literary inspirations. Those who I have found to be inspirational figures throughout my reading and research, ultimately fuelling my own ideas and encouraging me to keep working hard in the process of developing my own voice as a writer/creative individual. It is easy to pick out examples of inspirational role models from throughout history in terms of books or artwork. Well actually, not necessarily easy - there are so many of them! Beginning with Woolf, this blog series has slowly begun to take shape in showing some of the people, writers and artists from the past and present who inspire me to do what I do every day.

Next up on the list we have Margaret Atwood, a Canadian writer who has produced several novels of note as well as some pretty incredible poetry.

I hadn't heard of Margaret Atwood until I got to university. Unfortunately it was just one of those cases where some really good reading material was right under my nose but I never saw it. In the first half of the semester, one of my friends recommended a poetry collection of hers to me and I was hooked from the very first page. Largely because Atwood writes about a world which is frequently recognisable. Through her literature, she is able to address many complex issues in a manner which allows us to feel part of a conversation with her oppposed to just reading through an idea that she has put down on paper. A clear voice, a vibrant one, which buzzing with energy leaps out of the page to ask you "what do you think?".

The first of her novels I read (though I purchased The Handmaid's Tale first) was The Edible Woman. In fact I am currently writing about it at the moment for my gender and writing module. My area of exploration, if you will, is the connection of space to the re-enforcement of gender principles. Something which is interesting to me in general because it connects with this idea of space, and something which also interests me academically as there aren't many other times when I would find myself reading so widely and so deeply into something. Whilst it is always possible to be interested in things both inside and outside of class, it is also quite difficult to motivate yourself to go beyond the text itself and research unless you really love it. You have to care about what you are writing about in order to be successful in writing about it. Anyhow, I digress.

The Edible Woman follows the character of Marian as she goes through a difficult time in her life. Themes include the breaking down of stereotypes, of what is normal and of the place of food in society. One really interesting article I came across explored the connection between a brief discussion the characters have on a book with how that book (in the this case, Alice in Wonderland) can be seen as present throughout the entire text as a whole. The first thing which was mentioned was that Marian's name is practically Mary-Anne (Alice gets called this mistakenly by the white rabbit at the beginning of the novel). I found it to be a fantastic premise because it showed how well read Atwood must be as an author to make that connection so subtly. Not only has she written her own fantastic text, a new rabbit hole of questions to fall down, which can be at times quite satirical as well as comic but she has recycled an old idea making it new/relevant. If that is something you'd like to explore more then you can read further about it in the original Pieraccini article Inedible Women: Carollian Identity crisis in the Edible Woman (2008).

Fiction is one of the best ways to gain access to the world around us and to take something which might be an issue, dilute it and make it recognisable, but within a creative environment that allows space for additional exploration. I think this is why, particularly at the moment, The Handmaid's Tale is proving immensely popular. Through dystopia and science fiction there is entertainment to a degree, but there is also an element of truth. When we can recognise our world in what seems a realistic fiction then we desire to make positive change as a result. 

Great books written by great authors make us think. And Atwood has made me think a great deal about the issues discussed above. As a result, I will be definitely reading further into her prolific collection this summer. Perhaps once I have finished with The Handmaid's Tale I will move on to Hagseed which was published last year in celebration of the Shakespeare 500. And if you want a few other examples of good Dystopian books to read, I've attached a short video below from the Penguin Platform. Enjoy! 

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


The little things mean the most - Copyright CLSS 2017
Homeward bound wouldn't be apt enough, but university bound only just covers it too. I'm heading back to my university home - that seems the best way to put it for now. Sitting in my room here in York, it is hard to believe that I have been here for a year. Largely because outside it looks like summer and everything feels fresh and new.

Being back amongst my friends and in this familiar yet unfamiliar environment I have come to know, it feels good to be getting back to writing my essays after a few last days off. It's made me so much less stressed having completed quite a large amount of work already. There doesn't seem as much left to do now as a result. It is a humongous relief to know that what work I do now is largely just editing. One of my pieces seems to be in the stages of final drafting, whilst the other two are almost there. An example of why doing an hour or so of work each day pays off in the long run. Whilst of course there is still a lot of stress to do well, and pressure not to become too complacent, it gives me an idea of where I next need to pick up from when it comes to resuming work. It's exciting in a way - as much as I am dreading the result, this whole thing is the final package of work before summer... where did all that time go?

Whilst feeling like Harry Potter writing letters to my friends over the summer (I was very tempted to save up the letters and do a Dobby impression on the first day back!) the snail mail is now going to be sent in the opposite direction back home to my family. En Route to York already, I am missing them. I think that the next few weeks, even though it is the shortest part of term, is going to be the hardest part of all in terms of homesickness. There isn't a terrible amount of time to spare thought for it though because of the classes and the rehearsals and the work... most likely, as soon as I am used to being back here in my flat, I will be heading home. I'm going to miss my little room with it's postcards, shelves full of too many books and desk covered in stacks of notes or files. Though it's a nice (simultaneously strange) thought to think, that next year someone else will be starting their first year here in the place that has proven a sanctuary to me.

On my last few days in Manchester, I've mostly just been going about the usual routine. Though I did visit a new place, Alexandra park, with my family. It was so ... wonderful to wander around in what Lewis Carroll might have called a 'golden afternoon'. There were so many people having picnics, and we found a cute cafe called the Tea Hive (pun! Like bee hive!) which had all sorts of delicious cake. There were so many odd things too - a tricycle stand which you can see in the photos above. It was a lot of fun to sketch. Perhaps that is the part of me excited about the bicycle I'm going to invest in in Amsteram talking.

Also, two more favourites to add to my April list - but instead of re-writing all those things, let me just add them in here. My first favourite is my new yellow rain coat. It makes me feel like Neil Gaiman's Coraline all the time, which is never a bad thing. It just reminds me that, as Coraline proves, things only feel impossible until you have achieved them. My second favourite is an album by Alexandra Streliski called Pianoscope. This music is very French in sound, whilst also possessing minimalist qualities which allow it to fall somewhere between Eno, Reich and Glass or Olafur Arnalds. The pieces are short but beautiful, making them ideal to play to de-stress, to study to or simply listening to for fun. I've started learning a few, and you can see my first efforts on Berceuse (lullaby) in the clip below.

That's all I have to report back for now I think! Undoubtedly the next few days will be busy so please do bear with me. Like I say, whilst a lot of progress has been made there is still a lot of work to be getting on with. If I keep focused and motivated as much as possible, it will soon be completed and then I can read, write and do whatever I like for the next few months. Not long at all till Amsterdam now... so it's time to work harder than ever!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Travelling, Museums + Cupcakes

Since getting back from Italy, I feel already eager to stretch my legs and wander around a new place. Exploring is a great thing but it can also be intoxicating. Once you start to learn about all of these different places around you, once you start seeing them in person, you just don't want to stop. You want to go on learning and you want to achieve everything you can in relation to what you see. The sky becomes your limit, even though at points it can seem you are running out of time. A while ago I attempted to calculate how long it would take to read every book in the world. The result was finding that even if we read a thousand or a million books a year, we probably still wouldn't achieve it. New books get published every day. So instead, we simply have to be patient and choose wisely. Every page we read becomes something precious and important.

No matter the journey, heading home is still always a relief. Even if you are eager to go to a new place there is nothing quite like the comfort of your own home where everything is familiar. In an ideal world we would all be hermit crabs who could pick up our homes on our backs and carry it to where ever we wanted to go. The flight home didn't land till early in the morning, but the journey back still seemed as exciting as the journey away from home was a few days previously.

Suitcases + Train Stations - Copyright CLSS 2017
Oddly enough, for someone who is quite good at procrastinating, I woke up early the next day with a plan fully formed of how to have an adventure within my own city. How to turn a place I knew well into a tourist destination of sorts. Mostly, heading to my favourite places which I have deserted for a while due to the whole business of commuting back from my halls of residence every week.

The first location on the list was the Whitworth Art Gallery. After singing at the re-opening of this wonderful gallery a few years ago, it has become a regular haunt. Particularly useful as it is central to Manchester and easily accessible. I don't think there are many places more important for art in Manchester than the Whitworth. Largely because art there is seen as something interactive. Whilst there are exhibits you are not supposed to touch, there are art hampers available full of different creative materials so that you can make artwork inspired by what you see around you. Particularly for children and young people interested in art, it is incredibly important to be able to reach into what you are seeing like that and to create your own idea from the thoughts something else triggers. You never know - you could be the next Davinci! That approach, that anyone might be the next Davinci, is what I like so much about that place.

Whitworth + Warhol - Copyright CLSS 2017

It also frequently holds within it's exhibition space important shows. Most notably the recent Andy Warhol display. So many don't attend exhibitions elsewhere because of the cost and they can be fairly pricey. But at the Whitworth for the past month or so, it has been possible to get up close to the work of one of the most revolutionary creative minds in the past century. Alongside the infamous pop art, there were lesser known pieces. Some un-edited photographs, information not generally known by the wider public, facts printed on the walls and my personal favourite, his ad collection. At one point in his life, centred around ideas like the American Dream, Warhol traced ads that he saw in the newspaper and made them into artwork. A personal favourite would have to be one depicting a pair of army boots.

Heading further down Oxford road to the universities, my next destination was of course the Manchester Museum. This is the natural history museum of the city, although there are sections focused on other elements. The science history museum is on the brink of Manchester.

As a child I spent many happy hours in this museum. It was my favourite, although it is amongst the smaller museums. Largely because I have always been more interested in the biological sciences opposed to those focusing in on physics or chemistry. Before music, English, languages and the arts, I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time. In the natural history museum, you can learn about ancient human history amongst the mummies of Egypt or you can head down to the aquarium/vivarium to see the progress of the live frogs. With it being spring, I got to see a range of different creatures. From tiny poison dart frogs in many different colours to the tadpoles they began as and even some snakes. Looking around reminded me a lot of primary school. How fascinated we are by everything at that point in our lives. It made me glad to be feeling that sense of wonder afresh again, in one of the places that has never failed to inspire it. I want to hold on to it now more than ever before.

Heading to the lower floor, one of the oldest parts of the newly constructed building, I called in on an old friend. That being the giant baby whale skeleton which is kept amongst other preserved studied creatures. This whale skeleton has been in the Manchester museum since my grand dad's grandfather was a little boy. Originally purchased from an American location, I have not been able to find out more of the whales story yet. When my grand dad first passed away, grief made me look everywhere for him. Part of my always thought if there was anywhere I might find him, it would be waiting there for me. Of course, he wasn't waiting for me there. But after a long time, finally being able to re-visit a place of so many memories with him has provided me with a lot of comfort which I cannot express my gratitude for.

Even further down in the building is the pre-historic section where you can look at fossilised ammonites and tree roots. But more so, you can see the terrifying skeleton of the T-Rex. One of Manchester's most popular attractions, this skeleton has seen even more of the city than me. At a previous point in the past few years, it was placed on a float in a parade and went around the streets!
My aim for this particular adventure was to attempt a sketch. Didn't end up being the best sketch I've ever produced but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out!

T-Rex - Copyright CLSS 2017
The final part of the adventure was, of course, food related! With Easter coming up it seemed the perfect time to make some chocolate rice krispie cakes.

Chocolate, Cake + Easter - CLSS 2017
At the end of another day of adventuring, there was nothing better than curling up with the final product of the rice krispie cake making and a good film (the Martian, of course!). I'm looking forward to all of the adventures of the summer, but this week it will be back to my current adventure. The best one of all. My degree! These last few weeks and deadlines are going to be a tremendous slog for even the most motivated person. Despite the work of the past 3 weeks, I still want longer on this work. I want lectures every day of the summer on every different subject. What a year it has been so far - it seems hard to believe it has only been in fact a year since this whole thing began!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Literature + Travelling

Something that is a big part of my life now is travelling. Over the past year or so I have begun travelling independently, this in the sense of travelling on my own or with friends outside of my family. This is something I enjoy greatly because I think that when you really experience other places yourself it is possible to comprehend to a greater extent the history and culture of those particular places.

As someone who loves everything about books, I've travelled through them before I have begun my own journeying. The adventures of classic characters and the ideas of great authors have shown me worlds, both real and fictional, to an extent I might never know. When you read about a place you will often find yourself wishing you could go there. For instance, after reading about the Harlem Renaissance, I now really want to see the streets of Harlem and to see what New York is like now in the century that did not exist within the pages of the text I was reading. In addition to this, non fiction texts such as Stephen Fry's America and Books, Baguettes and Bed Bugs make me want to see all of the U.S.A and all of Europe. With the number of places books have led me to want to travel to and explore, I'm looking at a very busy and exciting future.

I think there is a natural link between travelling and literature for many reasons. The two often work well together and inspire the other. When we let our mind wander, it will take us to the unknown because it is different and exciting. Just as occasionally we might wander from our favourite book genre to something we wouldn't usually be interested in. It is the whole premise of blind book buying - where books are wrapped in paper with a sticker on the front saying only the genre or a few key words about the story. There is something romantic about that premise of going from place to place and of seeing it all. Of walking in the foot steps of those who have come before us and who will undoubtedly come after.

The historical element is also a big part of it. Particularly with texts from the past, from times we don't know, we are eager to step into the world that is described to us. Shakespeare's England, Greece whilst the Odyssey was being put together, Italy when Petrarch was writing those first sonnets. It isn't just visiting historical places in particular, such as monuments or famous buildings. It is also this craving to search for the feeling that we feel because of what someone has written. Occasionally it can become a mindset that we carry with us, but it is never possible for us to maintain it by forcing it on a landscape. Sometimes places do not meet that initial expectation that a book might have led us to believe. But that connection to space through words is just the first step. After we have completed that, then we can begin writing our own stories through the memories that take place for us. If we were to write a book, perhaps they would be the inspiration for a starting point.

As my research is starting to become more and more focused in on what my developing interests, I have noticed quite a shift. As always, I want to do everything. Sometimes I find myself envying the American college system because of the possibility of all of those different modules you can study at once whilst majoring in one of them. It is one thing I do miss a lot about sixth form. But despite that desire to study everything, my own interests have developed a lot. Especially through the amount of critical reading we have been given this past second semester. Critical reading alongside the primary text of the modules each week pushes my thoughts even more. There are no boundaries to how much you can think on a university programme because you start to see what you are learning about everywhere.

For me, my love of travel has become very evident in my writing. All of the questions I choose and have chosen have centred around this idea of space. And of space having eneregy, potential, character which leaves it frequently at the heart of a novel. As the main character. The city in particular is a favourite to write about because it shapes opinions throughout the entire text. At the moment I am writing on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Edible Woman and On Black Sister's Street. For all three, it is possible to link the entire chain of events to the place they are set in. Because there are things in that location which trigger thoughts, feelings and actions another place might not. The countryside and the city, for instance, within The Importance of Being Earnest are both needed in order to allow that construction of a double identity. It would never have been possible otherwise. Just as Jekyll and Hyde needed to be set in the streets of Victorian London at night - a dark suburban space at a time when science was very much a fashionable work in progress. Can you see how space and action are already beginning to correlate?

I am so pleased with the fact that my research has taken this direction. Whilst it was always something which was likely, it has occurred through progress. At the beginning of the year, every time I would pick a completely different question and text so that I was writing passionately about something new and different. Now that I have become comfortable with the academic essay format and have become accustomed to it, I'm willing to make that leap into fusing specific parts of my interests with my writing. Is it weird that it feels like the specialisation process is already beginning? By the end of my degree, is this what my dissertation is going to be on? Who knows! We'll see - but for now, there is a great deal more travelling still to be done. Toodlepip!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

How To: Defeat Writer's Block

There isn't anything that is much peskier than writers block, is there? It is the nightmare and annoyance of anyone who has ever had to write anything, not just applying to those producing novels or dissertations. But also the beings who sit down at their desk with the hope of producing say... an essay or a ... blog post. 

Unfortunately, there isn't any real way to rid yourself of the dreaded writers block when it does set in. It's a gradual process, that requires you to in some ways re-learn how to write. You have to take a step back and ask yourself if what you are attempting to write really needs writing. Because, particularly with recreational writing, you will find that the more you try and force it the less likely it is that it will occur. The best thing you can do in those incidents is mind map and plan, in the hopes that even though your original idea hasn't fully taken route a different idea might perhaps be born from that original premise. So many different ideas throughout history have occurred that way as happy accidents. That doesn't just go for written masterpieces, it also goes for works in other areas. Just look at the 'mistake' that eventually became known to us as the telephone! 

Free up your mind and be creative - Copyright CLSS 2017
Begin with mind mapping, planning, anything that will allow you to be creative. Mind maps are a good place to start because they allow you to get messy no matter the subject. If you have a few coloured pencils or a spare sheet of paper you're all good to go! Like I say, every approach is different but this has definitely been one which has worked for me in all formats of writing, academic and personal.

When it comes to your academic work, one of the most difficult elements of it is just beginning. Once you start, it all comes back to 'a hundred visions and revisions' (as my buddy T. S. Eliot would say). It is the starting that is scary. I think this is perhaps because we see the success of our previous work and forget all of the process that went into that finished product. We can't remember all of that hard work the way the body cannot remember the physical feeling of pain. So it is important to try and remind ourselves that Genius is not an immediate achievement. I realised this recently when I read this quote from Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing:

Marjorie: At the movies, she had thought about how the only real friends she had were characters in books, not real at all. And then Graham had appeared and swallowed up a bit of her loneliness with his blue whale eyes. 

Despite not knowing the context, good writing is always something we can appreciate for (as with a piece of music) how it is phrased. If something is fragmented and broken then the pauses are not effective and a meaning might be lost. Grammar, metaphor, etc... these techniques are all their own language. Once we know how to use them properly it is much easier to use them. We can begin thinking outside the stock examples and thinking beyond that box. When I am struggling to write, I turn to the pages of my favourite novels. I turn to new things too for inspiration. Anything that can really make me feel something is useful because then I can channel that and turn it into a form of inspiration to aid me in my mission. Or perhaps it might simply provide me with an example.

You should never treat your writing as something formulaic though. Do not approach it as something which is tried and tested, one formula every time. This is not a packet milk shake that you can just add milk to! Instead this is about you taking a part of you and translating it into something everyone else can read, think about and comprehend. If you set out to communicate, then most of the time you will see some form of success. Whether that be achieving the grade you want or having someone else read your poem and say 'that's exactly what I felt when I was feeling that way too'. Words mean something to other people. They reverberate inside us and make us feel things. Again, just like music. I can't remember who said it now, but there is a quote that goes something like 'People might not remember what you said to them. But they will always remember how you made them feel'.

So, aside from planning, giving yourself the freedom to start and finding inspiration I have one final piece of advice for those of you struggling right now with writers block and it is perhaps the most important point, the finally conclusory thesis, of this entire piece: Never let writing become a chore. The moment you do that, then you have failed in your mission. You have let down your entire idea. Even the premise of your idea. To again go back to the words of a figure I find a great inspiration, never write without Passion (Beethoven). Be patient with yourself. If you are patient with yourself then gradually, slowly but surely, you will start to see a result. Everything takes practice, writing is no exception. The more you write, the more prolific it will become until you're a regular Virginia Woolf. Well... not quite, but close. Happy writing!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Inspiration: Charles Dodgson

So far, this small series of blogs has largely featured on my literary inspirations. Those who I have found to be inspirational figures throughout my reading and research, ultimately fuelling my own ideas and encouraging me to keep working hard in the process of developing my own voice as a writer/creative individual. It is easy to pick out examples of inspirational role models from throughout history in terms of books or artwork. Well actually, not necessarily easy - there are so many of them! Beginning with Woolf, this blog series has slowly begun to take shape in showing some of the people, writers and artists from the past and present who inspire me to do what I do every day.

Next on the list would have to be one of the people who has proved an inspiration for me right from when I was very young. It is indeed the infamous Lewis Carroll. This actually being a pseudonym for, of course, Charles Dodgson - the mathematician and writer who lived, studied and wrote in the beautiful Christchurch university of Oxford.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
One of the first full books that I ever read myself was Alice in Wonderland, the beloved childrens' classic which resides on many a bookshelf. None of us it would seem can resist the compelling charm of the whimsical world into which Alice dreams up. When I first read the book, it entranced me because it was so different to the bedtime stories and fairytales that had previously been told. Whilst there are elements of both of these different types of story within the tale, there are also many other features which exceed the simplicity of those structures. 

At first it seemed random that Dodgson should have placed all of these different characters together in one world. Not in a bad way, I just found myself marvelling at how all of these creations can have come together the way they did. As I grew older, my interest in the novel expanded to the life of Dodgson himself and how he created both Carroll and Alice. It is evident to me now from much reading how the real Alice Liddell inspired his work, and how their trips around Oxford found a place in this story originally told on a boat journey. The Cheshire cat is the result of the little Alice Liddell sketching her cat in a tree - it kept moving so she had to erase it and start all over again, leaving nothing but a smile. The Dodo comes from the only remaining Dodo bones which were in the local museum. And the number of 42, a number linked with photography, is absolutely everywhere in the novel. That of course being the mathematician in our writer slipping through as well as his hobby of photography.

There is much discussion and debate on the life of Dodgson. Largely because he was unusal in some ways - as all great artists seem to be. He was different, someone who was not ashamed to think outside of the box even if it sometimes perturbed others. Alice is a character we welcome to our bookshelves and embrace wholeheartedly 151 years later, but that was not always the case. Parents used to think it trivial froth for their children to read. They did not see the fun in it or what lessons it might teach morally. The whole point is that the novel is, not necessarily free of them, but that is different for everyone when it comes to purpose. It is the chance for us too to fall down the rabbit hole and see what we find ourselves. 

I love the work of Charles Dodgson because it makes so many valid points without taking itself too seriously. And because in a world where people didn't necessarily think Alice and her dream world wonderful, he still wrote that story down. For me, it will always be full of memories which makes it so incredibly special. I find the text alone inspiring, but knowing that the author too had such an intriguing story to inspire the book is what makes it even more special to me. The context and the history Dodgson placed so carefully throughout his work, the comedy in his poetry, the easy laughter they inspire, are what make Carroll so infamous within the literary world. The world in the work of Charles Dodgson is one in which I could always reside. 

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Book Review: Homegoing

Despite the number of books I read, both for and beyond the realm of my undergraduate literature course, it is very rare that I come across books which as Gyasi put really make me feel something 'inside'. All books are wonderful in their own way, but some are able to capture an idea or an interpretation of the world around us in way that all the rest of them just don't manage. Especially when books manage to construct guesses at the future or provide an in depth account of the past, fiction can be astoundingly insightful. It can be powerful. That has definitely been the case for me with Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing. 

Just a heads up - the hype surrounding this recent publication is certainly a genuine one. In order to believe me, you're simply going to have to read the book! But if you want an idea of what you'll be getting into exactly, here is a short, largely spoiler free, review:

The first thing to greet you from this book, other than the epigraph, is a family tree. One free of dates but a family tree non-the-less. It felt in a way like opening up the first book of a long series because they always have some form of map in the front to help you follow your progress throughout the pages. When I began reading, it became very evident that these characters were living in a traditional setting within Africa. It was difficult at points to read about elements of this culture because it is so different from elements of my own. 

But that is what made it quite so important and engaging to read. It offered me a look into the life of this first fictional woman of the tree, who is written into a part of history using a language which is very much real. Until I was around a quarter of a way through the novel, I did not realise that this story is not just following one family but a separated family. Two sisters separated at birth who both take very different paths. This leads to two almost entirely separate family trees, although they can both be somewhat traced back to that original root which connects and unites them.

As the book progressed, it passed through the lives of different members of these families across time ending fairly near to what we can assume is the present day. Each character has a voice so unique it is hard to comprehend that they were all written by the same author. Written with such attention to detail, each of these characters could easily be the centre of a novel belonging entirely to them. The switch between the two families, from generation to generation, made me a little relieved to have that original family tree to keep going back to so that I could keep up. Though in the end it wasn't all that complex at all because it is easy enough to fall into the voice of whoever is speaking. 

Through each of the generations, a different set of obstacles/issues is presented, discussed and in some cases, overcome. These issues centre around ideas still being discussed today. Such as discussing gender, race, identity and how these elements, alongside many others, intertwine to make us each individuals. Who we are. As a student, I don't think it is possible to go through your degree without ever applying these questions to yourself. Because learning about something in such depth is a choice you make - but why did you make that particular choice? What led you to it? And how much of it makes you who you are? We are all a thousand different fragments collected and pieced together from different places. We are each a spectacular mosaic of our own. Which is perhaps why, to me, Gyasi's Homegoing is so important. 

*Spoiler alert* One of my favourite characters was towards the end. Marjorie is so relatable because she is in the modern period, studying literature and she is unsure to a certain degree about who she is. She is so much herself, unabashedly herself, despite looking for those answers that she wants to gain. As is her familial counterpart, Marcus. What they achieve through searching history, through looking back for the pieces that make them up as people, is remarkable in contrast to those who have come before them. They have achieved a state of mind where they are prepared to look back opposed to looking only forward as some of their ancestors could be seen to do. 

I think that this is a book that has something for everyone. If there is one book that you invest in reading this 2017, let it be this. It possesses so many elements despite being that one author, as discussed previously. Evidently an author who is not only well read but who has researched this project inside and out to create this perfect imperfect final result. Beautifully written. At times frighteningly or astoundingly realistic. Incredible. 

Thank-you also for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Italy Day 2 - Pisa

Greetings from beautiful Italy! Somehow, unknown to mankind, I have managed to survive so far without getting a sunburn... hopefully with lots of sun cream I can keep that up for the rest of summer too once we get back to sunny England. Our plan for today was to wander around Pisa exploring, but unfortunately it is quite a small place with not too much to do. So whilst we did have a lovely day and enjoyed seeing the city, we didn't get to do as much as yesterday in Florence. Though in terms of popularity, there were so many people in Pisa - most of them attempting to get a photo of them pushing it over! 
We saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person! - Copyright CLSS 2017
Renaissance architecture, as I mentioned yesterday, is incredible not only because of how old and beautiful it is but because of the detail it possesses in every centimetre despite being so often colossal. Huge stone buildings full of history which are within themselves works of art. Every carving contains a message, and every decorative face echoes something from the past. I find the longer I look, the more likely it will be that I go away with a list of things to research. Additionally, knowing you are in front of one of the seven wonders of the world is quite strange. It was similar in Paris seeing the Mona Lisa - you hear so much about something that when you do finally encounter it in person it can be a bit of a mixed reaction. 

The few streets we wandered in Pisa were largely made up of small shops/businesses and markets. Though we were also lucky enough to come across another restaurant where there was nut free pizza! The amount of pasta everywhere was also a pro. If only I could take this part of Italy home with me. One of my favourite things to stumble across, and it might sound a bit strange, was stumbling across some orange trees outside the train station on the way to the airport because they made for a perfect reading nook (hooray - more of Caitlan Moran's Moranifesto). 

That's about all I have to say on Pisa for now. At the moment I am waiting at the airport for my flight back to Manchester. Until then, I think the plan is to find more food (Italian food, if you haven't guessed already, is pretty delicious!) and start organising work for the rest of the week. We aren't set to get back till very early in the morning tomorrow you see, so the work I should be doing in the morning when I will be sleeping needs to be done now - ready to carry on with in the afternoon.

P.S. Here is a song, due to the use of the word Ciao, which has been in my head for the whole trip and will always carry the memories of the past few days for me.

Thank-you also for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Italy Day 1 - Florence

So I'm in Italy - that's a thing! A trip planned at the last minute which has ended up being such a fun adventure so far. My boyfriend and I are here for two days, and somehow we are managing to get through the whole list of  historical landmarks, restaurants and walks we compiled on the journey here. We're staying in Pisa, but travelled to Florence today by train. Speaking of which, they have double decker trains here just like in Amsterdam and Berlin.

The journey isn't too long between the two cities but we caught an early train which I am grateful for for two reasons - 1. It allowed me time to adjust to the heat (I am a cold blooded creature at heart). 2. The lighting meant we could see the silhouette of the leaning tower of Pisa against the back drop of the mountains from quite a distance, which was simply stunning. Florence itself was exactly as I imagined it. Whilst we did visit all of the museums today, we didn't actually end up going inside because the queues were too big even for advance ticket holders. Instead we explored the Firenze of the locals. Every side street is the prettiest thing you'll ever see, meaning it's easy to stumble upon points of interest.

Stop number one was the San Lorenzo market to find some fresh fruit. I have this travel tradition now which originated last summer in Austria. You see, I am in pursuit of the perfect strawberry - so far nowhere has quite managed to match Graz, though Florence is now definitely in my top 4. The market place was a bustle of language and people all going about their day. It's always fun in those type of environments to try and guess what people are thinking, what recipes they are planning to make or where they might head to next on their journey. Every story in there is one you might never know, yet for a brief moment you are an extra in all of them. Even for those who you might never see again. Odd, but cool. The bottom floor of the market was quite traditional in set up, but the second floor was quite unique. It was simultaneously a food hall/restaurant serving everything from fresh bread to pasta, whilst also having a cooking school on the opposite half. Plus, the tables somehow had cherry trees growing out of them. Don't know how they managed that, but it really made the architecture stand out.
Florence is full of history - copyright CLSS 2017
And speaking of architecture that stands out, onto the central Duomo. Walking down the yellow walled streets with their green window frames, the colossal renaissance eglise was not quite expected. It is overwhelming on first glance, due to the sheer detail in every centimeter of it. It looks like a giant unframed piece of artwork which waits at the end of the road. We spent a good half an hour simply walking around it before going inside, studying different elements of the patterns and artwork. It made for an equally spectacular view after seeing it close up, especially whilst eating nut free pizza looking up at the magnificent red slate roof. 

A roof top which could be spotted all the way from Piazza de Michelangelo, due to that red slate and it being the largest building in all of Florence. The hike was a bit of a long one up some very steep hill (with a few wrong turns for good measure) but it was definitely worth it. I think that would have to be my favourite place in all of Florence and perhaps from the entire trip so far. The sun was just starting to set as we headed back down to catch our train, making it feel more like summer than spring.

The stunning view from Piazza de Michelangelo - Copyright CLSS 2017
Whenever my feet get restless, which is quite often these days, I just want to wander. Wander as far as I can and see what new things I can discover. Especially in terms of learning about history, language and culture. All of these things are so intertwined and interesting. If I had it my way, I would spend all of my life seeing the world and writing about it. Oh and reading about it of course - though I'm lucky enough to already be basing so much of my degree upon reading about other places because sometimes it means travelling in my mind all the way to far away distant locations. Even other times or worlds, which is unfortunately pretty impossible in reality.

But like I say, with how idyllic and beautifully preserved so many elements of Florence are it is easy to feel like I have stepped back in time here in Italy. It's definitely a lovely break from the stress of essays back home. Whilst I am in a way looking forward to getting back to them, I'm thinking of Italy as my project for now. It is unknown territory to me - a place to learn and explore. I can't wait to see more on our adventures in Pisa tomorrow. But until next time, Ciao! 

Thank-you also for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Reading + University

Now that you have applied for courses, begun the process of interviews and stepped into the world of further education you are probably starting to think about what exactly it is you are going to be doing in your modules and in your day to day life at university. These are important thoughts to have and you will probably have a bunch of different thoughts passing through your mind at any given time. Largely because there are so many different emotions involved in this process. Everything from being over the moon to being a bit nervous at times. Don't worry - the more you learn, the more things will switch to the happier end of the spectrum and the nerves will soon dissipate.

One thing I was most curious about this time last year was what exactly I was going to be reading as a part of my studies. More than anything, once my exams were over, I just wanted to be getting as much of a move on as possible. Because of factors such as not knowing how much exactly I would be reading on a regular basis, I wanted to help myself de-stress in the future by getting some work in early.

Books as far as the eye can see - Copyright CLSS 2017
My first step was to email the department at university. Literature is obviously a course where the bulk of content is dependent on what you read. It is all about studying writing and the stories or voices of those stories. I was lucky enough to be able to get in touch with my tutors early and get a copy of the reading lists, meaning that as well as getting a head start on the reading I was also able to find second hand copies of books as soon as possible. Particularly with books which are not as popularly in print, especially older specific editions, this was extremely useful. It meant my price range was not as hefty as it might have been had I left it to the last minute.

If you too are going to be studying literature in September, you should know that every literature programme is different. Some of them focus more on the classical side, others have an emphasis on the modern/ongoing. York St. John is one of the few courses I managed to come across which puts a focus on both the new and the old. This was and is very important to me as a student. I believe that we can learn best about the past and the present by studying them alongside one another. Through comparison and contrast we gain a detailed insight of a text, allowing us to begin piecing together our own judgement or thoughts. Forming a relationship with a detailed catalogue of personal thoughts can be extremely useful when it comes to essay writing. It makes it feel less like a chore and more like something you are writing because you are passionate about it, opposed to because you have a deadline breathing down your neck which is just around the corner.

Another tip would definitely be to go beyond the books which you are given to read. Set texts are great most of the time, though occasionally there will be books you don't particularly like. If there is one thing I have learnt from my degree so far, it is that it is not always about liking a book personally. Whilst having a connection with a text is always good sometimes it just isn't the story for us. That doesn't mean it doesn't possess any worth however. If that was the attitude, one person wouldn't like a book and no one else who might like it would get to read it! We have to read actively - to apply our knowledge of technique and literary contrast to pick apart what is in front of us. By being active readers we are able to explain what it is we don't like, but find out whether it is effective overall. And the best way to aid in your development as an active reader (in my opinion) is to read as much as possible.

Read everything you can. From newspapers to the giant novels on the top shelf you need help to get down. The more you read, the easier it will be to switch between different literary voices and to begin developing your own. Nothing is easy or enjoyable at first, because have to put in the hard work to acquire the skill. The most difficult things to achieve in life are usually the ones which mean the most to us in the end. Through your extra reading, you will not only begin learning different elements of the skill which you will eventually acquire yourself but you will also see into the thought processes of so many different writers. They will share with you their thoughts on everything from poetry to how to construct a successful Dystopia. You will grow to appreciate the care with which they write about these things - because you will begin to write about the things that matter most to you in literature in a similar way. Literature isn't just an academic subject, it is also a means of expression. An art form. Treat it as such and you will be richly rewarded.

Moral of the story? Read, read, read!!!

Thank-you also for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Update: Italy + Adventure

The past few months have been hectic, busy, fun, crazy, quick, nervous, exciting, new, insightful, educational, and wonderful. But things haven't slowed down yet - they are about to get even better. But then again, I have talked about this in more detail in previous posts, so I won't expand too much on the previous year that has unfolded in so many ways I never could have imagined or expected it to.  

More adventure over the next few days with a last minute planned trip to Italy which I am incredibly excited for! I'm headed to Pisa and Florence, which previously I have only ever read about in Dan Brown novels and history books with a great deal of awe. Italy is such a big place overall and my only wish is that I had more time to go and explore the rest of it. Especially locations in the countryside beyond the city, as well as more popular locations such as Rome. 

In preparation I have been putting together everything I need to pack. My organisation from university is kicking in (believe me, it becomes a part of your life way beyond just the skills you require in the classroom). The number of times I have almost forgotten a hair bobble or one of my socks is unbelievable. Hopefully it doesn't happen again this time! Alongisde my packing list, I've been compiling a list of places to see. This trip I want to avoid expenses, largely because I want to save further for travelling over the summer if I can. So whilst the museums are beautiful and interesting, my main aim is to get to know the Florence, the Firenze, of the locals.

I'll be sure to keep you updated about my adventures over the next couple of days. But for now I think I'll get back to packing and research as a distraction - flying isn't something I always get along with. But it's getting better. Wish me luck on my journey, I'll see you soon. Until then, Ciao!

Thank-you also for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!