Sunday, 19 November 2017

Non Fiction November

This year I took part in the booktube reading challenge Nonfiction November for the first time.  As it was my first time I skipped on the category challenges, and just tried to read more nonfiction than I normally would.

I'm not a huge reader of nonfiction, so that wasn't hard!  I read two great books this month that have been on my radar for a while; Another Day In The Death of America by Gary Younge and The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.

In Another Day in the Death of America, Gary Younge picks a single day in American history (23rd November 2013) and tells the story of 10 young people who died as a result of gun violence on that day.  In explaining the circumstances of their deaths, Younge examines the social, cultural, historical and political factors contributing to America's gun problem.

This book was so interesting - it really appealed to the sociologist in me - and very hard to read in places.  Gun violence is so ubiquitous in the USA that shooting fatalities are almost routine.  Victims such as the ones written about here are unlikely to make the news or get any widespread attention at all outside of their own communities and it was so sad to read the interviews with their families.  Something I am absolutely clear on since reading is that the National Rifle Association are real, true life villains.

Gary Younge is tackling a big issue here but the writing was never inaccessible.  It was split into clear chapters, one for each young life, and I read it in the space of a few days.


The Radium Girls was an amazing read.  It tells the story of a group of young women who were employed by two factories in 1920s America to paint watch dials with luminous radium paint, an element we now know to be extremely dangerous, and their fight for justice once it became clear that their work was killing them.

The level of corruption they came up against in their quest to hold their employers accountable was astounding: corporate denial, industry cover-ups, and the seemingly never-ending legal hoops they had to jump through, all while batting the horrendous effects of radium poisoning.  Kate Moore writes explicitly about the suffering of the radium girls and pulls no punches when describing the despicable acts of their employers; it was easy to see she was passionate about her subject.

It was heartbreaking and shocking reading, but I was fascinated by these brave women and I'm sure I will be thinking of them for a long time to come.  You couldn't help but take them to your heart but it was also really interesting to read about how their ordeal shaped worker's rights and industry regulations.  They also contributed massively to our knowledge of radioactive materials today which has saved numerous lives.  Highly recommended to everyone, but especially any fellow history lovers.

I gave both these titles 5 stars and they have definitely whet my appetite for nonfiction.  If anyone has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Pumpkin picking at Farmer Copleys

On Sunday I got to put another tick on my autumn bucket list with a visit to the pumpkin patch!  We went to Farmer Copleys in Pontefract for their pumpkin festival and it was such a fun afternoon.

 I love this photo of me and Paul!


It was the second to last weekend of the pumpkin festival but they had loads left, scattered across three fields.  They had them in all shapes and sizes - we had a competition to see who could find the biggest, the smallest, and the ugliest pumpkin there.  I found this small one!

You could hire a wheelbarrow for a £5 deposit if you were in the market for lots of pumpkins, but we only picked one each.  You could carve them on site for a price; I think it was £2.50 for a set of pumpkin carving tools so possibly quite expensive if you were in a large group.  We opted to take ours home to decide on a design.

There were also rides, corn cannons, photo boards and tractor rides to entertain little ones and a tent - the witch's kitchen! - selling hot food.


It was a very blustery day so I definitely had the right idea with my big scarf and hat.  We all got our fill of fresh air that day and were getting blown around all over the place.  I love that warm, drowsy feeling you get once you're back inside after a day outdoors.  Despite the wind, Paul managed to make a pumpkin tower!



After we had all chosen our pumpkins, we had a look around the farm shop and stopped for a hot chocolate in the cafe.  They also had a fudge kitchen and a gift shop selling lots of Christmassy things. 

On the way back to the car we spotted this huge deckchair.  Mum was adamant she wasn't getting in but then decided to join us, I think when she saw how much fun me and Rowan were having! 😏 I love these photos.



After we got home, Paul and I snuggled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and watched the live action Jungle Book which was really good.  A Sunday very well spent 😊

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Things I'm Committed To

I recently discovered the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  It was described to me as being like Bible study but for the wizarding world which appealed to me straight away.  I always say that we can learn a lot from Harry Potter and the stories are a big part of my life, so the idea of applying more instructive reading practices to it sounded really interesting.



So far, I’m about 4 episodes in, and the first one in particular struck a chord with me.  Each week there is a different theme.  In the first episode, presenters Vanessa and Casper read chapter one of The Philosopher’s Stone through the theme of commitment.  They looked at what each character is committed to and even though I knew these things about the characters already – for example, that Hagrid is committed to looking after the vulnerable and outcast, and Professor McGonagall has a strong sense of duty – I’d never really sat and thought about them in so much depth before and it was really good to listen to.  In some cases, it made me love them even more, and it even made me see the Dursleys in a more positive light!

Towards the end, when the discussion turned to how the theme of commitment could be applied to everyday life, Vanessa commented that there are things she could be committed to, but isn’t.  For example, she could be a marathon runner, but she hasn’t chosen to take that path and put in the effort required to do that.  And that’s not a bad thing.  She’s committed to other things, like her chaplaincy studies, and being healthy in general.

It really got me thinking about how we define commitment and how it’s something that we can easily get bogged down in.  If you haven’t got a measurable goal or an achievement that can easily be quantified by others, or you’re not visibly busy with lots of projects and hobbies, does that mean you’re not committed to anything?

Like Vanessa, there are things that I could commit to if I wanted, but I haven’t put the effort into choosing those things.  One that springs to mind is that I often feel sad that I’ve lost touch with so many people from school.  I went to a great school with some amazing people, and somewhere along the way I let those relationships fizzle out.  I haven’t been committed to having a large circle of friends.  But, something that I am committed to is maintaining my relationships with my small circle.
 
I think what I ended up with on my mind was not so much about commitment, but about how the things you are committed to make up who you are, and that it’s okay to be that person.  You would never call me a social butterfly, but that’s fine – I simply haven’t chosen to be one.  Something that (I hope) you could say about me is that I’m a loyal friend, and that’s a commitment that I have made.


The more I thought about it, I realised that there lots more smaller things I’m committed to.  I’m a conscientious employee and it’s always been in my nature to get my head down and get on with what I’ve been asked to do.   I take myself into work every day and keep up this diligence even though there are lots of times it would be much easier for me to stay home.  I’m dedicated to my family, I love spending time with them and if any of them needed me I would be with them in a heartbeat (I’m the eldest child so it’s probably in the job description, but I take it very seriously!)  I’m committed to Paul, our relationship and building our lives together.  I have always loved reading and I consciously put effort into nurturing that passion by collecting books and reading as much as I can.
 
In the podcast, Casper and Vanessa discuss a passage from the chapter.  It’s right after Professor McGonagall reminds Dumbledore that he could beat Voldemort because he is the only one the villain fears.  Dumbledore replies that he is flattered but that Voldemort has powers he will never have.  They ask whether this is him acknowledging that he is not as powerful, or saying that he does not want to go down that path?

As Dumbledore would say, it is our choices that make us who we are.  There are lots of things I could be were it not for the fact that I try to be the opposite, and I’m happy that the traits and habits I’ve chosen to commit to, consciously or not, are positive ones.  There might be bigger goals and achievements in my future, but these are the strings I have to my bow now.  That’s something I’ll try to remind myself of whenever I’m feeling like I haven’t achieved what others have – my commitment might not be lifechanging or as visible, but it’s there.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Wishlist: Thrillers

Many people see thrillers as the perfect summer read, something to be taken on holiday and devoured while lazing by the pool.  I won't disagree, I have been known to take a thriller or two away with me, but the time of year when I'm most likely to pick up a good crime novel is autumn and winter.  I don't aim to match my reading to the seasons, but there's something about curling up to get stuck into a mystery when the nights are drawing in that I love.

I've recently been really craving some crime fiction as I haven't read any for a while.  The last book of this genre I read was The Girl Who Played With Fire way back in March, but there are lots that have caught my eye so I thought I would share a little wish list.


A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day. But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

Obsession by Amanda Robson
Carly and Rob are a perfect couple. They share happy lives with their children and their close friends Craig and Jenny. They’re lucky. But beneath the surface, no relationship is simple: can another woman’s husband and another man’s wife ever just be good friends?
Little by little, Carly’s question sends her life spiralling out of control, as she begins to doubt everything she thought was true. Who can she trust? The man she has promised to stick by forever, or the best friend she has known for years? And is Carly being entirely honest with either of them?

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Your neighbour told you that she didn't want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn't stand her crying. Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You'll have the baby monitor and you'll take it in turns to go back every half hour. Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She's gone. You've never had to call the police before. But now they're in your home, and who knows what they'll find there.

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
Hannah, independent, headstrong, and determined not to follow in the footsteps of her bitterly divorced mother, has always avoided commitment. But one hot New York summer she meets Mark Reilly, a fellow Brit, and is swept up in a love affair that changes all her ideas about what marriage might mean. Now, living in their elegant, expensive London townhouse and adored by her fantastically successful husband, she knows she was right to let down her guard. But when Mark does not return from a business trip to the U.S. and when the hours of waiting for him stretch into days, the foundations of Hannah's certainty begin to crack. Why do Mark's colleagues believe he has gone to Paris not America? Why is there no record of him at his hotel? And who is the mysterious woman who has been telephoning him over the last few weeks?

The Honeymoon by Tina Seksis
For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy. It should be paradise, but it's turned into a nightmare. Because the man Jemma married a week ago has just disappeared from the island without a trace.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate.


Dead Simple by Peter James
Michael Harrison had it all: good looks, charm, natural leadership, a wicked sense of humor, and now, Ashley, his fiancΓ©e. While out celebrating with a group of friends a few nights before the wedding, Michael suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself enclosed in a coffin equipped only with a flashlight, a dirty magazine, a walkie-talkie, and a tiny breathing tube. It's all in good fun — payback for the grief his mates suffered due to his own penchant for tomfoolery — that is until the four are killed in a drunk driving accident just moments after leaving Michael completely alone and buried alive.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise. And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time. She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born. It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside...

I've been craving some great big lungfuls of sea air and some fish and chips for weeks now, so yesterday Paul and I hopped on the bus to spend the afternoon in Whitby.  It's one of my favourite places along the coast but I hadn't been for years, and Paul had never been, so I was excited to go back and take him for his first visit.

 

We arrived at around half past twelve, and straight away set off for a bracing walk along the front - it was very windy but a beautiful day, and I was well wrapped up in my scarf.  The tide was in, so we couldn't get onto the beach at first.  Instead we took our time wandering, looking around the shops and pretty buildings in the town, and making our way up the hill to the famous whale jawbones.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Meeting the elephants at Whipsnade Zoo

I got to meet an elephant!  Back in June, Paul and I headed to Whipsnade Zoo for our meet the elephants experience, which had been my Christmas present from him last year.  June seemed so far away in December but I'm so glad it came around quickly because I was beyond excited.


We went to Luton on the train via London and we stayed at Luton Hoo Hotel which is super fancy - very Downton Abbey.  Sitting in the foyer waiting for Paul to check in made me really self-conscious of my leggings and sweatshirt (I wanted to be comfy on the train!) but luckily our room was in one of the out buildings in the grounds.  Still very elegant, but fewer tapestries.

After breakfast the next day we got a taxi over to the Whipsnade.  It's very different from some of the other zoos I've been to in that it's a lot more spaced out.  The park is spread over 600 acres, so there is a lot more walking to do between the different animals.  I was really happy to see that all the animals seemed to have plenty of space to move around.  Because they have such a large park, the keepers are also able to take the elephants out for a walk every day!  They are out for up to two hours at a time after 2pm so no matter where you are in the park you should have chance to see them walking along in a line, holding on to each other's tails with their trunks!


The Meet the Elephants experience is definitely one of the best things I've ever done and surprisingly emotional - I never thought I would get the chance to be so close to a real elephant.  Paul says he has actually had this up his sleeve for a while, but he knew it was important to take me somewhere that the elephants were well looked after which is true - I would never want to go elephant trekking or anything abroad.  I know there are places that only encourage activities that are good for the elephants such as bathing and feeding, but I see so many stories of elephants being mistreated, whipped and forced to give rides (which is actually very harmful to their backs and should never be done). I'm just not willing to contribute to that industry, and it would upset me a lot to see that first hand.

After seeing the enclosure and listening to the keeper, I don't have any doubt that their elephants are pretty spoiled!  I was really impressed to know that the duty of care doesn't end when an elephant is sent to another zoo either - for example, a young male who can no longer live with the female herd - and Whipsnade will only ever send an elephant to a zoo they have fully checked out.  Their keepers will visit Whipsnade to see how they look after the elephants there, and the Whipsnade keepers will visit the new zoo to make sure everything meets the standards they expect for their animals.

The elephant we met was 35 year old Lucha, she was absolutely beautiful!  There were 6 of us taking part altogether and we all lined up along one side of the enclosure, taking it in turns to go up to Lucha and feed her bananas.  The bananas were cut into three pieces and we were told to hold them all in our left hand and pass them over one by one to our right hand for her to pick up with her trunk.  They said to do it one at a time as otherwise she would definitely inhale all 3 pieces at once!  It was so much fun watching her feeling around with her trunk - wetter than I imagined and it really tickled too!

After feeding, we were allowed to stand with Lucha and stroke her, take photos etc. before the next person's turn.  For me this was the most special part, getting to be so close and really take her in.  The elephants at Whipsnade are clearly used to being around people because of how their keepers interact with them from a young age; Lucha was friendly and perfectly happy to let us touch her - she didn't find us as interesting once we had run out of bananas though! 🍌

We each got to go up twice and then the keepers emptied the rest of the fruit out for her as a reward for being so well behaved and patient.  They explained that each section of banana is the equivalent of a human eating one m&m, so not enough to damage her teeth or affect her diet at all.  Then it was time for questions as Lucha went back to join the rest of the herd.  The whole experience was 'behind the scenes' away from public view, and the keepers didn't rush us at all - if anything I think we were all just a bit too polite and British about it and gave up our turn to the next person a bit too easily!  If we ever go again, I'll definitely take my time a bit more.

Thanks to the keepers at Whipsnade, gorgeous girl Lucha and of course Paul for such a special memory. πŸ˜πŸ’œ

Friday, 8 September 2017

How cruelty free is my makeup bag?

Something I've been thinking about a lot recently is the idea of going cruelty free.  I've always loved animals and been appalled by animal testing, but I'll be honest and say I've never actively taken steps to stop buying products from brands that continue to test on animals.  It's easy to fall into a routine of buying the same products that you've always been used to, but that's something I'd like to change and I thought it would be interesting to document my progress!

Photo by Manu Camargo on Unsplash

Eventually I would like to be a 100% cruelty free shopper, including household chemicals and other such products, but for now I'm going to concentrate on makeup and toiletries because I think that's where I can make the biggest change.

Before I can start making any substitutions, I need to know which of the brands I already use practice animal testing.  So, the first step I've taken is to make a list of the products I use day to day and group them into brands, then research each brand individually to find out how cruelty free I am already. First up, my make up bag.  I use the same products most days and only really change it up for special occasions - no massive lipstick collection here!  Here's what I found, brand by brand.


Bobbi Brown
Products used: Corrector and Creamy Concealer Kit
Unfortunately, Bobbi Brown is not a cruelty free brand - they do not test or ask anyone to test for them, except where required by law.  Bobbi Brown cosmetics are currently available in China, where animal testing is mandatory for all foreign cosmetics companies.

Collection
Products used: Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer
I use ths concealer like it's going out of fashion so I'm very happy to learn that they are a cruelty free brand!  Their website states that they never have and never will conduct any animal testing on any products - the use of animal testing for cosmetic products and their ingredients is banned in the UK and all EU member states and Collection Cosmetics are not sold in China.  

Eylure
Products used: Eylure Brow Pencil
The websites for Eylure and their parent company, Original Additions, did not offer much information about their stance on animal testing.  Looking around online, I found this post on Cruelty Free Blog with a response the writer had received from Eylure.  Although they state there that they do not permit and/or commission any animal testing of products and/or ingredients and do not currently have distributors in China, I struggled to find any more recent information so I also sent an email to Original Additions.  I'm waiting for a response and I'll report back, but for now I'm happy to keep them in rotation on the assumption that their position hasn't changed.

L'Oreal
Products used: L'Oreal True Match Foundation
I think L'Oreal are a pretty shady brand for lots of reasons, and unfortunately they are not cruelty free as they are available in China.  The True Match foundation isn't my favourite anyway - it can be quite drying on my skin, and they don't have a shade that suits me perfectly, so I'll happily wave goodbye to them.

Garnier
Products used: Skin Active BB Cream
As a L'Oreal owned company, unfortunately Garnier are not cruelty free.

MAC Cosmetics
Products used: Eye Brows pencil 
The MAC website is a little unclear, simply saying that some governments conduct animal testing to prove safety before they will allow the sale of their products. However, MAC Cosmetics are currently sold in China, making them a non-cruelty free brand.

Natural Collection
Products used: Clear mascara
I couldn't find a specific brand statement for Natural Collection, however as a Boots own brand I believe they are cruelty free.  The Boots website acknowledges that it is illegal to test on animals in Europe and outlines their no animal testing policy, including the comissioning of tests on their behalf.  As far as I could find out online, Boots currently only have a pharmaceutical presence in China - but I'll be keeping an eye out for any changes here.

Rimmel
Products used: Lasting Finish Foundation
This is what I currently have in my makeup bag for occassions when I want to use an actual foundation instead of a tinted moisturiser. I'm not particularly attached to it, which is just as well as Rimmel are also not 100% cruelty free.  They state they are against animal testing but recognise that some ingredients are tested to meet government requirements.

Soap and Glory
Products used: Hand Food Hand Cream, One Heck of a Blot Super-Translucent Mattifying Powder, Supercat Liquid Black Eyeliner Pen
In their FAQ section, Soap and Glory state that they 'absolutely do not test our formulations on animals, however we can't say that each and every ingredient that goes into them has not, at some point historically, been cleared for human use, by animal testing.'  After reading through this a few times, what I take away is that they can't guarantee that the ingredients they use have never been tested on animals - it's likely that a lot of the stuff in cosmetics was tested this way before it was made illegal.  That's just how I interpreted it, and I'd be interested to know if anyone has any other thoughts.  However, Soap and Glory products are not sold in China and the company has recently been bought by Boots, who are cruelty free and committed to ending animal testing as mentioned above. So for now, I'm happy to keep them around.

Of the 12 products I've mentioned, 6 are cruelty free.  To say it's something I never gave much thought to, I'm pretty happy with that!  But I'll definitely be making changes in the other areas. Some of the problematic products I'm not a fan of anyway - particularly the Rimmel and L'Oreal foundations, so I'll happily try out alternatives, and I already have some in mind.  My only major concern here is finding something to replace the Garnier BB cream, as I don't tend to wear anything heavier for work days.  Please send your recommendations my way!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A Fresh Start

I left education 3 years ago now, but I'm yet to shake the mindset that September is the start of new things.  This year I haven't bought any new stationery, or dilligently copied out a timetable, but I have started a new blog...

Welcome to As Told By Holly.

I used to blog over at Holly Pocket, but I've decided on a fresh start.  I've loved having that blog and I'm really proud of some of the posts there, but for a while now I've been feeling less than inspired by that space.  The title Holly Pocket has started to feel childish - I still love it as a nickname which is why you can still find me under it on my social media - just trying to be as confusing as possible! But whilst it worked well as my blog title 3 years ago, since I've got older and my idea of what I want my blog to be has changed, I've been thinking about creating a new space.

Enter As Told By Holly!  Only partially inspired by the Nickelodeon cartoon As Told By Ginger (who else remembers that?!) it's a title that I've been thinking about for a while.  I think it lends itself to any type of posts I want to write and can evolve as my life does, and I've taken it back to basics with the design too. You can still expect book reviews but also posts about causes I care about, feminism, lifestyle, days out, self-care... Basically, a bit of everything, as told by me. 

I'm looking forward to blogging more and hope you'll keep coming to have a read 😊