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! 馃槒 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 馃槉

Sunday, 17 September 2017

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! 馃崒

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. 馃悩馃挏

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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 have a blog called 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've imported some of my old posts from my previous blog, so any that you see dated before today are old.  Not all of them have made it across, just the ones that are in keeping with the kind of thing I want to post here now.

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

Monday, 26 June 2017

What Harry Potter means to me

I couldn't let the 20th (!) anniversary of my favourite ever story pass by without a blog post, could I?  On this day in 1997, J.K. Rowling introduced us to Harry Potter, the boy wizard, and I know that I'm not alone in being so grateful that she did.

The impact that Harry Potter has had on my life is undeniable.  Anyone who knows me should be able to tell you that I kind of have to really love something to want to display it around my house, so the fact that immediately on walking into my flat you are greeted by 4 wands on the wall and a case containing the Marauder's Map says it all.  But whilst the merchandise is cool to have, my love for these stories goes much deeper.

Unlike many, I don't credit the Harry Potter series with introducing me to reading - I was already a well established bookworm when The Philosopher's Stone came out when I was 6, but it did provide me with a lot of other milestones in my life as a reader.  This was the first series I can remember being aware of as a series, actively looking for sequels and making sure to read them in order, eagerly waiting for those not yet released and being so excited to get my hands on them.  It was for Deathly Hallows that I went to my first ever midnight book release, something which was relatively unheard of before and I was so happy when my dad said he would take me! We queued outside WHSmith in Leeds (I remember feeling really smug that we were quite near the front!).

It's the first time I can remember feeling part of a reading community too.  As a young reader, I can't say I was aware of this as something missing from my reading experience - I just knew that I loved books, and would read as much as I could.  But now people were talking about Harry Potter at school, racing to be the first one to read up to a certain chapter, playing wizards in the playground.  When we were older, we would pass time by quizzing each other on our knowledge of the wizarding world.  So whilst I don't say that Harry Potter started me reading in the first place, I do credit it with nurturing my enjoyment of sharing books and stories with other people.

I love Harry Potter for a lot of the same reasons as everybody else - the writing is so clever, and Hogwarts is home to my favourite characters and all the magic and adventure that I still look for in novels as an adult, but the reason these stories hold such a special place in my heart is the lessons I have taken away from them.  Harry Potter taught me that nobody is perfect and to look for the good in everybody - even the Slytherins.  Hermione taught me to stand up for what is important to me, Dumbledore taught me to look for the light in dark times, Neville taught me to dust myself down and try again next time, and Ron taught me not to let the muggles get me down.  And there are so many other valuable messages to take away that will always be relevant to society - love, kindness, peace, the value of family and friendship, and tolerance and respect for others.

"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."

Even at the age of 26, I still turn to Harry Potter for comfort and apply its messages to my life, and I believe I will for as long as I live.  I always tell myself to 'be more Gryffindor' and put on my red and gold stripes when I have to be brave, and I always make sure to cast my Patronus charm and eat a bit of chocolate when I'm feeling down.  I really have to say a big thank you to J.K. Rowling for that, because those are two things in particular that have got me through some tough times over the past few years.

It's testament to how special these books are that they are still so popular 20 years on, and finding new readers all the time - because they are so relevant, and I think even in another 20 years, young readers will still be able to find something to take away from these characters.  And we're so lucky that we're still being treated to parts of the story we haven't heard before!  That's something really unique to the Harry Potter universe, and I really appreciate the amount of effort J.K. Rowling puts in to keep the magic alive.

"Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic."

Happy anniversary, Harry!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Good People

The Good People is set in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1825. N贸ra Leahy has lost her husband and her daughter in the same year and now finds herself caring for her four year old grandson.  But Miche谩l is not the happy, healthy boy she remembers.  He can no longer walk, or speak, and there are rumours in the village that his deformities are evidence of other-wordly interference, bringing bad luck.  Desperate to find out what is wrong, N贸ra and her maid Mary seek out Nance Roche, who is said to have the knowledge of the Good People, old magic, and remedies. Nance believes that Miche谩l has been replaced with a fairy changeling, and together the three women set out to restore him to the child N贸ra remembers.

I always think a sign of good historical fiction is when you finish reading, and you straight away want to go and read more about the period in question.  I definitely did this with The Good People - I was fascinated by the traditions and superstitions surrounding N贸ra's story.  The story is set in a remote part of Ireland where the people are heavily superstitious, and their lives are very much governed by the various rituals they have in place to counteract bad luck.  Because the valley is so cut off there is little to no knowledge of medicine or science, and anything bad that happens in the valley is generally blamed on the fairy folk, the Good People.

It's very clear to the reader that Miche谩l is suffering from a medical condition which is really causing his deformities but that N贸ra simply doesn't have the understanding to see this.  She does the only thing she can think of in turning to Nance, because she has a history of using her knowledge to cure various ailments.  Even though some of the things they do to Miche谩l 'to 'put the fairy out of him' would definitely be considered abuse today, you can't help but feel sorry for N贸ra at the same time - she truly believes the child is not her true grandson, and is acting out of love for him.  Nance too, believes she is doing the right thing by him.

The story takes inspiration from a true event very similar to the one described and many similar cases, where people were killed or allowed to die as a result of people attempting to banish changelings, when in fact they were suffering from an unknown condition, which is very sad.  The book was quite repetitive in places particularly in the dialogue - I thought that Nance and N贸ra seemed to have the same conversation quite a lot - but this was nothing that took away from my enjoyment of the story, and I think the historical context was really well written.  It was clear from reading that the folklore and superstition were not just limited to a few people and just how much it played a part in the daily life of a whole community.  It was interesting to think about how things we know a lot about now, like disability and mental illness, were understood in the context of Irish folk belief, and I learned a lot.  In her author's note Hannah Kent makes some suggestions for further reading of books that helped her in writing, and I definitely think I will pick a couple up in the future, maybe for Non Fiction November!

Rating: ★★★★

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Something nice that happened in April

Ok, so I've been really bad at making a note of good things that have been happening and so I can't write a monthly silver linings post like I have been doing.  I will make more of an effort this month, but I can remember at least one good thing that happened in April, right at the beginning.

I took Emily to Betty's!  Finally.  I bought her a voucher for afternoon tea last year for her birthday, because she said she'd never been, and I really had to change that.  So on 1st April the three of us (Alice came too) trundled up to Ilkley on the train to the Betty's tea room on the high street.

We went in the morning because we wanted to beat the queues, and I was so tempted to try something from the breakfast menu, but in the end we all went for afternoon tea anyway and it's probably the best decision I've made for a while.  The sandwiches, scones and desserts were yummy as ever and all washed down with a pot of Bettys breakfast tea.

Afterwards we stopped off at the cafe shop and I bought Easter biscuits, lebkuchen butterflies... and a book.  Yes, I went to Betty's and left with a book.  I can't help it!  I'm looking forward to reading the short stories.

Now Emily can call herself a true Yorkshire lass!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Power

It doesn't matter that she shouldn't, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.

The Power was a very interesting one to read so soon after reading The Handmaid's Tale. While Margaret Atwood imagines a future of subjugation for women, Naomi Alderman completely turns this on its head. Instead, she asks what would happen if women had physical power over men.

It starts in the distant future with a letter from a male author to Naomi Alderman introducing his work. This then forms the majority of the book. He has written a book looking back at our time now, which has become known as the cataclysm era. Women have begun to be born with the ability to produce electric shocks from their bodies. Young women can awaken the power in older women, and the world starts to change as women begin to fight back and assert their physical dominance.  Now it's men who are afraid for their safety, advised not to walk alone at night.

This is already a powerful idea, but the main theme of the book is that power corrupts, no matter who it belongs to.  Alderman hammers this point home throughout the book, with many scenes that are nothing short of disturbing. We see many women abusing their new status in society and men having their rights stripped away. Travel is restricted, with curfews and enforced female supervision; on the other end of the spectrum there is rape and male gential mutilation.  It's not easy reading, but very powerful. 

The story is told through the experience of four different people. Each one has a different perspective, together creating the big picture of a world run by women.  Some parts were more engaging than others and not all the plot developments were great. In general, it was more the concept of the novel that made this such a great read.

The conversation between the two authors was a very clever framing device. The novel ends with more correspondence between them. He comments on the horrific events he has written about, and states his disbelief that it would be this way if men were more dominant. Men would never inflict these kinds of horrors on women, would they?  In fact, he has written his historical account to argue for the dismantling of the current power structure, to create a more equal society. This is, of course, exactly what feminism has been fighting for all along.

The Power has made the shortlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017. It stands a great chance of winning! By imagining a world run by women, Naomi Alderman shines a light on the many inequalities women face today, from gender-based violence to sexism in the workplace. Great eye-opening speculative fiction, definitely not easy to forget.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

I finished reading The Handmaid's Tale at the beginning of February and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Let's start with what it's about, in case you don't know.  The Handmaid's Tale is set in an America not too far into the future except it's not America any more. Following a military coup and collapse of the government, its now known as Gilead.  Nuclear catastrophe means that many women are unable to reproduce and so fertile women, like our main character Offred, are passed around wealthy families as 'handmaids' with the sole purpose of producing a child for them to raise. The penalty for refusal is death and the rights of all women, not just handmaids, are extremely restricted.

The story moves between the present day Gilead and 'the time before.'  The fact that Offred can remember her life before the new regime brings it so close to home.  Some of the most upsetting parts are the ways in which Offred's rights are taken away from her, and how it is portrayed as justifiable and the right thing to do.  There are so many specific parts of this book that will stay with me for a long time to come, but one in particular that I keep coming back to is when Offred goes home to her partner after having her bank card declined, one of the first actions the new regime takes in the stripping away of women's rights.  She tells him what happened and she realises that yes, he's understanding and agrees that it's wrong, but he's not outraged, or immediately willing to do anything about it. She suspects that he doesn't mind because it's not happening to him, or maybe he even quite likes it that way.  It's only a very small part of the book, a few sentences, but that passage was so powerful to me.
The best and worst thing about The Handmaid's Tale is how completely plausible many of the events seem.  The whole thing is absolutely horrifying but so believable.  Margaret Atwood has talked about how she deliberately didn't include anything that humans had not already done to each other in some way, and much of the book is scarily reminiscent of things you hear about in the news today.  A right wing government, blaming Islamic groups for terrorism, suspending human rights under the guise of protecting the people; women reduced to their reproductive status... Reading in the context of everything that is happening in the world today gave me the chills, and really made me think about the ways in which this kind of oppression can be allowed to happen - the gradual chipping away of rights, the role of the media as a distraction, and fear as a means of control.  At times it almost reads like a prophecy - some of the things happening in Gilead are not a million miles away from the treatment of women in society today, and that is terrifying.

This was my first Atwood but it won't be my last.  I can see why she is known as a master storyteller! I was completely absorbed into Offred's world.  The Handmaid's Tale is accessible but so thought-provoking, and definitely one of the best dystopias I have read.  I appreciated the epilogue written from the point of view of a future historian for providing me with some of the background to the rise of the regime - I had questions about this all the way through and epilogue gave that little bit more insight into some of the policies of the regime and the events leading up to the society we meet Offred in.  Offred herself is quite a passive narrator and you might expect her to have a bit more fight in her, but this isn't a story about overthrowing a regime - Offred is a reminder of just how easy it is to become accepting of injustice.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Thoughts for 2017

If I had to pick a word to describe 2016, it would be progress.

I think progress can be hard to measure when you're living through it. There were times last year when I didn't think I was making any progress at all - moments of rock bottom confidence which caused me to spend lunchtimes in hiding and shed many, many tears. But as I've spent time reflecting, I've realised that many of the low points were confined to the early months and as the year went on, things got better. I still have some way to go before I feel 100%, but I'm feeling much more positive going into 2017 than I was this time last year.

2016 was the year that I finally found and settled into a permanent job. When I left university I was still in my part time job at the cinema and then I had two temporary jobs after deciding it was time to leave. Whilst I wasn't unhappy in my last job, there are obvious security issues that come with a temporary role and I'm so happy that I've found something permanent. There's something about it that feels much more grown up and stable. It's only been a couple of months, but I'm enjoying it so far!

Last year also saw me push myself out of my comfort zone and take some action towards feeling better about myself. I was offered a place on a 30 day exercise programme at my local gym, and although I was cautious at first, it was probably one of the best things I did in 2016. Going to classes meant I was held more accountable and probably did more exercise since September than I have done in whole years previously. Group exercise was scary at first and I still sometimes have to push past that to turn up to class, but I feel proud of myself for taking those steps towards my goals. More generally, I learned a lot this year about putting myself first and not worrying so much about what people think - being honest about how I'm feeling did cause a rift in one particular friendship, but the majority of people that I have been open with have been so supportive, and I'm going forward into 2017 with the knowledge that those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

I'm calling 2017 my investment year. I'm going to carry on investing my time at the gym towards a healthier and happier me - I've got a 12 month membership already paid for through employee benefits at work so there is no excuse, and I want my money's worth! I'm going to try and make it to at least three classes a week, and I'm hoping that this time next year I can write a post telling you that I feel the best I've ever felt.

My hope is that this will also mean I'm ready to get married. My self esteem issues have stood in the way, but I hope by investing time in exercising and looking after myself I will be able to kick this into touch. Paul and I will also be investing financially, with a set plan in place for how much we would like to set aside each month. Even if we don't get married for another couple of years, it will put my mind at ease knowing we are making preparations.

I'll also be investing more time and thought into self-care. Stress is never good but it has taken its toll on me in some dramatic ways over the past couple of years, and I've learned the importance of looking after yourself. Even just simple things like remembering to take my make up off after work, and take time to really do it slowly instead of scrubbing my face to death - I'll be trying to be as kind to myself, my mind and my body as I can be.

I hope anybody reading this will be safe, happy and healthy in 2017! x

Images from here and here.