Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking back on 2012

Well... This is my 84th post for 2012. Pretty good, I guess but my goal was to post every day. Didn't come anywhere near THAT - but it's an improvement over 2011 (49 posts) and like NINE TIMES what I did for 2010 (9.)

I'm gonna count that as a success rather than a failure.

Goal for next year?

Shall I say post every day?

(If I keep saying it, one year I'll actually do it, right?)

Have a happy and safe New Year, every one. Party your pants off!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Song for Sunday: Imagine Dragons - Radioactive

Welcome to the first installment of A Song for Sunday!

You know that music is my life so it's only logical that I have at least one post (I'll try to keep it to just one, promise!) dedicated to my favourite new song of the week. And here it is:



I know I've heard this song before - probably on some advert or on a soundtrack - but never in its entirety.

I had another song lined up for you, one suggested by @whatsherf8, but then I came across this gem. I was actually looking for something else on YouTube when I saw the name Imagine Dragons and - well, how do you resist a name like that?

Then my jaw dropped open. What a sound! That beat! And the video? When do cage fighting muppets not equal a big win?

I love everything about this song, including the theme. It's got that post-apocalyptic feel to it (you know I'm digging that right now) and brings movies like 28 Days Later to mind. It even got a nod of approval from my 80's-lovin'-modern-music-hatin'-emo-goth husband - which is saying something!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Kill Confirmed.

Can you guess what I've been doing today?


Playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2, of course!

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Vanian family holidays

For someone who claims to be an athiest, my husband spends a lot of time arguing with me about whether or not there should be a seperation of church and state. He says it's nothing to do with God, it's tradition, blah blah blah. (*facepalm*) This is the same reason he gives for celebrating the Christian holidays even though he claims not to believe in God himself and is married to a Wiccan.

(If I could do that one eyebrow raised look of disbelief, I would be doing it now.)

It's fine because you know we witches are pretty damned adaptable. You and your family want to celebrate Christmas? Just fine by me... I'll have a nice quiet Winter Solstice celebration AND open pressies on Christmas morning. Who am I to argue with your traditions? O:)

That pretty much sums up my feelings on being a non-Christian at Christmas time. (I'm not even going to get into all the ways that Christmas is un-Christian.) I don't need to make a fuss to be true to my beliefs.

(Also... If there's one thing that history has taught us, it's that the nail that sticks out gets hammered - or burned at the stake, as the case may be.)

Kind of a long, ranty intro for what was meant to be my holiday post, huh?

Right...

The Vanian family holidays!


We would never do anything the "normal" way so instead of a Christmas tree, we have a Nightmare Before Christmas Tree!


An angel at the top of the tree? Over my dead body!


When my mother-in-law was alive, she and I had EPIC arguments over that little vampire. She would rage that "You can't put a vampire on top of a Christmas tree!" and I would answer with "I can't put one on top of a fucking Yule tree, though!"

One year, she took our vampire down every morning and, every night, we would find it and put it back up. She's not around to fight with anymore but seeing him always makes us laugh about those old fights.

 There are a few other distinctly Vanian touches to the tree... Like MooMaMoo and Arkwright hiding in it!


It looked like we were set to have a pretty sorry holiday season, regardless of what we called it. The debt management plan we're on probably saved our lives but the budget is so strict that it doesn't leave much room for extras like pressies. :(

But a very good friend came to our aid and helped us to not only get through the holidays, but replace our fridge/freezer - which naturally packed it in right before the festive season.


The delivery of the fridge/freezer was a bit of a fiasco. We ordered it from Tesco Direct and I spoke the people delivering it in advance, warning them of the obstacles they would face. The woman said, "Okay, no problem."

Really?

When the guy came to deliver it, he asked me where I wanted it. I told him to just put it in the dining room and I would take it from there. He looked in the house, looked at me and said, "I don't think so, love." Then he dropped it in the porch and left.

So ALONE I had to drag the new fridge in and the old fridge out. Screwed my back up for A WEEK afterward. That "every little helps" bullshit? Bullshit. I will never have anything delivered from Tesco Direct again.

But I am in LOVE with my new fridge/freezer.


Every fridge I've ever had belonged to someone else first. This is the first fridge I can call "mine" (even though when we move it will stay with the house.)

That would have been enough to make my holidays but, of course, there were pressies yet to come!


Looking at my Facebook feed on Christmas morning, I was ashamed to see so many pictures of whole rooms filled with gifts. I mean... Come on! Worldwide recession, anyone? It's nice that you can treat the people you love but don't make the other 90% feel like shit that they can't. :(

We only had a handful of gifts each but it was more than enough for us. I have to say... Boy done good! :) I got the tarot deck I wanted (which - ahem - I would've gotten anyway... sorry, Bristol!) along with a big book on vampires, two Living Dead Dolls, an Oscar the Grouch shirt, House and Downton Abbey on dvd, and BEADS!


He bought me beads AND divided them by colour! Now that's thoughtful.

Even my in-laws did an excellent job this year. They got one of my favourite perfumes, a Yankee Candle, and Sailor Jerry. You can't go wrong there.


Not bad, considering they don't even like me.

Looking back at my holidays, I have to say that I am blessed. So many others got by with so much less.

That's not to say that our holiday passed without incident. There was the matter of having to go to the hospital to see Dulcie, Jay's nan.

You'll know from my previous posts that my husband's nan is kind of my hero. (Yes, her and Genghis Khan.) Well, she took a bad tumble the week before and ended up in the hopsital. She's in a bad way. We went to see her and were shocked by how awful she looked. Hard to believe that, the last time we saw her, she was dancing and getting drunk!

Now, she looks old and frail. Battered and bruised. And she kept talking about wanting to die. It was hard - hard enough for me, I don't know how Jay managed to keep smiling.

And today we got a call from his brother saying that she's going in for emergency surgery. She has a 50/50 shot of making it through.

Life is all about balance, right? Yin and yang... Taking the good with the bad. Well, there it is: the good and the bad of our holidays.

There's been so much happening the last couple of weeks, for so many people. As happy as our holidays were, we never lost sight of the suffering of those around us. We weren't the only family to have loved ones in the hospital... And we're thinking of you.

To all of our friends who are going through hard times, who face losing loved ones or who have already lost them... Our thoughts are with you. Wishing you love and light in the weeks to come. X

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Handmade Holidays - Cardament Tutorial

I work in a call centre - which is basically a glorified office with too many phones. Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows that there's a certain pressure to get the whole Christmas card thing right. Although I've avoided it the last five or six years, this year, I thought I'd give the holiday card exchange a go.

After Wondra-izing it a bit, of course!

Instead of giving cards, I gave cardaments:


 (Which is just a card that's also an ornament you can hang on your tree!)

These are SO easy to make! (Maybe I shouldn't say that?) Start with a card then open it up and cut it in half. Now glue the pieces together so you're looking at the front and the inside (with the message on it).

Round off the corners a little with a pair of scissors. Next, grab a hole punch and get to work. I put one hole in each corner, one on either side and one or two in between, depending on how large the card was.


Now for the tricky bit: Grab your crochet hook. (For this tutorial, I used a size 5.0mm with Red Heart Holiday yarn.)  Starting at the top, single crochet into one of the middle holes. Chain two, single crochet into the next hole. 

The only bits that are different are the corner holes. In each corner, single crochet, chain one, single crochet into the same hole.

When you get back to where you started, single crochet into that same hole and slip stitch into the first single crochet. Chain two. Single crochet into chain space x2, single crochet into single crochet. Rinse, repeat.


(The corners are different again. You just single crochet x2 into the chain space.)

When  you get back to the beginning, slip stitch into the chain space created by the chain 2. Chain 2. Single crochet into next single crochet.

Chain 2, single crochet into next single crochet. Repeat all the way around.

Somewhere around the middle you want to make a loop so it can hang on a tree so just chain 6, skip two spaces and carry on. Slip stitch into the first chain space and sew in the ends.


See? Simple. Shouldn't take you any longer than 15-20 minutes, start to finish. And it's fun! You can do it while watching your favourite holiday movies. (I did!)


Jay worked it out that I made about 40 in total... So 40 times 15 is... Wow. I spent about TEN hours making these for my work colleagues. It would have been easier, no doubt, just to keep a box of blank cards on my desk and quickly fill one out when someone gave me a card. (Don't laugh, people do this.) But I wanted to make it a bit more personal... To let people know that I was actually thinking about them, even if it was just for 15 minutes, during the holiday season.


The downside was that I didn't get around to making any for my friends and family back home. I figure next year I'll have to start before Samhain. Or, maybe find a new way of saying "Hey, you're special."


If that's the case, and I find something new to make next year, you can find Wondra's Cardaments in my etsy shop in time for the holidays, 2013! ;)

Blodwyn's Big Day Out

It's official: Blodwyn is old enough to go out and enjoy the Big Bad World. We had to wait a week after her last vaccines - and a few extra days for the rain - but it was finally time to take Blodwyn for her first walk.


She's limited to just the lane for awhile... At least until she's big enough for the smallest harness we  can find. It was great to see Dylan showing her the ropes.


And by "the ropes" I mean "how to ignore Mummy and Daddy completely and run amuck."


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Post-Apocalyptic Blog Swap

I'm sure you all remember Jessica from a Shimmering Star? (Of course you do!) She agreed to a little Post-Apocalyptic Blog Swap and here we have it:

In a Post-Apocalyptic World 
 
An explosion rumbles as debris and fire fly through the air. A deep voice booms “In a post-apocalyptic world, one person will save the Earth.” Another explosion and the screen goes blank.

Happy Post-Apocalypse. Again.

Hollywood has used the annihilation of mankind scenario countless times. Whether you call it Armageddon or the end of days, the Earth's destruction has fascinated people for centuries.

As you probably know, the Mayan calendar ended yesterday. People worried that the end was nigh. Yet no disaster hit and the Earth survives.

But maybe it's not enough to just survive. Remember the Y2K scare? As the millennium approached people hoarded enough food and water for a lifetime. When the ball dropped in Times Square, computers switched from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000. Happy New Year. The world is still here.

Life went on even as the next apocalypse was predicted.

Will the world end with a bang or whimper? Maybe we're not asking the right question. We fill our lives with meaningless moments, stumbling through the day to day like zombies. No one knows the day or hour that the Four Horsemen will ride. And if we did know the moment it still would be for naught. This world is beautiful. Why are we wasting the energy on worry when we could use it to create?

Why don't we spend more time with our family and friends? Why don't we take time to read a novel, paint a picture, write a song? Why are we obsessed with our stockpile of (fill in the blank)?

Some say the Mayan calender actually signified the end of an age. And the death of one age is the birth of a new one.

Maybe living in a post-apocalyptic world isn't so bad. We can choose to live a life of beginnings.

Today.

Monday, 17 December 2012

God Bless America?

Saw this on on my Facebook feed and thought it was appropriate to share following my last post:


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tragedy. Outrage. Annoyance. Shame.

I was in work last night when a friend came up to me and asked me this question: "You know when you lived in America... Did you have a gun?"

My response was: "Um... Do you mean did my family have a gun or did I have a gun?"

"Either."

Well, you all know that I have never owned a gun. Ever. I wouldn't because I'm a crap shot and any weapon you're not an expert with becomes a weapon someone else can use against you. I've played enough CoD to know that getting shot with your own gun sucks. It's a practical decsion on my part, not moral.

But my family?

That's a different story.

When I was a child, my parents had a gun cabinet - which was never locked - loaded with all kinds of guns. (Not to mention some bullets that were, without a doubt, illegal to own.) But my dad hunted so I never really thought about it.

In addition to rifles, my dad kept a hand gun by the bed, my mom used to carry one (illegally) in her purse. I remember there being one in a kitchen cupboard at one point.

Gun-totting Republicans just about covers it.

Now... My mom will tell you that "We had loaded guns around the children all the time but we taught them to respect them," blah blah blah.

Bullshit.

They never taught us anything of the sort. Luckily, we never shot ourselves our or friends - BUT WE COULD HAVE. Anytime.

Think about that one.

I know because one day, after an argument with my baby brother, he picked up a loaded gun and pointed it directly at my head. I was about 15. He was about 12. I could have died that day, at my brother's hands because my parents believed in the right to bear arms. 

That's the kind of house I was raised in: one that believed that every person on the face of the planet has a right to a gun and - GODDAMMIT we're gonna exercise that right! Even if it means a twelve-year-old boy shooting his sister in the face over a silly little argument.

Still think that everyone should have a gun?

Well, now. I didn't hear about the shooting in Connecticut until much later that night but I know that they must have been talking about it at work because why else would that kind of question come up? And then I realised, to them, I represent every stereotype they have about Americans. And I was ashamed.

I AM ashamed.

I'm ashamed because I know that, among a collage of photos on my desk, there is a photo of my husband posed in front of an American flag with an assault rifle. It's not there because I believe in "AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!" it's there because it reminds me of a great time we had together, shooting at pumpkins with my brother (yeah, the one who could have killed me) a few years ago.

But it won't be there on Monday.

Because I'm ashamed that I'm playing to that stereotypical image of American ignorance that every person I work with has garnered from the media. And that makes me sad because it kind of kills that memory for me. Don't get me wrong... It's nowhere near the level of grief that I know is sweeping the country right now in the aftermath of the shooting, but it's personal.

Somewhere, four thousand miles away, a family is trying to figure out how to go on. My biggest worry today? I don't know how I'm going to get my new fridge through the kitchen door. Makes me feel pretty lousy....

But someone once told me that you can't measure your pain against anyone else's because pain is personal, it belongs to you. Yours will always feel worse to you, no matter how small it is, and that's okay.

So it's okay for me to feel a little bit sad when I pull that photo down on Monday. A little sad and a little angry too - because some dickhead who never should have had access to a gun anyway took away one of my happiest memories from my marriage. It isn't as bad as having someone take away your own flesh and blood but it still fucking hurts.

The shame?

That's something else altogether.

I am ashamed, not of myself, but of my country. That THIS is the image of ourselves that we are spreading around the world. I'm just one little American girl, alone in a foreign country, but when people look at me, and talk to me, they see all the worst of American society. Even though I have never (and will never) own a gun myself, the people around me can only see the reason that shootings like yesterday's take place.

Thanks a fucking lot. As if being an American abroad wasn't hard enough.

A little angry? I take that back - I am fucking OUTRAGED. How could we, as a nation, continue to allow things like this to happen? Is our pride so great that we will continue to allow children to die - wether it be at the hands of a crazed adult or at the hands of their angry little brothers - because GODDAMMIT THEY'RE OUR GUNS AND YOU'RE NOT TAKING THEM AWAY!

America. Fuck yeah.

I ashamed on behalf of my country. Personally? I believe in gun control, in getting guns out of the hands of Joe Blow, in teaching gun awareness - and I refuse to be ashamed of that belief.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Baby Clothes Recon #4

It's getting colder and you know what that means...

More clothes for Dylan!


This one was a bit harder because of the massive zipper running down the front. I got around that by just cutting the legs right off. And then I put the zipper on the back because it was cute.

Action shot!


Day of the Tentacle

The person that I made this for has received it so I can finally share it with you!

It was THREE YEARS in the making. If you had a look at the back, you would see what an awful cross stitcher I am. Yikes! But I thought, 'Hey! I can do this!' - and I did... It just took longer than I expected!

I started by making this pattern (in Photoshop):


And... Three years later...


(If I had tried to do the whole thing, it would have taken me another three years!)

How proud was I of myself? You have no idea!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Baby Clothes Recon #3

As you know, I've been picking up baby clothes on sale to turn into clothes for our miniature smooth haired daschund (aka: a dog and a half long, half a dog high). When I saw this Haloween onesie in ASDA I made an inappropriate "sqeee" kind of noise (yup, right there in the store) and snatched it up:


First thing's first, the arms and legs had to go...


Dylan's only got stubby ickle legs, after all.

Then I cut an oval out of the back of the onesie (which would be the bottom for him) and got to work stitching it all up.


With the oval cut out, Dylan has plenty of wang room:


This onesie was great because it already had a row of snaps along the inseam and crotch so, once Dylan had it on, I just popped one of the snaps and tada! room for his tail.


Dylan (being so vain) immediate ran to the door and waited to go for a walk so he could show everyone how handsome he was in his new suit!


(And, honestly... I'm not being mean "dressing him up." He's a short haired dog, we have no central heating, and it's winter. It would be mean if I didn't cover him up.)

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

One small step... And a giant leap in the right direction.

I've identified myself as a writer since... Oh... About the time I wrote my first story. (In 3rd grade.) It's just part of who I am and what makes Wondra Wondra.

But I want to be more than a writer...

I want to be an AUTHOR.

I want to see my name on the cover of a novel. I want to know that my stories are coming to life in other people's minds. I want to inspire at least one person to be a writer the way authors like LJ Smith did for me.

Kind of a big ask, huh?

But you have to dream.

The first step is the hardest: Write the damn novels. Well, check. I've written four novels to date. they're sitting on a shelf, gathering dust.

I guess that's the next step: Make them publishable. (aka: edit, edit, edit) I have the biggest problem with this bit - which means I never get to the next stage: SUBMIT.

If I want to be an author I have to get my work out there. So I have to spend some quality time polishing those novels up, and submitting them. Quality time is not something I have in abundance. I work full-time, go to school-part time, and spend the rest of my time running a house.

No rest for the wicked, eh?

Since time is the biggest problem getting in the way of making my dream of being an author a reality, I have to do something about finding some. (Time, that is.)

So, this month, I took a rather big step: I applied for something called a Buying Time Writer's Bursary from Literature Wales.

If I'm successful, it will result in me having six months (paid) off work to do nothing but focus on my writing. It would be, I think, life changing.

I submitted my application (along with the first 10k of a novel in progress) over two weeks ago and now I'm just waiting. (And waiting.) They won't make a decision until February so I'm trying not to spend too much time dwelling on it - especially since I don't know how many people I'll be up against, or how good those people are.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Pumpkin carving - Halloweenie style

Jay asked what I wanted to carve on my pumpkins this year for Halloween. I thought about it and said "A doxie!" He just gave me this long suffering look and said, "That's not very Halloweeny, is it?" To which I said, "Yes it is! It's HalloWEENIE!"

<insert eye roll here>

But I got what I wanted (of course!) and Jay helped me carve these:


Cute, right? And here's what they look like all lit up:


Eeep! :)

And, of course, I just had to roast the seeds!





I just tossed the seeds in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, spread them out on a baking tray, sprinkled them with salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon, and put them in the oven for oh, about an hour. Yum!



Thursday, 25 October 2012

Super Sweep

Sweep  
(14/02/2000-25/10/2012)

Today is a pretty tough one. We had to put Sweep down. He started acting really unwell just over a week ago and his health just went downhill from there.



(Photos from Sweep's last day out, last month.)

We had some great times with Sweep (like the time he ate Jay's mom's teeth, lipstick, and Vaseline - woof!) and it'll be really hard without him. 

I don't know how I'm suppose to stay home alone without being able to say, "Come on, Sweepydoodle... Come keep me safe." :( 

Safe journey, Old Man. Whatever comes next, I hope it's worthy of you and I look forward to seeing you again one day.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Music

There is no doubt that music is my release. When I'm happy, sad, frustrated, scared, or pissed off, I need music. Some people hear a good song, smile, and carry on with their day. Not me... It gets in my blood and fuels my soul.

I think there's something very witchy about music.

I sing and dance along to music - even music no one else can hear - any time, any where. It doesn't matter if I'm waiting at a bus stop, doing dishes, or stuck in a lift at work... If there's a song in my heart, it's trying to find a way to get out and I'm not ashamed of it.

Even if I have a voice meant for silent film and the coordination of a dying rhino. ;)

Anywho...

My obssession with music means I'm often trawling YouTube for something new to listen to - and I'll give anything a go: rap, country, metal, r&b, pop... anything. Music is music.

But that doesn't mean I don't occasionally find myself shaking my head and thinking, 'Wow. Am I really singing along to this band?' Like... Oh... For example 3OH!3.

Yup, that's this week's new obssession. These two songs in particular:






Why am I sharing this with you? Well... Because I felt the need to share it with someone and any conversation about music between me and my husband usually ends in tears or flying objects. (For real.) He's an old school goth and thinks that the only good music ever made came out of the 80's. (I know... Right?) He usually has a scowl on his face before I even hit "play" to share something with him.

But, if I share with you, and you don't like it, you can just wander away... No harm, no foul. :)

Friday, 12 October 2012

Pumpkin Hat

You know I ♥ everything about Autumn and Samhain - especially pumpkins. I picked up some orange and green yarn the other day without really thinking about what I would use it for, only that I wanted to make something pumpkin-y.

So I did what I always do when I need inspiration: I started trawling pinterest. It didn't take long to find this pattern by Sarah over at nothing's creative anymore. Perfect!


It took less than a day from start to finish and the pattern is super easy to follow. The only thing that I needed to change was just to add a few rows because I have such a big head. (Also, I couldn't find a H hook so I settled for the closest I had, a J.)

Conversation with my husband during the making of the hat:

Me: Ask me what I'm making!
Husband: (wary) What are you making? 
Me: A hat! 
Husband: Mm.
Me: Ask me what KIND of hat.
Husband: Ok. What kind of hat are you making? 
Me: A PUMPKIN hat.
Husband: (eye roll) Why do I ask?
Me: :)

 
I used cheap Bonus D yarn in orange and green. I only bought one skein of each but I have so much left over that I'm making a matching scarf with it. If it works out, I'll definitely share!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Wondra Commercials

I've known about this product for awhile but the commercials still make me laugh. Have a look:


"Wondra rubs right in!"


"Wondra turns hiding hands into holding hands."



"Wondra: Makes you look young all over." 
 
No, as far as I know, this product isn't around any more. Wouldn't it be amazing if it was, though?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Weekend?

Have I had a productive weekend?

If by "weekend" you mean one day and "productive" you mean sat around all day playing on Pinterest then, yes, I have.

Okay, to be fair... I have not just sat around playing on Pinterest - BUT I can't show you what I've been working on yet. So this post is just a distraction. ;)

But since I did pin *a little* I may as well share. Here's a board dedicated to one of my favourite DOS games, Day of the Tentacle:


And here's one for the second best looking brothers on telly, Sam and Dean:

Enjoy!

Ooh... I know what else I did today that I can talk about... I updated my ravelry pages. The links to my patterns weren't working because I deleted the livejournal account they were linked to but I fixed that. Head on over and check me out.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

I'm Batty About You!

Here's another baby shirt recon job for Dylan...

Started with a cute little (size 6-9 month) baby shirt:


(How freaking cute is that?!)

I put it on Dylan to see how it would fit. Pinned the sides because it was just a little too loose. Also noticed that the back (what would be the front for him) was too long. Not nearly enough wang room! So I took it off, make a few cuts and pinned up the rest:


The arms had to be cut off about halfway because Dylan's only got wee ickle legs. You'll also notice the extra "wang room" I made.

I got this particular shirt because of the neckline. I saw a post on craftster that said this type was best for dogs. The neck is extra wide. (Actually, I think maybe it's a tinsy bit too wide. I'm going to add clasps that can be done up after the shirt is on.)

On to the crafting bit... Midnight crafting while doing shots of Sailor Jerry and listening to rock music is the best. (Possibly not the safest, though.)


I have to sew everything by hand - no sewing machine for Wondra! (Boo!) But this came together really quickly. It took about three hours, from start to finish.

From the back:


And from the front:


It fit perfectly! Time for action shots:


(Look at me, Daddy, arne't I so cute?)


(This is my best angle, no?)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Hocus Pocus

One of my favourite Birthdayoween (that's what we call it, yup) movies of all time is Hocus Pocus. There's just so much to love. It's only October 5th and I've already watched it twice this month. (And probably will watch it again before the week is out!)

I was looking for a meme with one of my favourite lines from the movie on it but couldn't find one so I just made it myself:


(That's pretty much how I feel everytime I hear a screaming child in a store.)

And while I was at it, I decided Hocus Pocus needed some Pinterest ♥:


As I was happily pinning away... I realised that there are just not enough Hocus Pocus crafts out there to drool over. I may need to get on that...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

I read banned books!

I can't let Banned Book Week come and go without some mention here.

It still amazes me that in the year 2012 people are still trying to control what we can and can't read. It raises a lot of questions about freedom and morality and a whole bunch of other stuff I'm not sure I want to face at this time of the morning. (It's early for me!)

In honour of Banned Book Week, I thought I'd have a look at the ALA's list of Banned and Challenged Classics and see how many I've actually read. Let's see...

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
57. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

Huh. 13? That's not many at all. I guess that means there are 84 books that need to go on my To-Read list. (Actually, a few already are.)

Even though I've only read a dozen of these classics, I can say that not one of them didn't change my life in some way. Most of them made me cry, some of them left me stunned, and others... Well, I won't go into all the ways 1984 made me look at the world diffrently.

Another thing I can say is this: I would have been a lesser person for not reading them.

How dare someone - who no doubt believes in their "right to bear arms" - tell me that I don't have the right to expand my mind, my self, by reading these books?!

Good Customer Service?

(aka: I'll Show You Mine When You Show Me Yours)

National Customer Service Week has come again. (Apparently.) Do I have any thoughts on this? You bet I do.

I never intended to end up working in a call center. As a kid I HATED talking to strangers on the phone. (No lie – just ask my mom.) But then I moved to Wales.

When I got my “indefinite leave to remain” I started looking for work. The first place I applied was HobbyCraft, our local craft store. I even got an interview. But they didn't want me.

So I tried the next most logical place: Cineworld, the local cinema. And do you know what they said? Not enough experience. Sorry... What? Two years of working at the best cinema in Michigan (Celebration! Cinema), doing everything from serving popcorn to cleaning toilets – and I didn't have enough experience?

Bollocks.

(The woman interviewing me spent the whole time staring out the window so I'm pretty sure I was never getting the job, regardless of what I said.)

Then my mother-in-law tried to help me get a job working as a secretary at the law firm where she worked. Again, I got as far as the interview but didn't get the job.

I was getting pretty worried. Then one of my husband's friends came to the rescue and said he could get me a temp job at the technical support center where he worked. When he told me what the job entailed I panicked.

What? Me? Talk to people over the phone? No way!

But money is money and a few weeks later, I was being shown how to wire a freeview box and given a headset.

That was the start of my career as an operator. I've spent the last eight years of my life on the phones, for one company or another.

Knowing me, you might be surprised by this career choice. (Considering my general hatred for the human race and all...) I was a little surprised myself. I was even more surprised by the fact that I'm pretty good at it. When I want to be.

It's true that there are days when sarcasm is the best my customers can hope for. On a normal day, I have the patience of a saint. On others... Well, if you're going to argue with me for twenty minutes over the difference between a “fee” and a “charge” then, yes, I might suggest you invest in a good dictionary.

I am only human.

But just between you and me? A little part of me thinks, FUCK 'EM.

I mean... Do my customers ever give me the courtesy I deserve? Rarely! Half the time I'm being shouted at to hurry up when I have to repeat myself for the fifth time because the customer can't be bothered to fucking listen.

You want good customer service?

Here's an idea...

BE A GOOD CUSTOMER.

Yeah, I said it.

You get what you give, people, and it's about damn time we own up to it.

If you even have to think 'Am I a good customer?' chances are the answer is NO. Chances are you're one of the reasons I keep making voodoo dolls called “Bad Customer” and have blood pressure that's through the roof.

Well, Bad Customer, to make our time together a little more enjoyable, I've made a little guide for you. Here it is:

Wondra's Guide To Being A Better Customer 
 
Have your details ready.
I don't care if you're calling your bank, your council, your gas company, or your dog walker. If you have a customer account number or reference number, do not pick up the phone until you have it in your other hand. It's just plain rude to spend five minutes going, “Oh, I just KNOW I have it here somewhere...”

Remember that the person you're talking to is A PERSON.
We're not robots, we're people. We have feelings, insecurities, and fears. For some reason, customers who would be lovely people in a face-to-face environment become absolute assholes over the phone – because we can't see their faces and they can't see ours. In their minds, we have no face and therefore are not people.

Not. The. Case.

Do not treat me disrespectfully just because you can't see me.

I am not the company I work for.
If you cut me, I do not bleed green and blue. Although it is true that I am a representative of the company that I work for, I am not (say it with me: NOT) that company.

Shouting “YOU did this, you stupid bitch!” at me is a personal insult. It is not true and is more likely to piss me off - which means I am less likely to bend over backwards to make you happy. And, by the way... Saying “I know you didn't do it personally but I'm just so angry!” isn't an acceptable apology after effing and blinding at me for an hour!

After all... You wouldn't appreciate it if I came to where you work and shouted “YOU made these french fries fatty and unwholesome, you bitch!” now would you?

Silence your children, pets, televisions, and radios.
I can't believe this even needs to be said. You are picking up the telephone with the express intent of carrying out a conversation. YOU called ME so surely you must have know you were going to be doing it, right? It didn't sneak up on you, did it? It didn't catch you by surprise, did it? No. And yet, with all that warning, you still can't manage to find a quiet room to call from?

This one is a major pet peeve of mine. When I say this one, I mean specifically screaming children. I'm not just saying this because I hate other people's children (which I do) or because I don't have any children of my own (which I don't). I'm saying this because if you haven't taught your children that it is RUDE to scream and holler when you're on the phone, you obviously need tips on disciplining them. The really annoying thing about that is if you don't start teaching them manners now, they're just going to grow up and raise another generation of people just like you to annoy people just like me.

It's not only rude, it's not practical! If your child is screaming bloody murder I'm not going to be able to hear you, am I? And chances are, if your child is annoying me, hundreds of miles away, they must be making you, stuck in the same room with them, absolutely bat shit crazy. Do us both a favor: Give them a smack on the ass and tell them to shut the fuck up.

Slow. Down.
It's simple: if I'm going to help you, I need to be able to understand what the problem is. I know you're paying for the call. I know you're in a hurry. I know you don't want to hear my annoying voice any longer than I want to hear yours. But you know what makes the phone call last longer? Me having to ask you to repeat yourself ten times because you couldn't take the time to enunciate.

Listen.
It's not hard. You called me, you asked me for advice – so take the time to listen to my answer. If you ignore me and try to brush me off with “Yeah, yeah, yeah...” I'll know you weren't listening. And I'll also know that you'll be calling us back in five minutes – wasting our time as well yours – to have the same conversation all over again.

Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear the answer.
*sigh*

There is no point in arguing with me over the answer I give you. None. You called me because you assumed that I know more about my job than you do – and you know what? I do. When I give you an answer, it is not going to change, just because you don't like it. My answer is correct and it is final. No amount of shouting and screaming (or demanding to speak to my boss) is going to change that.


Looking back over this list, I find myself thinking that I've wasted a lot of time saying things that shouldn't have to be said. Every single one of these points should be both self-explanatory and common sense.

Actually... I realize now that I could have summed up this whole post in just one sentence:

SHOW SOME GODDAMN RESPECT, PEOPLE.

Disclaimer: I do not have a voodoo doll named “Bad Customer” - though I did once. Also, the views expressed here are only the views of one disgruntled operator, not the views of the company I work for (which will not be named, for obvious reasons.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Recipe(ish): Homemade Applesauce

This is one of my favourite recipes for fall. My mother-in-law taught me how to make it a few years ago.

Everything is an estimate because I don't really measure anything, I just toss it in a pot. It should serve about 3-4. (Or two people who really like food, like me and my husband.)

Ingredients:
7 apples (I used Gala apples here because I already had them in the house)
1 cup of water
2 heaped tablespoons of white sugar
2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon


What to do:

Start by putting the water into a pan and putting it on the stove on a medium heat.

Then cut, core, peel, and dice some apples.


Then pop them in with the water and let it boil.


Add the sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon and stir.

When the apples get soft, just mash it all up.


There you go: The easiest applesauce ever!


I stick it in a plastic dish and then into the fridge to cool. (This is not a canning recipe!) How long would it keep for? Don't know... It never has a chance to get old in our house! (My guess is about 2-3 days.)