Monday 11 December 2017

What to Make for Gifts this Chrismas

One of the many challenges Christmas offers is gift giving, and in particular trying to find suitable gifts for over twenty relatives that you'll be seeing over the holidays. Most years about thirty guests have Christmas dinner with us and since I can remember my family has been providing them all with homemade presents. It even reached the stage where we considered creating our own brand, "Pathetic Homemade's". So far we have created bath crayons, jars of layered cookie ingredients, candles and much more. This year after my near-obsessive plant growing, we decided that a terrarium in a mug was a nice idea. A similar Hyacinth plant is currently available at M&S for £28 so, this is really a great way to save money whilst maintaining quality. So if you need inspiration or are considering a similar idea, here's how to do it!

You will need:
A medium/large container
The correct Soil depending on your choice of plant
Sphagnum Moss
Hyacinth Bulbs or other plants suitable for a terrarium
(The above products are available at UK garden centres or online)

The first thing to do is to decide on a suitable container for your plants to grow in. I have chosen a large mug for mine because of its plant pot colour, its sufficient room and also because the mug itself is an extra gift. I'd suggest washing the container before you begin to grow anything in it. Traditional terrariums are made of glass which allows you to see the various layers it consists off. If you prefer that idea or wish to save money you could use old jars for an equally successful and beautiful outcome.

Gravel should be the first layer you add at the bottom of your container. Because the terrarium doesn't have a drainage system, this is important in ensuring plants don't drown. I would say that the gravel should make up a little less than a third of all your layers. Ideally a thin layer of activated charcoal should then be added to keep everything healthy.

Next comes the soil. If your terrarium is made of glass, it is normal that the plants you choose will not protrude above the top of the container. You should be able to see them as if your jar is a little aquarium for plants. The level that the soil goes up to depends on preference. As mine is not transparent, I filled it nearly to the top. 

Often succulents are used because they need very little water. You can choose plants easily by googling which are suitable for a terrarium and picking the whatever takes your fancy. For this I used Hyacinth bulbs as they are able to grow in quite close proximity and produce fragrant flowers.

If replanting partially grown plants, simply dig a little space in the soil to plant them in. If using bulbs like myself, bury one third of the bulb in the soil, ensuring each is the correct way up.

Many people choose to put a moss layer beneath the soil to soak up excess water however I quite like the look moss creates as a top layer; it seems far more interesting to me. Two layers of moss could also be an option, there's no real strict rules here. Finally a little extra gravel has been used as an extra decorative feature.

The last thing to do before giving this away as a present, is to create a label/tag with instructions as to how to care for the plant. Make sure recipients of this gift are also advised against overwatering to prevent the plant from drowning. Good luck! I found creating this a really fun way to spent afternoon so I hope you do too. If anyone creates something similar, tag me on Instagram or Twitter so I'm able to see and I'll share it!

Since posting this I have been asking three of my friends to update me on the progress of their plants, here are the results so far:

Guy Fischman:

Clare Atherton:

My Own:


(click on images to enlarge)

Sunday 10 December 2017

Books to Read December ǀ 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 

When I read this it reflected so many of the issues of today's society; the research and thought Picoult has exerted into this book is clearly evident when reading. Essentially it is a story about Racism. Exploring not just the obvious, swastika-waving racism, but also the less identifiable everyday things that contribute to an imbalance in society. It includes the names of real victims within the book which consolidates its relevance and shows just how real the issue she writes about is. I think it is extremely ambitious for a white person to write about themes like this (how could we ever understand it on the same level and produce anywhere near authentic literature on it?) however I believe it to have been executed fairly effectively and definitely with good intent. Some of the perspectives written from are a black nurse, a white lawyer defending a black woman, and a white supremacist. It is meant to be disturbing and that is what makes it effective. As a reader you shouldn't read about racism and be comfortable. This is my personal opinion on 'Small Great Things'. A lot of people probably read it and rolled their eyes at the slightly unrealistic storyline and at the inaccuracies that are inevitable when trying to write from another races' perspective. I'd be interested to know what other people think of it. 

My Name Is... by Alastair Campbell

I have read this at least three times and still love it the way I did when I read it the first time. On a basic level it is about a girl named Hannah who becomes an alcoholic. Through the voices of twenty five people we gain knowledge of he life and how it rapidly spiralled out of control. We learn about her parents, her boyfriends, her friends, her sister and all of the terribly shocking things Hannah has done. Providing such background allows us to see motive and understand the psychological problems Hannah faces; we do not become judgemental of her and can sympathise in a way in which we would not be able to, had there been just one continuous narrative. Alistair Campbell is a former alcoholic and it is clear his mission is to really drill in the dangers of alcohol. I admire Campbell's ability to create that lack of judgement and level of understanding, it teaches not to be dismissing of those who struggle with their drink. It is never just that simple. It is a talent to create so many different, yet believable characters who you actually care to learn more about. 'My Name Is...' is an interesting, meaningful, yet fairly easy read which I would recommend this holiday.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell

Again this is a book with multiple narrators and again they each become people with their own problems you wish to learn more about. The writing is good from beginning to end and you become close to the main characters despite it's narrative style. It is a story of love and of pain, evoking emotions in a reader as they are felt by the characters. One thing emphasised is the intricacy and complicated nature of relationships and decisions. They are never presented as simple, rather as tangled and complex, as they are in reality. It is a book filled to the brim with love but also with the difficult accompanying emotions. You become to love the flawed and complex characters as your understanding of them is heightened with each chapter. O'Farrell creates a thought-provoking and page turning story.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Growing my own Plants!

Despite the fact that I have only ever been able to successfully grow cress before, I decided it would be a great idea to grow my own plants this year. Even though it seems like such a simple way to spend your time, it didn't feel wasted when watching them grow. There's a sense of achievement and reward in it. In a way it is very therapeutic. Unlike many other endeavours I have written about, this was nothing spontaneous at all, in fact I had been wanting to do this for a long time before going into Wilkos to look at seeds. When I finally got round to buying everything, the entire process cost only around £10. I got off the bus one Thursday afternoon with my seeds, plant pots and compost in my arms and an Eden Project-worthy display in my head.

It is a pretty idiot proof project, however one thing I should point out (which I learnt pretty quickly) is that you don't need to be so scrupulous when planting. If it says "2cm deep in the soil", just guess; it isn't necessary to get a ruler out. It wasn't like I was ever going to enter a Sweet Pea into a competition the first time I upgraded from cress. Read the instructions concerning how far away each plant should be from another and also pay good attention to the amount of water/environment needed. The easiest plants to grow were Dahlias and Geraniums, I would advice starting with those. If you watch some YouTube videos on how to grow each plant then it should go really well.

Thursday 26 October 2017

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Of all of the religious landmarks I have seen, none of them have affected me in the same way as the Hill of Crosses has. Many temples and churches I have seen around the world seem to be intended to impress, intimidate and promote a religion. I love that they are made deliberately beautiful and as a symbol of love and respect to a God but in my opinion religion does not need to be a competitive thing and so therefore, this land mark deserves equal appreciation. It is a place founded solely on faith and a place where every religion is welcome and allowed to be represented. In fact, you do not even need to have a religion in order to leave something here, only faith is required.

The history behind the hill is a simple story. A man had searched for every medicine, sought out every doctor and tried everything possible to save his desperately ill daughter. One night he had a dream that a saint dressed all in white told him to build a wooden cross and take it across the country to this hill, it would be seen as a sign of faith to God and his daughter would be healed. So now other people visit the hill to ask something of God or to place a cross there as a sign of their belief. The site became of further significance during the years 1944-1990 when Lithuania fell under the rule of the Soviet Union. Despite the regular efforts of the Soviets to destroy the site and keep people away, the Lithuanians persistently found a way to place their crosses down on the hill. In 1993 St. John Paul II visited Hill of Crosses and declared it a place of hope, peace, love and sacrifice. He left a stone inscribed with the words "Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land.". The word here is "faith". It isn't just "Christianity" and that is important.

It took a long while before Lithuania allowed tourists to come to this site, it represents so much that they thought tourism would undermine it's importance. Eventually they permitted them and saw that as long as they were respectful and genuine it was okay. People can still put down crosses now as they please. Nobody has been able to count the amount but it is estimated that there are around 100,000 from all over the world. My mum and I each left a cross there.

Honestly this was a very emotional experience, to see the belief of religions so simply represented and forming something so huge was incredible. It really is undeniable evidence of people's faith surviving very challenging obstacles over the years. It is a symbol of the power of love. Our tour guide Christa was great at explaining all of this too me, I have never learnt so much on a history tour before. If you are ever in Lithuania, or even Latvia, it is more than worth driving here to see this. Red Fox Tours can help you appreciate Hill of Crosses fully.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Books to Read September ǀ 2017

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

It is rare that you come across something so addictive. One thing I have recognised about Gillian Flynn's books is just how disturbing they are. In a way, it is that shock and horror you feel whilst reading it that makes it so successful. I am of the opinion that if a book is good, it should leave you thinking about it for months after. 'Sharp Objects' in particular ticks that criteria. Flynn establishes unusual characters and dynamics within a family very slowly, making sure you can't put the book down. It is scary yet amazing. I would definitely not recommend this book to young readers or those who are easily scared.

Eleven by Mark Watson

Although I would not say that this is a very tense or action-packed book, I would say that it is very good at provoking thought. It is the polar opposite of 'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn; it isn't as grotesquely disturbing. I personally like to read this to remind me that we are all connected in our own way to people we don't even know and that too often we incorrectly assume what other people are thinking. Even though this probably was not the aim of the book, I do feel that it acts as a nice reminder and can sometimes help to relieve some anxiety. 'Eleven' is a very easy read and it is also interesting, you see into the lives of many people with their own different issues whilst never straying from the direction in which the story is progressing.

Killing me Softly by Nicci French

I don't think I have written a reading list so far without mentioning one of Nicci French's books. 'Killing me Softly' is about a girl who finds herself in a very dangerous situation in her personal life. Even though this sounds like quite a cliché thing to write a story about, not many writers can achieve the tension created by Nicci French. It takes a while to really get into but it isn't a chore and it gets steadily more and more intriguing the more pages you turn. You can really feel the desperation of the main character as the ending nears.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The film version really was not the most amazing thing ever seen, it was difficult to follow and also nowhere near as great as the book. I think the film was rushed so it could come out during the hype for the book. After the first few chapters, it is very hard to stop reading. There are so many issues within the story that create so many different emotions for a reader. Whilst being about someone with difficulties that seem almost impossible to believe, Paula Hawkins is able to make it seem very real. The danger is truly felt towards the end when everything comes to a dramatic climax. It is undeniably disturbing but definitely deserves a read.