28 December 2013

The Importance of New Year's Resolutions

When we were ten years old we made resolutions to stop biting our nails or to work really hard at school this year. In reality, we'd probably broken these within a week of the new year. Now I'm twenty are my resolutions any different? And is my determination to keep them still as weak?

I googled 'new year's resolution quit..' and the first option that came up was smoking, then drinking and thirdly Facebook - why would you want to quit Facebook? This suggests that perhaps New Year's resolutions have turned into a time just to give things up. I'm pretty sure most people reading this will have pledged at some point or another to 'lose weight' but look at yourself, has it really worked out? For those of you who it has, congrats. I know it hasn't for me.

I'd like to suggest that one way to be more successful with New Year's resolutions is to 'take on' something, try something new, rather than giving something up - after all, isn't that what lent is for?

One of my resolutions last year (other than the guilty standard ones of lose weight and watch less TV) was to blog more. It feels quite ironic writing about this really. And if I'm honest I wasn't that successful. I mean I didn't post until October, but that's the point of New Year's resolutions right? You have the whole year to do it and I have written six posts in the last 3 months (including this one), which, considering this is my last year of university and I'm supposedly writing my dissertation, isn't that bad. What I'm trying to say is, I've gained so much more from the positive perspective of taking on instead of giving up. I'm not saying everyone should start a blog (although it 's really good fun) I'm just saying maybe you could try something a bit different this year. Take up that new hobby  you've always wanted to try. Learn a new skill. Make new friends. Whatever you do this year, make it different to last year!

This year my New Year's Resolution is to create a LinkedIn profile. It sounds pretty easy right? However for someone who already looks after 1 Facebook account, 2 Facebook pages, 3 Twitter accounts, 1 Pinterest account, 1 Instagram account and of course this Blogger account, it's quite a big decision to take on another, new social media account. And what's the point in doing it if you're not going to do it properly? I mean what employer is going to consider a page that doesn't even have a profile picture. Would you? In the last few weeks I've been mulling over this decision and I've heard a lot of encouraging comments about LinkedIn. Apparently it's 'the first place employers will look' and if you're not there how will they find you? I think it's a bit like a piece I read by Tasha Hinde in Company Magazine, who compares social media to dating. Each account is like a boyfriend and there are times when you need certain ones. Perhaps it's just the time for me to move on?

I don't know how it's going to work out, but it's like the slogans from those personal injury advertisements,
"You've got nothing to lose but perhaps a lot to gain".

13 December 2013

Xmas Break!

I am taking a pre-Christmas blogging break because I am going skiing in the French Alps for a week!! I will post next on the 22nd December and the 28th December to make up for my absence. I've already got some festive ideas of what I'm going to post about so keep your eyes out on those days. I will of course link them onto Facebook and Twitter.
Merry Christmas to All!!! 

5 December 2013

How to MAKE THE MOST of university

Originally on The Ripple

I recently realised that a LOT of the useful and interesting things I've done in the last three years have been part of university life. You could easily argue that that's because where I've been for the last three years but in actual fact we spend a much higher percentage of the year at home than we do an university. I came to Leicester exactly two years and three months ago (I've been saying three years because I'm in third year but I guess it's not entirely accurate) where the closest thing I had work experience was being a college prefect.

In six months time I'll be leaving with a full CV, loads of experience, memories and friends. It's not because I'm lucky or just amazing or anything like that - it's just because when someone says, for example, "Are you interested in joining Ladies Hockey?" I said yes! I never understand why people don't do the same. Someone gives you the opportunity to do something great, to make new friends, learn new skills, and some people just let this pass them by! My question is why? What have you got to lose?

I'm not trying to sell Leicester university to anyone or convince people to join Ladies Hockey (most definitely the best club in the world), I'm just trying to say why not doing something a bit different? Try out something new?

I decided to write a 'listicle' (list+article, something The Ripple president has been talking about a lot. Here's a link if you're interested to learn a bit more about it: http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/aug/12/5-ways-listicle-changing-journalism).

So here are my 10 TOP TIPS to MAKE THE MOST of university:

1. Join as many societies as you can squeeze in - make sure there is a crazy one too like the Curry Society my housemates and I joined in first year.

2. Similarly, join a sports team! I really really feel strongly about this one. It doesn't matter if you have absolutely no coordination at all, it's a great way to meet new people, do some exercise and find people to go out with. Almost all university sports teams have socials and they are just the best! Whether you drink alcohol or not they are so much fun and can range from a Nandos night to full-on pub golf. Ladies Hockey is the one thing I would never give up. To copy Nike, Just do it!

3. Go to lectures and seminars. BORING right? Well that's what you're paying for isn't it? So you might as well go, pass the course, learn some new stuff and there's always a good bit of people watching available if you sit near the back.

4. Try to remember the names of EVERY person you meet. Okay, this sounds completely unrealistic, and for some people impossible, but it can really help you out. You never know when you might need the help of that person you meet in ASDA during Freshers' - they may even turn out to be on your course!?

5. Work in the library. Right this sounds obvious yes? But the amount of people who are either doing absolutely no work whatsoever and insist on talking in the silent zone, and there are also people who manage to go their whole university time without sitting down in the library. I think it's a good idea to keep work and fun separate, that way you'll get your work done faster and better and have more time for fun later. Also the library has free heating and WiFi! You'd be stupid not to make the most of the fact you can sit in vest at a clean desk for as long as you want without anyone stopping you (hopefully).

6. Visit the careers people. Most universities have a careers department and I'll admit I was pretty sceptical after my first appointment with an unhelpful lady who refused to look at my CV even though I'd spent hours on it because I hadn't filled in the prep sheet. But I went again this week, trying a different guy (Philip Williams - I'd recommend him), and he was really nice, gave me a couple of tips and just made me feel a bit more confident about what I did have. It's their job to help you get a job, you'd be foolish not to listen to their advice when it's free.

7. Do some volunteering. Even if it's just one day and it doesn't seem that fun, it's worth it. It looks really good on your CV and if like me you never had a job before university, it's a great place to start. There are a lots of opportunities out there, surely one to suit everyone.

8. Write something. This will probably sound like a plug but writing for a student newspaper or even your own blog is a really good way of showing employers that you have your own interest and opinions, and you're not some student robot. (It's a bit odd telling people to blog in my blog but you know what I mean!)

9. Sleep less. There are 24 hours is a day. You don't need more than six hours of sleep to function properly and naps are always an option. If you train your body to accept six then it won't know any different. This way you have more time to do things you actually want to do - like watch The Great British Bake Off!

10. Enjoy it! Simple enough. I don't seen any point in choosing to do things if you or someone/thing you care about doesn't get anything out of it. Surely it's just a waste of time then?

If you're like me, you're reading this and you only have six months left, then don't worry! You can still do most of these things before you leave. Just start now. Right now!

BIG thanks to everyone who keeps reading this! They bring me through my Thursdays!

28 November 2013

Who Likes Cake?

In the last year my friends have realised that I like to bake. I'm not saying I should be on The Great British Bake Off or anything - although that would be awesome!! I'm just saying I like try to do something a bit more exciting when I make a cake. I'd like to prove the misconception wrong, that student actually can cook! Here are a collection of some of the ones I've made this year (all in a student kitchen with no electric mixers). They're not as good as the ones on Cake Boss (such an amazing TV show) but I think they were enough of definitely a challenge!

Going in time order, one of my closest friends, Beth, decided she would make her first ever cake as a birthday present to me. Although I rather ungratefully called it a Hagrid cake (it looks remarkably similar to the one Harry Potter gets in The Philosopher's Stone) it's tasted pretty good and I ate a fair amount of it for breakfast for about a week.
So I in return promised to make Beth a cake for her birthday. I know that she's a big fan of animals and especially horses so I decided I would try and make her a horse shaped cake. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and then just went for it. 

One video I watched suggested drawing around a picture of a horse and creating a shape guide on baking paper which I could then secure on the top of the cake with pins and carve around. I thought this was a clever idea as there is no way I could freehand cut a cake into a horse shape. 

For the icing I did two layers of crumb coating (basically buttercream used to make the cake surface smooth and without crumbs) and then used shop-bought roll-out icing. Since making the cake I found out that to colour roll-out icing you should use a colour paste rather than liquid food colouring as it makes the colour much more intense. For the mane I used a weird cheese grater contraption that my mum had bought me, very similar to a playdough machine. Overall, I was pretty happy with this cake, although as my first time with roll-out icing, it was very stressful. 

Following on from this, another friend, Harriet, asked me to make her a birthday cake. For this is resorted to a trusty favourite of mine, which I made similarly for my own 18th birthday, a princess cake. 

The crumb coating for this is particularly important as you don't want crumbs in the outer layer of the skirt. You also need to cling film your doll and make a hole for her to stand up in. For this I used a cup. I pushed down in the centre, went through the 4 layers of cake, twisted and pulled out the centre pieces.

The icing for this is entirely buttercream and a tip I learnt to make the surface extra smooth is to use a strip of paper and run it over the cake , drawing upwards and taking off the excess icing. To finish, decorate the skirt and make a top with an unusual nozzle in your piping bag (preferably with a different colour icing). 

Another of my closest friends, Charly, had her 21st birthday this September so I decided to make her a cake too. I had a couple of ideas, perhaps a hockey playing top with her number on the back, but I decided on something involving her as an image. My initial plan was to make her whole head out of cake, but I quickly realised that this might be a bit too difficult and so instead I ended up making a rectangular cake with her face made out of icing. This was my return to roll-out icing! But with the right colouring this time it was a lots quicker in that respect, but the size and hand moulding made it pretty hard work. 
I also decided this time to change my cake to passion fruit flavour rather than plain sponge. This was tricky as passion fruit isn't a particularly strong flavoured fruit and can be pricey! I went for adding tropical juice to the mixture as well in the hope to get an more exotic flavour. Edible glitter on top was just a final touch to make it look a bit more special.

Like I said at the start, I am no cake making expert like Mary Berry. I just enjoy taking on the challenge of something new and unusual. If you want to know how exactly to make any of these cakes you can either contact me samanthablundell007@gmail.com or watch a some videos on the internet. All I've learnt from cake making has come from watching YouTude videos, taking hints and tips from frequent cakes makers and through my own trial and error. Why not watch some videos yourself and give cake making a try? It doesn't have to be someone's birthday! It can just be for you! 

22 November 2013

Whose Is Your Favourite Christmas Advertisement 2013?

Each year everyone eagerly awaits the Coca Cola Christmas advertisement (perhaps the best Christmas advertisement of all time - although my mum seems to prefer the Old Grouse one) as a sign that it is okay to start celebrating Christmas. From here on we have the excuse to get out last year's iconic snowman jumper that looks like something out of Bridget Jones's Diary (or in my case a 10 year old GAP snowflake one), blast out Christmas tunes in the car or shower, and start eating mince pies like the apocalypse is coming.

Once this initial excitement is over and the generic 'I just saw the Coca Cola advert on TV' statuses have passed, people start to turn their attention to the newer Christmas advertisements, mostly the supermarket ones. I thought it would be interesting to do an evaluation of a few of them, hopefully spark some debate or at least get people think about the process of advertising itself.

My least favourite has got to be M&S's one this year. It's awful. Firstly, what have fairy tales got to do with Christmas? The modern day depictions of Alice and Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel,  Aladdin and The Wizard of Oz (starting Helena Bonham Cater) are far from engaging or unusual. Secondly, since when has it been okay to have women parading around in lingerie on a Christmas advertisement? Not exactly fun for all the family!What is worse is that the protagonist, played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, shows no ounce genuine emotion throughout the whole advertisement. M&S have put too much hope (and money) into the power of star attraction and not enough thought or creativity. Perhaps if they had exchanged the protagonist for a young child (and cut the lingerie scenes obviously) they might have instilled the viewer with a bit more compassion, like some of the more successful Christmas adverts do.

Another advertisement I'm not particularly impressed with is the Waitrose one. Other than the fact that it's not exactly the first thing to want to think about when you're eating your Christmas dinner, whether the turkey had a good time running around in the farmyard before it got killed for you to eat, it has the same feel to it as all their other advertisements. It's almost as though they don't care that it's Christmas! It also suggests that the perfect Christmas dinner is just about the turkey, and not the atmosphere of the day itself. It is neither feel-good nor memorable in my books, and is a serious let down on their money-saving 'Community Matters' advertisement of last year.

While writing this post and re-watching some of these advertisements, I managed to stumble across Morrison's Christmas advert staring Ant and Dec. This is a festive themed re-make of the Disney song 'Be Our Guest' from Beauty and the Beast, with a gingerbread man as the host rather than Lumière. It's quite inventive with its re-writing of the lyrics and for Disney lovers out there (of which I most certainly am) it's sure to be popular. I also like the fact that it's centered around food. Other than the fact that I like food, I think it's sensible for food-focused supermarkets to advertise what they're known for, rather than making any ridiculous attempts at covering the whole of Christmas.

This year's Tesco advertisement is one I'm really not sure of. It's a nostalgic, home-video-style presentation of a family's experiences of Christmas with Rod Stewart's 'Forever Young' playing in the background. Although it's inoffensive it's not exactly exciting either. It's fairly reminiscent of John Lewis's 2010 'Always a Woman' advertisement but obviously with the added Christmas theme.  It's got enough community spirit and festive attraction for me but I think it's that fact that they don't appear to be trying to sell anything that annoys me. I mean what is the point they are try to get across here? Christmas advertisements need to be original in my eyes to be considered interesting and there just isn't enough here to earn my approval.

Next is my evaluation of the John Lewis advertisement, although not technically a supermarket it deserves to be compared alongside these. With almost 8 million views on YouTube and it's not even December it's true to say that a lot of people have seen this advertisement already, probably even a couple of times. It's first impression to me was of it's resemblance with 'Watership Down', a children's TV programme I used to watch when I was younger, but then on a second viewing the startling differences between the basic sketching animation and the vivid shots of reflecting water as the hare crosses the river and the life-like present left in the snow, really show just how much thought has gone into the creation of this advertisement. Although the idea behind the advertisement is relatively simple - a bear who has never seen Christmas because of hibernation is awoken my an alarm clock left my his best friend the hare and gets to see Christmas for the first time - along with its appropriately chosen backing song, 'Somewhere Only We Know' sung by Lily Allen, and careful animation, this advertisement manages to create in the viewer a real sense of involvement in the story line and the emotions of the animals. It has everything it needs to be a fantastic Christmas advertisement (which it really is): the ability to create empathy within the viewer; a good backing track; unusual and engaging initial idea; Christmas spirit; a sense of community and something that is accessible and enjoyable for every member of the family. Christmas is about spending time with the ones you love and this advertisement cleverly reminds you of that whilst still promoting the importance of choosing and buying the right present.

Lastly, I'd like to share my opinion of Sainsbury's full length Christmas advertisement. Although a lot of people have seen the last clip at the end of the advertisement where a young family are sending Christmas wishes to their father, who is away fight in areas of conflict, who then walks through the door at the end to the children's delight, the whole advertisement is definitely worth a watch through. My favourite moment is around 1 minute 32 seconds in when a little boy dressed in Toy Story pyjamas is SO happy with the present he's been given. He goes crazy! We all know that Christmas isn't about presents but we can't deny that the happiness brought to our friends and families faces when we have given them the perfect present isn't worth paying for. And this is what the Sainsbury's advert cleverly plays on. Another section that really stood out to me was the gentleman who we initially see explaining about his Christmas cooking schedule and then later we see him sitting alone eating this meal. This loneliness seems odd against the rest of the clips and serves to suggest one of two things, either Christmas is okay alone if you have all the trimmings or don't let your relatives end up like this, buy more and invite them around yours! I'm more inclined to think it's the latter but either way it's very clever advertising by Sainsbury's. I can't, of course, evaluate this advertisement without talking about the final clip I touched on early. The honest happiness and surprise of having a separated  family member unexpectedly return home for Christmas evokes emotion within the viewer immediately and is truly special to watch. The home-video-style film and blurriness of footage adds to this unforced scene and the genuine response felt by the viewer. Whether Sainsbury's had any help in getting leave for the father to come home or whether it was merely coincidental I don't know (and I don't want to read about the creation of the advertisement because I don't want to see other's opinions before I post this - I want this to be my responses to the advertisements), but as the viewer we feel privileged to be a part of this scene and thus feel grateful to Sainsbury's for giving us the opportunity to partake in this intimate reunion. Like the John Lewis advertisement this has all that factors required to make it a great Christmas advertisement and as a viewer we are left with a feeling of festiveness and excitement because of Sainsbury's, I therefore think it's a great advertisement, perhaps even as good as John Lewis's.

I hope the length of this post hasn't been too long for everyone and you've all persevered to the end.
Sorry it's technically not Thursday anymore, it was when I started writing it!
Any comments or opinions are always welcome!!

14 November 2013

Love Dressing Up?

Someone said to me recently, "I hate costumes; I hate putting all the effort in to make them". This could not be more different to my opinion. I absolutely love dressing up! Whether it's just a new dress for a night out or a spooky halloween costume, the more effort I put in the better I feel when I pull it off. I think a little review of the fancy dress costumes that my friends and I have worn, mainly to Red Leicester (our sports and societies night-out at university) over the last year fits perfectly with the name of this blog. When you're in a costume, you have the chance to be a different character too. It's like acting without a stage!

Starting the year off with Celebrity Social, I dressed up as my all time idol, Jessie J! I can't believe I didn't get a full length photo but I still have all the parts of the costume so there's nothing to say I can't transform back into her! 

This was a reasonably easy costume to make although it was very time consuming and I didn't managed to add as many bottle caps as I had initially wanted. I bought a plain pale blue jumper-top from Primark, collected a lot of bottle caps (over Christmas and from local pubs) and either painted them with nail varnish to make them standout or left them as they were if they had a cool logo. Then I pierced two holes in the top of the caps with a screwdriver and and deodorant can as a hammer, and sewed them to the shoulders of the top like buttons. Other than this, I bought a black wig and wore some wet-look leggings. Overall I was pretty happy with this costume and now that I have finally managed to get the cherry VK stain out of the top I might start wearing it just for casual.

Me as Winnie the Pooh in first year

Next comes Disney social - a personal favourite. My costume for this was not as adventurous as Winnie The Pooh (which at the time was great except when I needed the toilet) in my first year of university but still a bit more unusual than the normal Disney characters. 

My friend Grace and I decided to go as Kim Possible (Grace) and Shego (myself). 
I only have a group photo but this is what it turned our like
This is what I should have looked like

I'd like to do a massive shout out to my friends Aimee, Kat, Sully (as mentioned in my last post) and Sophie in the picture with me for their great costumes. I'm always amazed by the creativity in all our outfits on such a budget. I mean really someone should employ us! 

I wore one leg of green tights with a black hockey sock on this leg and a green on the other, reused the wet-look leggings and then wore bright green hot pants over the top so you couldn't see where the tights were attached. I also glued half a green t-shirt onto one side of a black long sleeved top. I decided to re-dye my hair, which was long and brown at this point, a slightly darker shade of brown so as to look as close as I could to the villain I attempted to emulate. 

Next was Cops and Robbers, which was made successful mainly by buying a decent hat, fishnet tights and lots of cheap accessories in a pound shop. My pictures of this night are awful thought so you'll just have to imagine it! 

After this costumes took a bit of a break with varsity, hockey tour, easter break, exams and summer holidays! 

But they really started up again with an awesome VK costume with my friends from hockey. Grace and I had seen someone in a similar costume last year and thought that it would be easy to do ourselves in a day and on a budget.
Aine, Grace Georga, Me and Amy as VKs 
We used paper plates for the bottle caps and attached them with string to cheap headbands. We then bought long tops/short dresses from H & M which we all gave to Georga, the master artist, and she painted VK logos on our tops and caps. She then made us labels to tie with string around our necks. This was one of my favourite costumes of the year and I think we looked great! 

Me and Grace as Winky and Doddy
After this my friend Aine had her 22 birthday party with was Harry Potter themed (YAY)! Aine picked which characters to we were to come as and Grace and I got assigned Dobby and Winky respectively. We didn't do our costumes together which would probably have been a good idea but I think we looked good anyway. If you haven't heard of Winky (she's not in the movies) here is a quick factfile of her character http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Winky. I went for a dirty, depressed look with make up smeared down my face and a fraying dress. 

I ended up sewing the dress myself on my sewing machine after losing out on ebay three times for blue dresses. I didn't use a pattern I just decided what I wanted it to look like and went for it. The material was initially cut into one long strip like a sports bib. I then realised I would need more material around my hips so I added a triangular side panel to each side. After this, I read on the internet how to make a Peter Pan collar. This was good fun and something I might do again (I love collars), and then I attached this to the neckline by hand. I added a button at the back on the neck to conceal the ends. 

I wore my old brown boots and made ears out of card and attached them to another headband. 
To do the make up I patted on fake tan for the dirty (I couldn't face putting real dirty on my skin) and drew thick lines of black liquid eyeliner around the top and bottom of my eyes. I then wet my fingers and spread the black down my face. I think this covered the 'depressed' look I was going for. 

Me as a corpse bride Halloween 2012

The most recent costume I've done was for Halloween. Whatever I made it was going to have to be pretty damn good to beat last year's corpse bride with handmade veil.

I decided that I would actually buy a child's clown costume (aged 11-12yrs) from Morrison's and focus of the face paint side of things. My brother had bought me some expert face paint brushes for my birthday in March which I still hadn't used so I was determined to make good use of them for halloween. And although I knew I'd decided to go as a clown I still wanted to look nice! I search the internet for 'pretty clown make up' and the such like.

I decided on this image but changing the colours around so as to go with this outfit. I did a couple of sketches then decided on pinks, reds, oranges and golds would be best. I also added glitter to my lips which I saw on a youtube video. Mine didn't look as amazing as hers do but I think that was my glitter quality. 

Here is a close up of my make up and then a picture of my outfit in full. 

I was very happy with this costume even though I had bought half of it rather than made it. The face paint still took me about 2 hours and I thought it looked pretty much as I had imagined it. The only issue I has was with glitter. The triangles were supposed to look glittery like in the professional picture but I didn't have time to find the right cosmetics. Instead I used an old eye pallet I had picked up in first year from Primark. This was a massive error as it was such bad quality that it reacted with my skin and made it sore. This is a note to anyone out there trying the same look or simply wanting to have glitter near their eyes, get the right products as the wrong ones leave you with puffy eyes and people asking you all day if you've been crying. 

I'm sure I will have another update of more costumes for the rest of the hockey season. I hope you've enjoyed reading this post - it's a bit different from my normal style. If you need any help recreating any of the costumes or are just generally interested in finding out more, leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible! 

7 November 2013

Does third year make you lazy?

This might sound like a really weird title for a blog. I mean it's third year, you have deadlines left right and center, masses of reading to do, oh yeah and a dissertation too! You couldn't possibly be called lazy, right?

Except, being a third year English BA student I only have 5 contact hours a week.. 4 of which are on a Monday. There are 12 weeks in this term, so effectively I am paying about £30 for each lecture (per hour) or you could say, every time I decide to miss a lecture (whether I'm ill or perhaps had a little too much to drink..) I'm wasting £30! Think how much clothes and shoes and food I could by with that! I'd have to get this top..
From this shop.

I think what I'm trying to say here is, it's third year, yeah you have got a lot to do, but don't let the rest of your life go slack. It's you last chance to make the most of university life! Get involved, go out with friends, meet new people (still) and have fun! I haven't posted in this blog in months even though my New Year's resolution was to blog more! And I think I just use the excuse, 'I'm a third year now - I've got to take things seriously. I'm too busy for fun' but that's just not true!! There are 168 hours in a week, no one says you must have 9 hours a sleep to live. As my wise friend Charlotte 'Sully' Sullivan always says, you make space for the things you love and the things you want to do. Whether it's a 2am in the morning or 4pm in the afternoon, you find space. 
From now on I'm going to post every Thursday - even if it's just to say, I'm hungover and I should be working right now.. Because there is no point having a blog if it's going to be rubbish!