Come Join Me Over Here!

Hi there!

I'm glad you've come to read my blog, but unfortunately I don't live here any more!

Feel free to trawl through my archives or look up my posts on Scoliosis which will always be at home here, but when you're ready please come and join me at my new home:

See you there!

Catherine Ann x

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Blogmas #7: Christmas Eve and All is Still...

“Christmas Eve and all is still,
Snow lies on the windowsill,
Cosy rooms where fires glow,
Stockings hung the lights are low,
Carols sung for all to hear,
Christmas day will soon be here!”

First of all, if anyone knows the name of, or any information about, this song, please tell me! I can only remember it from a school play we did years ago. I’ve googled with no luck. Perhaps a teacher just came up with it? I may never know, but it comes into my mind every Christmas Eve.

I spent a few hours in the day studying, according to my timetable. Yuck. But after slogging through maths and some sraith pictiuiri, I flicked the chip inside my head to Christmas mode.

A long, hot bath, cuddly jumper on, and I was ready for Midnight Mass—which, incidentally, takes place at six o’clock in the evening.

A few of us turned up early as part of the choir for a last-minute rehearsal. Once again I was struck by that lovely sense of community being part of a club or church can bring: everyone doing their part to make something special for the whole parish to enjoy. Often, I don’t feel quite at home here in Ireland. You see, in a rural community, finding your niche is a very difficult thing indeed. But when you do manage to find it, you are embraced forever.

The church is always a huge source of pride... it’s hard to explain so someone who’s not part of a religious community just how important the church is. When I have five hours, I’ll tell you the story of the fuss that was made when new chairs were purchased for the meeting room at the back! Anyway, that night, it was at its best. It was clear that hours and hours had been put in by the priest, the sacristan and pretty much every busybody (in the best possible sense) you can imagine. It looked absolutely beautiful...

The service was so special, as it always is, with my neighbour and I coming together to sing a solo and hear it echo through the building. The last candle on the advent wreath was lit...

...and the figure of the newborn Jesus was finally added to the crib.

Christmas Eve is the one night when everyone comes to mass, no matter how little or often they attend for the rest of the year. The whole place was packed: people were even sitting in the front row! (I’ve learned that in Ireland that’s a huge deal)  

It’s the one night of the year when everyone really comes together, everyone really listens to the service, everyone really wants to be there...

It’s also the one night of the year when a child in the front row can hold up a foam finger on a stick and nobody passes any remarks on it... but that's another matter. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Blogmas #6: The Icing on the Cake!

Hey guys!

Just a short post today, because I don't want to be tied up on this most special of all the "Eve"s...

I'll actually talk about Christmas Eve in a few days time, because well, it hasn't happened yet. Think of my posts on a 24 hour + delay... so this post is about something I did last night...

Are we all suitably confused? Wonderful. Then I'll begin...

I posted a few weeks ago about my Christmas cake, which had been baked back in November. Yesterday night, it was finally time.

Time for ICING!

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas cake. I'll eat a little slice of the fruit cake very happily, but things like marzipan and lots of icing aren't really my cup of tea.

So why do I go to so much trouble?

I suppose it's to treat my family... and because decorating a Christmas cake gives me that warm glowing feeling inside... and because IT'S CHRISTMAS.

I'm totally obsessed with tradition, too, and I don't like change one bit...

So I got on with it.

First, I heated apricot jam and spread it all over the cake. Then I draped a thin layer of marzipan over the top. There aren't any pictures of that process because I'm ashamed of the total mess of it I made this year... Turns out, you can't marzipan a cake and watch a movie at the same time!

Anyway, onwards and upwards. I then made the royal icing by whisking together 4 egg whites and 500g icing sugar, with a spoonful of glycerine to make it really shine. Then I smoothed this over the cake. We always use royal icing as my dad hates fondant, and I love the "snowy" effect it gives.

I had some black fondant that needed using up, and it gave me an idea. I fashioned a half cylinder and made grooves with a fork to look like a tree trunk. I then made small "branches" by rolling more fondant and flattened the whole thing with a rolling pin on some greaseproof paper. I then transferred it onto the cake. I stuck a robin ornament we've had for ages on one of the branches and finished with little fondant footprints and a gold ribbon round the cake.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty proud of it. Here's to trying something new!

Hope you've enjoyed the post. One more sleep! xxx

Monday, 23 December 2013

Blogmas #5: Mini Christmas!

This year I have made some wonderful friends.

This year some really wonderful things have happened in my life, and so many changes are going on around me.

This year, Tiger, Elephant and Ferret are all abroad doing very important things (which I'll tell you about later). For that reason, I felt like I'd be lonely this December. My family are the people I love most in the world, and I thought I'd be useless without them!

The thing is, though, I have another family. I've learned lately that there is more to family than who lived in your house growing up... and this lesson has been re-affirmed with every single person I've befriended this year.

I had a rocky start, friendship-wise, when I moved to a new place. I was a bit of a wet mop, (I know mum and dad will laugh if they read that, so I suppose, I was a wet mop at school...), and I used to do what anyone told me. I thought this was the reason I used to be bullied and taken advantage of.

Turns out, that wasn't the reason.

Turns out, I was so worried people wouldn't like me, I picked a few friends and stuck with them no matter how they made me feel.

I've become a little better at picking friends, now I know I have the right to do so, and I've come across some amazing ones.

Phoenix has stuck with me for five years: she's the only one I was close to from the beginning that I'm even closer to now. Wolf was the first one to tell me that it's actually not OK for people to pick on me... and she happens to be the most hilarious girl in the world. Bambi seems to understand my writing better than anyone, and always knows how to make one feel better. Crow is just the kindest person I've ever met; that's all I can say. And Black Sheep and I... we're a team. A great team, actually.

So on Saturday, just after school broke up, I went over to Bambi's where she'd organised a "Mini Christmas". It was a chance for us to spend a version of the very special day with some of our friends. These consisted of myself, Bambi (obviously), Black Sheep, Crow and two other friends who don't actually have nicknames yet but are probably the nicest people I've met. I say that about everyone, don't I? Oh, how lucky I am!

We had a Christmas dinner, made by Bambi's mum who's an amazing cook, exchanged gifts (which I'll talk about later) and generally chilled out... "soaking up each other's awesomeness".

I am thoroughly enjoying having two families to celebrate Christmas with. One who I've chosen very carefully (and done a wonderful job), and one who I didn't get to choose... but I did get incredibly lucky with. I don't know how I managed it, and to hear me argue with my parents sometimes you wouldn't think it, but I'm honestly part of the most loving family you could meet.

So whoever you're spending Christmas with, and how ever many you're having... enjoy every moment, and remember to thank your friends and family... just for existing.

Thanks for existing, guys. Love you.

(You don't get any pictures with this post. They're MY friends. Go and look at pictures of your own.)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Blogmas #4: Christmas Treats!

I gave up giving out Christmas cards a few years ago. Not because I’m against them: I love when mum sends them to long-time friends and family and we get them back, often with little snippets of news or even photographs. But for me, writing out cards for my school friends meant only one thing: someone would be forgotten. As I’m sure you all know, it was never anything personal... it’s just always so hard to remember all those names! It’s also a worry sometimes to know who to give a present, and who a card... Then there’s the horrible moment when someone who you’ve spoken to maybe twice gives you one and you have to just go “Oh... thank you!” and sort of drift awkwardly away into the nearest crowd, or even better, crater full of hot lava...

So instead, a few years ago, I began to bake treats to give out to everyone at school. This way, nobody got left out and there was a little Christmas treat for each one of my friends, and for anyone who wanted one. I’ve been doing gingerbread for the past few Christmases, but each time I tend to forget how absolutely frustrating the sticky dough is and get into a huge exasperating pickle every December. So this year I tried something that went down just as well, if not better. So well, in fact, that I decided to post the recipe here for all the people who asked about it!

Christmas Honeycomb

I got the idea from Nigella, whose video can be viewed here , and tweaked it to make it a little more special. Here’s what I used to make a supply for some individual presents as well as a big tin for friends to dip into.

Of course, this isn’t really honeycomb—it’s basically like a Crunchie bar, except homemade and therefore superior in every way. Your friends will be delighted to receive it as a treat.

200g sugar (just normal white granulated sugar)
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons baking soda
A baking tray covered with greaseproof paper (baking parchment in Ireland)
Chocolate and flaked almonds (optional)

1)      Place the sugar, syrup, honey and vanilla into a heavy-bottomed saucepan (the same kind used for my crème patissiere)
2)      Stir it together (don’t panic about this, just give it a bit of a mix) and then put on a high heat. It’s important not to stir after this point! Just have faith it’ll all come right in the end.
3)      The sugar will begin to bubble, at which point turn down the heat.
4)      Keep an eye on it till all the sugar is liquid, bubbling away.
5)      Add in the baking soda and begin to beat with a fork. The mixture will bubble up in a glorious golden cloud.
6)      Just as it begins to expand over the top of your saucepan, take it off the heat and pour the mix onto the baking tray.
7)      It should now resemble a Crunchie!
I added a little too much baking soda to this batch and I swear it was ALIVE. 

8)      Leave to set for about two hours. (Warning: at NO point should you touch the sugar as it gets EXTREMELY hot. I know it’s tempting, but STOP).
9)      Next, you can smash it up into smithereens (the Irish of which, incidentally, is smidiríni, in case you were wondering...)
10)   Melt some chocolate in a Bain Marie (do so by placing a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of boiling water). I used half dark, half milk. I found the milk was tastier to me, but the dark looked gorgeous against the gold honeycomb. Dip the pieces in and put them on another sheet of baking parchment.
11)   At this point you could sprinkle on some flaked almonds. I fund this yummy, but lotts of people didn’t like nuts, so probably leave this step out if you’re catering for lots of people.
12)   Leave them to rest in a cool place till the chocolate solidifies (probably overnight).
13)   Either pack them into little tissue paper parcels for special friends, or put them all in a tin for everyone to fight over!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Blogmas #3: Putting the Christ in Christmas

You’re allowed to groan at the silly title, but hear me out...

Where do I start? Since I mentioned the advent wreath, my more observant readers may have deduced that I go to church regularly and, like the majority of people in the rural area of Ireland where I live, I’m a member of the Catholic Church.

The reason why I’m Catholic, much like a lot of people I know, is because it’s the way I was brought up. I remember having to answer questions for a form once, and for some reason I was asked to give my religion, so I said “Christian.” There was a pause, a funny look, and then we moved on. I asked my mum about it later, and she explained that most people would specify “Catholic” or “Church of Ireland” or “Methodist” ...something along those lines. I had been surprised enough at the question in the first place, and so was even more baffled by the detail required.

Personally, I don’t think any two people have exactly the same religious beliefs—I’m not even sure I’m old enough to know what mine are just yet (though that doesn’t stop people trying to put it into words for me)!

For that reason, it’s probably going to be hard for anyone to find a denomination, if any, to suit them completely. I kind of see faith as something separate entirely. I have my own idea of God—who I have decided to believe in—but I’ve never categorised myself as anything. However I really do like being part of a Church, too. It’s really a kind of community to be involved in and I think that even if you’re not religious, that’s something really special. When I went in to have my operation, loads of my friends and family told me that they were praying for me and a priest agreed to dedicate a mass to my operation being successful. I don’t know if I believe that this helped in any way, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what a person believes themselves, there’s something nice about people sharing their faith and using it to help you.

I strongly believe in believing in something. Whether you believe in God, or gods, or fairies or elves or magic, or even just have the vague idea that, as my mum so aptly described it, “there is more to this than this”... you should always believe in something. Family, friends, yourself. You just need a little faith.

This time of the year holds huge significance for many different Churches. All the Christian ones celebrate Christmas (see, you learn something new every day on this blog...), Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah the other week, and long ago the Romans celebrated Saturnalia and Germanic Pagans celebrated Yule—perhaps some people still do... I would love that so much. There must be something about the darkest time of the year that makes us want to reflect on what we choose to have faith in, and there’s something really nice about that.

So whether you’ll be spending your Christmas Eve at midnight mass (which nowadays is held at about 7pm) or sitting at home among family or friends, or doing something else entirely, I hope that you’ll take a minute to think about your faith if you have it, or what makes you get through the day. Religion, especially organised religion, gets a lot of bad press, and I’ll be the first to say that some of it is deserved, but I’m still happy to call myself a Christian. There’s a lot of debate about the Christmas story, but this much I think is true: two thousand years ago a special person was born who went around telling everyone to love each other, and leading by example... even when it meant he had to die.

I don’t care what you or I believe—there’s something very touching about that.

I've taken a pictures from my church so that those of you with different or no faith can see what it's like to celebrate Christmas in a Catholic church. I'd be really pleased to hear how you celebrate!

A "crib", model of the nativity scene. The baby Jesus model will be added on the day. In my house, the Magi usually wait outside till the sixth, but I guess the ones in the church got there early... by express camel, perhaps? 

An Advent Wreath. A candle is lit each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the middle one on the day. The first candle represents hope, the second peace, the pink one joy, the fourth love and the white represents the purity of Christ, who Christians believe was born without sin. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Blogmas #2: The Frozen Picnic

You join me today on my sofa, in comfy clothes, with a nice mug of tea by my side. For the first time in a long time, I am relaxed... and I’m about to tell you why.

I suppose three things happened to take the edge off. Lately, I haven’t been getting much sleep, and on Wednesday night I didn’t go to sleep at all—I sound like I’m exaggerating, but I was literally still awake when it was time to go to school. I ended up taking the day off and tried to relax, but I couldn’t manage it. I did, however, sleep well on Thursday night and had a reasonable day on Friday. Basically, it became apparent to me, as well as my parents and friends, that it was about time I learned to... how to put this eloquently... chill the beans.

1)      This was pretty simple. Normally I have all my Christmas presents bought by now, but this year something must have gone terribly wrong and the other day I hadn’t even decided on, let alone bought/made, any presents. I had ideas for a few people, but when it came to Wolf and Phoenix, I was stuck! I hadn’t a clue. Anyway, yesterday I had a little help deciding what to give them, came up with ideas I’m really excited over, and bought what I would need. I just feel like it’s a huge load off my mind, and I can finally look forward to Christmas rather than fretting over it. All things being equal, I’ll post about their presents after the Big Day!

2)      The second thing was something I’d forgotten I was able to do. I made a decision! I recall a few years ago, as I’ve mentioned before, making the decision to not be bullied, making the decision to be happy. And it worked! If you make a choice and believe in it enough, it can come true just like a wish. So I decided to relax and not let everything get to me. And somehow, once I’d made that decision, it was easier. It’s just like picking a door to walk through. The choosing part is agonising, but once you do, no matter which door you’ve chosen, the house you enter will feel safe.

Picture by Erin, aged 15. 

3)      The third thing that relaxed me was called the “Frozen Picnic.” Intrigued? So was I...

Crow and I had something to celebrate this week and it was decided (by SOMEONE) that we’d have a picnic in a local park. So. As you probably know by now, we live in Ireland. As you definitely know by now, it’s December. Most picnics take place in, oh I don’t know, the summer... but I’m nothing if not adaptable...

I arrived at the park slightly before Crow and sat down with my part of the picnic on a bench. I hadn’t been looking forward to sitting out in the cold, but I was shocked at how cosy I felt in my big coat and jumper, and how lovely it was to be there. There were only a handful of people around: some brave soul with two kids on the swings, a woman equally bravely jogging, and someone with two adorable dogs.

The one thing I love about my current phone is the panoramic camera! Look how deliciously empty the park is... 

It was just those people and me alone with my thoughts. I didn’t have many thoughts at that moment: in fact, I’d just bumped into Bambi on the way so I was just thinking how lovely it had been to see her. I concentrated on breathing the fresh, clean air in and out, filling my lungs to the top and emptying them completely, and looking around at how empty the world was. It was the most peaceful I’d felt in weeks.

Then Crow showed up and ruined it.


He’s a very restful sort of person, and I always feel relaxed after spending the day with him. I think we all need a friend like that: someone we can totally relax around, and when things are going wrong the only thing they say is “Hey, don’t worry about it, listen to my impression of a grumpy Irish teenager...” and suddenly you can’t remember what you were so worried about in the first place.

I do have more than one friend like that, when I give them the chance. Wolf always knows how to make me laugh: it’s nice to be sitting in maths, not having a clue what’s going on, and to look around and see her with this expression, too:

Then I have Phoenix who can always tell without me saying anything that I’m about to go mental, and often manages to stop it happening! I’ve got Bambi to spoil me rotten and tell me I’m wonderful, too. And then there are my parents with their little snippets of advice like “There simply must have been one nice thing that happened today. Tell me about that.”

It got me thinking that we should not only surround ourselves by these understanding, relaxing people, but we should also try to be that person. Of course we should talk to people about our lives, but we should also be able to take some time out, spend time with someone and say “Hey, here’s my impression of...” (I don’t know. Personally, I do a mean elephant). It might just give our friends the boost they need.
Anyway, it was the best Saturday I’ve spent in a long time, and at the moment I’m ever so unwound and ever so grateful for my wonderful life.

(Wait till the next time I step in a puddle, though...)

Happy Christmas! Just two weeks to go! xxx

PS. Have begun listening to Jack Johnson while doing maths homework, which is also rather relaxing. However, by the time I was doing an essay on Stalin, Lady Gaga had come on... that was pretty hilarious. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Blogmas #1: Christmas Baking

My family is pretty traditional, and as a result my mum's always done her own Christmas baking: the steamed Christmas puddings, mince pies, the cake...

When I was younger, she'd do three Christmas cakes: one for the day, one for dad's birthday in January and one for a friend of the family. Now, she's narrowed it down to one and she'll perhaps do a Dundee cake for dad's birthday or I do a sponge with his favourite thing ever: cholesterol  er, whipped cream. Nobody in my family can bring themselves to eat a shop-bought mince pie, and when I'm walking round the supermarket and I see a pathetic little Christmas cake made in a factory, it just makes me sad. 

In short, we're spoiled. 

The events I'm about to tell you about actually took place about a month ago, during half term (mid term) and the week after, but I'd heard so many people complain about "Christmas coming too early" (if there is such thing) that I decided to wait and post them in December. However, though my Christmas officially started last night,  preparations started back then. This wasn't due to "corporate greed" or "the conformity of modern such-and-such", but because much like any teenage boy, it takes a good Christmas cake a very long time to mature...

My mum makes two puddings, one to be eaten on the day and one for sometime during the year, usually Easter. It's always such a magical moment when we finish our Christmas dinner and the pudding is brought out. All the lights are turned off, brandy is poured on the pudding and its set alight. We all watch the blue flames dance for a fleeting instant before the alcohol burns up and it's time to dig in, with cream or even milk on top. 

The pudding mix is made, Delia's recipe of course, is placed in two pyrex basins, wrapped in greaseproof paper and an old tea towel and string, and must be steamed for a total of eight hours. This is done in a saucepan on top of an upside down saucer. Mum does two the day she makes it, four at some other point, and two on the day it's eaten. 

(This ancient tea towel may have a Sainsbury's label, but others are available from all good retailers... sorry, I've gone all BBC...)

The pudding after two hours in the pot...

A few days after this, we had the day off school and I got to work on the Christmas cake. I may as well tell this story in pictures... I only wish one could blog smells, too! 

Set up the dining table to work on, with the most beautiful view... Christmas was in the air already! 

We always use the recipe.... 

...from this ancient Good Housekeeping book.

Got all my ingredients together...

(But look at the glacé cherries before I cut them... they're like little jewels!)
The smell of lemon zest, freshly-grated nutmeg and cinnamon always reminds me of Christmas

Wet ingredients have gone in....

Every member of the family must stir the cake for luck...
And now to put my feet up... (Tea for me, brandy for cake...)

And you can see the finished cake in a later post!

Happy advent, boys and girls! 


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Introducing... The Twelve Blog Posts of Christmas!

Hi guys!

I hope you’re all well, wishing you so much joy at this the most special time of year. Yes, Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s my absolute favourite holiday, season, day, month... I just love it. For me, Christmas begins when I go to church with my parents on a Saturday evening and it’s time to light the first purple candle on the Advent wreath. I certainly don’t see Christmas as purely a religious holiday, but the magic is always alive that evening and it does remind us how our favourite festival began. A hush falls around the whole church as we watch the flame travel from taper to candle, and the congregation smiles at each other because everyone knows just what it means.

Preparation for Christmas has begun.

I’ve decided it’s time to share a few more bits and pieces of my life with you, my readers. I talk about myself a bit, but I’m always careful not to share too much for many, many reasons. This is still going to be the case (and trust me, you’re not missing much), but throughout the Christmas period I’ll be doing twelve blog posts, the “twelve posts of Christmas”, or maybe “blogmas” (I’ll decide tomorrow), which share my experiences of this very personal time of year. I intend to take lots of different pictures and talk about all the different aspects of Christmas I love.

I’m hoping to have the first post up tomorrow, when it’s officially December, and you can expect most of the others throughout the month. However there are two posts which will have to wait till after the big day. One will concern Christmas presents, so of course I can’t give away the surprise, and the other... the other is something very special indeed. It’s a wonderful gift that’s coming our way but we’re not sure when it will arrive! I can’t wait till it does... It could really happen any time in the next six weeks. That’s all I can say right now...

I’ve always seen Christmas as a hugely private time. Only the closest people in my life know just how I celebrate Christmas. Without giving too much away, I’m going to share a few little pieces with all of you in the hope that you will have something heart-warming, interesting, maybe a bit funny to read, and that you’ll get to know me a bit more than just “the-girl-who-loves-writing-and-baking-and-used-to-have-a-curvy-spine-but-it’s-OK-now.”

So, happy beginning of Christmas everyone, and I hope you enjoy the Twelve Blogs!

Lots of love and glad tidings,

Catherine Ann x 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

How I Study... Irish (Oral)

Right, that’s enough persuasion. Down to business!

So, the exam is made up of the oral, which will take place in April and makes up 40%, the listening test which is integrated into the written exam and is worth 10% and the written papers 1 and 2 which make up the remaining 50%.

More information on the syllabus and marking scheme can be found here.    

It’s well worth looking at resources like this and keeping the marking schemes in mind when you prepare for the exam, so you can prioritise when studying.

I could write for years about this, as I could with other subjects, so I’m just going to include a few basic points that work for me when I go over various parts of the course.


        1) The Poetry:

I have printed out my own copies of all five poems (which can be brought into the exam). I then listen to recordings on youtube by Marcus Lamb and pencil in any pronunciations I may have got wrong. Then I record myself reading them out and make sure I have them perfect. This is a part you can really do well on: it’s all down to practise until you’re confident. And guys... try and put in a little feeling.

2) The Sraiths:

OK so these are the bane of my existence, having to learn 20 and only ever being asked one... but enough of my moaning. My class does them in groups: we get a picture each to work on and we come up with four or five sentences. We always have to include a seanfhocail. Our teacher then checks them and prints them out for us. What I then do is pick out what I actually can learn. If there’s a ridiculously complicated sentence I’ll leave it out or replace it. Then I write them out for myself, which helps me revise, and record myself reading them once I have the pronunciation right. This is a bit cringe-worthy, especially when you’re listening to a song on your iPod and “Comortas Cor na Scoile” shows up unexpectedly, but listening to them really does help.

This is because I’m an auditory learner. I learn by listening. It’s worth finding out which of the three main kinds of learner you are: auditory, kinaesthetic (learning by doing) or visual. This can be useful in studying all subjects.

Another point to note is that there are many similarities between the sraiths, so you can get away with using the same familiar phrases a few times. Some class favourites are “thainig an lá mór faoi dheireadh”... and you’ll find that, in at least half the stories, “an griain” tends to be “ag scoilteadh na gcloch”. This can make them seem a little easier.

They’re mind-numbing, I know, but again here’s something you can get points for just learning off by heart. I’m not saying it’s right or easy, but that’s the way it is.

3) Greeting:

There are a few points of the greeting you can learn my heart too: name, date of birth, address etc.
If you really work at these three things, you’ll feel a lot better come exam time. They are the first three parts of the oral, so if all goes well you will be a lot more comfortable when it comes to the actual conversation part.

...These three things you can learn off, but for everything else it can be a bit unexpected. The examiner can ask you anything they want really, so it’s up to you to prepare a few things likely to come up. These might include: social problems, your plans for university or college, and lots of personal stuff such as hobbies and interests...

Keep a copy (notebook) for your oral work with all keywords and phrases you might use. A problem many of us come across is: “I don’t even know what to say in English!” so make sure you have some opinions about things like littering, etc, and choose a hobby you’d like to talk about. Know the words for all your subjects at school and things like that.

This all sounds very vague, but remember the point of the exam is to test your ability to communicate in Irish. So if they ask you about, say, hurling, and like me, you can’t tell one end of a hurl from another, prepare some phrases like “I don’t know much about that” and then proceed to tell them what you are interested in.
For example, in my summer test I told my teacher all about this blog, facts about which I had prepared. Because it was an interesting topic, she spent a lot of time asking me questions on it, most of which I had already prepared answers to. Think of something you could talk about for a while.

I like to practise by imagining having a conversation with someone in Irish: what are they most likely to ask me? What would I say in return? Take turns “examining” your friends, too. My Irish teacher holds an after-school club once a week to practise speaking Irish. If you have a resource like this, use it. And don’t be shy in class, either. Try asking questions in Irish, remembering of course that everyone else is just as nervous as you are.

Some sample questions to try answering are found here.

The day before the oral, I intend to speak as much Irish as possible to get myself in the right frame of mind. I’ve found even when preparing essays and such, immersing yourself in the language really helps. I hope my Irish and French exams are widely spaced apart!

Best of luck everyone, and wish me the same! Let’s all knuckle down, there’s only a few weeks lift till Christmas! If I’ve left anything out of this post please let me know, and as always remember that this is just how I do things. I’m not an authority on the matter and if you’ve got a way that works, stick to it! Perhaps you could even share it with the rest of us? 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How I Study.... Irish (Introduction)

First things first: thank you all so much for getting me over 8000 views. I’m so grateful for the reception my blog has received. When I began I was positive that the only people reading it would be myself and my parents... maybe not even them... so when I find people consistently reading my work, and sometimes (just sometimes) actually enjoying it... That is more amazing than I can say.

To celebrate 10,000 views I’m going to have a competition and make another little announcement too... I can’t wait to get there!

Today I want to talk about the bane-of-your-existence that is Gaeilge. If you don’t know what Gaeilge means, then I’m sorry, but we have a huge problem here and it’s best if you don’t read on.

I am eternally grateful that I didn’t study Irish in primary school. When I moved, I was just going into First Year. Technically I would have been exempt from Irish (which is compulsory for most people), but my parents really wanted me to learn it. I can’t say that’s something I resent: I have always loved languages.

I am given to understand that the reason most people don’t like Irish is because it’s not very well taught in primary schools. I don’t know from experience, but a lot of people seem to believe this. Sometimes when pupils move on to Secondary they begin to enjoy it, but for many the stigma, the “boring, useless” stamp is still attached. That’s such a shame as there are some really great Irish teachers in our secondary schools, who are clearly passionate about the subject and try their best to make it enjoyable. I know because I’ve got one!

There’s also the idea that there’s no point in learning Irish, and I can really relate to this. When learning French, for example, you can totally picture yourself in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, the Ivory Coast... speaking French to people! But perhaps the idea that maybe one old man somewhere in Clare Galway won’t understand English isn’t incentive enough. But learning a language, believe it or not, is not just with a view to speaking it. Learning another language teaches us a lot about our own, and it’s really good mental exercise.

 Irish isn’t as useless as you might think, either. There’s a whole TV channel in the language, for goodness’ sake, and there are even a lot of programmes in Irish made by the BBC. There’s also a radio station... really, if the media is your thing, you’re making yourself so much more desirable by learning Irish. Then there are government jobs and primary or secondary Irish teaching...
Regardless, even if you’re going to forget every bit of Irish the day after the exams, it’s a cross the vast majority of us have to bear, so we might as well give it our best shot.

Hm. I seem to have wasted a lot of words persuading you to study, and none actually helping. I think I’ll separate these posts into various parts... part 2, on the oral exam, coming tomorrow! J

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My Inner Control Freak and Me....

We interrupt this school and study-based series to bring you some urgent feels and a small epiphany. Catherine Ann needed to get something off her chest. Enjoy!

This may either come as a total shock to readers, or a boring non-surprise to friends, but I am the world’s biggest control freak. I come across as easy-going to strangers, a result of a half-shy, a quarter-polite, a quarter-oh-so-English thing... but beneath the surface there lurks a monster who has to have everything exactly just so or else... terrible things happen.

Lately I feel like that control has been slipping ever so slightly. After several months, probably over a year actually, of everything going right, everything being in its place, things have begun to fall apart just a little. There have been a few personal things that have made me feel like I have less control over my own life.

Then there was today. Today it all came to a head.

I’ve been working on coursework for my Leaving Cert History for the past months, after my first attempt last year was a bit rubbish. I wasn’t worried, though. I have until April and I’m finally beginning to get the hang of historical, factual essay-writing. Last night, I spent an hour and a half on the main essay part. Everything was going to plan, everything was under control... yes, just the way I like it. I got the last of the research done and typed everything up. My facts were factual as can be, my structure would have blown your mind, and I concluded the crap out of the conclusion.

I got up this morning all ready to follow the Sunday study timetable I’d planned for myself. A part of this—after working on maths for an hour, no less—was to read out my essay to mum and then print it off to bring in for my teacher. I was pretty excited, actually... this was the final draft! I’d almost done it! With luck, I’d have it all written up soon and could forget about it by Christmas.

I opened the document and began to read out the first paragraph while mum nodded along, ears on me and eyes on the housework.

I stopped. Hadn’t I edited this sentence last night?

I scrolled down.

Where was my conclusion?

It hadn’t saved.

I don’t know whether something went wrong with the saving, or if I just forgot (which it pretty plausible: I finished at about 11pm and was still in an emotional state from Doctor Who), but whatever happened, all my hard work at polishing and perfecting was gone.

In my disappointment and stress, I compared the event to several that have taken place recently, and there was a feeling of lost control, scuppered plans. The feeling that you’ve got your whole timetable written out, literally or metaphorically, and then someone’s come along and ripped it up in front of your face. How do you react? Do you scrabble around for the pieces on the floor, cry at the loss of control, or just accept it?
Accepting is difficult, but I tried to remember a life lesson my family learned a few years ago. After a similar series of unfortunate events, my dad told us he’d come to a single conclusion:

We have no control over our own lives.

No matter how hard you try, things will always get in the way. When I was little, I used to think with childish selfishness that I was living my life, that everyone else—parents, friends, people in the street—were other characters in my show.

I think we all realise by now that this isn’t the case. We’re all part of something much bigger, and it’s impossible to just walk on along a straight path—there are hundreds of alleyways and lanes and bridges where other people intersect with you, and these are accompanied by rocks and potholes in your own road.
Don’t try to drive around in circles or get overcome by road rage, and don’t stop altogether. Just cruise along and realise that it’s not the end of the world.

Me? I am trying to stick to my plans and my goals, but I’m also going to ride with the rough patches. It’s OK to relax just occasionally, take a pit-stop, if you will. (Are we still enjoying the metaphor?) So I’m not going to work on that history project today. Just for now, I’m putting it out of my mind.

Sometimes you just have to sit back, screw up your timetable, make a cup of tea, put on a Made In Chelsea re-run and involve yourself in all their silly little problems... because that’s simply all you can do. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

How I Study... Biology and Business.

Hi there everyone!

I’m currently writing the draft of this post in my “blog book” while waiting to get my hair done, in the hope that when i get home I can type it up, then squeeze in some study before my appointment at the optician’s.
Sound familiar? Life always seems to go that way. With everything happening all at once, at full intensity, relentless...

I say relentless. I’m actually sitting on a lovely comfy sofa watching someone have highlights done and wondering if my coffee will come with a biscuit.
But you see my point. There never seems to be quite enough time to do the 5 million hours of study you had planned at the beginning of the year. The only solution is to set aside enough time and use it wisely. I spoke a little in a previous post about preparation and motivation. Now I plan to explain how I study specific subjects.

These posts will be based around preparation for the Irish Leaving Certificate, but they may be of interest to other students. They’re not necessarily “tips” –we all learn and revise in different ways, but this is how I study and you might like to try some of my methods.

The subjects I’m taking are English, Irish, Maths (all compulsory over here), Biology, Business, French and History, all at higher level, with a view to carrying on English and History at university. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents both used to be teachers, so if you’ve got a specific question for myself or for them, just email

Now, to business... and biology. I’ve chosen to lump these two together as there are a lot of similarities. They both consist of a set course to be learned (and, though I hate this side of the education system, learned by heart...), lots of solid fact, relatively short exam questions... and both are extremely vocabulary-heavy.
Perhaps you’re doing another subject that falls into this category, like the written part of the Home Economics course.

First of all, the vocabulary. You’ll notice you have a lot of subject-specific terms which you need to know. These may be highlighted in your textbook, or else a list can be found online from the syllabus. I have separate notebooks for my vocabulary and definitions, which I write out, make sure I understand, and revise. We had to do this for Business Studies class, but I found it useful for Biology too. I’m all about transferring the skills...

Learning the vocab is a great place to start—it will be easier to follow the class if you actually know what the teacher is talking about, lots of information follows on from these definitions, and indeed there are many short exam questions which will ask you to define a term.

Another thing you’ll find with these subjects is that most of the information can be remembered in lists, for example the elements of a valid contract or the features of prokaryotes. My Business teacher is a huge fan of mnemonics, which for me only work sometimes. If you have words like Capacity to contract, Intent, Consideration... etc, you can learn a list of letters and maybe do a rhyme or something to suit. But for many other things, I prefer to use a logical list, with one thing following on from the other. I have all my biology and business chapters summarised into list and definition form... and that’s pretty much all the information I’ll need. I also like to write down a number, e.g. “4 points on this”, so I can see in the test if I’m missing anything.

This can be helpful in biology diagrams, which are pretty much the bane of my existence. My drawing is horrible and I’m by no stretch of the imagination a visual learner, but what I have found useful is to draw out my diagrams in a separate copy, label them, and write the number of things I’ve labelled. For example, if a plant cell comes up, I know I need  to label six parts, which can be listed as: the nucleus, cell membrane, cell wall, cytoplasm, chloroplasts and vacuole. Even if you hate diagrams like I do, it’s best to practise them again and again... sorry about that.

Try to relate things back to your day-to-day life, too. Don’t be afraid to apply a little logic here and there. For example, we are currently witnessing a recession. If you are asked about the effects of unemployment and can’t remember what your textbook said, then just think for yourself. What’s happened to people you know if they have lost their jobs? What are the effects of this?

In Biology, also, we study the world around us. I studied the respiratory system a few weeks ago, and found it helped me revise if I took a big breath in, and asked myself, what is happening in my body right now? Then I’d breathe out (obviously) and think of the same. This helped me to really understand what was going on, and once you understand something it will be much easier to remember.

I could go on forever, but it’s time to leave this blog post here and go and get pampered for a while. If you have any questions or advice of your own, don’t hesitate to comment or send in an email. I’m sure my teachers will be giving us lots of advice in the near future, so I’ll definitely share it on here when they do. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

NaNoWriMo... A “Tip” Down Memory Lane...

Ahahahahaha. Sometimes, I simply crack myself up. I “fend la poire” in fact... that’s French (I sincerely hope) for “I split the pear” which is like “I split my sides laughing”.
Horrific puns and a Modern Languages lecture aside, I’m delighted to tell you that the first week of NaNoWriMo is over. Even though it wasn’t possible for me to take part this year , I’m still ever so excited about this.

It means that for a whole week, thousands of people all around the world have been imagining, creating, working on their novels simultaneously. Together for the past week they have created characters, painted unique settings, spent an hour or so immersed in their own world... all at the same time, all part of something much bigger. There’s something pretty wonderful about that.

By my estimation, those efficient bunnies among us will have reached around 11,700 words if they are working at pace. Some may have reached 20,000, some maybe 100. But they’re all working towards two very distinct goals: to reach 50,000 by the end of November, but also simply to enjoy writing and gain something from it. For me, the latter is so much more important.

You may have already read about My NaNoWriMo Experience but I thought I’d share a few little pointers. I am by no means an expert, but regular readers will know that I love giving advice about things whether I have a clue about them or not!

I did reach my 50,000 words though, so I have some experience in the feild of writing nonsense for 30 days. It was a pretty stressful time with all my other commitments, but here’s how I did it.
SWEETS! Just as Edmund sold out his siblings for Turkish Delight in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, most of us are hugely affected by the incentives and temptations a tasty treat brings. I used food as a huge incentive. I’d reward myself a Haribo every 100 words during the week, and then would stock up on junk food like crisps or chocolate for marathon night-time sessions at the weekends. Needless to say, I didn’t lose any weight in November... but hey, winter was upon us, insulation and all that. Another trick was to whip up a cake and put it in the oven. My favourite lemon drizzle cake  takes about forty minutes to cook, so I’d set the timer, write for forty minutes, then be rewarded with a gorgeous cake at the end.

·         JUST KEEP SWIMMING... The key here is to keep writing, writing, writing, even if you don’t feel like it’s any good. For once, you’re being judged on quantity rather than quality. Every word you write helps you get to know your characters that bit more, and you always learn by doing and improve. Write. Rewrite, but of course don’t delete. Just keep going. Who knows? You might hit on a great idea.

·         GET EXCITED. I read somewhere once that the first thing you should do when you’re writing a novel is tell people you’re writing a novel. Of course writing’s a huge personal thing, it can even be a bit cringey at times, and you might not feel like talking about something so private, but trust me... nobody’s going to laugh at you. When I told people about NaNo, they were actually very impressed I was taking on the challenge, and had all kinds of questions to ask. Use this opportunity to take pride in your favourite hobby. Talk to your writing buddies if you’re lucky enough to have them, but also to your parents and other friends. Tell them what twists and turns your story is taking and it will get your imagination flowing and enthusiasm pumping!

·         CHECK YOUR WORDCOUNT. I had a nightmarish 30th November 2012. I still shudder to think about it. There I was, with my 50,000 and something words all saved on my laptop. I was bursting with pride and ready to submit my huge chunk of novel and see what the ceritifcate looked like. I’d been staying up late, I was tired, I was sick to death of the very sound of my keyboard... but I’d done it.
Or so I thought. I copied and pasted into NaNo’s official wordcounter, but whatever way they were counted, it only added up to about 49,500. I very nearly snapped, I can tell you now. I had about an hour and a half to submit my novel before the deadline, and I’d fallen short! What was I going to do? In the end, I had one of my characters write a strongly worded letter to NaNoWriMo about it. She was just as infuriated as I... was she to be trapped in my laptop forever? Moral of the story, paste in your words a few days early to count them... just in case!

·         TURN THE MUSIC UP. I saw this picture recently and it made me think of NaNo...

When I began thinking about the novel I worked on for Nano, some years previous, I heard a few songs that reminded me of a character, event, the setting etc... so I started writing them down. Before long, I had my very own “soundtrack” to the story. It seemed to convey how my characters might be feeling, or how the story was playing out. I listened to this playlist throughout NaNo and it really put me in the mood. Find some “writing” songs and it might help you... it worked for me!

I thought it might be fun to publish the soundtrack here at Unlucky For Some for you to view. Then you could look up the songs (or perhaps you already know them) and try to guess what the story is about... we could make a little game of it, if anyone’s interested.

Just a thought!

Happy novelling,

Catherine x 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Scoliosis Update and Site Recommendation!

As you can probably guess from the less-than-exciting title, this is a little space-filler post, sidetracking me from my work on NaNoWriMo tips and studying. My only explanation is that I had SO MUCH TO SAY to you guys!

First, any of you who read my Scoliosis Story might be interested in an update. And for those of you who aren't... well, it's my blog and if I want to complain about my life occasionally (in the name of education of course), you'll have to bear with me ;) 

To be honest, I haven't thought much about my back lately... which is a great sign! But two events made me a little wary of my health in that regard. The other night a group of us stayed over at Crow's and when I woke up in the morning I was... shorter. I know. My first thought was, of course, that Bambi had put a spell on me in my sleep to make me shrink, but in fact my height does vary a little when my muscles don't get the rest they deserve. After stretching, or having a proper night's sleep flat on my back, I'm generally taller. If this doesn't happen, though, I can be a little stooped. This hasn't happened much since before the operation, so it worried me ever so slightly. Especially since incident number one... 

A few days before, we'd played hockey in PE. I was really proud of myself for actually taking part no matter how many times my knees got bashed (six). The thing is, you have to sort of bend in hockey in a way I wasn't used to, and I've never really learned how to do it properly. Everything was fine till around nine o'clock that night when my back got a little sore. Then I tried moving around and it got even worse. I'm no stranger to this, so I took a painkiller and alternated between lying on my back and getting up to exercise a little. 

Sadly, things were even worse the next morning. I had to get up for school but every time I even rolled onto my side I was in intense pain. It was like a burning sensation across my back, followed by an ache which intensified as I tried to sit up. I took more painkillers (which I hate to do, but sometimes it's necessary) and my mum had to help me get dressed.

I was nearly in tears at the thought of school. Luckily, Phoenix came to the door and when she saw how bad I was she brought my stuff out to the car and carried my backpack for the entire day... (Can I just say, if you're going to have an operation, bring her, she's awesome). 

By the end of the day, I'd loosened up considerably. Mum commented in the car that "this never would've happened if you exercised more".

I'm not sure I agree with her there, and I was much too hopped up on paracetamol to be in the mood for advice right then, but I can see now she might have had a point. Possibly.

So today, I took Bambi's advice and went for a run.  I still got a bad feeling at the top of my spine, like a ton of bricks was attached to my vertebrae, but I'm hoping that if I keep up the gentle exercise it should help a lot. It's so important for anyone, not least post-op scoliosis patients, to keep up their exercise and make sure their body gets a good stretch on a regular basis! 

I'm also hoping that getting out and getting active will help me sleep a lot better, which is so important as my exams creep ever closer. I think back to those days in the summer when I'd come home after a long walk or a swim in the river with my friends and flop down on my bed, exhausted, ready to fall straight asleep. That's really what it should be like every night.

My run today, hopefully the first of many, wasn't exactly the most fun I've had in my life. It was freezing, not exactly picturesque, and I'm positive the cows next door have it in for me... but I'm not going to let that stop me.

Aside from this update, I wanted to quickly recommend a website for you guys. I'm currently wading through the UCAS application process, which is how you apply to go to university in the UK. From searching various questions with varying degrees of frustration, I've found the site to be really helpful and I highly recommend it. They're not even paying me, I swear. It's got everything you need from GCSE (that's Junior Cert) level right through to university or college, as well as other information, for example on health and relationships. I really love the forums and threads where you can pose all your questions to people who are in the same boat as you. I think as it's aimed mostly at older teens, Leaving Cert and college age, you don't get the nasty comments and fights like you would on Facebook or Youtube. It's just genuinely nice people who want to ask for and seek advice. I've become a huge fan and it's helped me loads with my UCAS application. Just thought some of you ought to know ;) 

Monday, 28 October 2013

More About Me...

I notice that I’m gathering a few more likes on my Facebook page, follows on Twitter and views on here, so I’m guessing that a few readers may be new to my blog. I post about myself sometimes, and I have done some personal opinion pieces and facts about myself, but since some of you might not be familiar with those, I decided to do another little “getting to know me” post.

Some of these are common questions found on the internet, and some have been suggested by readers.

None are in any way interesting.

What/who is your icon?
 I don’t really have an icon. When I was younger I once referred to some celebrity as “my idol”, not really knowing what it meant, and my mum actually told me quite seriously that you should never worship someone or try to follow them in any way—you should be your own icon, I suppose. Having said that, I do see so many great qualities in my friends and I aspire to some of those:  I try to have Bambi’s drive and kindness, Crow’s patience and ambition... I could go on.

Have you ever lost a close friend?
I moved to a different country when I was twelve, away from literally all my friends. But I wouldn’t class them as “lost” exactly... I’d love to see them all again someday, and some of us keep in touch.

Lyrics to the song you’re listening to? 
Up with the winds, up with the skies, up with the fears, but you know with you I’m fine... You and me, we’re just fine, one billion invisible lines, out your head and into mine... we’re just fine.

What’s your favourite book? 
Oh God. Seriously? Why this torture? I’m going to quote “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” here, just one that I love: “They are all my favourites. All of them.”

If you had €35 what would you spend it on? Well, since writing that answer... books. Probably CDs, too. Not iTunes. CDs with plastic cases and a little booklet full of squashed-together song lyrics.

Favourite character from a book? 
This might be a little easier. My favourite character is called Mara Bell, from a trilogy called Exodus, Zenith and Aurora buy Julie Bertagna. She was the first character I read about who felt really real to me. She was so flawed and so imperfect but so unfailingly good... I don’t think these books are as popular as they should be, and it’s hard for me to describe all her actions in a few words, but Mara was strong and weak at the same time, confused and lonely, loving and worried... she felt everything a normal girl feels and I felt it with her. This strong, vivid character made it easy to step into her shoes when I read the book and created what I refer to in my head as the “Exodus Test”. When a character is at a pivotal moment, does my stomach flip like it did for Mara so many times? If so, I am reading a remarkable book. This does not happen often and is so, so special when it does.

When did you start baking?
I’ve been baking for as long as I can remember. When I was small, my dad used to put a mixing bowl on the kitchen floor so I could sit and stir the cake batter which was made from his mother’s old recipes. I can’t remember ever not baking.

Do you believe in aliens? 
I don’t think about this all that often, but I probably do. If the universe is so big it would be incredibly narrow-minded of us to think that we’re the only ones here. I feel much the same about religion: it’s narrow-minded to say there definitely is a God as well as to say there definitely isn’t. It’s a personal choice as to what you believe, and if you’re wrong, who cares? Personally, aliens: yes, God: yes, fairies: why not?

Favourite movie? A bunch of us watched “School of Rock” last night, and I’m probably forgetting all other movies before it, but... wow.

What food have you always wanted to try? Snails and frogs’ legs. If they are—or were—so popular in France, they must be good! I’m just so curious to see what the taste and texture are like: I’d  imagine snails are like mushrooms and have been told frogs’ legs are like chicken. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Writing About Writing... My NaNoWriMo Experience...

Have you noticed my “winner” badge on the right of this post? Here’s the story behind it.
When I met Bambi last year, we started exchanging letters and Facebook messages because we live quite a distance apart and both have pretty busy lives. In one letter, she mentioned something called NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. She was thinking of taking part herself and wanted to know if I’d be getting involved. could I not?!

NaNoWriMo is held every year in November. I’m not really sure why it’s still called “National”, since from what I’ve heard, people from every continent take part... but far be it from me to complain. I really admire the team at NaNoWriMo in everything they do, and I’m pretty sure InNoWriMo wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it...

Basically, the challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days throughout November. It’s a huge challenge, but it can be broken up into semi-manageable chunks of  1,666 words a day. This is just a guideline though—if you want to try and pull it off in five days or whatever, then be my guest! The website gives you a load of help to track your progress: you can enter your word count each day and it shows your progress on a graph so you can see yourself climbing toward your target!

All you have to do to be classified a “winner” is to write the 50,000 words. You enter them in to NaNo’s official word counter when you’re done and boom! Win! It doesn’t matter what you write about, how much of your novel you get done, or even if it makes any sense! Sometimes I think that you can be judged by quantity, not quality. Writing is a learning process for everyone and there really is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. The more you write, the more you improve. The novel I worked on is nowhere near finished, but I did manage to write those 50,000 words. Even if none of them make it into the final draft, I got to know my characters so well and the plot made some dramatic changes.

Honestly, when you’re sitting there wondering why nothing in your novel will work out, wondering if you’ll  ever get it finished, there’s only one way to solve that: sit down and write. That’s what NaNoWriMo encourages you to do: when something isn’t working, you really don’t have a choice in November but to plough through with the story anyway. Once you come out the other end you might have an answer—or at least you’ll have learned what not to do.

I can’t say it’s the best idea in the world to put yourself under pressure, but I always do that anyway. November last year I had copious amounts of studying and I was playing Donna in a school production of Mamma Mia! But I still found time almost every day to write. It just goes to show what you can do. I don’t think I’ll take part this year due to my exams, but the thing about NaNoWriMo is that even if you don’t get your 50,000 words done (I almost didn’t!), it still opens a lot of doors. Every single word you write will be of benefit in some way—especially when you’re not worrying about editing every second. The website also has lots of other features, like tips and advice as well as forums where you can chat to other writers about problems or experiences—and you can pick any username and don’t include many personal details, so you don’t need to worry about “stranger danger”!

Go to to find out more about taking part! I’ll post a few of my own tips and tricks for November very soon!