Saturday, 30 April 2016

My April Obsessions

I'm a bit set in my ways sometimes, so I've been trying to branch out and do something;  ANYTHING, different, no matter how small it might be.  Often it's something tiny, such as trying a new cosmetic, buying a different product, or listening to a new album, but I figure it all counts, right?

Imperial Leather Shower Gel:
O M G.  I bought a Marshmallow shower gel on special offer for £1 in Wilko and spent a fair bit of time just sniffing the bottle in the store like a crazy person.   To use a well know Welsh phrase:  It was LUSH.  

There's nothing more likely to get me looking forward to a shower than having something that smells amazing.  I usually go with anything from the Soap and Glory range from Boots, but I am also a fan of shower gels and scrubs that smell like fruit.

I tend to steer clear of flowery smelling stuff and I did initially think that the marshmallow fragrance might be a bit sickly and cloying.  It wasn't.    I highly recommend you go straight out and buy, now.   

Friday, 29 April 2016

Crime Fiction Friday

Crime Fiction Friday : At Risk, Patricia Cornwell

Welcome to Crime Fiction Friday!   Grab a seat, some coffee (or something stronger, if you'd prefer) and join me in my weekly book review of whatever title I managed to pick up in my local charity shop during my lunch breaks.   Speaking of lunch breaks, I'd like to take this moment to say a massive shout out to the people of Dolgellau for their fabulous taste in books.  You're all sick puppies but I love you, nonetheless.  
I was originally going to call this weekly blog post 'Fiction Friday' in the hope that I might actually read something else once in a while, but who am I kidding?   Not even me, as it turns out. 

At Risk - Patricia Cornwell:  
I popped out to Hospice at Home during lunch last week and found a copy of patiently waiting for At Risk,  by Patricia Cornwell.    I loved all the early Scarpetta novels, although I eventually stopped buying them as they grew more and more far fetched.    Also:  the book was 85p so, even in the event I hated it, I gave money to charity and I could take it back to the shop for some other poor soul to wade through.  
I bought the book purely on the merit of it being written by Cornwell and that it wasn't a Scarpetta volume.   The main character on this occasion was a detective called Win Garano, who had good shoes.    He also saved a mistreated dog half way through, so I loved him.   Good shoes and a dog lover?   He's he man of my dreams tbh.  

The book is obviously written in Cornwell’s signature style and it was good to see a departure from Scarpetta’s increasingly unbelievable story lines to another pretty unbelievable storyline featuring someone else.  Baby steps, people.   

The book revolves around an anti crime program called 'At Risk', which I think might be the worst name ever.    Anyway, the new program is being pushed by a ball busting bitch of a District Attorney, who ropes in Garano to investigate the twenty year old murder of an affluent lady in Tennessee. 

Garano also has a sidekick, who I hated for being petty and jealous and, whenever she was featured in the book I found myself flipping forward a few pages in the hope that she'd be involved in some 'friendly fire' accident at the FBI Training Academy.    

She wasn't; I was sad.   Anyway, the book is enjoyable but I find myself so disappointed that it didn't compare to any of Cornwell's early Scarpetta novels.   The plots left me gasping and the twists and turns were never anticipated.   With 'At Risk', I found myself being able to guess what was around the corner and that's never a good thing.

My barometer for sussing out a good book is how often I check to see how many pages are left and how many times I skip through pages without reading the last few lines.  Unfortunately, both of these were frequent occurrences.    Not a bad book by any means, but certainly not up there with her best.

Have you any crime fiction recommendations for me?

Suz x

Thursday, 28 April 2016

How I Curb My Anxiety When I'm Travelling

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety a few years back and, despite already knowing this, it was good to get confirmation that I wasn’t losing my mind. People tend to not quite understand anxiety if they haven’t experienced it for themselves and often label socially anxious people as rude or anti social. We’re not.
We just tend to be a touch quieter than you and we don’t always feel the need to speak constantly. We quite often prefer not speaking at all, but it’d be good if you didn’t take this as a sign that we’re horrible or ‘not your kind of person’.
A lot of people thing that social anxiety means that you don’t want to leave the house (often true in certain situations) and therefore we’re some sort of odd, hermit-like, crazy dog ladies.
Although this is my ambition in life, I do manage to leave the house to work on a full time basis, go shopping, running, out with friends, etc. I just get very anxious and uncomfortable in unknown situations. Or, when there are lot of people involved. In small groups of people I know – I’m absolutely fine. I’m not sure I’d be good several days in a row, but that’s a whole different story.
How I Curb My Anxiety When I'm Travelling: Airports
Some for clothes, others for hiding in.
When I’m asked how I cope with my travels and my anxiety, I tend to respond that the times I’m actually less stressed and anxious is WHEN I’m travelling. This is mainly due to the fact that no one knows me, no one is judging my lack of conversation for me being some sort of deranged serial killer, and I can usually spent time on my own, out for a run in the sunshine where I can take a break from all the Peopling I do on a day to day basis and just relax.
However, I tend to stick to a few golden rules when I’m looking at destinations and accommodation. These are:

Does Not Travel Well With Others:
I tend to travel with LT and, well, that’s about it, really. I also have occasion to travel with close family, but I tend not to holiday with friends as I’m just not capable of being ‘up’ all the time. In fact, the thought of having to be on the ball for a full weekend or, heaven forbid, a WEEK, fills me with dread.
This is primarily because people don’t understand that I need time on my own to get over all the conversation. That, and I don’t like appearing rude and I understand that this is often how I am perceived. A holiday is not much of a holiday when you’re stressed out, is it?
How I Curb My Anxiety When I'm Travelling: Space
No one has passed for a month, you say? I'll take it...
Does Not Do Well in Airports:
I don’t like airports. I don’t like queues and people and all the busy stuff going on. I only go because my need to travel is greater than my fear of being stuck at an airport for an extended period of time.
I tend to pay for a priority pass, which gets me into a lounge and away from the main bulk of travellers. It also generally provides me with free wine and snacks and that’s clearly a saving for me right there. The lounges tend to be more private and far less busy and this lets me do a bit of relaxing before the hell of sitting next to strangers on a flight.

Does Not Like Sitting In The Middle Seat:
I hate it. I like to be at the window where no one will see me and no one will need to move me out of the way so that they can take endless trips to the bathroom, or to chase their children down the aisle. The only issue with this is that I also hate annoying people to use the toilet and so once I'm strapped in, that's me.
This does make it slightly difficult on a long haul flight, but you’d be amazed at just now much my fear of interaction with strangers restricts the natural workings of my body.
I also have lots of reading and viewing materials, which helps keep me occupied and tends to put people off trying to spark up conversations, which I love. Unless you have dogs. If you have dogs, you’re more than welcome to show me photos and talk to me about them for the entire duration of the flight. I'll be the quiet one, sitting in the window seat, trying not to make any contact.
How I Curb My Anxiety When I'm Travelling: Hiding
I'm just gonna stay in here until it quietens down a bit.
Does Not Do Busy Hotels:
Obviously, I’m not a hostel girl because Other People. Due to my previous job travelling round Scotland, sleeping in different B&B beds three nights a week, I’m also not keen on serviced accommodation.
My go-to places for researching accommodation are AirBnB and Way To Stay. Both offer full properties in a wide range of cities around the world and this is the key to a peaceful and relaxing holiday in my eyes. They also have a range of gorgeous houses and cottages which are located outwith the city centre and you can specify the kind of neighbourhood you want to stay in.
My searches are usually along the lines of: ‘house wanted in location that looks like a scene from The Walking Dead, but without all the zombies...’ Oddly, I haven’t found the perfect match yet, but I’m keeping my spirits up.
How I Curb My Anxiety When I'm Travelling: Crowds
My idea of absolute Hell.
Does Not Vacation During Main Holiday Periods:
I almost never go on holiday during school holidays. This is mainly because I don’t have to, but also because it means my destinations are much quieter. When LT and I travelled through the Deep South last year, we ventured there in October/November and the roads were clear and even the highly popular attractions were slowing down for the season. This means fewer people, less noise, no queues, and a much more relaxed traveller.
I also tend to shy away from the middle of the day for sightseeing. I recall standing in a massive queue outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and getting more and more agitated with each passing minute. By the time I got in, I was quite anxious and just wanted to get back out, which kind of spoils the whole experience.
Due to this, I do tend to keep away from main sightseeing times or, I have been known to miss out attractions completely. Who really needs to climb the Eiffel Tower, anyway? Not this panicky lass, that's for sure.    
I'll be over on the grass, breathing into a paper bag, wondering how much flights to the Moon are in January.
Suz x 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Stroll Through Stirling

Stirling is well known as the home of the Wallace Monument and the Castle, which is called, well….Stirling Castle.  Who’d have thought it?   I briefly moved to the area in autumn 2014 and was pleasantly surprised at how many lovely walks were just outside the city centre.     

One of my favourite areas is Bannockburn (which is where we lived at the time), and Gowanhill.    This is a photo diary of a typical Stirling evening stroll.

lovers walk bridge
Lovers' Walk bridge
wallace monument stirling
View of the Wallace Monument from Riverside
stirling university grounds
Lake at Stirling University  
King Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
Stirling has a long and sometimes gruesome history of fighting and not being particularly good at football.    Even though it is a major Scottish city, it's much smaller than the likes of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen and thus it manages to retain a certain small town charm. 

The city centre itself is lovely for walking round and is very easy to navigate.  There are lots of beautiful old buildings, independent and chain stores more importantly, lots of places to buy coffee.   

Outside the centre, the city is crossed by a major motorway, but just seconds from this is a plethora of fields and quiet little winding roads that seem a million miles removed from the craziness of the cars and HGVs passing close by.

Obviously, Stirling is very famous for its majestic castle and the wonderful Wallace Monument, but aside from walking round these two iconic structures, it also has many hidden treasure to seek out.    

One of my favourite places to walk on a bright evening is around the University campus.    Here, you can find a lovely lake (well, i say lake, but it's a just a really big pond), where you can make a circuit and try not to upset the rather sensitive swans who patrol the area.

If shopping while you walk is more your thing, you can check out the Thistles Shopping Centre and get a few miles under your belt by boosting the local economy.    Also: if walking and then sitting down for a drink and then walking some more is up your street, Stirling has lots of lovely traditional pubs, lovely hotels, and your usual Wetherspoons.  It is, after all, a University city, so this is a prerequisite.  

Have you spent any time exploring Stirling by foot?   What are your favourite spots?

Suz x

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Plas Brondanw Gardens

In our quest to keep discovering our new home region of North Wales, we hit up Google and tried to come up with an idea for something to do that was fairly close to our home in Harlech.   After searching for things to do in Porthmadog, I stumbled across Plas Brondanw Gardens.   After reading that it was the home of the man responsible for the design of nearby Portmeirion, I bundled LT into the car and forced him to drive there.

Plas Brondawn Gardens is owned and managed by the Clough Williams-Ellis Trust and is the estate where he lived with his wife.  The estate is open to the public (obviously….we didn’t break in) and admission is £4 per person for adults.   

The gardens are located just outside the lovely village of Garreg and, on approach; we spotted brightly coloured wrought iron gates, which immediately reminded me of Portmeirion.     

The Orangery at Plan Brondanw
The Orangery
The gardens are a fair size, extremely well maintained, and a riot of beautiful colours.    In between the manicured head rows and shaped bushes are iron gates and barriers, which are all painted with a distinctive blue and yellow theme.   

the main house copyright @ sightseeingshoes
Clough Williams-Elis House
Clough Williams-Ellis House copyright @ sightseeingshoes
The main house from the gardens
copyright @ sightseeingshoes
Warning: Extreme Flower Close Up...
In addition to walking around the gardens and checking out the varieties of flowers and plants, we paid a visit to the Café, where the perpetually hungry LT indulged in the most amazing pork and apple roll.  Seriously, people, it was so good that when I asked to taste it, I could see tears welling in his eyes at the mere thought of losing out on a single bite.  I mean he even took a photo of it.    He’ll probably use it as the new wallpaper on his phone…

Plan Brondanw Gardens copyright @ sightseeingshoes
You can't beat a bit of company in the garden.
After prising LT away from the Café, we headed up to the tower, which is on the estate, but in a different location from the main gardens.   You can climb to the top of the tower, but do watch your step as it’s quite a tight space and the ceiling is quite low.  We were fine because we’re too short for this to have any impact, but normal size people would definitely risk knocking themselves out on some stone.    And that’s definitely not the kind of souvenir you want to take home, is it? 

Plas Brondanw is open on a seasonal basis, until September 30th.   These are some of LT’s photos from the day.   I’ve left out his lunch.   You can thank me later.

copyright @ sightseeingshoes
Rhododendrons?  Am I right?? 
Plas Brondanw stone slab copyright @ sightseeingshoes
Stone slab commemorating the rebuilding of the main house
copyright @ sightseeingshoes
Climb up the Tower for some amazing views

Suz x 

Friday, 22 April 2016

Dear 2016...You Suck

2016 started off with the hope of so much and has already delivered some quite shocking body blows in respect of the world of celebrity.   

As a Brit, the curse of 2016 started in early January when I popped downstairs one morning, vacantly turned the TV on and was greeted with a montage of David Bowie songs.   I thought he’d released a new album.   He had.   Unfortunately, he’d also died of cancer.    I didn’t even know he was sick.  As it turns out, neither did anyone else, so we were completely unprepared for the news.   And it hit like a train.

How could David Bowie die?   Wasn't he, like, only 50 or something?   When I sat down and paid attention, I realised he was actually in his 70’s and suddenly wondered how the hell that had happened.  

Roll on a few weeks and we lost another couple of high profile British celebs and, as sad as that was, they were much older and it wasn’t such a massive shock to the system.   Heartbreaking, yes, but not entirely implausible to hear.   Somehow, despite Bowie's age, he almost seemed infallible.  

Just this week alone, I was gobsmacked to find out that one of my favourite comedians EVER had lost a battle with cancer at only 62 years old.   Like Bowie, she chose to keep her health private, as I know I would, and it made the news all the more stunning.  

The very next day Prince died.   PRINCE.   How can that be?  He was only 57 years old and I had to read the TMZ headline a few times, then Google it, then go to Sky News and THEN I started to think it might just be true.  It made me feel so sad for him, his family and friends, and all his fans.   I still can't quite take it in. 

Isn't it odd how we view rock stars and celebrities as though they'll always be around, like some sort of God-like beings? I'll tell you this right now - the minute something happens to John Mayer, I'm officially handing in my resignation to the world; it's too much.

2016 has been a dreadful year for so many shining lights in the sporting, music and entertainment world and I wonder how many other famous people are now genuinely considering that there's some kind of mad curse upon them?? I'm beginning to wonder the same thing myself.  

If you're reading this, Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven Fry or Miranda Lambert, I'd appreciate it if you could be extra careful for the time being.       

I'm not suggesting that celebrity deaths are more important than any other; they're certainly not, but you do have a sense of knowing your idols if you've followed their careers for any length of time, and that bond can be quite strong (on a one sided basis, obvs).

Personally, I'm still trying to get to grips with Amy Winehouse and, although I used to listen to her music constantly, I'm too upset to hear her now. It's not the ideal way for her to be remembered, but it genuinely makes me sad to hear her voice and think about how fabulously talented she was.

This year, I've already stopped listening to The Eagles (one of my favourite bands), and, although not a Bowie fan, I won't be tuning in to anything from his back catalogue.   I’m not a real Prince fan, either, but I can appreciate talent when I hear it.  I haven’t been able to watch Batman since Heath Ledger died, or anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman since he passed.   I just find it so incredibly sad that I tend to avoid it.  

I guess the underlying worry behind it all is that it makes you realise how precious life is.  It also drives home just how many stars that I thought were young and fit have actually been ageing along with the rest of us or quietly battling demons that we didn’t know about.  It’s not a very pleasant thought.

Here’s to enjoying what we have and remembering people fondly.   I will even try to put on some classic Prince this weekend in his honour.   I think he deserves that, at the very least.

Suz x   

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Oh My Blog....Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me How Hard This Would Be?

I have been blogging for 9 months.  I mean, I've been blogging for years, but Ive only actually been  publishing for 9 months.    And I'm knackered. I've been reading blog advice and articles on what to do and not to do for even longer, but I've still to come across advice that was able to accurately convey *just* how much work is involved.  

oh my blog
All work and no play make Suz a dull girl
My insomnia doesn't help.   Neither, for that matter, does my full time job.   However, I am firmly of the opinion that even if I had more time to spend on my blog, I'd only find more things to do.   It's a never ending process, of which there is ALWAYS something else I could write, another social media outlet I haven't heard of (I'm begging you to stop with new ideas, people), more advice to read, and more photos to fix in an attempt to make them look like they weren't taken by someone with severe vision impairment.

I wake up in the morning, and LT very kindly puts out my tea mug, switches on the laptop, and leaves them on the breakfast bar before he makes a run for the surgery.    I jump out of bed*, dart into the shower, get dressed and then do some work on my blog.   

I don't do much because I'm too tired and I hate everyone and everything until around 10am, but if it's a posting day, I link to Pinterest from my iPad, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter from my Macbook, and, if I have time, post a photo on Instagram.   

Oh My Blog....Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me How Hard This Would Be? - laptop
More coffee, please... 
I often use Klout, which I tend to update on a Sunday night with a supply of older posts for the week ahead.   Unfortunately, I can't front load it with the upcoming posts, so I still do these manually as my links tend not to work until I actually hit publish.   

This means that posting days are more hectic that regular days and it means that I will spend time at lunch posting a new article for the second time and then repeat this later that evening.  In between times, I'll put in an 8 hour shift, drive for 1.5 hours, have a swim or session on the bike, make dinner, and do anything else that's required of me.   

While all that's going on, I try to rack my brains for topics, fit in a few North Wales visits and, generally, live my life.   I can't recall the last time I watched any TV that didn't involve me looking up from my laptop and absent mindedly asking what I missed or who that new character might be.  I no longer know who's top of any football league, which is a crime in my eyes and, although I'm not entirely sure who the Prime Minister is these days, I'm fairly certain I won't like him.   

Oh My Blog....Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me How Hard This Would Be? - dog
huh?  who's that?  what's going on?
Funnily enough, I though this is the process that would take up most of my time.  It isn't.  In fact, it takes up less of my time than all the other social media/marketing/designing graphics and all that Other Stuff.

Sometimes, it's the THINKING about what to write that slows me down.  Once I have something in mind, or have visited a new place, I'm fairly efficient at piecing my words together.

I downloaded the Blogger app for my iPhone and often find myself writing in the Doctor Surgery waiting room (a great place for quiet reflection...), during my lunch hour, or when I get dragged to Screwfix or B&Q of a weekend and sit in the car, refusing to go in AGAIN.   

It's amazing how those little spells of time can transform into fully flown blog posts if you set your mind to it.    I can save them as drafts and then come back to them when I have another few minutes to spare.    I tend to work on a post on my phone, have one in the office, and several on my laptop.   This means I tend to write several at once, but it makes me feel oddly efficient. 

Oh My Blog....Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me How Hard This Would Be? - writing
work, work, work... 
The Fun Stuff: 
Don't get me wrong: I love writing about my travels and I've learnt so much about blogging stuff I didn't even know I needed to know.   I've picked up so many new skills, had lovely comments and so much support from LT, my family and friends.   I've also found some lovely bloggers on social media who I've enjoyed chatting to.   

I tune in to a North Wales tweet up on a Thursday night and get to hear about some fantastic businesses in my area and what they've been up to.   It also gives me an insight into new attractions that I can go explore.  

I know I have TONS more to learn and I'm very conscious of the fact that I don't have a real posting schedule and tend to just back up posts on Blogger until I'm ready to go with them.   

The only thing I proactively try to do is make sure that I split my posts up between my main areas of travel.   Apart from that?  I'm just flying around by the seat of my pants.    

I'd love to hear any tips you have to improve my blog and my schedule?  I rather feel like I'm totally disorganised.

Suz x

*A civil war raging through the streets of Dyffryn couldn't make me do this. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

My Sunday Morning Websites

With a full time 'real' job and two part time blogs, I often struggle to fit a lot of other stuff in to my week.    That makes me no different to everyone else, but I do try to make time on a Sunday morning to just sit with a cup of coffee (or four), while Les works in the shed and do a spot of Internet related reading.   

These are my go-to sites:


Yes, I'm sadly obsessed with TMZ.   I used to visit every day but now I only tend to have a quick flick through if I catch a headline I'm interested in.   Unfortunately, I have zero interest in the Kardashians, so I'm not on there quite as much these days.    

The thing I love about TMZ is that it ALWAYS seems to be first with the latest celebrity death news and, if there's one thing I like, it's a gruesome news story.   Yes, I am that morbid.   

Amber is a Scottish fashion and lifestyle blogger whom I once shared a work building with many, many years ago.   She sensibly left and developed multiple successful blogs while I stayed and hated myself for a few more years before finally getting out and never looking back. 

I love Amber's sense of humour and she can turn the most seemingly inane topic or event into a brilliantly funny story.     She also looks good in everything and her vintage inspired wardrobe is unbelievable.  One of the things I love most about Forever Amber is the normality of it all.  I don't mean that to sound rude, as I love it, but what I mean is that she doesn't pretend to be anything that she's not.  

What she IS, however, is lovely and stylish and funny with a shoe collection that makes mine look like the recycle bin at Dolgellau Co-op.   

Dominique, like me, is fairly new to blogging; or at least publishing her blogs.   She's been writing excellent books reviews for as long as I can recall and her writing style is fantastic.   As a travel addict, Dom has lived and worked in various countries around the world and this gives her an insight into things that regular tourists just don't see.

She has a relaxed and free flowing style that makes for easy reading and she takes a mean photo.

Betsy, the owner and writer for the site, is a friend of my younger sister, which is, basically, how I know about her blog.   I've never actually met or spoken to her, but the things she gets up to never fail to make me laugh.

She also has a way with words that reminds me of watching SATC and listening to Carrie ruminating about her life.    Now, I'd just like to point out and in no way am I making any other reference to Betsy in this vein - I just like her writing!! 

Betsy's account of attending dance class in London takes me back to Carrie and Charlotte and the odd movement class they took.   And it made me giggle just as much.

I can't live without this one.   OK, so that's not strictly true, but what I mean is that I don't want to.    I love the mix of nutty stories, relevant newsworthy articles and, obviously, photos of dogs dressed as humans.

If I've had a long and demoralising shift (which is a LOT), I love nothing more than hopping into bed and catching up with a variety of dog breeds doing stupid things.   It makes me seriously happy.     If you can't be cheered up by puppies in outfits then you're dead inside, tbh.   

What are your favourite websites?

Suz x