How to Make DIY Scented Soy Candles

Soy candle makingA little while ago I got into candle making.  Many people don’t try it out because they think it’s either too complicated, too dangerous or too expensive.  It’s not any of those (well, maybe a little bit dangerous if you let the candles boil too high and then they can explode), it’s actually pretty therapeutic and fun.  In this example I’m making a Harry Potter style “Butterbeer” scented candle.

#1 – Find your container.  I used an old coffee jar.

#2 – Work out roughly how much wax think you’re going to use.  I like to use soy wax because it pours better and looks nicer.  It also burns longer and cleaner so is better for the environment.  It’s not good for putting into candle moulds though as it won’t come out of the mould like paraffin wax does (I learned this the hard way).  You can determine roughly how much wax you’ll need by filling your container twice over with the dry wax.

#3 – Use a double boiler, never ever heat the wax directly.  Put the wax into something you won’t be using for anything other than wax ever again.  Melt the wax using the double boiler.

#4 – Whilst you’re waiting for the wax to melt, put your jar in some warm water.  If the glass is warm when the wax is poured into it, it sticks to the glass better and doesn’t crystallise as much.  It just looks nicer but if you’re not fussed about how it looks, you can just leave your container as is.  Put a candle wick in the centre of the container. I use Blu-Tac to stick mine to the centre or it just floats to the top when you pour the wax in

#5 – An optional step but necessary for my Butterbeer candle; you can use wax dye to colour the wax.  Despite what you may read, it doesn’t give a nice finish if you use ordinary childrens’ wax crayons to colour the wax.  If you feel like colouring the wax, wax dyes can be purchased online or from most craft stores.  Just let the dye melt into the wax.

#6 – When the temperature gets to roughly 140c turn off the heat and let it start to cool naturally.

#7 – Again, another optional step but you can add scents to the mix when the temperature cools to roughly 120c.  Stir gently.

#8 – Pour the wax into your (warmed) container and steady the wick.

# 9 – Allow to cool for roughly 12 hours.

#10 – Light her up!

How to Organise Your Life

I remember once hearing the phrase “a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind” and as my OCD has increased steadily over the years that phrase has become more and more at the forefront of my thoughts every single day.  My desk at work is spotless, void of any paperwork and all hardware is arranged at right angles.  I’m not saying that having my keyboard, mouse and dual-screens all lined up nicely in any way makes them work any better – hell, it annoys the crap out of my colleagues, but it makes me work better.  I’m very pro-clear-desk-policies in the workplace.  Some places I’ve worked at have had a “clear desk” policy in which anything left on your desk after you leave gets put in the bin by the cleaners.  Messy work spaces make trying to concentrate or get on with things just that little bit more difficult.  The same also applies at home.

It’s difficult to keep everything organised all of the time but simple rules help me to avoid being a hoarder as well as keeping my environments, be it at work or home, clean tidy and organised.

#1 – Tidy as you go.  It only takes a couple of seconds to put away whatever it is you’ve been using/wearing so rather than throw your coat on the back of the sofa or leave those dishes in the sink, put them away as soon as your done with them.  There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning to a sink full of smelly dishes that you feel obliged to wash before you leave because they’re already stinking the house out since you didn’t wash them last night.

#2 – Categorise stuff.  I know where everything is at all times (unless my work colleagues, who think it’s hilarious to mess my stuff up, move things around) because I categorise things and keep them together.  For example, I have a bunch of computer-related gear in my home office that I have sorted through and keep together in a stowaway coffee table in the room.  The coffee table has four of these stowaway boxes, so one has computer stuff like printer discs, earphones, USB cables etc in.  Another only contains DVDs.  The third only has books and the fourth has back copies of Fortean Times (not even joking, I don’t have many friends).  Just treat it as though you might have to move house at any moment so it’ll make unpacking everything in the new house that much easier because you’ll know where everything is.

#3 – If you don’t love it and you don’t use it, bin it.  It’s surprising how much clutter we hold onto without even realising.  I have a bi-yearly closet clear out and some of the clothes I had completely forgotten I’d even bought.  Others I look at and think “why on Earth did I buy that?”.  I managed to fill six bin bags of clothes I didn’t wear or like anymore and I took them all to the charity shop.  So some other kid who has no friends and reads Fortean Times can also dress like a Marvel Avengers crazed fan.

#4 – Prepare for the next day the night before and then get up a little bit earlier on a morning.  Apparently the best practice is to allow 90 minutes before having to leave the house.  I don’t know about you, but I seriously love my sleep and 90 minutes is a long time extra in bed.  I tend to leave myself around 40 – 45 minutes and since I’ve already prepared everything else the night before (i.e. ironed my uniform, pre-made my lunch which is sitting waiting for me in the fridge etc) all I really have to do is have some breakfast, a shower and put on my clothes, before having a glimpse through what Instagram has to offer that day.

#5 – Try and get into a routine.  If you’re set in a routine that says you usually go to the gym on a Wednesday straight after work, then you’ll be less likely to think “I’ll just give it a miss this once”.

# 6 – Practice often and eventually it becomes second nature.  When I first decided I would start being more organised I had to force myself into a routine to make my life easier.  Now that I’ve been practising being organised for so many years, it’s second nature and I don’t even have to think about it anymore.  That’s not to say that my strict rules and routine haven’t actually invoked my current state of OCD, but it’s not doing any harm to my lifestyle either.

Elder Scrolls Online – Xbox One

Elder Scrolls Online Box Art

Back in the early naughties I was a big fan of Guild Wars. I’d played World of Warcraft but hated the fact that they were charging a monthly fee of £8.99 as well as the initial cost of the game. It was just as well I didn’t take to the game because if I had, I couldn’t have afforded to play it anyway. Guild Wars was a cheaper alternative and I instantly loved it. I lost endless hours of my life to that game.

After the Guild Wars craze sort of died out, I didn’t play any more MMORPGs for a lot of years. I stuck to your standard Fallouts, Oblivions and Risens. Having been introduced to the Elder Scrolls series by a friend who loaned me Morrowind, I found a new love and became a hardcore fan (I even have a real life Septim coin). I played Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim and all expansion packs for all three to death so was beyond overjoyed when Bethesda announced they were making an Elder Scrolls MMORPG.

I bought it for PC as soon as it came out but was a bit put off by the monthly fee. It ran rubbish on my laptop and it was a long while before they binned off the monthly fee and I gave it a second chance on the Xbox One.

Image for character of Elder Scrolls Online
I’m so badass

Having been a player now for over a year I can assuredly say that I am in love with this game.

First appearances, it looks as you would expect any land in any of the Elder Scrolls series to look, except the beauty of this game is that you get to go to all the places you’ve explored in the other games. Sure, I loved Skytim but I missed being able to walk around Bruma and Seyda Neen. Now I can go back to all those places any time I want.

The characters are your standard Elder Scrolls races which is all good – however there aren’t a great deal of classes to choose from (unlike Guild Wars). That being said, it hasn’t really impeded my love for the game.

The initial starting quests are standard as in every Bethesda game – more of tutorials than anything else and tend to be very linear. Once you battle past these though, you’re free to do what you what, how you want, when you want.

The crafting system is really diverse and it’s really fun to level this up just to see what new cool stuff you can kit your character out with. Many a time as a noob (which I sort of still feel a bit like I am, despite being Champion Level 175) I found myself staring in awe at a high level character who was dressed so awesome and shiney that I couldn’t wait to get to that level so I could make that gear for myself.

Having played Final Fantasy Online, I was a bit dubious about how the Elder Scrolls community would be online. I wasn’t disappointed. I was invited to join a guild, which I did and didn’t really participate it in much, despite it having over 100 members, since I preferred to quest alone so I didn’t get yelled at by people shouting random acronyms that I had no idea what they meant at me.

Questing alone, whilst difficult, is not impossible, however if you hang around for long enough, people who are also doing the same quest, or just passing by, more often than not stop to help you, which is great. I think in the hundreds of hours I’d played, I’ve only ever had one person run past me and leave me to the wolves (literally and figuratively).

I got a little bit involved in my guild recently, since I figured I should be more of a team player so I quite often use the text chat to say hi and check how everyone’s doing. I figured a lot of people don’t use the text chat like we used to in the naughties since there’s mostly only me and a couple others who use it, but I’m too self conscious to use my headset and voice chat. Apparently this turned out to be true since one guild member typed “i guess my headset is fkd”. I geeked out and thought it was brilliant when my fellow guild members starting typing messages out to him in morse code.

I had been having trouble with a really hard quest and no one else ever seemed to be around doing it at the same time to help me out, so I asked if anyone else in the guild had had trouble with it. Instantly one of my guildmates offered his assistance, which I took and we set off for the quest to kill the boss (which he did in a one hit kill). Comraderie scores A+.

So far, I have played for hundreds of hours and have only just completed 2 of the 3 alliances, the main story line, mages guild story and fighters guild storyline. I still have one more alliance to tackle and all the additional DLC, as well as the latest DLC of Morrowind, so there is plenty to get your teeth sank into.

This game is seriously addictive, with plenty to do, but unless you’re a swords and dragons sort of person who would rather be in a free for all gunfight, the likes of which Halo can provide, then this probably isn’t for you. It takes patience and perseverance but the results are worth it.

Overall, a definite 10/10.

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

Now, I may be slightly biased with this one since I love the 80’s and am a hardcore gamer, but I loved this book from start to finish.  A fellow gamer told me about it and when he used the phrase “cult classic”, I assumed it was a book from the 80’s that I’d missed.  When I discovered it was only published in 2011 I was extremely sceptical to say the least.  When I opened this little gem however, it more than changed my mind – it sent me on an adventure and I didn’t want the book to end.

The story focuses on the main character, Wade Watts (online persona of Parzival).  Wade is an orphan who lives with his aunt in an overcrowded trailer in an almost post-apocalyptic world where we’ve used all our natural resources and the planet is so overpopulated that death and starvation are daily occurrences and because everything is depressing, everyone pretty much conducts everything about their day to day lives inside a virtual reality game called the OASIS.  Wade has no friends IRL (in real life) and even inside the OASIS only has one friend named Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”).  The multi-billionaire creator of the OASIS dies and leaves his entire fortune to whoever can complete a series of quests inside the game and complete them all to find his “Easter egg”.  The story is Wade’s adventure on this quest.

The characters are extremely relate-able, particularly to awkward gamers and geeks who generally, like me, spend most of their lives feeling like social outcasts and even the baddies have a cockiness about them that you can’t help but admire.  The entire cast of characters is made up of what most geeks and gamers would probably deem are everyone they actually know either in game or IRL too, so most of us are immediately drawn to Wade and are easily absorbed and able to immerse ourselves into the world which Ernest Cline carefully crafts for Wade.

There are plenty of 80’s references in the book for the most old-skool retro lover and the storyline is so well written that I literally couldn’t put this book down (imagine my delight when Spielberg announced he was making a movie adaptation!).  You really root for the characters and feel as though you become Wade and feel his joy and pain throughout the book.

Overall, an amazing read that definitely deserves the term “cult classic”.  A must-read for any gamer, social outcast, 80’s lover or just general bookworm.  Please, please, please don’t miss out on this one.

10/10

 

Iain Banks – Complicity

I was recently recommended this book by a colleague who said I would like it because I love crimes, thrillers and horrors.  I’ve never read any other novels by Iain Banks so I figured I’d give him a shot.

Published in 1993, the book is pretty dated and took me a while to get into.  It centres around a Scottish journalist who likes to go a bit heavy on the drugs, fags and drink and isn’t adverse to driving whilst under the influence of any of these.  To be honest, I usually like to root for my main protagonists but I really didn’t like Cameron, he was a loser and if I brought him home to meet my mum she’d talk me out of dating him in seconds.  He was constantly feeling sorry for himself, although pretty much everything bad that had ever happened to him was of his own doing.

He gets involved in working a story about a series of current murders which he thinks is linked to a conspiracy regarding people in power.  That bit grabbed my attention, I love a good conspiracy theory, but Iain Banks obviously doesn’t since he binned it off three-quarters of the way through the book.  It was a bit sudden and seemed like he’d just ran out of ideas for it and couldn’t be arsed to re-write any chapters focusing on that theory so he just made his characters change their mind about the whole thing.

There are several scenes involving bondage and perversity (which to be fair it did state in the book cover synopsis) and that’s not my cup of tea and always tends to make me feel uneasy and wonder about the mental workings of the author, so anyone who gets offended or grossed out by someone kidnapping someone and injecting semen into their veins probably should steer clear of this one.

The writing didn’t grip me and although I understand why it was written the way it was at times (the higher and more drunk Cameron became, the more and more full sentences were strung together with no full stops or breaks) I really found it hard to follow.  I actually ended up scan reading a few pages just to try and get past it.

The ending, whilst a little bit of a twist, wasn’t that major and didn’t seem all that inventive when you look at the book as a whole.  Overall, a decent read if you’ve borrowed it from someone or you’ve got nothing else to read and that’s all there is, but the writing is poor, the story line is very poor and the characters are un-relatable and unlikable.  Considering the author had the likes of James Patterson and Val McDermid to compete with, it was a poor alternative.  Maybe it would make a better film than a book, but unless Morgan Freeman can save it, I doubt it.

Overall score – 5/10