Volunteering with Crisis at Christmas

For the second year running, over Christmas, I volunteered at Crisis, a charity which provides immediate help for homeless people over the festive period.

Over the past couple of months, I have been encouraging friends and family to volunteer with me, or at their local centre. There were a few lovely people (thank you!) who got on board straight away, but in general there seems to be a perception that volunteering over the Christmas period is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. I (obviously) disagree – but I do completely understand why one may choose not to volunteer over the festive period, when time spent with family and loved ones is often rare but golden.

I thought it might be useful to provide a brief summary of my time at Crisis, in the hope that maybe it will convince a few people to sign up in 2019.

What happens during a typical Crisis shift?

Crisis run Christmas centres in 15 locations across the UK, housing more than 4,500 guests over an eight-day period.

As a general volunteer, you can take part in a wide range of tasks including greeting and registering new guests, serving food, helping to run activities, maintaining facilities etc.

If you’ve got a specific skill, the centres offer a variety of services such as hairdressing, dentistry, medical consultations and counselling services.  

I think my most memorable shift was Christmas Eve 2017. I got chatting to a guest, who was training to become a nail technician – he gave me the most in-depth summary of my cuticles I have ever heard (I loved it). This conversation was not particularly poignant – but as it was my first ever shift, it was intensely eye-opening.

Sit and talk to guests, learn from them, deepen your understanding, don’t make assumptions and don’t be ignorant.

What are my reasons for volunteering?

This is an easy question to answer – I simply can’t think of a single reason NOT to volunteer.

Nobody should have to wake up homeless on Christmas Day (or any day!!), and if I can help in any way, no matter how miniscule, then why wouldn’t I?

I also really value meeting people from all walks of lives – this applies to both volunteers and guests – and hearing their unique stories and experiences.

How can you help?

If possible, give time, not money; volunteering is one of the most effective ways to make a valuable impact. Homelessness is on the rise, thus your support is more important than ever.

If you are unable to volunteer at a Crisis centre, there are plenty of other ways you can help!

Have you volunteered with Crisis or any of the other fantastic homeless charities within the UK? If so, I would love to hear about your experiences.

My Top Three Podcasts of 2018

In the listening versus reading debate, I am far more partial to the latter – thus finding a podcast that truly engages me can be quite a task. That being said, there are so many fantastic podcasts out there.

Here are three of the best, in no particular order (that’s a lie as number one is definitely my no. 1).

1.Table Manners with Jessie Ware

This is my absolute favourite.

Table Manners has been described as ‘an ode to food’, which it is, but it’s also so much more. Jessie, along with her mother, Lennie, cooks a three-course meal for their celebrity guest. Whilst each episode is predominantly centred around the guest, what I love most about this podcast is the way Jessie interacts with Lennie – their relationship is so endearing and authentic.

Some highlights include:

  • Mel B
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Paloma Faith

A little suggestion for the next guest – PICK ME. I may not be a celebrity, but I do love delicious food, plus I think we’d have a really great time.

2. The Guilty Feminist

Feminist podcasts are becoming a crowded space, but every single episode of The Guilty Feminist (that I’ve listened to – which is most of them!) has been thought-provoking, humorous, sad and infuriating all at once.

Deborah Frances-White explores a wide range of topics including female friendship, toxic masculinity, diet culture and gender stereotypes. There’s nothing more relatable, and in my opinion, there’s no better podcast that explores the complexities of modern day feminism in an honest but light-hearted manner.

Some highlights include:

  • Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies
  • Repeal the Eighth with Helen Linehan
  • Mental Health with Milly Thomas

3. Stuff You Should Know

Hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, this podcast is essentially about how things work. This covers politics, sociology, history, current affairs and many other topics.

I have a love/hate relationship with Stuff You Should Know. Josh and Chuck go off on a tangent frequently, and whilst some might view this as authentic (i.e. it sounds natural and conversational), I find it sloppy and irritating. I don’t want to listen to 45 minutes of unengaging banter and inside jokes (sorry Josh and Chuck).

However, I really enjoy learning alllll the things, and this podcast has taught me many things!

Some highlights include:

  • How Grief Works
  • How Search and Rescue Dogs Work
  • How Kleptomania Works

If you have any podcast recommendations, please do let me know!

Why You Should Never Comment on Someone’s Food Choices

(Just me with a bread roll, you’re welcome.)

Last week, over a period of three days, I received 12 comments on my food choices. These comments came from the same three people – here are a few of my favourites:

“Mell’s eating chocolate! Bet that makes a nice change from all the rabbit food? HMMM?”

“Do you weigh out your water too?”  (This comment is made to me every morning when I weigh out my oats, followed by said person laughing hysterically at his own joke. Every. Single. Morning.)

“Oh, for god’s sake, what’s the point in you coming if you’re not going to drink?!”

A few years ago, when I first began making changes to my diet, I would simply laugh these comments off. Sometimes I would panic and make up excuses regarding my food choices – “I’m not drinking tonight as I’m taking antibiotics” was a classic.

The truth is that I no longer wish to drink on a regular basis, and I weigh out my food because I want to ensure that I’m eating enough to fuel my running – it’s as simple as that. Obviously, I shouldn’t have to justify my eating habits. I’m genuinely curious, why do you care what I eat?! Perhaps this is a cultural, gender or generational thing?

Weight loss/gain comments come under the same remit. I was recently congratulated (?!) on my weight, informed that the reason my running has improved is due to apparent weight loss, and advised to “keep up the good work.”

Just a polite reminder: “You’ve lost/gained weight” is not necessarily a compliment; in fact, this comment made me feel extremely awkward. I know that I’m not alone in this, and I’ve had numerous conversations with friends who have been put in similarly uncomfortable situations.

This may sound like a trivial issue, but it is closely linked with harmful societal norms about women’s bodies.

Criticising somebody else’s food preferences, or their weight, is an invasion of their privacy.

If you are genuinely concerned about someone’s eating habits, then, of course, that’s a completely different issue. If you are simply projecting your own negativity insecurities onto others, then I would politely (but not that politely) ask you to mind your own business.

Some people love to judge and condemn others (shout out to Hortencia), and I still haven’t worked out the most effective way to deal with these comments. Any tips on this would be much appreciated, as the festive period is rife for “OOOOOH should you be eating that?!”

Christmas Sadness ft. Indulgent Guinea Pigs

Amidst the copious amounts of Christmas gift guides, clever marketing tactics and delicious recipes, I wanted to touch upon something that I wish was discussed more often.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve felt differently about Christmas. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but volunteering at Crisis and my trip to Malawi are certainly contributing factors. DON’T PANIC, I haven’t turned into a massive Scrooge; my values have simply evolved with age, and that’s completely natural.

I adored Christmas growing up, surrounded by family and friends and unnecessary amounts of tasty treats. I’m incredibly privileged, which perhaps gives me no right to have Christmas sadness, but nonetheless there it is simmering away like a sad brussel sprout.

We’re all aware that Christmas is a celebration of mindless consumerism at its finest. I came to terms with that a long time ago, but I think it really hit me this year when somebody asked me (in early October?!) if I had finished buying all my Christmas presents yet. No, Hortencia, of course I haven’t you raging lunatic.

A small part of my Christmas sadness comes down to the fact that most of the festive celebrations that I loved so much as a young whippersnapper are no longer in existence. The main part is my internal eye-roll when Hortencia boasts about spending £3500 on her guinea pig. It’s the unrealistic expectations of perfection, the unnecessary pressure to be happy, the set of rules and regulations that can be so difficult for a lot of people.

I know I am being hypocritical; over the festive period, I will most certainly be partaking in activities such as visiting Winter Wonderland and spending £92345 on a mug of mulled wine which contains 1% wine, 99% water.

I’ll also be volunteering* again, running a LOT, working, and of course spending time with my favourite people. I will be gifting people with experiences rather than mindless tat/unwanted presents and cards.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy; I know that I’m not doing anything ground-breaking and of course I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about enjoying Christmas! However, I do believe that you should focus on whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled, rather than what you feel you ‘should’ be doing over the festive period.

In the least dramatic way possible, Christmas will never be what it once was for me, and that’s a good thing.

*I will write a separate blog about Crisis and some of the other charity work that I will be doing. I would like to emphasise that I strongly agree with the mantra ‘Volunteering is for life, not just for Christmas.’

3 Lessons I’ve Learned from Blogging

Today marks my 30th blog post which excites me greatly, therefore I am choosing to view this as a small milestone.

In light of this, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned from blogging thus far.

1. Don’t be boring

I quickly discovered that many blogs are carbon copies of one another. Of course, it’s great to take inspiration from other bloggers and it’s almost impossible to create 100% unique content. I’m aware that there are hundreds of ‘Things I’ve Learned from Blogging’ posts, thus my current post is a prime example!

However, recently I saw four separate blogs with the EXACT same title, offering the exact same tips. Why try and recreate something that has already been done?! Not only is it lazy, but it’s not particularly engaging for your readers. 

The blogs that I enjoy the most are personal and subjective. They are genuine, authentic and give a true flavour of that person’s personality.

I admit that some of my earlier blogs are ‘safer’, as I was consciously avoiding any topics/phrases/even words that might be deemed controversial – essentially, they’re boring.

2. Taking criticism

A big old cliché but you can’t please everybody, and I don’t want to, as that would make this blog ever so dull. I think it’s great that some of my posts have sparked a debate; I am open to criticism, and I love hearing different points of view.

However, I have recently received some comments that were downright mean and knowing when and how to disregard those comments will be such a beneficial learning curve for me.

3. The joy of writing

I forgot how much I loved writing (A Level English ruined my love of writing for many years!) and starting this blog has reignited my passion. Writing allows me to be creative, it’s therapeutic, and it’s a privilege that should never be taken for granted.

I know that I’m not the best writer and that my humble little running blog isn’t exactly ground-breaking. However, the fact that my blog is now being read by thousands of people each month blows my mind.

So, thank you for reading my ramblings over the past seven months – I greatly appreciate it!


My blog has been nominated for the Running Awards; if you’ve enjoyed my posts, I would love it if you could take a moment to vote for me. Simply go to Blog (Personal) > Mell Telka > VOTE VOTE VOTE.

Gender Inequality in Cross-Country Running

When I was 6, I went to my first ever Arsenal match with my Dad. I can remember the day SO clearly, partly because my Dad covered my ears throughout to block out any “rude words” shouted by other fans, but also because this is the first time that I was exposed to any form of gender gap.

I struggled to concentrate on the game as I was too busy asking questions about Arsenal Ladies FC;

“Can we go and watch the ladies next time?”

“Why have I never seen Arsenal Ladies on tv?”

“But WHYYYYY does nobody go and watch the ladies?!”

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that at the time I didn’t really understand and proceeded to sulk the whole way home. Twenty years later, I felt a similar sense of sadness upon discovering that women’s races are often significantly shorter than men’s at cross country events. *

In January this year, I along with 3000 others signed a petition calling for equal distances among men and woman. I’m unsure as to what (if any) steps have been taken since the petition was put into action, although a bit of Googling has resulted in a very vague update that UK Athletics is working towards equal distances.

I want to make it clear that I am a HUGE fan of cross-country. I love that it’s not elitist, I love the general excitement/team spirit/build up, and most of all I love running through the mud and sludge. I am getting mini palpitations of excitement just writing this!

However, the unequal distances baffle me. I have questioned this matter many times and am always greeted with a response along the lines of “well, it’s a very traditional sport.” I’ve also been informed that a lot of male runners would prefer a shorter distance… no comment.

There is no logical reason that I can think of that justifies this discrepancy, and quite frankly it worries me that 6-year-old Mell watching the football feels the same as 27-year-old Mell running cross-country.

*This post focuses specifically on cross-country running in England. In Scotland and the World Cross Country Championships, equal distances have been implemented. 

Am I a “loud woman?”

A couple of weeks ago I read an article* about “loud women” (whatever that means) and immediately felt compelled to write about it. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily class myself as a “loud woman’” and obviously this is a ridiculous phrase, there were many aspects of this article that resonated with me and I wanted to share a couple of them.

  • Loud shaming

I can’t count the amount of times I have been told to use my ‘inside voice’, both as a child and as an adult. Approximately 70% of the time the person telling me to be a little bit quieter has a very valid point; of course, there are certain situations where one should be quiet, and I definitely need to learn how to whisper!

However, being told to use my ‘inside voice’ always brings about a familiar sense of shame – the feeling that I have spoken out of turn or embarrassed myself in some way, when in fact this is just my voice, booming out like a big old foghorn.

Am I being ridiculous? Am I being over-sensitive? Perhaps, but I do believe that loud shaming is an expression that should be recognised and acknowledged.

  • What is a loud man?

Obviously loud men do exist, but I think the word ‘loud’ has a different meaning across genders. If I were to simplify it, I would say that loud men are confident, go-getters, intelligent and attractive. Loud women, on the other hand, are overpowering, intimidating and somewhat hostile…perhaps even irritating?

I am being rather presumptuous here, as I have based this purely on personal experience, and the experiences of those close to me.

Therefore, I would love to open this discussion to a wider audience. I would also be really interested in hearing your thoughts in the context of running** (of course!) so please do get in touch!

*The article was written by Viv Groskop, author of How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking

**Gender equality in sport has always been a controversial topic, and one that I am interested in exploring in later posts.

My blog has been nominated for the Running Awards; if you’ve enjoyed my posts, I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to vote for me. Simply go to Blog (Personal) > Mell Telka > VOTE VOTE VOTE.

Tough Mudder; A very Tory pastime

Just over a month ago I completed my first Tough Mudder Full, and in doing so ticked another goal off my 30 before 30 list…only 15 more to go! Apologies for the belated blog – due to unforeseen circumstances I was unable to post after the event.

Prior to TM, I thought it would be interesting to review some feedback from others…it turns out that there are some VERY strong opinions on the TM events!

Here are two of my (almost) favourite comments (my actual favourite comments cannot be shared with the public as they were so offensive):

“I’ve never heard of this ‘Tough Mudder’ or similar events, now I know that if I see events like this on my travels, I know it’s a bunch of knobheads pretending to be hard men and I can avoid them”

“A very Tory pastime”

Although a lot of the feedback was hilarious, I was and still am a little perplexed about the outrage that TM has caused. I have read some terrible event feedback on a variety of races, but nothing like this…who are all these angry individuals?! Why are they so full of rage?!

Contrarily, I thought that TM London South was a fantastic event; it was exceptionally well organised, it was both a physical and mental challenge, and I did not come across a single moron on the course which is a very rare occurrence. In fact, all participants that I encountered were quite the opposite of moronic.

My only criticism would be as follows:

  • Why is it called London South? It’s most definitely not in London.

(This is a rhetorical question, we all know that this is simply a clever marketing technique.)

  • ££££££££££

The fact that I forked out £140 still gives me palpitations. This amount does not even cover bag drop, parking etc. I was also perplexed to discover that TM charges spectators £10 for the privilege of watching participants crawl around in the mud like sweaty little piglets.

Would I partake in another Tough Mudder? Probably not, purely because I could run four marathons for that price.

Do I think it’s a very Tory pastime? Quite frankly I have no idea, but I did thoroughly enjoy that review.

If you have taken part in any of the Tough Mudder events please do let me know your thoughts!

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My blog has been nominated for the Running Awards; if you’ve enjoyed my posts, I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to vote for me. Simply go to Blog (Personal) > Mell Telka > VOTE VOTE VOTE.

My Winter Resolutions

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, purely because I don’t see the point in making a resolution just because I feel like I HAVE to. I don’t want to make resolutions based on the expectations of others or the need to conform to societal norms (which is what I have done in the past.) I would rather make goals/resolutions throughout the year because I WANT to.

Don’t worry, this is not yet another goal-setting guide. I just thought it might be interesting to share some of my winter resolutions and hopefully inspire you to have a think about what you want to achieve over the next couple of months.

Reading 

I have always been a massive book worm. When I was a young whippersnapper, I handwrote hundreds of books; when I was 9, I even wrote my own spin off Harry Potter series (Tamara Jenkins and the Eagle Cauldron, absolute classic) accompanied by some very questionable illustrations. Basically I was (and probably still am) a massive geek with a very overactive imagination.

I frequently set myself reading goals, and for the next couple of months this involves reading more non-fiction, focusing predominantly on feminist non-fiction. I’ve just started reading Rise Up Women! by Diane Atkinson which explores the fight for women’s suffrage and will also be reading The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic.

Do you have any non-fiction feminist book recommendations? If so I would love to hear them!

Running 

MORE STRENGTH TRAINING.

I have always ensured to supplement running with strength training, and in the lead up to London Marathon I want to focus on this more than ever.

That’s all I need to say on this one!

Embrace Fear

I have been contemplating a change in career for over 2 years but have only recently been brave enough to go for it.

What’s been holding me back? It has nothing to do with fear of failure – it’s more to do with the expectations of others RE not following the career path that I have worked so hard on for the past 10 years.

None of us like to disappoint people, especially those close to us, and my change in career has disappointed a surprising amount of people. The internal battle of wanting to pursue my passion whilst feeling incredibly guilty has had a detrimental impact on my mental health, and in all honesty, I am still struggling with this.

However, I have finally come to the realisation that my career choice is nobody else’s business. I still have a long way to go, and some big decisions to make, therefore my key goal for the next few months is to be brave, embrace the fear and pursue my passion – I’m super excited for what’s to come!

When do you set goals/resolutions? I would love to hear from you!

Malawi Diaries Part 3: Kayak Challenge & Rainbow Hope Secondary School

The third and final challenge was a 25km Kayak on Lake Malawi, around Cape Maclear and Domwe Island.

I have never kayaked before, much to the amusement and disbelief of my wonderful and very patient kayaking guide. In fact, I haven’t been in a boat since 2003; 15 years ago, I went on a school trip to France, and the ferry journey was so unpleasant that I dramatically vowed to NEVER set foot on a boat again.

I was (definitely) not a natural on the kayak, but I was given some great tips from my guide and teammates, and eventually we got into a strong, comfortable rhythm. The Kayak challenge took around 4 and a half hours, and despite my initial concerns I found it rather therapeutic and of course the views were spectacular.

After the excitement of completing (and surviving!) the final Sport with a Purpose challenge, we visited Rainbow Hope Secondary School.

We were treated to a fantastic but heart-wrenching drama performance, which highlighted some of the issues that Malawian women face; serious gender disparities are prominent in Malawi and the play touched on just a few of these – education, marriage, and violence against women.

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Over the past five years, Rainbow Hope has developed from what was essentially a piece of derelict land to a functioning secondary school with three classrooms and 130 students. The aim is for the school to sustain itself by fee paying students, therefore most children must be sponsored to attend.

The Sport with a Purpose Team have sponsored 25 children, who will now be able to attend Rainbow Hope for their four years of secondary school education. * I am really excited to be a part of this!

It’s difficult to sum up my experiences, and actually I don’t want to, because I feel like I am still living it. I don’t want to come across like a pretentious moron, but I genuinely feel like a different person as a result of my time spent in Malawi. I hope that I have brought that person home with me, and I hope to continue to spread the word and inspire people to visit Malawi; friends, family, colleagues and strangers have asked me many questions and displayed a real curiosity, which was quite unexpected and very heartening.

Zikomo to everyone involved for the most challenging, emotional and inspirational trip.

*If you are interested in sponsorship, please do let me know and I can provide further details. It only costs £140 – £175 per year, and your sponsorship could make a HUGE difference to a potential pupil who will be so keen to learn.

Malawi Diaries Part 2: Cycle Challenge & YODEP

The second part of my Malawi Diaries will cover our visit to YODEP Village Community Project and our next challenge – the 55k Zomba Plateau Ride (climbing over 6000ft!)

I am a (very) nervous cyclist, therefore I anticipated that this would be my biggest challenge of the three. However, this brutal mountain bike was tougher than I ever could have anticipated, both physically and mentally.

Much like the Mulanje Mountain run, the route was very technical and therefore tricky to navigate. There were two options for the cycle, 35k or 55k, and in my head I was always going to complete the shorter ride (which was still an ABSOLUTE beast.) However, upon approaching the 35k split (whilst gripping onto my handlebars so tightly that I was beginning to lose sensation in my fingers), I was encouraged by my wonderful teammates to go for the 55k.

My biggest cycling fear is riding downhill, and this was downhill like I had never seen it before; steep, rough terrain with large rocks, holes and various other obstacles. We cycled through forests, streams and picturesque waterfalls – the views were INCREDIBLE.

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Although I wish I could say that I began to relax as the ride progressed, my honest feedback is that I felt anxious for approximately 90% of the Zomba Plateau challenge. Anxious is probably an understatement – I was sweating like a pregnant warthog.

However, it was an incredible experience, and I am very proud of everyone that completed it and so thankful for all the encouragement and words of wisdom from our fantastic guides. Despite my fear of the bike, this will not be the end of my cycling ‘career’ as I am far too stubborn/motivated/crazy to give up – plus, I’ve committed to take on my first triathlon next year!

Another highlight from my time in Malawi was our visit to YODEP Village Community Project.

YODEP (Youth for Development and Productivity) is a nonprofit community based organisation, established to help address socio-economic issues encountered by orphaned children, women and youth.

We received a very warm welcome upon our arrival at YODEP including allllll the singing, dancing, smiles and laughter.

A 5k run around the village really highlighted the strength and resilience of these amazing children – some ran in flip flops, some ran in odd shoes, and some ran in no shoes, but this most definitely did not stop them! These kids are SO fast and so talented, and with the right support and opportunities, could potentially go on to become world-class athletes.

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This was another eye-opening experience, and one that I will never forget. It was a pleasure meeting the kids at YODEP, who not only displayed exceptional sporting talent, but were also so welcoming, curious and kind-hearted.

If you are interested in helping YODEP, please let me know and I can provide further info!

Malawi Diaries Part 1: Mount Mulanje & Street Chef

I found it difficult to write this post as I have SO much I’d like to share about my trip to Malawi, therefore I thought I would break it down into three separate posts (which could potentially end up being 86 posts if I struggle to contain myself.)

This post will cover two of the highlights from my first couple of days in Malawi.

As part of the Sport with a Purpose campaign, we took part in a series of endurance challenges across Southern Malawi led by Dame Kelly Holmes – the first being a 25k mountain run up Mount Mulanje, the highest mountain in Southern Central Africa. We followed the route of The Porters Race, one of Malawi’s most challenging extreme sporting events.

The route is rocky, hazardous, unbelievably steep and incomparable to anything I have ever experienced! It was more of a scramble/fast walk/steady jog than a run, with extremely technical uphill trails and an equally challenging descent.

Mount Mulanje is incredibly beautiful; we were treated to views of spectacular waterfalls, majestic peaks, andddd I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the beauty of the landscape surrounding us so hopefully these photos will help!

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My teammates, along with the team that supported us, were fantastic throughout the challenge (and throughout the duration of the trip.) There is something very special about being part of a team of people who all share a common passion, and this set a precedent for the rest of the challenges.

Another key event from my first couple of days in Malawi was visiting Street Chef, an initiative which aims to provide more nutritious food for Malawians using locally sourced food cooked in an environmentally way.

Our visit to Street Chef was an eye-opening experience, and really highlighted some of the key issues surrounding nutrition in Malawi. More than half of Malawian children suffer from chronic malnutrition; this is a HUGE problem in Malawi and one that I cannot even begin to comprehend.

Street Chef have developed stoves that use minimal firewood and are a great accessory for a street food kitchen. These stoves come with recipes and training on how to make delicious food that is locally sourced, cheap to buy, and packed with nutrients.

I can confirm that the food was DELICIOUS (particularly the goat stew!) and it was great to see how inspired and motivated the team were.

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If you would like more information on Street Chef, or would be happy to donate*, please click here

*To those who have already donated via my personal GoFundMe page – thank you so much! To anyone else who is planning on donating, please could I ask that you use the link above.