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Saturday, 31 January 2009

If You're Bored...



...try doing a Google Image Search for 'thingy'.

I can't claim credit for this one, my husband just did it on a whim, but some of the results were fabulous.

This strange creature was the #1 result; this cake picture is inspiring me to bake....

'Blog Love' Award




Emmie has tagged me for an award. Actually, she tried to tag everyone for four awards but I thought that was a bit excessive so I said I'd take just one!

I'm not sure what the rules are supposed to be for passing this along, so I'm just going to make it up. Blog Love - for blogs you love :)

My first thought was to give this to Jeanne, for never failing to give me a good laugh. I'm standing by that, but... a couple of days ago I found another blog that really deserves an accolade too.

Julie is 74, and moved from Paris to London last year. She's been blogging much longer than I have (in French and now English), and it's fascinating to see London through her eyes and her camera. She takes great photos of interesting things, and has her own unique take on everything she sees.

Jeanne, you know I love your attitude to ageing - but you have some way to go to match this!!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Crazy Amazon Recommendations



I've been looking on Amazon.co.uk a lot lately, they seem (bizarrely) to be one of the cheapest places for mid-range camera kit.

Yesterday I was thinking about which telephoto lens to get for the new camera, and I thought I'd check out the Amazon recommendations - I bought the camera through them, and I thought they might have an idea of what lenses other people tended to buy for it. (After all, they're very good at telling me when I need a new R.E.M. album.)

Problem is, in addition to telling me what accessories I need for my camera, it also wanted to tell me what camera I might want for my accessories. Clearly Amazon has no hierarchical relationship 'X is an accessory of Y' - they just look at what things happen to be bought at the same time.

So since I bought a spare battery last week, and that also fits with the Canon 1000D which I don't already own, Amazon recommends I buy a new camera. No, thank you!

And since I bought an SD card a few months back, Amazon also believes I want to buy every compact camera that takes the SD format. Again, not quite...

Okay, so you can fix this by going in and telling it not to make recommendations based on particular purchases - I went and switched off recommendations for all my accessories. But I sort of feel I shouldn't have to do that... it should have that sort of info in the product databases.

Where's artificial intelligence when you need it?!

P.S. In the end we got a 55-250mm lens, and a new digital photo frame. Post next week is going to be exciting!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

A Little Owl



I'm fairly sure we have a Little Owl outside our house right now. If you click on that link you can play the sound that it makes - it's quite distinctive, so I think it's either that or someone being murdered. (It seems to have gone quiet since I played all the owl noises from the site, too...)

My First Marshmallow



Before today, I'd never eaten a marshmallow.

As an almost-lifelong vegetarian, I suppose this isn't very surprising given that ordinary marshmallows contain gelatine which is Nasty.

I mentioned my marshmallow deficit while commenting on Johanna's blog and a little while later got a lovely comment from Single White Female pointing me towards Sweet & Sara, an American company making vegan marshmallows. Unfortunately, their online store doesn't ship to the UK, so I sent an email asking them about UK stockists and they suggested I check out Sweet Vegan.


Now, these are not cheap marshmallows by any stretch (and I thought the postage was expensive until I saw that they actually paid quite a lot more on stamps than they charged me!) but since I've always wondered what I was missing out on, I had to order a box.

I was a bit nervous before I tasted one - what if I didn't like it? Then what would I do with the rest of the box? (Okay, that's a silly question... I have a husband for that kind of thing!)


I needn't have worried. They're sticky and sweet and... well, fairly unremarkable I suppose, but nice. Soft, gooey, sugary things. From the outside they feel a bit like Turkish Delight but of course they're completely different once you bite into it. I ate half a one and then started thinking about what to do with the rest. The obvious necessities are to save one for my mum (who's vegan) and to get my husband to answer the burning question: are these like real marshmallows? After all, you wouldn't want to assume you knew about cheese after trying vegan 'cheese'.

The box had 14 marshmallows - I need to make these last, and I need to make it exciting. My mental list of things to do with marshmallows (based on watching other people throughout my life) only runs as far as:
  • Float them on hot chocolate
  • Melt over a candle flame and sandwich between two chocolate hob-nobs
  • Make 'rocky road' sweets
Seriously. That's me out of ideas - and, I note, they all involve chocolate (I'm not complaining).

Please help me out here if you have any marshmallow recipes or some obvious ideas I've missed...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Why I Did Most Of The Wedding Planning



Me: We're going to help Marie with the wedding favours.
Him: Favours?
Me: Yep.
Him: What are favours?

(This is five months after our wedding...)

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Travel Tuesdays #2: Camping



Camping in the Eastfjords, Iceland
Time to tell the story of my header picture. This is a photo taken on our 2006 grand bicycle tour of Iceland, and in particular this was one spot where we camped in the beautiful Eastfjords.

We took this photo just after we'd pitched the tent. Doesn't it all look calm and peaceful? It was, at this moment, but not long after we'd climbed into our sleeping bags the rain started - and oh boy, did it rain! Our tent leaked, we spent the night trying to keep dry by wrapping our raincoats around our sleeping bags... for anyone planning a camping trip in a 20-year-old tent, I do strongly recommend checking that it's waterproof before setting out!

In the morning we cycled round the corner - still in heavy rain - and discovered the best hostel we've ever stayed in, where we then spent the next day drying ourselves and our kit. The funny thing is, even if we'd known it was there we'd probably still have chosen to camp - given the stunning beauty of the spot, and how deceptively clear the sky looked when we settled down to sleep.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Best-Ever Word Verification



I was replying to Pam's post about coconut couscous when I got the best word verification I've ever seen:



How cool is that?

I've had real words a couple of times before but they've been obscure things like anion. Maybe they're incorporating the adsense mindreading technology into word verification now. It would spoil the games.

Oh, and I was at the doctor's this morning - I've been told to rest for the rest of the week. Again. (If I'm not magically fixed by next Monday I have to have blood tests.) Anyone want to open a book on how far I'll get through SATC?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

TV, Bread & Soup...



In December I bought myself the complete box sets of both The West Wing and Sex And The City. I opted out of The West Wing when it first came on TV because it sounded a bit heavy and it was such a long series - but I got addicted later and have seen up to the end of Series 5. The theory behind buying the whole lot on DVD was that I could bring my husband up to speed and then we could watch the end together. But if we manage to watch one episode a week (a reasonable average, I'd have thought) then it will be three years before I get to find out what happens!!

Today, still being ill in bed, I opened the other box set and watched the whole first disc of SATC (six episodes). Aside from that I've been sleeping, and thinking about the bit of extra plot required to get from the current point in my novel to The End (of volume 1). Probably going back to the doctor tomorrow to see if she has any better ideas about what might be wrong with me, or at least see if she can up the dose on these pills.

I made soup for lunch, I needed something lazy and comforting. We tried out our bread maker (given to us by my mum - thanks mum!) for the first time last night so I already had some bread to go with it.

Approximate recipe (serves 1) in case anyone else needs similar comfort food:

1 medium potato
1 large carrot
1 large parsnip
a handful of yellow split peas
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1/2 stock cube
a good squeeze of tomato puree
1tbsp garam masala
splash of soy sauce
chilli flakes to taste
1/2 pint boiling water
  1. Dice potato, carrot & parsnip into 1cm cubes

  2. Put all ingredients into a small pan, stir well, and bring to the boil

  3. Simmer over a low heat for about an hour, adding extra water as required

  4. Once vegetables are soft, mash gently with a potato masher (much easier on the washing up than getting a blender out, and you still get nice lumpy bits)


Saturday, 24 January 2009

RSPB Garden Birdwatch '09




Every year, the RSPB collects data from a national garden birdwatching event. If you're in the UK, you still have time to join in - you just need to devote an hour before the end of the weekend to monitoring the birds which land in your garden.

We live in a beautiful corner of the Cotswolds so I have high hopes for spotting interesting garden visitors - I always hope one of the woodpeckers will come along during the counting hour, but alas not yet.

So, I made my way from bed (where I've spent the last three days) to the bedroom windowsill which has a pretty good view of the front garden.

We also set up the camera at the window. Still haven't decided which telephoto lens to buy, but I thought I might still get something. What actually happened? I pressed the button to take a photo, the clicking scared off all the birds, and I realised it would spoil the whole experiment if we tried to take photos. Bummer. So no photos to go with today's post, sorry - just images 'borrowed' from the RSPB site. I'm going to have to figure out whether I can make the camera take photos more quietly!

Today, we saw: a blackbird, a jay, a magpie, a nuthatch, 3 great tits, 2 robins, a dunnock, and a female chaffinch.

Incidentally, the RSPB bird guide website is great - click on either of the pictures to see the entries for those birds, or just browse through. It even has clips of the bird song.

Friday, 23 January 2009

1234567890



This is one for the geeks - though if you hadn't already noticed it, you probably aren't all that geeky.

For the benefit of non-geeky types, I should explain that the Unix Epoch time is a number used to represent time/date in computing, which is based on the number of seconds since some arbitrary date (in 1970).

The thing is, we're heading towards a really cool number. On Friday, 13th February at 23:31:30 GMT, the Unix time will be 1234567890.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'll be having a countdown party! Maybe I'll make some of these scrummy-looking orange biscuits.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Mirror, mirror...



Self-portrait

I said I might one day tell the story behind my beautiful mirror. Being stranded in bed - and too sleepy and spaced-out to do anything terribly useful - this seems like a good time.

Long before my husband became my husband, he took me to a party at the house of one of his friends - we'll call her M (because that is her initial - gosh, I'm so imaginative today). I hadn't met M or any of the other guests before that evening, but I'm not one to let that stop me enjoying myself.

Now, M is an amazing artist, and specialized at the time in mosaics. She had a house full of them. Towards the end of the party she declared that she had too many, she was planning on moving house and didn't want to take them all with her, so she held a draw. Everyone was to write his or her name on a piece of paper and put it in a hat, and the winner could choose any mosaic from her collection.

Someone volunteered to pull out the name, and he pulled out his own - looking a little embarassed, he said that we should do it again as he already had a few of her pieces.

"Let me have a go," I volunteered, having always done this kind of thing at school fairs and the like. I joked: "I'll see if I can get my own name, too."

I did.

I swear, I didn't cheat - it would have been impossible. But I did get to choose a present for myself. This mirror stood out for so many reasons: it was a mirror, so more useful than the other options; it was a funky shape; and the colours were just so me. It makes me smile every time I use it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Sickness & Dreams



I'm officially ill - apart from going to the doctor this morning, I've spent the whole day asleep, and the doctor said I should stay in bed for the rest of the week. So it looks like my life this week is going to be boring, filled with sleep and nausea - I'll have to think of blog topics that don't rely on my having actually done anything!

Actually I did have a dream while I was dozing this afternoon. This may not sound that exciting to you but I almost never remember my dreams so it's unusual for me. Today I dreamt that some nasty illegal tortoise-importers had dropped a crate of baby tortoises in the street - I was walking along and found a little one which that they'd missed which was still alive, and had to look after it and build a little home for it and feed it salad (and tofu, in my dream. I don't think they really eat tofu). It was tiny, only about an inch long, and very sweet. I was reading online the other day about the cruel practises of illegal tortoise imports, and it must have really struck a chord even in my subconscious!

Oh, and I've messed with my blog settings so you should no longer have to do word verification to comment - I've put it on comment moderation instead. Hopefully this moves most of the work from you on to me!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Travel Tuesdays #1: Coco Taxi



Alliterative themes seem to be in vogue... so I'm joining in!

I thought it might be nice to feature an as-yet-unblogged photograph from my travels - probably, in the first instance, from times before I had a blog.

A coco-taxi

This photo was taken in Havana, Cuba in March 2007. These cute yellow three-wheeled bubbles are called coco-taxis, and were constantly whizzing around the city. The taxi drivers found it very hard to believe that any tourist could possibly want to walk around the city - in so many countries it seems to be assumed that anyone who can afford it would want to take a taxi to go anywhere. We just wanted to take a gentle stroll around!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Good Start To The Day



Woke up this morning to two pieces of good news in the writing sphere:
  1. An email from my editor saying that I did a "great job" on the travel article I mentioned earlier (keep an eye out for the spring issue of the Vegetarian Society's magazine) and which I emailed to her on Saturday night. The article took me about three hours, including picking out some appropriate photos and some serious editing where I was trying to lose 500 words (any fellow NaNoers will understand how alien that feels).

  2. I won yesterday's One Minute Writer with a minute poem. (Hmm, I wanted to write minute-as-in-tiny there... but in that context, I wonder how many people will read it as minute-as-in-sixty-seconds?) Anyway, very many thanks to Beth for that!

Actually, I had a third piece of good news in my email inbox - a stats report for this blog, which apparently got 150 new visitors over the last week. Thank you everyone who's dropped in to say 'hi'!

Now, let's just hope the rest of the day (PhD work then Brownies) goes as well.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Crochet Tortoise



I've found a pattern to make a crochet tortoise!


Tortoise with Leaf, originally uploaded to Flickr by Wibit.



I'm crazy about tortoises at the moment, so this is definitely going on to my to-do list ready for any spare moment (particularly if I need a break from my computer). I'm in the middle of making crochet squares for a summer jacket, but they will just have to go on hold while I make myself a new pet - once I've got hold of some green yarn, anyway.

I'm already much too busy right now, and the last thing I really need is to take on another project, but hopefully this one will be quite quick (and just-for-fun so it doesn't have a deadline). And this pattern is just cute beyond belief!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Taking The Camera For A Walk



When I was younger, my dad always used to bring his camera on walks - but very seldom took any photos. We called it "taking the camera for a walk", as if it were a dog which needed to come out for its own health.

Today I took my new camera for a walk. I conclude it's okay for me to carry on saying 'my' camera because this morning my husband said "your camera" to me..... so it's his fault if I fail at my attempt to train myself out of it!

Oh, and I've used up 87% of my Flickr upload limit for January already. Dammit.

RiverWe went for a walk down to the park in Stroud. As well as more normal 'park' stuff there's a little stream and a lake.


Model railway lineOh, and a sizeable model railway line!


Squirrel takes a drinkI'm still deciding which telephoto lens to get, so at the moment this is as close as I could zoom in on this little fella getting a drink from the stream.


SeagullWe also spent ages playing with f-stops and ISO settings while taking pictures of the seagulls. Even with the kit lens this camera is definitely better than my old one for wildlife - particularly when it comes to moving subjects.


LakeOn our way back home, we took a 'short cut' across the middle of the lake, along this walkway. The fact that we had to climb over the gate at the other end suggests maybe they weren't expecting anyone to try and leave that way....

Friday, 16 January 2009

What Are You Making?



Sometimes I don't feel like cooking. If I have a free afternoon to spend in the kitchen, I love experimenting with new ideas and ingredients - but if I'm hungry, and I just want food now, then even half an hour to make a quick meal can start to feel like a chore.

Today was one of those days.

My husband had offered to cook this evening, but he'd had a long day too and looked exhausted, so I asked whether he'd like me to do it. I have to confess I was half-hoping he'd say no - instead, he looked terribly embarassed, gave me the world's sweetest smile, and said it would make him really happy if I were to do it.

And all of a sudden I actually wanted to. Not because I wanted to cook (I'd have been happier if the food could have suddenly made itself!) but because I wanted to do the thing which had made him smile like that.

All the time I was cooking, I wasn't making dinner - I was making that smile. Which makes me think - if something feels like a chore, perhaps it's down to focusing on the wrong thing...

Cookery Mishaps



I was reading anudivya's post about disastrous recipes and I'm sure all of us who enjoy cooking must have similar stories to share.

Two incidents stand out in my mind - both chocolate-related, as it happens. I have to be fair and say I can't blame the recipe for either of these - just myself!

The first was when I was very young. I'm not sure of the exact year but I must've been only just about old enough to have started cooking on my own, because this was the first time I tried to melt chocolate. I knew you could do it in a bowl over a pan, I'd done that with my mum, but I also knew about the wonder of microwaves. I broke the chocolate into chunks, put in a plastic bowl, and stuck it in for (I think) a minute. End result - chocolate charcoal, and a bowl melted beyond repair. I haven't made that mistake again!

The second time was much later, probably only about three years ago. I was making chocolate sorbet, and needed to cool it down after melting the chocolate (successfully this time!) so I put the bowl in the sink and started running in cold water. Unfortunately, I forgot to switch off the tap, so I ended up with a whole sink full of chocolatey water - yum...

What have been your most spectacular failures in the kitchen?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Wide Awake At 2am, Writing



Well, I knew setting myself a weekly schedule for book chapters would keep me on my toes! But frankly I'm skating on thin ice this week.

My auto-publishing schedule puts out each chapter at one minute past midnight each Friday morning (GMT) which means I have to have finished and uploaded the chapter by Thursday night. This week, I was away from home last night, out for dinner tonight, and will be out again at a friend's house tomorrow. Crazy busy! And this is not NaNoWriMo, these are words that people are actually going to read.

It isn't going to get any less hectic next week, I've just been offered a travel writing assignment for a magazine - but the catch is it has to be done by the end of next week. The same 'end of next week' by which I need to have written my little PhD paper, and submitted something to a student colloquium for the summer.... hmm....

I love deadlines! They make me so productive. Now, I just have to stop messing around on blogs and get writing ;)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Unsolicited Gift Of Chocolate



Okay, okay, I promised I wouldn't mention this again. But on Monday there was a knock at the door and along came chcocolate! An "unsolicited gift of chocolate", indeed, as National Geographic described it on the customs declaration. So I thought it was only fair to share a taste test with the blogosphere.



Inside the (very well wrapped & insulated - what am I going to do with all the shiny insulating foam?!) box were five bars of chocolate. They look a bit lost in a box that big, and had rattled around a lot and got broken in transit, so I reckon National Geographic Food could do with investing in a few different sizes of boxes - and with getting a bit more organised since they kindly sent me a '10% off your next purchase' voucher which expired at the end of 2008. No, I'm not complaining. I have free chocolate - there is nothing to complain about! But I know this is a fairly new business launched under the National Geographic flag, and I would hate it to let the side down.

I wish I had a 'chocolate tasting' vocabulary to match the descriptions of the world's top wine tasters - if I did, maybe I could have entertained you with "a hint of burnt rubber" or something equally spectacular. As it is, you'll have to put up with my completely uneducated analysis.


Passion Strast - dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds & pumpkin seed oil

I would never have thought of putting pumpkin seeds in chocolate. The effect is quite strange, and tastes - to me - a bit salty. Not my favourite, but intriguing.



Dagoba - single origin Peruvian Milagros 68%

Really rich but still a good texture - though there is a little of that dry, bean-y aftertaste that comes with some high percentage chocolate. I couldn't eat much of this even though, percentage-wise, it's not that strong.



Berkshire Bark - 'mocha buzz'

I love anything Mocha, and this is no exception. In addition to a gorgeous, strong coffee taste, this bar is packed with whole almonds, and little crunchy caramel bits. The chocolate itself (if you can get some by itself) is really creamy and melts onto your tongue.



El Rey - 'Bucare' dark chocolate, Venezuelan single bean 58.5%

This one looks the most mass-produced in terms of the packaging - it doesn't feel as special to open. However this is also the only one where I could have quite easily munched the whole bar without a pause (except that might have upset my husband!). Not too rich, with a very creamy texture, and a delicious taste.



Casa Don Puglisi - classic Modicana chocolate

I thought when I saw the bubbles on the outside of this bar, that it had (in spite of the amazing insulation) managed to melt in the box. But biting in to it, it is bubbles the whole way through. The chocolate is crunchy (really crunchy) in texture and barely melts in your mouth; it's sweet but not excessively so. The instructions recommend melting 1/4 of the bar in a mug of hot milk or water for a hot chocolate drink, so I will probably try that later, but it seems a shame to waste such a unique experience by melting it. UPDATE: turns out from reading more carefully that the reason it's so unusual is that it's cacao & sugar cold-pressed together rather than cooked. Wow.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

I Used To... (The Answers)



Well, it's been fun to see what people think, especially since I haven't been blogging for very long and so I know you don't have much to go on. I so much wish I could spin the answers so that Kazzy has to move onto a boat but that would be a step too dishonest even for this game.

The answers, then. There were actually three lies. You will see that I 'cheated' by taking ten true things and then modifying some of them to be a little bit false - so Peggy was virtually right.

  1. I used to live on a narrowboat without mains electricity, and one winter the canal froze over - it got so cold that the diesel got too thick to run through the pipes to fuel our stove. We put the oven on to try and get some warmth into the space, but then the gas bottle ran out - and the shop was closed so we couldn't get another that day!

    True.

  2. I used to be nicknamed 'Laughalot' at school (after Lancelot). I have an unfortunate condition which means that when I laugh hard (regularly) or sing (irregularly) my eyes start streaming tears and everyone thinks I'm upset.

    True.

  3. I used to go on college trips to CERN in Switzerland, and one evening our physics teacher took us on a tour of Geneva to see a church of particular architectural value. He had failed to note that it was in the red light district, and said church had now been turned into a bar of dubious morality.

    True. When I tell this story people usually ask if I'm sure he was genuinely clueless; I'm pretty confident of it.

  4. I used to be a fairly healthy child, but when I was five I was hit by a form of meningitis which left me fighting for life in intensive care. I had my birthday party in hospital. I've consequently always had a feeling in the back of my mind that I'm very lucky to be alive, and that every day I live is one more than it could have been.

    False - I went into hospital just after my fourth birthday. I did have a party on the ward.

  5. I used to produce plays, have been involved in founding a couple of small theatre companies, and was involved in marketing and fundraising for the theatrical world premiere of Tom Stoppard's Galileo at the Edinburgh Fringe.

    True.

  6. I used to have a shortage of fondue pots, but now we have three (and a raclette). Two which we asked for on our wedding list - then a month or so later we bought a third because it was cute and red which hadn't been available on the wedding list. We've used all three on one night (tomato, cheese, and then chocolate).

    False - we haven't had a fondue night since we bought the third pot, though envisioning this use was part of the justification for buying a third fondue. It will be true before very long!

  7. I used to work as a baker in a small cafe in Oxford. They paid me the minimum wage but I didn't complain because I felt that, if I was going to have a minimum wage job, I'd rather have one I really enjoyed. I spent a lot of time perfecting recipes, and have the perfect brownie recipe, but I've never made it at home because I haven't got round to scaling down the recipe from the industrial quantities.

    True.

  8. I used to be the only person in my class who could identify every flavour of crisps when they made us do it without using our sense of smell. My sense of smell has always been apalling - there are a lot of things I can't smell at all, and a lot of things I can smell, smell (to me) like Parma Violet sweets.

    True - apparently, when your sense of smell is awful to start with, things do still taste different.

  9. I used to be a youth media rep for the UK Vegetarian Society, and was interviewed along with my mum for a Government video which was going to be sent 'abroad' to explain British culture - I later saw myself on German TV.

    False - I never saw a copy of my recording, on German TV or elsewhere, although I was told it was shown in Germany.

  10. I used to be 'married' to a boy in my class at primary school. The teacher asked for volunteers to be the bride in a class 'wedding' and all but two of us volunteered - she then picked the subject of public humiliation winner from the two of us who hadn't put our hands up. Everyone teased me (and the groom) about it for years afterwards, right up until we learned the word 'divorce'...

    True.


Monday, 12 January 2009

Brownie Friends



I was tidying a bit over the weekend and I found my old Brownie uniform. Since tonight was Brownies, I decided to take it along to show the girls what the uniform looked like back in my day.

It's been so long I had to go and look up what all the different badges meant, especially as it's changed a lot now. So far as I can work out from the internet, from top to bottom they are: Hostess, Jester, Cook, Pack Holiday, House Orderly, Swimmer, Artist, Wildlife (or possibly Conservation), Craft, Cyclist, Booklover, Water Safety. (If I've got any wrong, please tell me!)

When we showed the old uniform to the girls, I heard a lot of them saying "I wouldn't wear that!" which made me laugh because I was in Brownies when they introduced the new uniforms, and I said exactly the same thing about the new design. "Such a strange shade of khakhi," I said at the time. "Not brown at all. Brownies should wear brown." I still don't like the shade of khakhi, but at least today's Brownies have the choice to wear trousers, which is an advantage considering all the handstands and cartwheels they do.

I remember when I was a Brownie there was a lot of emphasis on it being an international movement - we used to learn about other countries and what life was like there, and occasionally we had pen-friends. Is there anyone out there who knows of any Brownies abroad who would like to write to a group of lovely girls in the British Cotswolds?? We don't have that many Brownies in our village but I'm sure they would all love to write some letters.



That Cold, Sick Feeling



You know that feeling of terror when your insides freeze up, and you think you'd be sick if it wasn't for the fact that your stomach contents are suddenly made of ice?

That feeling that paralyzes you and freezes you to the spot, like a rabbit caught in car headlights, unable to move although you know you ought to.

The feeling a girl might get, for instance, if she suddenly found a passing reference to a paper that sounds like it might be describing the same kind of work she was planning on implementing for her PhD. That's the one.

I can't find the actual paper, of course. That would be too easy. I mean, I know it'll only take a couple of days of thinking and restructuring my thoughts to find a new angle once I know what this paper actually says. The reason I wanted to do this work was to unlock the interesting possibilities beyond it, after all - I know this could be a blessing in disguise if I can use the existing work to push myself further on. But at the moment, my university's online journal access doesn't seem to be working and I can't find a PDF on the internet - so I don't know what is actually in the paper. I've emailed the guy who got his PhD for this work, to see if I can get a copy of his thesis to read, but I'm not holding my breath.

Maybe a cup of coffee will thaw my guts and let me get on with some more work in the meantime... here's hoping, anyway, because I really have to finish the first chapter of my transfer report this week, even if I then have to change it totally in light of this new paper.

Honeymoon Highlights VI: China



Time for another installment of photos from my honeymoon, which had to wait until January because I'd reached my Flickr upload limit for December! (I'm seriously contemplating whether a 'pro' account is worth the money but I'm not sure I can justify it.)

This time, the photos are from China - more specifically, Beijing and the surrounding area.

Beijing railway station, the night we arrived. We could see its lights from our hotel room, and it was a great landmark for navigating our way back.


At the Buddhist temples, incense is offered up - by piling bundles of incense sticks into fires burning in metal boxes (like these ones). All the scents mingle together and one poor guy has to go round clearing up - here you can see he's just taken the inner box out of its ornate stand (replacing it immediately with a new fire) and is about to dispose of several bundles of incense before he takes the old fire box away.


It can be hard to find authenticity in post-Olympic Beijing, but when you do manage to find a street which is still undeveloped and away from the tourist track, there are still odd snatches of traditional life to be found. These guys were in the middle of a game of Chinese chess.


Trying to be Hollywood? The Olympic logo and motto on the hillside by the Great Wall. You can see the hundreds of tourists flocking along that section of wall - we turned in the opposite direction when we arrived, and by the time we'd gone a few hundred yards it was empty and peaceful (aside from one lady singing Chinese opera out-of-tune).


I felt guilty visiting Beijing Zoo because many of the animals are kept in horrible conditions. The panda house is one of the better ones, and there was a great exhibit about the panda rescue after the earthquake in Sichuan. My favourite panda moment was when one of them reached for a branch of bamboo and lay back with it, not realising one of his friends was already eating the end. The panda who lost his meal sat up, very surprised, and wandered around for a couple of minutes inspecting and rejecting every branch in the area before eventually settling on a different one.


This picture was taken at the Summer Palace just outside of Beijing. It makes me think of the 'willow pattern' design, but for real. I was worried about whether any of my photos at the Summer Palace would come out due to the very heavy mists, but in the end I think it just adds to the atmosphere.


Beijing is a real mixture of 'ancient and modern', and a classic example is that the street sweeping is still done by men and women with brooms. Labour is cheaper than machinery! It was pointed out to us later that most of the street-sweepers are from one particular ethnic group.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

I Used To...



This game is blatantly stolen (and then adapted from) Lyndsay at 'I Used To Be Witty'. Lyndsay had one lie hidden in amongst nine truths, but I'm making it a little more complicated - I'm not telling you how many true versus false statements I'm providing. I'll give you a number of so-called-facts about my life, and you get to guesss for each one whether it's true or false (or if you don't want to stick your neck out quite that far, just guess how many of each you think there are).

In honour of Lyndsay's blog, I'll start each one with "I used to...". I considered including "I used to be witty" as a statement in its own right, but who would decide whether it was true or false...?
  1. I used to live on a narrowboat without mains electricity, and one winter the canal froze over - it got so cold that the diesel got too thick to run through the pipes to fuel our stove. We put the oven on to try and get some warmth into the space, but then the gas bottle ran out - and the shop was closed so we couldn't get another that day!

  2. I used to be nicknamed 'Laughalot' at school (after Lancelot). I have an unfortunate condition which means that when I laugh hard (regularly) or sing (irregularly) my eyes start streaming tears and everyone thinks I'm upset.

  3. I used to go on college trips to CERN in Switzerland, and one evening our physics teacher took us on a tour of Geneva to see a church of particular architectural value. He had failed to note that it was in the red light district, and said church had now been turned into a bar of dubious morality.

  4. I used to be a fairly healthy child, but when I was five I was hit by a form of meningitis which left me fighting for life in intensive care. I had my birthday party in hospital. I've consequently always had a feeling in the back of my mind that I'm very lucky to be alive, and that every day I live is one more than it could have been.

  5. I used to produce plays, have been involved in founding a couple of small theatre companies, and was involved in marketing and fundraising for the theatrical world premiere of Tom Stoppard's Galileo at the Edinburgh Fringe.

  6. I used to have a shortage of fondue pots, but now we have three (and a raclette). Two which we asked for on our wedding list - then a month or so later we bought a third because it was cute and red which hadn't been available on the wedding list. We've used all three on one night (tomato, cheese, and then chocolate).

  7. I used to work as a baker in a small cafe in Oxford. They paid me the minimum wage but I didn't complain because I felt that, if I was going to have a minimum wage job, I'd rather have one I really enjoyed. I spent a lot of time perfecting recipes, and have the perfect brownie recipe, but I've never made it at home because I haven't got round to scaling down the recipe from the industrial quantities.

  8. I used to be the only person in my class who could identify every flavour of crisps when they made us do it without using our sense of smell. My sense of smell has always been apalling - there are a lot of things I can't smell at all, and a lot of things I can smell, smell (to me) like Parma Violet sweets.

  9. I used to be a youth media rep for the UK Vegetarian Society, and was interviewed along with my mum for a Government video which was going to be sent 'abroad' to explain British culture - I later saw myself on German TV.

  10. I used to be 'married' to a boy in my class at primary school. The teacher asked for volunteers to be the bride in a class 'wedding' and all but two of us volunteered - she then picked the subject of public humiliation winner from the two of us who hadn't put our hands up. Everyone teased me (and the groom) about it for years afterwards, right up until we learned the word 'divorce'...


Saturday, 10 January 2009

...In With The New



Look! New toy!

Yes, my our shiny new camera arrived this morning. Once the battery had charged up, I was straight out in the garden to try it out. My husband is being very sweet about all this, and even lets me get away with saying 'my new camera' although I'm trying to train myself out of it. He gets to play this afternoon. Amazingly, once we've claimed our cashback from Canon, this camera will have cost less (in actual pounds, before you even take inflation into account) than my old one.

So, without further ado, here are a few pics (scaled down so as not to use up all my flickr limit in one go).








As you can probably tell, we're having another slightly chilly day here, so there wasn't much opportunity for playing with colour. Can't wait to take the camera somewhere more exciting than my own back garden.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Out With The Old...



I'm feeling very ambivalent at the moment. Tomorrow I'm getting a new camera (fingers crossed for Amazon Prime...), a Canon dSLR which I'm ever so excited about - on the other hand, this automatically demotes my old camera to second-best, and I'm sentimentally very attached to my old camera so I must admit to feeling a little bit sad at the same time. (This feeling will almost undoubtedly evaporate, overwhelmed by pure childlike excitement, the second I get my hands on the new one!)

I love my old camera. It's a Pentax Optio 33WR, only 3.2MP but then again I've had it since (I think) 2003. I bought it for two key features:

a) it's waterproof, and
b) it takes AA batteries.

Both pretty important when you live (as I did then) on a narrowboat! And it has served me well on various very exciting trips, where mains power has also been scarce. I think it's fair to say it's the first camera which I've had that I've actively loved so I will miss it.

In honour of my old camera, then, I took it out for a walk this lunchtime in the beautiful (and frozen) Cotswold countryside.













Thursday, 8 January 2009

Ahoy There!



A few days ago, Jeanne was kind enough to give me an award for this blog. It's called the A Hoy award and is named after athlete Chris Hoy - with his permission, apparently. Now, I know you all have thousands of these blogosphere awards, but this is my first one, so bear with me.


The rules (copied below as per the instructions) state that, of the five people I can pass this on to, two of them have to be ones I don't have on my blogroll. Tricky, because if I find another blog that I like enough to give the award to, I'll immediately also want to add it so I can keep up!

This is also tricky because there are no particular criteria to follow, so I've decided to go for cookery blogs because:

a) recipes are fab and useful,
b) it's easy to find new ones to investigate, and
c) people who are posting regular recipes are working much harder than I am at this whole blogging malarkey!

So, in no particular order, the new winners are:

  • Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe - awarded for colour as she is constantly posting the most beautiful, colourful food photos I've seen on the web (or in most cook books for that matter).

  • 365 Days of Pure Vegetarian - awarded for her enviable strength & stamina as she has inspired me with her veggie, Indian recipes even while heavily pregnant (so undoubtedly blogging is not her top priority at this very moment).

  • Ricki at Diet, Dessert & Dogs - awarded for leaning towards the sweet-and-sticky, husband-pleasing end of the recipe spectrum.

  • The Cupcake Project - awarded for believing that the best things come in small packages and for daring to suggest, in our diet-obsessed times, an innovative way to make an unhealthy snack even more unhealthy!

  • Sophie at Flour Arrangements - awarded for the witty title, and because a source of gluten-free cake recipes will come in handy for my mum's birthday (shh, don't tell her!)


The Rules (for passing on this award)

  1. Pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award based upon any criteria - for example, the quality of the commentary, wit, humour, artwork, overall design, value to you of the information being provided, and so on.

  2. The awarding blogger should choose at least two blogs not on his or her own blogroll, the purpose being to encourage variety of reading matter, and to have the person making the award think about what they like to see and read.

  3. Your five choices must be published in a dedicated post on your own blog. This post must contain the name of the author (which may be their logon name), and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone. This post should contain brief details of what attracted you to the blog. Details may also be posted in the comments section of "What is a Hoy?"

  4. In the same dedicated post, each winner has to show the award and acknowledge the blog that has given him or her the award.

  5. Both those awarding and receiving A Hoy must show the link to A Hoy blog, so that everyone will know the origin of this award.

  6. When publishing details of the blogs to which you have made your awards, these rules must be published for recipients to follow.


Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Is It Just Me...



...who instinctively feels that "happy birthday" should be reflexive in the same sense as "happy Christmas" or "happy new year"?

I may be making up a new sense of the word 'reflexive' here. What I mean is, when someone says "happy Christmas" you automatically say it back. But people give you funny looks when they wish you a happy birthday and you turn and say it right back at them!

It may be a function of having a birthday which falls just after Christmas and new year (i.e. yesterday)... but this is a mistake I make at least once every year.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Blog Surfing



From time to time I've been doing a little random blog surfing. I tend to do this mostly by picking someone I like and then opening every blog they contribute to or follow (I love tabs!). Today I decided to be a bit more linear, and pick just one post from each blogroll, and see how far I get. I also resolved to leave a comment on the most recent post of each blog I visit in this way.

I started off at Jeanne's blog because she kindly gave me an award (which got me thinking that I ought to be reading even more widely) and also because I'd really like to know how you can have 'between one and six' children. There must be a story there.

I wandered along to Far Side of Fifty where I read about snow and amazing dreams, and then Lynda's post about plum jam caught my attention because I've wanted to learn to make jam for years and just haven't got round to it yet.

I then moved on to Organic Growing Pains, a topic which I understand all too well, and then to Memorable Meanders where I happened to find a picture of a really beautiful Christmas card sent to Jo by the very same Lynda who's blog I was at two steps earlier.

There was a link from here to One Minute Writer but I'm sure Beth will forgive me for not following that particular path, since I watch her blogs with interest anyhow. So instead I went on to Soyez la Bienvenue Chez Moi to test my French, and I'm not sure if I was relieved or disappointed to find that the blog is actually in English - the most recent post had pictures of snow but nowhere near as much as I saw in the French Alps last week!

~~~ Note of (possible) interest - by this stage I have had my first comment from one of the people who's blog I've visited earlier on this journey ~~~

Trying to find more French, and tempted by the subject matter, I progressed to a post about galettes at La marmite de Cathy - which as well as being an amazing-looking recipe, really made me want to know whether 'Marmite' is a word in French. Apparently it is - and means a type of cooking pot.

I was then lulled into a false sense of security by the quaint-sounding A Turtle In A Kitchen which is written in French and, since I happened on a fairly long post with lots of content, I got quite lost among the presents & streets of London, and don't have enough French to make an intelligent comment.

This seems like a good point to stop today's brief excursion - but also to note that reading blogs in foreign languages is probably very good practise and to be encouraged. But commenting is hard!

Food Glorious Food!



Two things.

Firstly, I know I've already told you that I won a competition, and I really should stop bragging now, but National Geographic have now blogged about my photo so please go and check it out. I promise I won't mention it again until the prize chocolate arrives!

Secondly, I am taking advantage of the new year to launch a project which has been simmering away in the back of my mind for some time now. The Cookery Book Club is designed to be highly interactive so please come along for the ride in 2009 (and beyond if it goes well). This is a way to push myself to try new recipes - and to learn to actually follow a recipe rather than improvising on a theme - and I would welcome your company along the way. UPDATE: I have put this on hold due to being too busy to commit to it at the moment; I hope to bring it back when I'm a little less overwhelmed.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Back in the Blogosphere & Ski Stories



Wow. So much has happened on my blog while I've been off skiing. All the scheduled posts which of course I planned, but also in terms of comments - thanks everyone, I promise I will get back to each comment one at a time once I've had some dinner!!

So I've come back from a week in the snow to find my village is snowed under as well. Not badly enough to keep us from getting home, thankfully, but a good sprinkling.

I was in two minds about whether to go on this holiday, to be honest. On the one hand there was the ongoing illness of Andy's stepdad (though we correctly predicted there's been no real change in the week we've been away - he is still stable but unresponsive), and on the other hand I'm in physio for an injury sustained last winter when I tried to snowboard.

I have tendinosis - there is a wikipedia article if you're interested - and have to do some very silly looking exercises where I bend my knee a hundred or so times a day. But my physio is fairly philosophical about the whole thing and said I could have a go at skiing so long as I was careful, so off I went.

Now, I learnt one big thing about skiing this year, on day 1, which is that if you're feeling nervous about an injury and don't commit to the turn, IT DOESN'T WORK. Ouch. The old adage "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well" springs to mind. Someone please remind me of this next year.

Once I just decided to get on with it, it was ok... ish. I managed to ski three days in total, mostly red runs, but I could feel I was picking up bad habits to compensate for the injury so I decided to leave it for the rest of the holiday (which at least gave me a couple of days of quiet writing time in the chalet). Back to the physio in February, until then it's just back to the knee bends.

We had a lovely meal out on New Year's Eve - you can tell you've ordered the most expensive dessert on the menu when it comes with the name of the restaurant piped in chocolate on the plate!! Absolutely delicious, anyway, and we had a lovely (if very unhealthy) evening.

I haven't made any new year's resolutions, unless you count a vague intention to get back into all the good habits which I had before going on honeymoon and haven't yet re-formed.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Honeymoon Highlights V: Mongolia



We arrived in Ulanbatar a little behind schedule because a wheel fell off one of the train carriages. We were due to be met at the railway station by someone from the guesthouse, and we were a little bit worried because we couldn't get a mobile phone signal in Mongolia, but fortunately they were there to meet us despite our delay. It was a strong reminder of how much we rely on mobiles these days - I wouldn't have liked trying to find a Mongolian payphone to call them if they hadn't been there!


This is the inside of the roof of the ger we stayed in. We initially assumed the beautiful painting was for tourist value but every ger we saw had some kind of decoration on those wooden pieces.


Looking down from our guesthouse over the city - where people still put up gers instead of buildings in many cases. Contrasts nicely with the tower blocks in the background!


Just by the turning up to our guesthouse, someone had abandoned a broken snooker table. As we walked through town later in the evening, we saw other tables on street corners, where people were playing some hybrid game involving snooker balls and a pack of cards.


Sukhbator Square in the heart of Ulanbatar. This is about the busiest we saw it, although surely it must sometimes get full.


At the temple, a lama reads. Local Buddhists would come in and just sit inside one of the temple rooms for a few minutes. (Some of them even talking on their mobile phones at the time - so much for respecting the peace of the monastery!)

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