Monday, 31 December 2012

The end of 2012

It's hard to believe that 2012 is in its final feels as though it was yesterday that I wrote about the closing of 2011! The time has flown by.

How has this year been for me? Well, it's certainly been a huge improvement on what I was anticipating: while I wrote last New Year's Eve that I was looking forward to 2012, I won't deny that I was expecting it be a long and stressful year. It's had its ups and its downs, but on the whole it's been okay!

The highlight of the year was going with Becca to see Carrie Underwood perform at the Royal Albert Hall. That concert was not something I saw coming, but I am delighted and grateful to have attended. At present I don't have any more concerts planned, but given how the Underwood event came out of the blue, that could quite easily change!

The plan for 2013? Keep on writing and proof-reading/copyediting. Meet more people and make new friends. I've made gains in these areas this year, but not to the extent that I had hoped; I'll endeavour to improve more strongly in 2013 and beyond.

Thank you again my readers, fellow bloggers and friends; I await stepping into 2013 with the rest of you. Happy New Year's Eve.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

"United State of Pop 2012 (Shine Brighter)" - DJ Earworm

When my brother and I were listening to the radio in Oregon, in each December on Open House Party a special mashup would be played. The composer, DJ Earworm, would merge each year's biggest hits into one song; to my knowledge, he began the mashup-making tradition in 2007 and has released a "United State of Pop" track for every year since. 2012's version is "United State of Pop 2012 (Shine Brighter)":

I do not know if DJ Earworm's mashups are still being played on Open House Party. The only one of them that we've heard on British radio is "United State of Pop 2009 (Blame It on the Pop)".

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The big quiz of 2012

There's a 100-question quiz on The Daily Telegraph website. It covers events throughout 2012, from the Olympics, to art and literature, to quotes and to general knowledge. If you have half an hour to spare it's a fun quiz to take:

I scored 69; even without lucky guesses I managed to get at least half the questions correct!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Frosty flora

Over the past month, my brother has taken a few pictures of frost-covered flora:

I'm especially fond of the lightly-frosted holly in the third capture.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

After Christmas Nottingham visit, 2012 (2)

My family and I travelled up to my grandparents' Nottingham yesterday morning to spend the day with relatives. The journey was awful for me, worse than it was last year: before I went to bed on Christmas Day I ate nearly an entire box of chocolate mints, so that combined with the twisty roads to Nottingham nearly made me sick. I was glad I could have my window open to allow the wind to blow through otherwise I would have vomited. It was my own fault, and should have known better than to gorge when travelling the next day.

To move on from my travel sickness, the people present for the day were my grandparents, Nottingham aunt and three of her children/my cousins (one of my older cousins, the one who currently works in China, was there); East of England aunt, uncle and cousins; my uncle currently in Hong Kong, the brother of my Nottingham uncle, and my older cousin's boyfriend. We last saw my oldest cousin at my 21st birthday party and my Hong Kong uncle this recent summer; I had never met my cousin's boyfriend before, but it was certainly a pleasure for me and my family to meet him.

The gift we brought along with us was another photo album for my grandparents. They appreciated the album we made for them for their 50th wedding anniversary; for Christmas, we created an album of pictures taken at their 50th. They loved it.

I helped my grandparents in the kitchen in preparing the meal, which consisted of turkey, roast beef and ham, with stuffing, stuffed olives and a large bowlful of salad - that last one was particularly delightful to prepare, as I asked to slice the cabbage. Based on the mostly time we had while eating I would assume that the food was highly satisfying! (I relaxed a fair amount prior to having any food, so I wasn't in any danger of being sick.)

Much of the day was spent talking and catching up. It was interesting to hear about my uncle's and cousin's lives in China; their experiences of the country differ, especially since my cousin lives on the mainland rather than Hong Kong. My brother and East of England uncle, both being the cameramen, took numerous pictures of the occasion throughout the day. In the late afternoon the family created a playlist, with each member contributing two songs; I chose Gloria Estefan's "Reach" and, much to nearly everyone else's chagrin, Cher Lloyd's "Swagger Jagger". I seem to be the only person in the family with any time for her music!

After the music, the chatting and eating continued until the get-together ended, which was around 9:00pm. I am certain that everyone had a great day and is looking forward to the next time we all meet up.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

After Christmas Nottingham visit, 2012

My parents, brother and I all spent the day up in Nottingham visiting family. Save for a couple of them who were busy for the day, most of my close relatives were there. It was especially good to see the cousin and uncle I have who both work in China. I'll write a little more about this tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas 2012 - "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas", Pet Shop Boys

For the fifth and final Christmas song by a modern artist I've chosen "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas" by the Pet Shop Boys. I kind of agree with the title, as I've rarely experienced snow on Christmas Day, although I should note that Southern Oregon is receiving a barrage of Christmas weather! Here's the song:

I hope you all have an amazing time today. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

Christmas Eve is not usually an exciting day for me and my family. Excluding 2010, the day is usually spent doing housework or baking. The post I wrote for Christmas Eve last year implied that we had a quiet day; on that day we actually still had cooking to do. For 2012, our Christmas foods have already been made, so that left the housework. I cleaned my brother's and my bathroom. Fun!

The day has been quiet, nonetheless. During the afternoon - and long after we'd completed tidying the house - my brother and I played a board game; it wasn't worth going for a walk instead because of today's near-constant heavy rain. I'm hopeful that at some stage I'll be able to have far more eventful Christmas Eves. My family used to attend a few Christmas Eve parties, but the last one was in 2002 (2010 wasn't a party).

I hope that you have had the Christmas Eve you desired, be it a party or a quiet time with someone. Have a great Christmas!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas cooking 2012 (2)

Here are some more pictures of yesterday's baking; these are from when the desserts were being sliced and placed into containers:

This was the mincemeat flapjack once it was removed from its pan. I wish I had seen the least it came out intact!

I thought I'd get a shot of the flapjack's insides.

The dark chocolate brownie mixture after it had been cut up into, well...brownies! I ate one...they're delicious; exactly how I remember them.

A picture of the brownies inside their new container.

The white chocolate cherry cake was slightly stuck to the bottom of the dish it was cooked in, resulting in a small amount of it breaking off during extraction. I ate the broken parts and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the white chocolate inside the cake has a strong flavour: I was expecting it to be a "hint" of chocolate.

There is a lot to eat this Christmas, and the above desserts don't include all the other candies and chocolates we have. Better make sure we get in plenty of exercise over the next few weeks!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas cooking 2012

My mother, brother and I spent a part of the afternoon performing our usual Christmas cooking. For 2012, we made a white chocolate cherry "cake", a mincemeat flapjack and dark chocolate brownies:

This is the white chocolate cherry "cake". It was supposed to be white chocolate cherry brownies but it turned out like a cake instead. Next time we'll double the mixture and use a bigger pan.

This, believe it or not, is a flapjack. In the United States and Canada a flapjack is a small pancake, but in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia it's an oat dessert. The flapjack we made consists of mincemeat contained within a sugared oat base and top.

The dark chocolate brownies. This cooked mixture will be cut up into brownie-sized pieced, as it didn't turn out like a cake. It's been a few years since we last used this brownie recipe, so I'm really looking forward to eating it again!

I am happy to provide the recipes upon request. I would have posted them here, but as none of them are mine I don't think the authors would appreciate me passing off their recipes as my own!

Friday, 21 December 2012


Grapefruit is my second-favourite fruit, behind pineapple. Whether it's fresh, tinned, white, Ruby Red or just juice, I love the taste of grapefruit. Years ago I frequently drank grapefruit juice with my dinner, but for whatever reason I stopped drinking it and switched to having only water with my meals instead. Still, I never lost my fondness for grapefruit.

I'm the only one in my immediate family who can eat grapefruit without succumbing to the sourness of it. Dad likes the flavour of fresh grapefruit, but he has stated on several occasions that the pith is too strong to eat and too fiddly to remove. Last night, my brother and I had some tinned grapefruit with plain yoghurt for dessert, but my brother ended up having jam instead. He found that the grapefruit, while tinned, was too acidic for him. With relatives, my grandfather is the only other person I know who can eat grapefruit like I can.

As with all citrus fruits, it's wise not to eat grapefruit every day, especially the fresh variety; over time, the acid within the fruit can wear down the teeth. Grapefruit is healthful, but also one of those foods to be enjoyed every once in a while.

Is anyone else a fan of grapefruit or other citruses? Speak up, fellow orange and grapefruit lovers!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

"Sleigh Ride" - fun.

Today's song of the season was extremely easy to find: it's fun.'s cover of "Sleigh Ride". I didn't even need to search for this track - I heard it on the radio earlier:

There are now less than five days to go until Christmas! Heart Northamptonshire (not the station I heard the aforementioned song on) has been playing a daily "...Sleeps Till Santa" song this month to count down the remaining days to Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

24 hours

In early June of 2010, my family and I moved from the United States back to the United Kingdom; in November of 2012, the United States held its 57th presidential election. The two events by themselves are completely unrelated to each other, but there is something significant to me that links them.

When I woke up in Portland, Oregon for day of our flight, I stayed awake for around 24 hours. I was not bored when waiting at the airport, I was completely alert on the nine-hour flight (I was the only one of us not to sleep on the plane), still not tired when in Amsterdam or even when we had to wait for well over an hour in Manchester for my grandparents to arrive in the minibus to pick us up. It was only during the minibus ride the exhaustion caught up on me and I had to fight to keep awake (before then, it was unprecedented for me to sleep in a vehicle).

On the day of the presidential election, I woke up around 7:00-7:30am; I wanted to stay up for the results, and since the United Kingdom is five hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, I knew I would be staying up for the night. Sure enough, I sailed past 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00am without any drowsiness; the lack of sleep caught up with me when I reached the 24 hour mark of being awake, and by then the result of the election had long been announced. I again found myself fighting to not fall asleep, and ended up going to bed for a few hours at the time I usually get up.

From these two events I learnt that if I want or need to keep myself awake for 24 hours or more I can, but once the situation I have to be awake for concludes, the need for sleep hits me...and with a vengeance. For the minibus ride, our flights were long over and we were back in the United Kingdom; with the election, I knew the main result by the time 24 hours came around. With the main goals resolved, why remain awake?

I'm sure there will be many more occasions for me to keep awake for 24 hours or more, only to rapidly fall into a deep sleep when the event is over. The worst part is not keeping awake or even, in itself, falling asleep at the's sleeping during the daylight that bothers me!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

December sunrise

Today began with a beautiful sunrise. The position of the Sun within the clouds gave our star a lovely shade of red. The colour isn't quite as deep in these pictures as it was to the naked eye:

See those birds? I'm glad I managed to get them in the image!

It's not recommended that you take pictures of the Sun or look into it directly, but in this case the clouds had obscured it enough to prevent any damage to cameras or eyes. Besides, this was too good an opportunity to miss!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Small Christmas tree 2012

My family and I assembled our own Christmas trees this year, repeating what we did in 2009 and 2011. We collected some decent branches from outside, allowed them to dry in the garage and then placed them into some suitable jars or pots. We built two trees; this is the smaller one, which my brother decorated:

Unfortunately, taking a picture of the larger tree would show too much of our living room, so only the lesser tree will have its image here. However, I am happy to send a picture of the larger tree - and more pictures of this tree - to anybody who requests it; the larger tree is impressive, but then again, I am biased because I decorated it!

There is something more satisfying about constructing a tree over going out and buying one. I don't like killing a tree for only a couple of weeks at a certain time of the year, and a fake tree doesn't feel right either. These branches may be unusual, and perhaps not as visually appealing as a regular tree, but I love them all the same.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The decorated tin

Remember the bauble-covered tin from last year's Christmas decorations? The tin is back, this time with a new theme:

Mum decorated the tin this time; my "decoration" using the above golden ribbons looked more like a bizarre bird's next than an actual decoration.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

"Shake Up Christmas" - Train

For today's song of the season it's "Shake Up Christmas" by Train. Unlike the previous Christmas songs by modern artists I've posted this month, this one is an original rather than a cover; Pat Monahan, the lead singer of Train, is one of its writers:

I quite like this song, but other than the lyrics it has more of a summer sound to it than a feeling of Christmas; change some of the words, and I could imagine this being a July/August hit. Regardless, it is a good track; kudos to Train for making an original Christmas song.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Sandy Hook Elementay School shooting

As I write this, reports are pouring in over the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Current reports are that 27 people have died, with the majority of them being children. Several shootings have taken place in the United States in the past couple of weeks, and a countless amount over the course of 2012.

In Southern Oregon I lived alongside several neighbors who were armed; I was accepting of them and not at all afraid nor bothered by their presence. However, I do think that something really needs to be done to address all these shootings that have happened recently. I doubt that the 2nd Amendment will ever be overturned - and I also doubt that anyone is really advocating that - but that doesn't stop the enactment of stronger safeguards on who can own weapons and teaching people responsible gun ownership/use. This won't fix the problem, but it'll help to reduce it.

Already I've been seeing people address the shooting by saying "this isn't the time to talk about gun control!". This is not a helpful response to such a tragic event, and it's sad that some people would rather provide a knee-jerk defense of guns before anyone has even suggested the tiniest amount of gun control than think of the victims and their families. It's reckoned that at least 18 children have died! How can anyone dismiss the deaths of children so easily?

I'm thinking of the victims and their families. I hope we won't see the casualty count increase over time.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The blackbird on the fence

I'm fond of watching perching birds. You never know what they're up to; are they looking for food? For fellow birds? Resting? Do they simply like the place they've chosen to perch. I wonder what this blackbird was up to:

The blackbird looked up to where I was for couple of seconds before flying off to find something else interesting to do.

These two pictures were taken with my main camera on full optical zoom; the apparent dreariness in them is because they done through a window.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The ice webs

The cold weather has given me the opportunity to photograph these frost-covered spider webs on our shed:

I think these webs are magnificent; I'm pleased to have been able get pictures of them.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A very foggy day

Today has been the foggiest day my area has had in a long time; the fog's thickness made it nearly impossible seeing more than 50 feet down the road. Now that it's dark out the fog has lifted significantly, but during the daylight hours it was surprisingly heavy. Wanting to explore the town during the fog, I decided to go for a walk.

It's an interesting experience walking around places you're familiar with during the fog: not only does everything look entirely different, but you tend to notice things you don't normally pay attention to when the weather's normal. For example, I learnt this afternoon that my town has a shoe shop. On a perfectly clear day the store blends in with its surrounding buildings; today, the structure was highlighted by the light level and the fog's position around it. I had walked past it several times! Granted, one could say that I'm simply unobservant, but in my defence the shop is hidden behind some bushes and other buildings.

After my walk I was informed that a "fog warning" had been put up. I never would have guessed! The fog is supposed to clear up by tomorrow afternoon, but it wouldn't surprise me if it lasted all day. Besides, the fog hasn't been the troubling part of the recent weather: it's the ice that's caused some problems. My brother slipped on it the other day, and I heard that a little girl slipped and ended up with concussion. The ice has melted for now, but given the cold weather I expect it to return shortly.

Monday, 10 December 2012

"I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" - Girls Aloud cover

The second Christmas song by a modern artist for every fifth day of this season is Girls Aloud's cover of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday"; this track was originally by Wizzard:

Girls Aloud are a British band; I originally heard of them when I was still living in the United States, and I made a mental note to myself to look out for them on the radio once my family and I moved back to the United Kingdom. Suffice to say, I don't yet have any Girls Aloud albums, but I do have an album by one of the members, Cheryl Cole.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Another one of my jokes (17)

Here's a joke that I recently thought of; this one is terrible!

"What is the Governor of New Jersey's favorite place in Texas? Corpus Christi."

I will note that I did not think of this joke because of how similar "Corpus" sounds to "corpulent", the latter of which could refer to or be a dig at Governor Chris Christie's weight. I've known about the existence of Corpus Christi, a large city in South Texas, for several years, but only thought about the place for the first time in months in the last few days. The Christi-Christie link was too good to miss!

Also, when Mr. Christie leaves office the joke should become "What was the 55th Governor of New Jersey's favorite place in Texas?".

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Chicken skin trick

My grandfather discovered and shared with Dad a simple trick to reducing fat in chicken skin. The crunchy, herb-covered skin of chicken legs and thighs is the tastiest part of the meat, but a lot of people are reluctant to eat it because of its fat content.

What my grandfather did was separate the skin from the legs and thighs. He then carefully laid out the skin between two pieces of kitchen towel, put it all on a dinner plate and then placed it in the microwave for around a minute and a half minute at the highest heat setting. Much of the fat was cooked out of the chicken and absorbed into the paper; when it came to eating the skin it was crunchy again and far less greasy than usual.

If you like chicken skin but dislike the fat and greasiness of it, I recommend doing this. Dad repeated the trick tonight; the only part that was different this time was that Dad placed the skin in the microwave while it was cold, and it had to be cooked for three and a half minutes.

Friday, 7 December 2012

On the word "frape"

For the most part, I am fairly relaxed about vulgar language. Rude words don't usually offend me unless they are said to excess, to which I then find them boring. That being said, there are certain words that do bother me - especially terms that are racist or sexist - with one in particular being "frape".

A "frape" is defined as when someone has their Facebook profile modified without permission by another person (hence, a portmanteau of "Facebook" and "rape"). It can refer to a person having their account broken into, but for the vast majority of the time it's when someone forgot to log out, their friends use their computer, and those friends change the person's profile around in a humorous manner.

I object most strongly to this frivolous use of the word "rape". Having your Facebook profile picture changed to a balloon or having nonsense written on your timeline is nothing compared to a woman having her body violated. A rape mentally and physically scars a woman for life; a couple of friends messing about with your profile will temporarily make you look foolish and ensure you remember to log out in future and/or increase your account's security. At the end of the day everyone will understand, laugh at, and move on from a non-hostile (if initially unwelcome) practical joke between friends; a rape is not at all humorous nor are its consequences merely fleeting.

The originator of "frape" probably came up with the term in good faith, but they and other people who have used it since don't understand that when we cheapen the word "rape" we risk trivialising how serious and disgusting rape really is. One could argue that editing a profile without permission is still a violation in itself - it is! It's an invasion of a person's space - but it's not rape. Even if an unrelated person hacks into an account it still cannot be likened to rape; it's both wrong and condemnable, but it's still not rape. I'm sure nearly everybody would object to having their accounts hijacked - and in no way am I playing down the importance of account security - but those same people would be further opposed to themselves and others being raped.

The solution to dealing with the usage of "frape" is to firmly explain why modifying a friend's Facebook profile is not comparable to the violation of a woman's body and the loss of her dignity. Say how offensive the term is to women who have suffered rape or how rape-related humour only serves to enable rapists. You could even say it comes across as misogynistic! However you decide to put it, make it clear that the word they are using is unacceptable. If we don't take action, nothing will change; I freely admit that I have made the mistake of letting the use of the aforementioned offensive term go unchallenged, and I am ashamed by that.

Rape is one of those topics that I refuse to take lightly. If we joke about rape we harm those affected by it, we encourage the rapists; and we do nothing in preventing others from becoming victims of such a violent, disgraceful act.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

"Look at this Instagram"

I try not to post two songs in a row, but I haven't been well today and don't have time to type out any lengthy pieces. Last night I came across "Look at this Instagram", a parody of Nickelback's "Photograph":

As hilarious as I found the video, it did get me thinking about my own photography and what pictures I've posted here. I enjoy using my cameras, and I hope that the images I've shared have been worthwhile to all my readers and that they're not considered useless pictures of mundane objects!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

"Last Christmas" - Cascada version

It's December, the time when Christmas music is frequently played on the radio. We all know and love Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You", but there are other modern artists who have released Christmas music, although to be fair, not all have created original songs for the season like Carey has.

For this year's season I've decided to post a lesser-known Christmas song by a modern musician every five days. I'll start with Cascada's cover of "Last Christmas", originally by Wham!:

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Decline of texting

It's astounding; yesterday I learnt that it was the 20th birthday of texting/SMS and wrote a short blog post to recognise the occasion. Today, I discovered that texting reached its peak and is "in decline", albeit slowly:

The main reason for this apparent decline is because of the increased use in apps on smartphones that are cheaper texting services than SMS. Other reasons cited include Twitter and Facebook, but I don't think that either of these are suitable replacements for texting: with Facebook, both users need to be online simultaneously to be able to communicate with one another in real-time, and with Twitter, same again but the conversations are public...clearly not ideal for a discussion intended for quick discussion between two people.

A text is usually the fastest way to contact someone: it's far more likely someone will have their phone with them than be connected to the Internet; even with a smartphone there's no guarantee that the person will use their device to always be on the Web. Despite any supposed "decline", I don't think that texting/SMS is going anywhere anytime soon: it may be old, and can cost up to 15 cents/pence per text on pay-as-you-go, but it's quick and simple.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Twenty years of texting

Exactly twenty years ago today the world's first SMS message was sent. BBC News has an interview with Matti Makkonen, the person who suggested the idea of texting in 1984; the interview was conducted via text messages:

Makkonen is often referred to as the "father of SMS", but he is not fond of the title because texting was created by other people, not him; he wasn't the first person to send a text message, either.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Decorations 2012

The Christmas decorations are becoming more noticeable in my town. A few days ago only a handful of houses were decorated; now it's hard to look at a group of houses without seeing at least one of them dressed for the season. Lights, Santas, reindeer and snowmen are becoming more common each day.

My family and I have not yet put up any of our decorations, but I think we'll start the process next week. With the exception of some new light sets that my parents have purchased I don't anticipate this year's decorations being much different from 2011's.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Excessive phone checking

I was pointed to this article on the Daily Mail about extreme phone checking being a problem for some people in developing friendships and becoming an obsession:

A few months ago I wrote about being less bothered by people checking their phones, with the caveat that this behaviour wasn't done to excess. It is very, very annoying to be talking to someone and they decide that their phone is more important than your discussion; it's also rude on their part.

Don't get me wrong, I think my phone is great and I prefer to have it with me most of the time, but I usually check it twice (occasionally three) times an hour and nearly never at the table, with another person, or at some other engagement. I'm not constantly playing with it, and I don't text with/call people when I'm having a face-to-face conversation: unless it's something particularly imporant - not idle chat - why would people texting/phoning me have priority over the person with whom I'm in the same room?