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I had all of December off work, following the end of my previous job. I couldn't go travelling of course, but I definitely needed the time off: in both jobs I finished this year I'd been saving up annual leave to carry over, with the result that I'd taken very little off. I played some computer games, had a few very nice local walks, and read quite a lot.Goose Game, Monkey Island, Red Alert
I decided to stream Goose Game on twitch just to see if any friends fancied watching along and to my surprise some did! The game was very relaxing, adorable, and pretty good for being able to chat with people while playing it. I tried Red Alert a few times but it needed too much of my concentration to be a social game. After Goose Game I also played through The Secret of Monkey Island™, which took less time than I expected but was good fun, and I'd forgotten most of the puzzles from last playthrough. (I still needed a hint for the seagull!)
I also finished both Red Alert campaigns, for the first time (as a teen I was more interested in playing Skirmishes against the AI, and making game mods). Unfortunately Tiberian Sun isn't available remastered like the first two C&C games, and I don't fancy messing around getting a Windows XP installation working right now, so that'll have to wait. (I think I finished at least one of the two campaigns in TS as a teen, but certainly not both.)Solstice walk
Having been staying in on account of both lockdown and laser for the last couple of weeks, the winter solstice provided a good opportunity to get out of the house. The solstice was at 10:02 so I made sure I was out of the house at that point, though most of my walk was earlier in the morning to catch the rain (which meant fewer people around). As it turns out I don't really mind walking in the rain, as long as it's not also windy, and I'm not out long enough to get too wet (especially my feet, thinking back to previous trips).
It was a pretty walk, and I got to explore the area a fair bit more than last time I went on one of my insomnia walks. I also pinched a foot or so of holly and ivy to put on my mantlepiece at home.
On the way back, I came across this rope swing conveniently placed just before the steep incline next to a derelict set of steps, so of course I had a good swing.Self-portraits
My new employer wanted a professional-looking photo of myself and an introductory blerb for company stuff, and even offered to pay for a professional photographer for me. Given that it would need to be inside, I decided to rig up a basic "studio" in the study.
I knew that you need diffuse light for portraits, so put a stretch of white fabric up in front of my two extremely bright lightbulbs, which I'd originally brought to make my office as bright as possible during winter. I googled for basic portrait photography tips and found that 50mm lenses were the most natural look (I kinda knew that before; I use 50mm for food photography when I can). I also found that having a dot of light reflecting in the eye can look good, so I put on the main ceiling light too, which doesn't have a shade on it.
I chose the portrait settings on my camera, since I assume those settings are there for a reason.
I used a remote shutter to take about 40 photos all in all, since I am pretty picky about how I look in photos, and I couldn't remember my best side. As a happy accident, the black cardigan I wore over my rust-coloured Norwegian dress to make it look less casual also had the bonus that you can't see my arm slightly raised to reach the corded remote shutter!
I shortlisted the best ones, then converted those to black and white, and put them in a gallery. Emily helped me whittle it down to a single joint favourite.
I might use some of the others at some point too. I go in and out of deciding whether I like the bigger smile in some of them.New traditions
For the solstice and Christmas, which I was alone for this year, I decided to try some new or borrowed traditions. For the solstice, I got hold of some vegetarian marshmallows, and used the telescopic toasting fork Ems gave me last year to toast some marshmallows. Lacking a large enough fire, I just sat quite far back from a candle.
Between then and Christmas, I made some cinnamon buns, except I used mincemeat instead of cinnamon according to a recipe I found, since mince pies didn't take my fancy this year. They rose beautifully and tasted okay, but I had notes.
Firstly, they needed at least 100g more mincemeat for the whole recipe (though I halved the recipe) to comfortably fill the buns. Secondly, the wholemeal flour totally overpowered the taste. I would make them with entirely white flour next time. I turned them vegan too, using soya milk, Naturli butter, and a flax egg, and that worked just fine. I would be tempted to add cinnamon back in too, since there was definitely a missing taste.... maybe I should just make cinnamon buns!
On Christmas Eve I had nori-wrapped tofu "fish" and chips, always tasty.
On Christmas Day I made mushroom tartlets, which use bread rather than pastry, much to my preference, and had those for breakfast. For Christmas lunch I had mock duck with sage & onion stuffing, roast potatoes, sprouts (which I now like well enough, it seems), and gravy. Both of these were carried over from my family Christmas (or, well, the tartlets were a mid-morning snack rather than breakfast, but there's only one of me and they're best fresh out the oven!).
Late afternoon I borrowed a tradition from Emily, which was to make a raspberry trifle. it was quite nice but I should've put more sponges in it! I haven't written up Ems' recipe, but breifly: trifle sponges, spread with raspberry jam and sandwiched together; line bottom; soak in sherry (no need to let stand); put on defrosted frozen raspberries and some of their juice; fancy custard; whipped cream on top; grated dark chocolate on top.Snow walk
It snowed overnight on the morning of the 29th, and was still snowing when I woke up around eight. I scrambled some clothes on and went straight out to Attenborough Nature Reserve. (I had been considering a shorter walk to Toton Sidings but my body immediately headed the other way out the door, so I went with it.) It was really worth the 25 minute walk as the snow continued to come down heavily and I enjoyed catching the grauple with my tongue as it fell.
Despite having apparently left my camera on Portrait post-processing mode since the photoshoot earlier this month (not the worst mistake I've made!), I got some good photos.
By around 10 am the paths were getting busier than I liked (early seems to be the best time to go out around here) but I'd made the one-hour loop I'd intended to, so walked back home to where the fresh snow had nearly covered my footprints from when I left the house.AMPDG
For AMPDG this month I had to "pick a treat and find three new places to try it from". Being unable to go to cafés, I picked hot chocolate and tried it in three new "places" at home: once in the bath, once in heavy rain in the garden, and once in total darkness, sitting under the stairs. I enjoyed all three experiences, though I think the darkness one was my favourite. I must remember that sitting on a cushion on my Henry hoover under there is actually quite comfortable, and the door was good enough that at night with the lights off there was no perceptable light leaking in.
November was quite a stressful month but it picked up towards the end. On the first Monday I was made redundant with a month's notice. I was overwhelmed at how lovely everyone was when I mentioned it. A whole bunch of people forwarded me job ads and I applied for a bunch of them. One of them came through, and after four interviews with them during the next couple of weeks, I was offered the job! I start in January.November garden harvest
I got three small cauliflowers and a couple of dozen chickpeas from the garden, and that's definitely all for this year (though one of the failed carrots finally put up a shoot just before the first frost...)Repaired bike
I dug out the bicycle I originally bought in Canterbury during uni, which had barely been used since then, because I lived at the top of a hill in Dartford and Bromley, and the bottom of a valley in Devon (and by that time it was not happy anyway). In Nottingham I've been using public transport, but last month the tram was so busy while the covid rates were so high (Nottingham peaked over 1000 per 100,000 in a seven day period at one point, meaning over 1% of the population had tested positive).
I resolved to buy a new bike (I'd have quite liked one with a traditionally female frame rather than the mountain bike frame), but the bike shop was sold out of bikes, until February apparently! Instead, I brought in my old one, and they said it was in pretty good shape, so I got that repaired. I bought a new helmet and set of lights, and discovered that the route to Nottingham is almost entirely along a shared used canal- and riverside path! So I've been enjoying that. It's stressing me out a little to cycle past people on the narrow path, but overall it feels a lot less risky than using the tram.AMPDG: blanket fort
For AMPDG I made an elaborate blanket fort and slept in it overnight. This is definitely the most elaborate one I've made!
It was nice to wake up with the light filtering in through the coloured sheets.Christmask
I made a second face mask, using the more Christmassy fabric I bought at the same time as the last one, so it's now called the Christmask.
For this one I put some of those plastic-covered strips of metal used for cable ties into the top, which means it holds its shape a lot better than the first one. I may try to add some to the first one too. (Or make a third! I have enough fabric left...)The Flight of Dragons
I re-watched my favourite childhood film, The Flight of Dragons one weekend and as usual the fact that it was based on a book by Peter Dickinson piqued my interest.
This time when I looked on eBay there was actually a copy for sale! It was about £30 (it's long out of print, published in 1979) but I decided to treat myself. It arrived a few days later and it was in fantastic condition, I was so happy! I squeed a bit on Twitter at the time.
It's a speculative natural history book that attempts to "prove" dragons existed, and seems to have references to various other (real, but fictional) works in it. Additionally, it is full of some absolutely beautiful colour illustrations by Wayne Anderson, the style of which was approximated for the animated film.
I haven't actually started reading it yet, as I also bought another book from eBay at the same time called The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson, a 1976 fantasy novel also long out of print, also cited in Flight if I remember correctly from flicking through. (Unfortunately it turned up in terrible condition, so I got an ebook copy of it to read on my Kindle instead.)
The film The Flight of Dragons, it turns out, is an amalgamation of these two books. The film takes the "man accidentally ensorcelled into a dragon's body" aspect and a good deal of the characters and plot of Dragon and the George, and remixes it with the style and speculative science of Flight of Dragons, such that the film's protagonist becomes Peter Dickinson, the actual author of The Flight of Dragons, who is in the process of writing the book itself, and thus gets direct experience of being a dragon.
Anyway, I started reading The Dragon and the George instead, it being published first and referenced in Flight. At the time of writing I'm about half way through it, and it's fascinating to see how the film remixed aspects of it, added some of its own, and ignored what feels like a fair bit of filler in the middle of the book.
In short: I'm a happy Kathy. I will read the picture book as a Christmas treat.Bookcase and decorations
I finally got around to ordering a Billy Bookcase from Ikea for the DVDs, after finding out the shelves were adjustable height, so wouldn't be oddly spaced for DVDs.
I ordered some extra shelves as well, but having put up the bookcase and finding a home for the candle lamp I bought in York a long while ago, I'm not sure I want to use them after all.
I'm quite pleased with the hole I cut out in the back so I could still get to the power sockets on the wall behind. It's only slightly out of position!
I also put up the Christmas tree in the last weekend of November. This is the first time I've done so before December, but I think we can make an exception for 2020.
The main two conferences I was looking forward to this year were cancelled, but I made up for PyCon UK by making welsh cakes, which are traditionally served during breaks there in Cardiff.Botober
A blog I follow, AI Weirdness, made some AI-generated drawing prompts to play into Inktober, calling it 'Botober' instead. I decided to use them to do a quick sketch on my phone each day, in the style of the party game "Drawful". As the month progressed I switched to my pen tablet instead, since I felt I could put more effort into them than I did. In the end I spent around 15 minutes on average on those.
Here's the whole selection, or the Twitter thread I originally posted them to. This one's my favourite, a composite I did for the last three days:Homemade face mask
I bought a sewing machine! I didn't have much of an idea what I would make with it, but I've been wanting to get into sewing for a while and I figured it'd be better to have one to hand when inspiration did strike.
I realised I could have a pretty good shot at making a face mask that was safer than the ones I already had, after reading an article about the effectiveness of various materials. I bought some material (nowhere near the recommended thread count for the cotton, but never mind) and I think I made a pretty good go at the instructions I used.Automatic Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Emily and her friend Dave set up AMPDG which is a set of quirky prompts that they encourage everyone to pick one from each month. This month I chose to modify a t-shirt into something new, and since I was looking for reasons to use my new sewing machine, I decided to turn an old t-shirt into some hand warmers.
Working with t-shirt material was tricky (as I'd been warned!) but I was fairly happy with how they turned out technically, even if the t-shirt fabric wasn't quite the right choice for them:Carving a home-grown squash
I decided to harvest my squash about a week before Hallowe'en which meant I got to carve the largest one during the afternoon of Saturday 31st.
Being quite small (the tea light _barely_ fit through the hole in the top), I picked a simple pattern and drew it on it by eye. I'm pretty pleased with the result!
The next day, I cooked up all three squash for squash and pine nut pasta, which I got three meals out of.
I also got dressed up in orange and black to take some photos of myself, and I was pretty happy with how I looked that day.
These posts are also sent to Twitter.
I wish I had a macro lens for my camera
(It's apple cider vinegar with an inner container of soapy water, goodness knows if it'll do anything and now I need more apple cider vinegar)
The dragon fruit's soil seems to have come with fungus gnats (I think) which are very irritating if harmless, so I am attempting an internet advice fly trapA large plant pot with a pitaya…
Anyway, from what I can tell from a pretty limited study, estrogen in reproductive-age cis women peaks sometime in the early hours of the morning, and possibly has a couple of much more minor peaks throughout the rest of the day. https://eje.bioscientifica.com/downloadpdf/journals/eje/148/2/227.pdf
And don't get me started on the UX of citations
aaaaa in the further discussions section they mention, apropos nothing, that "a group of women living together in a room might have ‘menstrual synchrony’."hasn't that repeatedly been debunked as a myth?
"allowing us to investigate the diurnal rhythms of hormones in females living under natural conditions."media20210114-17349-hhesmi.png…
This particular paper describes investigating the daily fluctuation of estrogen levels "in women […]in their natural environment" 😅 Surprisingly, it's not actually entirely written by male-sounding names.
There's no need for words like "abnormal" with regards to natural variation in the population, especially when they define the range they consider "normal" immediately afterwards anyway.