The Christmas markets and some new boots

The Christmas markets and some new boots

The Christmas markets have opened in Aberdeen already. I’m sure they start it earlier and earlier each year. This year it’s a little bit special because it’s on the newly pedestrianised Broad Street. The Aberdeen City Council has been promising pedestrianisation of the city centre for about a decade now and finally they’ve managed to do one fairly short road. At this rate they’ll finish in 150 years. Still, I don’t want to complain because it looks terrific. Just please do more and do it faster!

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The biggest attraction for me was to finally see the outside of Provost Skene’s House which has been hidden behind scaffolding and fencing since before we moved here, three years ago. It was built in 1545 and was home to Sir George Skene who was Provost of Aberdeen from 1676 to 1685. A Provost is what they call the Lord Mayor here. The building was very nearly demolished in the 1940s but thankfully Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) stepped in and saved it. Sadly, other similar buildings were not saved and are now gone for good.

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I got myself some new boots today: a pair of over-the-knee boots. I’ve been dreaming about these vegan boots and was contemplating asking Ben to get them for me as a Christmas present. But they’re very expensive, even as a Christmas present. Then I walked into Office and found a similar pair for £55. In high street shoe shops the vegan shoes are always cheaper because most other people view leather as desirable but not me. I’ve never had such high boots before but it makes sense in this climate as they provide extra warmth and protection from the rain. They also help me look like a badass. Do I look like a badass?

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I was reminded of the IT Crowd episode when Jen gets a new pair of shoes, except that I didn’t need any help putting them on 🙂

 

 

Congratulations to Australia on same-sex marriage vote!

It’s not often that I read news coming out of Australia and feel proud to be Australian. Mostly, I cringe. But not this week. The results of the same-sex marriage vote were released a couple of days ago and it’s a 61.6% majority vote for YES. Yay, Australia!

What does this mean now? Unfortunately it doesn’t mean that homosexuals can get married. Not yet, anyway. However it is a foundation stone which will lead the way to that outcome. The referendum was a non-binding plebiscite. No, a plebiscite is not a sexually transmitted disease, but a direct vote to all members in an electorate which in this case was the whole country. The government doesn’t have to do anything with this information but now that they know a majority of Australians support a law change it’s unlikely they’ll ignore it.

The current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, supports same-sex marriage but there are deep divisions in his party over this issue. Having the results of the plebiscite will hopefully give him the authority to push it through despite the internal party conflict. Malcolm Turnbull leads the Liberal Party of Australia but don’t be fooled by the word “Liberal” in the name – the Liberal Party of Australia is conservative in every sense of the word.

It’s starting to feel wintry here and I love it. I love being all rugged up and feeling the cold, cold air against my cheeks. It’s also getting dark which makes it feel Christmassy. Consequently I’ve started playing Christmas music already. Is that bad? I took the kids to Food Story for cake this afternoon. If you visit Aberdeen you must go to Food Story. It’s the best.

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Standing stones, pool, horses, and friends

Standing stones, pool, horses, and friends

These are the standing stones at Belwade Horse Farm which is a charity for neglected, abused, and/or unwanted horses. It’s near Aboyne which is about an hour south-west of Aberdeen, in the Cairngorms. We visited the place today with some friends.

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I’m fascinated by these stone circles which are all over Scotland. This particular one is a megalithic stone circle which was supposedly built for astronomical purposes. It marks the dates of important Celtic festivals like the winter and summer solstice, acting like a calendar and predating Google’s calendar by thousands of years. These are not the original stones though. This particular one was re-built in 2013 by stones donated from the Invercauld Estate. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t travel through time when I put my hands on one of them.

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The horse farm is really lovely and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. The view from the cafe is magnificent and you can groom a pony and learn a lot about horses at the same time.

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We didn’t get to see their Clydesdale, Digger, but there was a life-size portrait of him and I got a pic alongside it so you can see how big he is.

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Yesterday we cycled to Newton Dee with some old friends from York and spent some time frolicking in the playground there. It was wonderful.

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For dinner we went to Slains Castle, which is a converted church -> pub in central Aberdeen. The kids quite like it because it has a Dracula-inspired interior design but last night was particularly good because they got a free pool lesson from some very nice young fellows who were having a game near our table. Elizabeth wanted to arrange to meet them there again next Saturday but we talked her out of it. I can’t imagine they’d want to spend their Saturday evenings teaching kids to play pool.

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What a great weekend.

Recipe: Vegan Protein Balls

Recipe: Vegan Protein Balls

I made some more protein balls and this time I made a note of the ingredients. These make a really nice mid-morning or late-afternoon snack when you’re hungry but don’t want to spoil the next meal. The coconut condensed milk is something I’ve discovered recently and it’s available at Ocado. If you’re in Aberdeen you can get it at Newton Dee and Foodstory. Holland & Barrett sell pea protein powder.

Ingredients

1/2 cup pea protein powder
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup coconut condensed milk
1/4 cup soya (or other non-dairy milk)
ground hazelnuts for rolling the balls in at the end

Method

Soak the chia seeds in 3 tablespoons of water for ten minutes. While they’re soaking combine all the other ingredients in a bowl except for the hazelnuts. Add the chia seeds and mix everything really well until it’s a nice, gooey consistency. Then create small balls with a diameter of 2-3cm and roll them in the ground hazelnuts. Eat!

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View from the cycle path

View from the cycle path

It has been a while since I’ve posted a pic of the view from the cycle path but it’s time to make amends because the colours were so pretty on my ride this morning. There’s a lovely patchy blue/grey sky today and the landscape is full of autumn colours.

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I was at my plot this morning doing some weeding and it’s starting to look really good now. A month ago it looked like this:

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Today, it looks like this:

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Earlier this week I had lunch at Foodstory and ordered a vegan lasagne which was superb. No animal fats, no cholesterol; just plants. I took a pic:

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I’m not rational

I took the How Rational Are You, Really? quiz on clearerthinking.org and it turns out I’m not very rational. This will explain why I recently bought a pair of shoes for looks rather than comfort. Although to be fair, I later returned the uncomfortable, impractical shoes and got a pair of comfortable, outrageous shoes instead.

Apparently I’m a meditator which means I have a relaxed, big-picture worldview and a strong propensity to question my own judgements. I’m not sure how accurate the test is because it also decided that I’m carefree and tend to live in the moment, never wasting time fretting about the future. Am I the sort of person who spends time worrying about earthquakes? Or brain tumours? Or volcanoes? Or countless other things? Of course I am. They clearly got that wrong about me.

I scored poorly on quantitative reasoning (50%) because I got the donut question wrong. In my defence I was multitasking when I was doing the quiz. I pitched the same question to the family and while Ben was thinking it through, Daniel gave the correct answer in less than 10 seconds. Maybe only children can understand that question? For future-based reasoning I scored 75% which is nice. Does this mean the decisions I make today are bad while decisions I make in the future are good? The conclusion seems to be that I should choose purchase my next pair of shoes now but choose them in a few months. Or should it be the other way around?

Findhorn, Scotland

Findhorn, Scotland

We spent the weekend in Findhorn which is a small, coastal village about a couple of hours north-west of Aberdeen.

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Findhorn is an interesting place because since 1957 it has been home to the Findhorn Foundation which is a spiritual, eco-community of several hundred people. Visitors from all over the world come to Findhorn to take workshops run by the Foundation. Whether or not you believe in the “inner voice of spirit”, which sounds a bit nonsensical to me, one thing is certain: the food at Findhorn is wonderful and this is thanks to the Findhorn Foundation. Findhorn has several fantastic cafés serving wonderful coffee, cakes, and meals including many vegan options. The beach and bay are also very pretty; there’s a seal colony, and it’s slightly warmer and sunnier there than places further south in Scotland thanks to a special microclimate.

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Elizabeth took this next photo.

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Property is fairly expensive in Findhorn. You can purchase a beach hut smaller than a prison cell for £25,000.

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The following photos were all taken around the Findhorn Foundation village:

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The helmet brigade strikes again

There’s an article in the Telegraph that has got me all riled up. I’m not going to link to it but the headline is something like, “Teenager seriously injured because he wasn’t wearing a bicycle helmet”. Why do people think it’s ok to shame cyclists for not wearing helmets? Do they do the same to smokers or people who don’t exercise? Maybe they do but I have never seen a newspaper headline like this: “Obese mother who drives children to school dies of heart attack”. You just don’t see that and I doubt the people who drive their kids right up to the school gate in their tanks ever get shouted at, as I do on my bike, even though I’m likely to cost the NHS far less in the long term and I’m not putting noxious gases into the air that harm our children. No, instead I am the one who gets abused. And for what it’s worth, I do wear a helmet but most people don’t realise that because it’s an invisible helmet.

Physical inactivity is the biggest health problem of the developed world. Air pollution kills 50,000 people a year in the UK. People who ride bikes, with or without helmets, are doing a great service to society. I’m not in favour of compulsory helmet legislation because it reduces the number of people who ride their bikes which is bad for the health of the population as a whole. The risk of injury and death from not wearing a helmet is far lower than the risk of not doing any exercise at all. Cycling UK has a good summary of the facts.

I should know better than to read an article in The Telegraph.

Smacking to be banned in Scotland

It was announced today that Scotland is going to be the first part of the UK to outlaw smacking. This is great news. New Zealand banned smacking in 2009 as has most of the rest of the EU. Australia, as usual, is years behind everyone else; you can still hit children there.

I told the kids this evening that it’s going to be illegal to smack children in Scotland and Daniel’s response was, “What’s smacking?”. When I explained, Elizabeth replied in a shocked voice, “People hit their children?????”.

It’s not necessary to hit children and outlawing it will give children the same legal protection as adults. In making this change we’re creating a society and a culture where physical violence is unacceptable. That’s the kind of society I want to live in.

Arse trolls

Elizabeth has been reading Sophie’s World which is an introductory philosophy book for children. Recently she started talking about someone called So-crates and someone else called Arse-trolls.

It took us a little while to realise she was referring to Socrates and Aristotle 🙂

No pain, no gain

I caught a taxi home from the train yesterday. It was a very short trip and one we usually walk but I had Ben’s backpack (he walked straight from the train to the University) in addition to my own. Nevertheless I felt bad about sitting in a car when I could have easily walked. I had a nice conversation with the taxi driver who remarked how little traffic there had been since the school holidays started. The amazing thing is children can’t even drive! Those were his words.

Why are we driving our children to school? We are setting them up for poor habits later in life. Children who are used to making short trips by car will continue doing that when they become adults. We worry about our children becoming smokers but a bigger health issue today, in terms of direct attributable mortality, is not smoking but physical inactivity. This research is old but the message just isn’t getting through.

How much exercise should we be doing? The NHS has some guidelines on its site. They say we need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 72 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. This means you can do 30 minutes of moderate activity on five days each week or 15 minutes of vigorous activity on five days. That’s the minimum. More than that is probably better.

Yes, it’s much easier to drive up a steep hill than walk up but millions of years of human evolution did not involve driving everywhere in cars and our bodies depend on this physical activity for our wellbeing. Without it we get sick, depressed, and risk cognitive decline. It’s like the old saying goes, No pain, no gain.

Vegan protein balls

Vegan protein balls

I got some pea protein powder at the SFN Expo in GlasgowSFN Expo in Glasgow. Don’t ask me why. I guess I was inspired by the peanut butter balls they were making with it. They looked delicious.

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I’ve just made these:

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Ingredients: pea protein powder, cocoa, ground hazelnuts, sweetened condensed coconut milk, chia seeds, peanut butter … and I think that’s it. I don’t recall the quantities as I just kept adding stuff until the consistency was right and it tasted good.

The sweetened condensed coconut milk I found in a health food store recently and bought a can thinking I might use it one day instead of cow’s condensed milk. It’s really good and I’ll buy it again. You could probably make a savoury version of these peanut butter balls without it but you’d need to add some other liquid instead otherwise they’ll be too dry. You could also use dates for sweetness.

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Glasgow SFN Expo

Glasgow SFN Expo

I was in Glasgow last weekend for the SFN Expo, an exhibition for anyone interested in health and fitness. WordPress.com had a stand at the exhibition and I worked there on both days. It was unlike anything I’ve attended for work before as I usually go to WordCamps or mathematics conferences which are technology-focused/academic events full of geeks. The SFN Expo was full of attractive, trendy people with big muscles.

The strongest man in the world was there. An Englishman, Eddie Hall, holds the title for the world’s strongest man. He can lift 500kg and eats 12,000 calories per day; that’s enough food for 6 people.

Health and fitness fanatics are a bit obsessed with protein. You just don’t see protein deficiencies in our society. Fibre and folate deficiencies, yes, but not protein. I grew two human beings and gave birth to them on a vegan diet. I was pleased to see vegan protein at the event. There was a stand selling vegan pea protein and offering recipes for it. As a vegan I’m a bit sick of people asking me where I get my protein but I feel a glimmer of hope that finally this myth is in decline and will eventually be stabbed to death and buried for good.

There was also a lot of peanut butter and people giving cooking classes with protein powders and peanut butter.

Someone was selling this delicious vegan avocado chocolate mouse which I ate two of. It was delicious.

Don’t ask me what the yellow suit is about because I have no idea.

Each morning I had about a 20-minute walk along the Clyde River to the venue. There’s a nice bike/walking path beside the river which is completely separate from the road. Some of the architecture along the riverbank is pretty ugly. They have a lot of this type of building which is shaped like a right-angle triangle and looks like the developer ran out of money before completing it.

I think it’s partly the lack of trees that makes the landscape in this next photo particularly ugly. They have planted a row of trees along the waterfront but it’s not enough to counter the effect of all that concrete and brick. A single row of trees, evenly spaced, and pruned into an unnatural topiary doesn’t work here. It needs a mix of species, big and small, with lots of foliage and significantly more in number.

The venue was the SEC – the Scottish Event Campus – which is right next to the SSE Hydro. The latter building is more interesting to look at and I particularly like the living roof.

However yet again there was a disappointing lack of trees. I’m not an architect or designer and I don’t pretend to be able to create good public spaces but I can recognise bad ones when I see them. There simply wasn’t enough soft landscaping; it was all concrete and steel. If it hadn’t been for the living roof there’d be no soft landscaping at all.

Going native

Going native

For a few months earlier this year the kids learnt Scottish Highland Dancing at school. It’s a traditional form of step dancing but unlike Irish dancing, it involves upper body movements as well. It’s a competitive dance rather than a social or barn dance and almost always performed at Scottish Highland Games. Dancers typically wear a kilt and special shoes called ghillies while dancing to pipe music. One of the dances is called the sword dance which involves movements around two swords placed on the ground – how cool is that?

Both kids loved learning Highland Dancing but unfortunately the teacher who took the class left the school over the summer and so it’s no longer offered. Yesterday I signed Elizabeth up for a Highland Dance class outside of school because she was so keen to continue. We also bought her a pair of ghillies and since then she hasn’t been able to stop dancing. We were reminded of the fairy tale about a pair of red shoes, which when worn, force the wearer to dance until eternity.

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America’s Gun Psychosis

This is a great post from Richard Erskine about the lack of gun control in the US. I was thinking of writing something myself but I don’t think I can say it any better. There’s a very simple solution to this ongoing problem and it’s called gun control. As Richard points out other countries have successfully implemented gun control in the past and to great effect. In Australia in 1996 a gunman shot 35 people in Port Arthur. Immediately afterwards the then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard (a conservative PM), initiated a gun buy-back scheme where gun owners could relinquish their guns in return for money. Australia has not had a gun massacre since.

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If ever one needed proof of the broken state of US politics, the failure to deal with this perpetual gun crisis is it.

After 16 children and 1 teacher were killed in the Dunblane massacre on 13th March 1996, the UK acted.

After 35 people were killed in the PortArthur massacre on 28th April 1996, Australia acted.

It’s what any responsible legislature would do.

So far in 2017, US deaths from shootings totals a staggering 11,652 (I think not including the latest mass shooting in Las Vegas, and with 3 months still to run in 2017 – see gunsviolencearchive – and note this excludes suicides).

The totals for the previous 3 years 2014, 2015 and 2016 are 12,571; 13,500; and 15,079.

The number of those injured comes in at about two times those killed (but note that the ratio for the latest Las Vegas shooting is closer to 10, with…

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Ecocamp Glenshee

Ecocamp Glenshee

We are back from our fabulous glamping weekend at Ecocamp Glenshee.

It’s about 2.5 hours by car south of Aberdeen through the Cairngorms. The drive was wonderful and part of it is along the highest road in the UK. Ecocamp Glenshee is wonderful for families as it’s safe and they have animals – llamas, chickens, donkeys, and a goat. We stayed in a wooden pod:

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They are heated and have electric power sockets but some of the other accommodation is completely off-grid. It was so quiet and so dark at night that I slept really well. There’s something about being in a location like that – the quiet, the beautiful scenery, the fresh country air – I found it very relaxing and could have stayed another night.

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Last night we went beaver spotting. Beavers are native to Britain but were completely wiped out by humans several hundred years ago. In the last decade they have been re-introduced and there are now 200 or so beavers in this region of Perthshire. We went on a private tour with Daniele from Perthshire Wildlife. We sat on the bank of the River Ericht and after about 5 or 10 minutes the first beaver appeared. I took some photos but they’re pathetic and I’m not sure what the beaver is in my pic but I’ll post it anyway. I’ve circled what I think is the beaver.

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This particular beaver family have a lodge under the yellowing bush on the opposite bank of the river. Daniele showed us some of the food they eat and signs of their presence like gnawed branched and tree trunks. We sat in silence for quite a while and the kids were amazing. I thought they’d complain and make lots of noise but they were really great. I don’t think they’re as fascinated by beavers as I am.

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I’ve been upgraded!

This week I was offered a larger plot at the allotments: a half size plot. Mine is a microplot and they’re meant to be only temporary. Microplots are 50m2 while a half plot is 150m2. I was very pleased to get the offer because my plot isn’t getting much sun now. I also think a half size plot is more manageable for me than a full size one. I went to investigate yesterday and was very impressed. The new plot has lots of garden beds already, although they were full of weeds but still in much better shape than the microplot was when I took over. I also found heaps of onions and garlic ready for harvest. I wonder why the previous person left without harvesting their vegetables? They also left lots of useful garden tools, a shed, and a glasshouse.

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The shed is in bad shape. The roof was leaking and there was a pool of water on the floor inside. Thankfully my father is visiting and I put him to work today to replace the roof. This should cover his board 😉

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He has done a terrific job so far. The old roof has come off and some new plywood nailed in place to make a new roof. All that’s left is to put some roof felt on but we’ll do that next week.

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Here are some of the onions and garlic I dug up.

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Alien eggs in the backyard

Alien eggs in the backyard

Recently I spotted what had to be an alien’s eggs incubating in our backyard.

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So naturally, I decided not to disturb them.

A little while later I went back and they’d “hatched’ but there was nothing to see other than a tiny slug. I’m pretty sure that’s a slug and not alien spawn.

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Today I found another one in a different spot but this time something was growing out of it.

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I guess they’re some kind of mushroom. Does anyone know? The stem looks rather like styrofoam.

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It’s not as exciting as an alien but very unusual to my eyes.

Porridge with peanut butter

Porridge with peanut butter

Last Sunday we went to Bonobo for brunch and I tried their Bonoboats which is porridge made with peanut butter. I was a little skeptical at first but it exceeded my expectations so I decided to try making it at home. Here’s what I got at Bonobo:

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Here’s what I made today at home:

Ok, so it doesn’t look as good as the Bonobo version which is why I don’t intend to quit my job and open a restaurant, but it tasted just as good, if not better. I added a secret ingredient to mine: ground flaxseed. I’ve heard it said that where there’s flax there’s healthy people. But don’t trust me! Have a look at this university medical centre leaflet about flaxseed.

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed
  • Cinnamon
  • Fruit
  • Agave or maple syrup (optional)

Method

Mix the oats, water, non-dairy milk, peanut butter, ground flaxseed in a saucepan and cook on the stove over a medium heat. Stir continuously so it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom. When it’s a nice gluey consistency turn off the heat and serve with fruit, cinnamon, and agave/maple syrup. I also put some plain soya yoghurt on mine but this isn’t necessary.

Protip: Be careful not to accidentally sprinkle cumin over the top instead of cinnamon which is what I did.