Through my lens

Ever since I entered the blogging world I’ve found myself constantly looking at beautiful photographs. Apparently one of the golden rules of blogging is to satisfy people’s visual appetite by taking perfect pictures. I thought I was doing my due diligence by merely uploading pictures but I don’t think the pictures from my cell are meeting the basic requirements.

The thing is, I do have the right equipment to take pictures, but as is often the case for many people, having the right equipment just won’t cut it…you need to know how to USE it. After much begging and convincing, I managed to score a beautiful DSLR (Canon Rebel XSi) for Christmas. This was 3 years ago and my beloved camera has probably spent more time hibernating in my closet than it has being put to full use. The way I use my fancy little gadget I may as well just have a regular point and shoot. Always on automatic. The manual settings intimidate me and it’s for this reason that I’ve become fairly well acquainted with the running man, the portrait symbol, landscape, and the stars that symbolize night portrait. I wanted the camera so I could take amazing National Geographic-worthy pictures during my travels and while I have taken the odd nice picture or two, it’s really always been by sheer luck.

I guess M heard me moan enough times about how I wish I could take nicer photographs to take some action because this past Christmas I received a photography course by the Royal Photographic Society from him! I’d always contemplated taking a course but thought it’d be a waste of money considering everything I would learn I could just teach myself from the manual. If only I could bring myself to read the manual…

I just completed the short weekend course and learned more in one day than any self-teaching I’ve done over the past 3 years. I FINALLY get aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Do you know how happy this makes me??? Photography is actually starting to make sense! The information-packed course included a mini field trip around Bath and I spent the majority of the afternoon trekking in mud and tortured my exposed hands to a near-frostbite incident. But it was all worth it when I took a look at some of the beauties I took! You know those amazing waterfall/babbling brook/streaming river pictures you always see where the water is all blurred but everything else in the background is nice and crisp? Guess what? I learned how to do that! This is a VERY amateur shot of something that could be very cool, but once I invest in some camera accessories (just a tripod- nothing fancy) I’d be willing to bet a bowl of cereal that good quality pictures will adorn my site.

My hands weren't steady enough to make this a perfect shot

The second part of the course was a crash course in Photoshop. Wow, this subject contains enough material to do a whole degree in it and I finally learned how I can make myself other people look 5 years younger than they really are. But I think Photoshop has also allowed photographers to remove a lot of the naturalness from their pictures, which is a shame. I often find that professional photographers go Freddy Krueger on pictures and just edit the living daylights out of pictures. The natural beauty of pictures are often removed and are instead oversaturated and overexposed until the entire composition of the picture is altered into something analogous to Michael Jackson.

My goal is to take GOOD pictures and use editing software only to ENHANCE what’s already good. Think of my picture like:

…Natalie Portman

My goal is to turn

into THIS

You know, something that already looks really great to something that looks AMAZING. I’ll know I failed if my pictures go from:

Something that looks nice, but has the potential to look better..

To something that’s been wayyyy to overdone and just ends up looking ridiculous.


Here are some pictures of my Bath beauties…it’s just a preview of better things to come. It was cloudy all weekend so I didn’t get the opportunity to take some brilliantly beautiful pictures, but for a practice round it’s not too shabby, huh?

Path after a mid-afternoon drizzle
Making way for spring
Lovers' lane
The photography class taking a lunch break overlooking cloudy Bath

Are you cereus?

Apparently this blog has reached a completely new level. I’ve had one question posed to me enough times to warrant me starting an FAQ section. Can you guess what it’s related to? If you guessed food you’re in the right category. If you guessed cereal you’re probably one of the ones who asked me this FAQ.

So I am going to do you all the courtesy of setting this fact straight. Just so there isn’t any confusion.


Do you still eat cereal?


Are you nuts!?!?!? What kind of question is that??? OF COURSE I still eat cereal! I mean, just because I’ve decided to expand my horizons a little doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon my long and faithful companion. Those who know me are well aware of my loyalty to people/things. I would like to set the record straight that my love for cereal has not died, waned, dwindled, or wavered in any way. It’s just that instead of eating it for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and dessert, I’ll get my filling of it by having just 3 bowls of it for breakfast instead.

I didn’t want to resort to doing this, but I figured some of you would want proof of this statement. Please observe the pictures below. And NEVER ask me such silly questions again!!! Pff…do I still eat cereal…just when I think I’ve heard everything a question like this gets asked and shocks the living daylight out of me…


Baking blunders

When I moved to England and did my first big grocery shop guess what I bought? Flour! Baking powder! White AND brown sugar! You’re probably wondering what the big deal with that is. Well, the purchase of baking material is a huge milestone for me. I buy things from the bakery section. I go for cake and donut runs at Tim Hortons. The closest I ever got to baking in the past was buying the Pillsbury dough boy premade stuff and shoving it in the oven.
Things have changed though. For better? That, I’m unsure of. M, unfortunately for him, has become the test subject of my experiments. He appears to have a stomach of steel because he’s still alive!
So, as I mentioned before, the vegetable box we get comes with a lot of strange foods. And our box is advertised as feeding 2-3 people, but somehow we end up with tons of leftovers week after week. And trust me, we are eaters!!! The abundance of vegetables has forced me to get really creative and as a result, has ignited within me a passion for soup-making!!! I’ve always loved soup, and with the chilly autumn weather and winter being right around the corner I’ve found myself making soups on a bi-weekly basis. Big batches of soup. Enough to feed a family of 6. M is getting pretty sick of soup… :(
Wait, I’ve diverged. Back to baking. So my veg box came with beets. Lots of beets. More than I knew what to do with. M ended up using a bunch to make a beetroot risotto, but there were still beets leftover. I decided to take on the mission to do something a little different with what remained of the beets…and after a quick search on Foodgawker I stumbled upon a beetroot brownie recipe!! Sounds disgusting, right?!!?! Well, folks. It was!! But I don’t think the reason was because of the beets. I think it’s because I’m incapable of baking. Baking’s hard…I think I hate it.

Here are some reasons why I hate baking:

– The first thing recipes tell you to do is to preheat the oven. Ok, the oven takes MAXIMUM 7 minutes to preheat. You know how long it took me to prepare everything???? 1.5 hrs!!! Talk about a waste of energy…grrrr.
– What the heck does it mean to FOLD something?? “Fold in also flour, then walnuts and beetroots”. Do they mean DUMP in flour? If so, why can’t they just that?? Well I don’t know what it means to fold in flour so I ended up dumping it in. Maybe that’s why my brownies tasted like cow excrements. Ok, it didn’t taste that awful, but it sure LOOKED like cow excrements.
– You don’t get to taste-test. One of the things I have come to enjoy with cooking is being able to monitor the progression of my dish one step at a time. But you can’t do that with baking. I don’t care what flour mixed with egg tastes like. You can’t really taste anything until the final product is ready to come out of the oven (unless you’re one of the raw batter eater people…I’ve never been one to lick the sides of the mixing bowl), which brings me to my last point…
– If you screw up, there’s nothing you can do to fix it!!! You’ve only got one shot to get baking right because once it’s out of the oven there’s no going back. With cooking, you can virtually fix anything with a bit of added salt…chili peppers…sesame oil…but with baking all you can do is dump the mess into the garbage. Obviously, being a hater of wasted food, I’m going to finish off my brownie loaf anyway. But lucky for you I won’t bring that to the next dinner party.

I’ve posted pictures of the entire baking process below. My precious DSLR is currently undergoing some major surgery (what is it with me and messing up my electronic gadgets??) so I’ve had to resort to using my camera’s phone. When it’s back in order hopefully I’ll be able to take pictures like the brownies from

But right now I think it’s OK to post the pictures below, seeing as the quality of my photos matches the level of my baking skills 😉

You may be wondering where you can get the recipe for this scrumptious looking brownie loaf, but I’m sorry to inform you that I have since misplaced the recipe. But fear not, I’ve found what I believe to be a very suitable replacement! Check out this video (scroll down to the Sept 22, 2011 post “Beets in chocolate cake…really?” from the amazing recipe storage site- Now that, my friends, is some sexy baking.


Roll 6, move ahead to Social Life, congrats- you have achieved 5 extra points

While most people have faithful furry companions, my most endeared companion remains that of the electronic species. My laptop. It’s currently virus-ridden due to…well I’m not sure what…I mean it’s not like I illegally download movies and music or anything…but I’m using a holistic approach to tending to my beautiful Toshiba and will rely on TLC and positive energy to rid my laptop of its negative energy. Yes, yes, M is a techie and could probably get rid of the virus in a few short hours, but I’m just going to try it my way for a little while longer.

I’ve become addicted to the internet and while not scouring sites for jobs one can often find me scouring sites for…everything else. I’ve been trying not to be a Facebook addict (please note the keyword here) and in doing so, ended up creating accounts for Twitter, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, follow numerous blogs and newspapers and I just recently discovered Gumtree. Now, what is Gumtree? It is the equivalent of Canada’s Craigslist and Kijiji. Ohhh Craigslist, how I miss thee! The number of nights I spent in Toronto laying in bed, looking up pointless nothings in the classifieds. Who cares if I had no use for harp lessons, a diamond-studded rat cage, or a penthouse apartment beside Hooker Harvey’s on Jarvis and Gerrard for $150/month… the pure entertainment of it all was enough to keep me up until 4AM. And don’t even get me started on the personals section. So just imagine my sheer delight when I came across the UK equivalent. Now keep this delight in mind…and multiply that by 1 000 000 000 when I stumbled upon the Community Chest section and discovered a Bath board games group. I experienced my lifetime high at that moment, ladies and gentlemen. I love board games and have no shame in admitting that I would choose a night of board games over a night out a bar 99% of the time. If you mix in board games with alcohol that may be enough to push me to 100%.

Next meet-up: Jan 10, 2012

Location: The Bell pub

Time: 7:30PM-closing

While I was on board (no pun intended) from the get-go, M agreed to go with great trepidation. He was hesitant about the kind of company that would be at the pub. I think he was afraid of meeting the ghost of computer geek past (I say past to be kind, but the geek’s still in him. The launch of Skyrim didn’t quite ignite the same level of passion in me as it did him…) and become re-acquainted with his hardcore gamer childhood/teenage self. Just so you know, I did stumble across a Bath PC Gamers Group, but I opted not to inquire further about that one.

So into the pub we went and there we were faced with 25+ people having intense games of everything from Jenga to Settlers of Catan. My smile stretched from ear to ear…even more so after a pint of cider. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. The smile stayed the same, but my face got slightly more rosy…the Asian flush is worsening with age.

Anyhow, we eased into the night by joining a table of people and started off with a tame game of Jenga, moved on to “challenge” ourselves a bit more with Yes/No (DO NOT PLAY THIS POINTLESS GAME EVER!!! I would sooner pick fluff between my toes than play Yes/No again. Aim of the game- plain and simple, you are asked a series of questions where you cannot say Yes or No), and after playing a few torturous rounds of the awful game I politely suggested we move onto something different. We ended off the night playing Mental Floss (similar to Trivial Pursuit), which to my great relief was fun, challenging, and made the night pass by very quickly. I didn’t win, BUT I succeeded in not getting too competitive! I need to restrain myself before letting strangers see the real side of me ;).

The board games club just launched October 2011 by a sweet and chirpy fellow board games lover by the name of Sarah. The club already has a faithful group of followers and I think Sarah is well deserved in getting free pints all night for all the new clients she’s brought into The Bell. I’m not too sure about this yet, but I THINK there may be some kind of hierarchy/cool kids thing going on. I’m going to do a bit of further investigation but it appears that the “seniors” (people who’ve been going for awhile, not the elderly) have first dibs on all the good games. I was eyeing Settlers of Catan the entire time but never got the chance to sit at THE table. One day…one day I will rise to the top.

Would I go again?

Verdict: YA MAN!!!!!


Amsterdam. Fireworks, Poffertjes, Coffeehouses and a helluvalotta rain

A departure from Barcelona lead to an arrival to Amsterdam, where I spent 5 days saying good-bye to 2011 and welcoming 2012 with open arms. My French posse and I made plans to reunite in Europe’s capital of fun and fun we had, despite getting spat on by the rain gods for 70% of the trip. I love Amsterdam and not for all the reasons why most people love the Dam. If you look beyond the red light district (which, admittedly is pretty cool) and the special muffins (which my body cannot appear to handle) you’ll find that Amsterdam is full of charm and history. I love their biking culture (where it’s actually tolerable vs. the madness that is Ho Chi Minh City), all the canals that run through the vibrant city, how there are flowers EVERYWHERE (this is a huge deal if you’re as into flowers as I am and I definitely recommend checking out the Keukenhoff Gardens in the spring, where you’ll get a chance to see acres upon acres of colours- a gigantic mosaic of awesomeness). The last time I visited Amsterdam I went to Anne Frank’s house and had shivers creeping down my spine as I toured the house that was used as her hideaway. You can still see the handwriting on the walls. Haunting.

Anyhow, this trip was more about spending time with friends rather than doing the sight-seeing bit. We were a little put off by the cranky weather and opted for dinners out, and going to the movies instead. You know what they say- When in Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdonians (Amsterdamians? Amsterdamans? Amsterdamanian?) do! :P. I’m in the process of creating an emoticon that will best symbolize my sarcasm, but have yet to come up with the perfect one. We saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in Imax, which really was just amazing. And this is coming from someone who despises Tom Cruise. I don’t even know why the sound of his name ignites such a distaste from me…it probably has something to do with the whole scientology thing. Plus his association with Katie Holmes doesn’t help his case either. Anyway, this post isn’t about hating on men under 5”8 so allow me to continue. Now while I realize MI isn’t exactly a movie that requires much brain power, it probably would’ve been nicer to watch a movie that didn’t use subtitles. A lot of it took place in Russia and it was unbearably frustrating watching the intense scenes taking place at the Kremlin only to have all the Russian dialogue translated into Dutch. Hearing all the gasps and screams from other audience members (slight exaggeration) just resulted in mad frustration at not being to understand WTH was going on.

Now I’d love to tell you about all the fun and madness I experienced for NYE, but as this is a professional blog I cannot state my involvement in unlawful activities without encountering legal action. Just kidding. NYE gets hyped up so much, year after year, and you’d think that by now I’d have learned that it’s just another regular night but again, I went through the mad panic of what to do. Where to go. And most importantly, WHAT TO WEAR. I think about 5% of my time in Barcelona was wasted on mad shopping attacks for the perfect outfit to wear to a 70’s disco-themed party at Sugar Factory. I wish I could say that my efforts did not go to waste, but if you see the pictures below you’ll notice that there isn’t anything special going on in the clothing department :P. The time spent with my friends was fun, though my recollection of the night went a little murky after I had a shot of some homemade Polish liquor. 70%. Potent. POISON. I can’t say I enjoyed the music at Sugar Factory and I’m not sure if it was 70’s Dutch music that was playing, but I was expecting to get down with James Brown, Queen, and David Bowie and all I heard was just hours of synthesized trash! I generally don’t have a good time at clubs if the music isn’t to my liking, but the Polish poison put me on an energy high that lasted until we left the club where I proceeded to hop my way back to our accommodations.

Our accommodations…the interesting bit.

I’ve been an avid fan of Airbnb, a site where you can rent out rooms or houses to visitors at your own set price, for quite some time now and always turn to the site whenever I need to find accommodations. It’s cheaper than hotels and often less expensive than hostels as well, not to mention much cleaner (generally speaking). I also like the local interaction and find that I get more of an “experience” when staying somewhere not so commercialized.

Well, M and I stayed at an Airbnb place after a bit of persuasion on my end (he’s more of a hotel kind of guy and isn’t all that comfortable with the idea of staying in other people’s homes) and I suppose an “experience” is what we got. Real estate agents and business(wo)men always state it’s about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Well, the location was amazing. Right in the heart of the city, located at Museumplein just 10 steps from the tram were our homey accommodations. Besides the location, other aspects of our temporary housing proved to be somewhat…questionable.

Hans, our eccentric landlord and homeowner, was definitely quite a character. An elderly man, at the ripe age of approximately 70, he often appeared a little dazed and confused. I’m not all too sure if this was a result of the natural aging process, if it was due to smoking a little too much maryjane back in the day, or if the smoking was still a habit he currently practices. My guess is a combination of all three. I’m well travelled enough to be accustomed to the oddities one can come to expect at unconventional places so I didn’t find it particularly appalling when: a) I saw Hans walk around in his underwear b) he showed me the blood splatters on his pants due to an ankle surgery gone awry c) Hans described to me the relationship he has with his 28 year old girlfriend who has taken on a lesbian lover due to her desire to experiment and how he cannot satisfy her like a woman can. I like to listen, but told him I couldn’t empathize with his current problem.

After I learned about Hans’ colourful past as a world-renowned photographer who has travelled all over the world and even had relations with Miss. Indonesia, I was brought up to my room-the Blue room. Why was it called the Blue room? Because it was blue. Why do you make me state the obvious? The state of the room suited me just fine! All I need is a bed with clean sheets and that’s what we got (I think…sometimes ignorance is bliss). I was then directed to the shower/kitchen. Hmm…a bathtub located in the kitchen…now this was a new one to me. Appalling, no. Just new. M had a hard time adjusting to this one and had to muster all his strength to hide the judgement. I guess it was a little strange crouching down to take a shower (no shower curtains) while staring at dirty dishes in the sink and a half-eaten sausage sitting on the kitchen counter, but I didn’t see any cockroaches skittering about and it’s not UN-hygienic to have a shower and the kitchen be in the same room, is it?

Unlike a lot of other countries I’ve found it difficult to attribute any particular kind of trait (I want to say stereotype but fear the backlash) to the Dutch. A quick Google search of “stereotypes of nationalities” prompted in the following extremely validated and reliable results:

Americans- Arrogant, assertive, materialistic, progressive, war mongers, God is with us;

Australians- Party animals, nature lovers, uncultured, bush battling rednecks;

British- Ultra- traditional, intelligent and articulate, anti-American, Francophobic, God save the Queen, lousy food;

Canadians-Submissive, law-abiding, don’t like successful people, socialist mindset, live in igloos further north;

Chinese- Stingy, noisy spitters, ambitious, great at math, eat everything that lives, prepare for world domination, do kung fu and other material arts;

Italians- Gigolos, possessive, manipulative, dishonest, smooth-talkers;

But the Dutch. Hard to say…At first I thought there’d be huge similarities to Germans and Belgians in terms of their practicality, reservation, work hard and play hard attitude, but there isn’t anything I can pinpoint as being stereotypically Dutch! Maybe it’s just the bubble of Amsterdam that breeds a very eclectic group of people. Hans definitely added some variety to my vacation.

But as all trips do, this one too came to an end and I am now sitting on my couch back in Bath reflecting on the great times I’ve had this past month. Friends, family, memories- Priceless. I hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start! Happy 2012!!! 😀