Monday, 19 February 2018

10 THINGS TO DO AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FESTIVAL

If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know I'm a big fan of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, who have just announced their 2018 programme - marking 30 years of EISF (and 2 years since I left the sci fest tribe!).

Themed this year around Life, the Universe and Everything (with a nice nod to Douglas Adams), the Festival will transform the city into a celebration of science and technology with talks, experiments, exhibitions, parties, activities and events to entertain and educate all ages. This year they're looking at where we've come from, where we're going, and how science is going to save the world, and as usual the programme is packed full of fun, creative experiences (as well as more of the serious talks and lectures you might expect from a science festival).

There's loads to choose from, but I've picked out my favourite events to point you in the right direction. Bring on the sci-fun!

What's on at Edinburgh International Science Festival 2018
Jason Hackenworth - Existence: Life and Beyond 

1. Science Festival Lates Sci Fest's Opening Party takes over their family venue, adds in some bars, and let's you get hands on with slime, surgery, space and psychology. It is so much fun, and this year it promises some extra 80s-themed fun to celebrate the Festival's 30 years!

2. NASA's Newest Recruit I secretly want to be an astronaut, so sign me up! The very funny Marcus Chown chats space jobs - want to be a Moon miner? A galactic architect? An alien cultural exchange officer?

3. A Panel of Ice and Fire Game of Thrones meets science and tech, in this chat about how the worlds of science and fantasy collide, hosted by comedian and author Helen Keen.

4. Dreading Friday the 13th  Taking place (of course) on Friday 13th, this event takes you on a journey through the psychology behind superstition... is it harmless? Can it help you? Science will explain!

5. Cheeseology 3.0 Back to the Festival for a third year (as everyone bloody loves cheese), this night teaches you about cheese as you eat cheese, giving you a win/win of leaving both smart AND satiated.

6. Existence: Life and Beyond Taking over the National Museum of Scotland's beautiful Grand Gallery, this free interactive exhibition will look back at the origins of life on Earth, and forward to the horizons of what life could be in the future. It'll also feature a new MASSIVE balloon sculpture by artist Jason Hackenwerth, who was last at the Festival with Pisces in 2013 (pictured above). I'm so excited to see what he'll make!

7. Frankenstein's Legacy: Who Are You Calling Monster? This year marks the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, and three writers from Scottish Book Trust's New Writers Awards programme have been commissioned to create new stories and poems inspired by this iconic book. These writers will read their own takes, and chat about the role of science and technology in creating and controlling life (which seems pretty important now they are cloning monkeys and teaching scary robots to open doors!).

8. Baking in Space Baking and engineering combine, in this event with Andrew from the Great British Bake Off (!!!!), who just happens to be an aerospace engineer as well as an adorable baker, and scientists and guests from the European Space Agency.

9. Get Your Hands Off Me You Damned Dirty Alien! More space! Aliens! Ethical dilemmas! A gang of astrobiologists, theologists, philosophers and theorists debate how our world will change in the (ever-increasing) likelihood we meet alien life.

10. The Lab of the Ludicrous Part stand-up comedy, part journal club, and part science project, this night leads you through some of the strangest science studies ever conducted.

Edinburgh International Science Festival runs 31st March - 15th April, and you can browse their full programme here.

Monday, 12 February 2018

WHAT I READ ON HOLIDAY

Ages ago I used to write a monthly Book Love feature, where I chatted about what I'd been reading each month. It was a great way of keeping track of what I read and what I loved (and I am amazed at how quickly I powered through books! Past Juliet was definitely a better reader and puts current me to shame).

This year I'm pretty determined to make more time for books (particularly as I'm bad at wasting time looking at social media, when I could actually be reading something interesting...), and I'm off to a great start - thanks to going on a mega indulgent January holiday where I spent a joyful time hanging out in a hammock, 60p beer in hand (thanks Fuerteventura!) and catching up on books I've wanted to read for ages. Here's what I thought...

Book recommendations what to read on holiday

A Darker Shade of Magic - V. E. Schwab
Reminding me slightly of China MiĆ©ville's Un Lun Dun, A Darker Shade of Magic is the tale of a world of parallel cities, those that can travel between them, and what happens when power travels to the wrong places. It's got cool elemental magic! Pirates! Amazing jackets! Peril and danger and flirting and messed up heroes! Aaaaand I really liked it.

I'm a big fan of fantasy novels that create worlds that both enchant you with exciting, interesting world-building AND manage to feel gritty and dangerous and pretty real, and this book does a good job of feeling magical but not childish, and full of depth without being self-indulgently complex. It's a bit of a slow starter (the first few chapters I wondered what the fuss was about), but when I got into the story I had a really fun time.

The Snowman - Jo Nesbo
The 7th book in Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, I read this out of sync as I was so keen to see what all the fuss was about, after hearing loads of praise for the book when the terrible film adaptation came out last year. You follow the (slightly cliched) dysfunctional detective Harry Hole - he's a bit of a drunk, he's got serious avoidant issues, and he can't play by the rules... but he's still likeable enough to root for.

It's really creepy, and the author does a wonderful job of keeping you guessing right up until the very last minute. It felt a little surreal to be stuck into a murder mystery set in freezing snow while I was basking in the sun, but it makes for a pretty perfect holiday read.

The Silent Companions - Laura Purcell 
I loved this book so much! I am such a sucker for creepy gothic horrors, and The Silent Companions was BRILLIANT. You meet Elsie, who's newly married, recently pregnant, and suddenly widowed, who moves to her late husband's creepy old country estate. The servants don't like her, the villagers actively despise her, so Elsie's trapped with a mysterious locked room, an old family diary, and a wooden figure that looks bizarrely just like her.

It's SUPER CREEPY, I would not have been able to read it at home alone, and I am very excited to discover that the author's also written a series following the lives and loves of Georgian era queens (I'm equally a big historical fiction fan).

Monday, 5 February 2018

MY 2018 CREATIVE GOALS

I'll be honest - for the last few years, most of my new year's resolutions have been pretty wispy. I've focused on positive thinking and stressing less... and that has clearly been a Good Thing, but this year I am also keen to set myself some creative goals and actually MAKE things.

One of those goals is finding a happy blog balance (since my blog comeback I've been posting roughly once a week) and I think I'm getting there. It's not too much to commit to, it's easy to schedule a few in advance if I'm going to be busy, and bit by bit my readership is increasing so I'm not just chatting to myself (hello and thank you!).

My next project is painting. If you've been following this blog for a while you may remember that I've said this before... painting is the hobby that I keep coming back to, and keep giving up when the going gets tough. But this year I've got a goal! I'm going to paint once a month in 2018. That's not that hard, right?

learning to paint

One of the things I've always been a bit scared of painting is people, but when I picked up a paintbrush again (back in 2013!) it was the main thing I wanted to learn, and it's all I've really wanted to paint since.

The problem is I'll have a little flurry of enthusiasm, and I'll paint one or two things, then I'll get distracted and run out of energy, and feel like I need to wait on my next creative spark... which in my case, seems to only strike once a year, and then the whole cycle starts again.

So, for 2018 I am going to power through the creative block. I'm going to (try to) stop worrying about being good enough, and remember that the only way I'll ever get better is by practising! One painting a month is totally achievable.


I use watercolours, mainly because they are what I painted with as a kid, but I feel like I am finally making steps towards getting a little better with them? I used to paint with seriously harsh outlines (there was almost something quite comforting in shadowing something to death), so I've tried really hard to elimate black lines from my work, to think about light and colour, and to let the paper show through.

I was given some watercolour masking fluid which I finally worked up the courage to use with this piece and it is a game changer! I used it to pick out the whites of the eyes and light across the skin and hair, and it made such a difference (it was also weirdly super-satisfying peeling it from the paper).

Next time I'm going to really focus on light! I always paint from pictures, but was given the good advice of looking at my own face in a mirror when I'm doing a portrait so I can get a more realistic depiction of light on a face. There's so much to learn! 

watercolour pastel girls
January 2018 | September 2016
It's all a bit intimidating, but I can see the difference a year has made in these pastel gals. I've just got to remember that and keep going! Wish me luck.

Monday, 29 January 2018

HOW TO: COOKIES OF CATAN

It's been an age since I last shared a baking post on here, so I wanted to share my absolute favourite thing that I baked last year... an entirely edible (and playable) Settlers of Catan cookie board. Cookies of Catan!

Cookies of Catan edible Settlers of Catan playing board

If you've never heard of Settlers of Catan, where have you been? It's a seriously-addictive German strategy board game. You play as a settler on the island of Catan, building houses and roads while trading and getting resources from the land you've built. It's really competitive, and you have to try and outwit your pals, whilst also keeping them on your side so you can trade with them. Does that sound mega complicated? I promise it's really fun!

My friend said she wanted to have a chilled birthday, staying in and playing Catan, so Josh and I decided to do one better and surprise her with a totally edible board. It took us HOURS to make, but it was so satisfying, the surprise totally worked,

Cookies of Catan edible Settlers of Catan playing board

I used a simple sugar cookie recipe to make the biscuits, as we needed something that would keep its shape pretty well, and would be sturdy enough to hold all the decorations. We actually made half the batch using a chocolate sugar cookie recipe (this one, I believe), but Nigella's was far better - if you're going to do this, I'd keep it simple!

The Catan board is made up of hexagonal tiles. I used a 3D printed cookie cutter (the benefits of being pals with Edinburgh International Science Festival!), but you can buy hexagon cutters online easily enough.

We cut the dough into hexagons and went over each cookie with the cutter again, once it was out the oven and had cooled slightly, just to make sure the lines were sharp and the cookies were the same size - the board had to slot together, so it was important to try and be as precise as possible!

Cookies of Catan edible Settlers of Catan playing board how to

The board is made up of six different types of tile: wheat, sheep, wood, red brick, stone ore and the sea (with one extra desert tile where the robber lives). For each type of tile we made a fondant base: light green for the sheep, dark green for the forest,  yellow for the wheat, a red brick pattern for the brick, and swirly grey for the stone ore and swirly blue for the sea. This obviously took AGES, but was well worth it, and much better than just using icing - I think it's so much cleaner looking and it's obvious what each tile is meant to be!

The fun bit was making decorations for each tile. We made tiny sheep out of marshmallows with fondant heads, tiny fondant trees (with little red icing dots for apples), and little fondant stones with silver decorative balls.

Each tile had to have a number - these match the dice you roll during the game, so these were made out of fondant using an edible ink pen.

Cookies of Catan edible Settlers of Catan playing board

It took an entire day to bake and assemble, but it was so much fun, and it totally worked as a playable board (it's a little rough around the edges, but shhh, it doesn't matter). Definitely worth trying if you also happen to share a love of intense board games, biscuits, and fiddly decorating!

Monday, 22 January 2018

A TRIP TO GENEVA

One of the nicest things of the last few years is that I've started going on annual trips with my mum and sisters (#tweediesontour). In 2016 we went to super-cool Copenhagen, and in 2017 we went to Geneva, a place I absolutely wouldn't have been able to go to without the kindness of my mum (thanks mum!).

A trip to Geneva

I didn't really know much about Geneva, other than it being the European home of the UN, and a place of peace, built on cash, clocks, and chocolate. That's kind of true? It's a beautiful city, with old streets and gorgeous parks, chocolate shops on every corner, and is packed with art galleries, museums and interesting designers. It's also one of the most expensive cities in the world - brace yourself.

WHERE WE STAYED

Where to stay in Geneva

We stayed in Hotel Montbrillant, which was a really great base for exploring the city. It is literally next door to the train station, which made it so easy for getting to and from the airport, and it was only a ten minute walk from the Old Town, and very close to tram and bus stops, so everything was a breeze.

The hotel also gave us free travel cards, which meant buses, trams, trains and taxi-boats were all free of charge - this seems to be a common thing if you stay at a hotel, hostel or campsite in Geneva.

WHAT WE DID

What to do in Geneva

Geneva is a beautiful city, and looking out over Lake Geneva is just breath-taking. The huge fountain (the Jet d'Eau) is 140m high and has 500 litres of water passing through it per second. Madness. My family all love boats, so of course we took the water shuttle across the lake, but we also had a nice wander around it.

We did loads of exploring in the Old Town (the largest historic town in Switzerland), climbed the steps of St Peter's Cathedral, explored the parks, rummaged through the Plainpalais flea market, visited the Palace of Nations, and had a lovely wander round the Natural History Museum.

Possibly the best part of the trip was visiting Mont Saleve, a mountain just on the edge of Geneva (that's actually in French territory), with incredible views over Lake Geneva, the Jura mountains and Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps!). You get a cable car up the mountain, and then there's loads of lovely trails you can explore - we climbed trees and scrambled around and pretended to be in Sound of Music and it was brilliant.

If we'd had more time I'd have loved to visit the CERN laboratory... I'll just need to go back!

WHAT WE ATE

Where to eat in Geneva

Switzerland is big on coffee and chocolate, so we did a really good job of making sure we sampled loads of these! There were lovely little cafes dotted all around Geneva's Old Town, which were perfect to pause at - you could easily spend an afternoon happily in one of Geneva's courtyard cafes (assuming you have enough money to cover cakes that cost ONE MILLION POUNDS).

One of my sisters can't eat gluten, so we had to be on the lookout for places that were gluten-free friendly... which felt a bit tricky, but might have been down to us being picky. Right in the middle of the touristy bit there's Spaghetti Factory Geneva, which offers gluten-free pasta and is sorta affordable, Pizza Leggera do gluten-free pizzas, and we found a Le Pain Quotidien near the Museum which did really nice salads (which also cost ONE MILLION POUNDS. Seriously, Geneva is painfully expensive).

My favourite place we went to was Chez Ma Cousine, a roast chicken restaurant that was cheap, informal, and really tasty (so good that we had to wait an age before we could get in, but I reckon it was worth it).

We also drank wine and many gins, as is the new Tweedie tradition. I'm so lucky getting to go on trips like this with my family, it's so nice to get to spend actual, proper time with them and see places I couldn't do on my own. We're starting to talk about our 2018 trip, I'm excited already!
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