Blogmas: The Christmas Tag

Blog tags: where you answer questions and compare to fellow bloggers! Let’s get seasonal with the Christmas Tag:

What is your favorite Christmas movie(s)?

My all-time favorite is Christmas Vacation, but I made a list of honorable mentions in this post!

Where do you usually spend your holiday?

At home with my family. This is the first time I’ll be away from home on Christmas Day!

What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

I would love to visiting New York city on New Year’s Eve… but I don’t mess with the cold, so I’m going to Egypt this year!

Do you open your presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

Christmas morning from family, whenever we can meet up from friends and special friends.

Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?

All the Christmas mornings spent with my family, watching Christmas movies in my pajamas while my brothers spread out all their new Lego sets.

Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?

Giving gifts! I know it’s not a competition, but if it were, I’d win.

Favorite festive food?

Not particularly “festive,” but I loved the sassy sausage dip and magic cookies bars we used to make for our Christmas Eve party.

Favorite Christmas gift?

I remember being over the moon when I got a Nintendo D.S. Lite from my grandpa when I was younger! That little machine was awesome.

Favorite Christmas scent?

The smell of a real tree!

Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?

Open house party, sing happy birthday to Jesus, eat my body weight in appetizers and cookies and retreat to my room at 8PM. You can read more about my Christmas traditions in my previous Blogmas post.

What tops your tree?

A star on our real tree and an angel on our fake tree.

Have you ever had a White Christmas?

No! Hopefully one day. I will be very shocked if I have one this year in the middle of the Red Sea…

What is your favorite Christmas song?

O Holy Night, Emmanuel and of course, Dick In a Box (sorry for the shoddy quality, SNL are anal about not having their sketches on YouTube)

Is your Christmas tree fake or real?

One real, one fake.

Are you a professional present wrapper or do you fail miserably? 

I can only wrap things that are perfectly rectangular, otherwise it goes in a bag with stuffing tissue. I make the wrapping work for me.

What makes the holidays special for you?

Spending time with my family and friends doing awesome activities we normally wouldn’t do in the spirit of the season. I also love finding the perfect gift for all my loved ones!

Photo by: Rodion Kutsaev

Blogmas: Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a wonderful time in the [redacted] household in Tucson, Arizona! Here are some staple holiday traditions and seasonal family idiosyncrasies I loved (or hated) growing up:

Gaslight Theater: One of my favorites! To begin the holiday season, we go to the Gaslight Theater for a cheesy holiday special. There is usually a big group of us (~25 family and friends) at the show and those of all ages have a blast. First, they open the show with a Christmas sing-along. During the show, they serve food and drinks (cheese sticks and a Shirley Temple, please) and all the popcorn you can eat (and throw). After the show, they do a sort of stand-up routine with goofy songs and puns. There’s always a medley where a beautiful female star serenades men in the audience, so naturally, my brothers and dad, who hate being in the spotlight, fight for the least accessible seat to shield themselves. To finish the show, Santa comes out and passes around candy canes. It’s such a fun time.

Block party: During the holiday season, we used to throw a Christmas block party for the neighborhood complete with a gift exchange.

Looking at lights: We would drive around for a bit once a week or so leading up to Christmas looking at display lights. It’s especially cozy when we get Starbucks hot chocolate.

A tale of two trees: For a while now, we put up two trees in our house. One fake tree and one real tree. The real tree has become a pain in the ass because the needles fall off every time my spatially unaware dog Bailey walks by it or wags his tail to knock ornaments off the tree.

Hanging ornaments: I would always hang the ornaments with my brothers’ names in the back of the tree and they would do the same to mine (but up high where I can’t reach to move it) and each others just for laughs. Also, we make sure the Michael Jackson ornament we got as a gag gift is right in the front at eye level for the world to see.

Christmas Eve service: During the day, we would take time out from preparing for our Christmas Eve party to attend the service at our church. However in recent years, I’ve begun to loathe it and it was only until last year my parents stopped forcing me to go (it only took 22 years).

Continue reading “Blogmas: Christmas Traditions”

Five Ways To Take A Break

Whether you’re in university or working full-time, the stress of preparing for the holidays on top of, well, life can be excruciating. I’m guilty of either overworking myself or not being productive enough with no middle ground. However, it’s been proven that the best way to be productive is to work for 20-30 minutes and then take a short break to let the information “stew” before going back to work.

Here are my five favorite ways to take a ten minute break that aren’t checking social media (seriously, don’t do it):

  • Clean. Tidy your work space, clean your room or start a load of laundry.
  • Walk or other wise exercise. Get some oxygen flowing back to your brain!
  • Eat. Have a nutritious snack (my favorites are granola bars and oranges) and a cup of tea or tall glass of water.
  • Check e-mail. Take this time to rely to time-sensitive academic e-mails and unsubscribe to junk e-mails.
  • Chat. Complain to your roommates about your course, send a message to your parents or tell a friend you’re thinking about them during this stressful time… but don’t get caught up in the conversation.

Bonus: if you have a pet, spend time with them. Oh, how I miss my dog, his goofy face and how he surrenders his belly for scratches which is probably just as good for me as it is for him. If you don’t have a pet, a lot of university have therapy dog sessions around exam time.

Finally, my best tip working is start early and take breaks often! You can check out more university exam tips here.

Good luck!

Photo by: J. Kelly Brito.

November In Review

Another month come and gone, can you believe it?

Monday was my last proper university lecture for the term, but I have to crunch down on a literature review, essay and practice grant proposal by the middle of next month.

November was a big month for gigs. First, I saw Rise Against in London. I originally wasn’t planning on going, but couldn’t resist hen my friend Michael offered me his spare ticket! It was an amazing time and so good to see Michael again. You can read more about it here (at the bottom of the post).

Later in the month, I went to two dates of Enter Shikari’s tour for their new album The Spark. First up was Brighton with my roommate Diego and my friend Anthony. We had a few drinks (okay, maybe a bit more than a few) at the pub I work at before walking to the venue by the seafront. I was really satisfied with the size of the venue: not too big, but not too small. We all had a good time jumping around, singing along and sweating out our body weight in alcohol. A few days later I want to Alexandra Palace in London (Diego was meant to go but a combination of eating expired salmon and drinking made him fall ill) and met up with a few friends there. It was such a different atmosphere from Brighton with a crowd twice as large, but it was still fun! It was great to meet people I’ve been talking to online for the better part of a year at the show of a band that brought us together.

Last month, I started a cleaning job on campus that was every weekday from 4AM-8AM. Predictably, that didn’t last long. I’m most productive for university in the mornings (my perfect day starts at 7:30AM and I’m starting university work by 9AM) and working threw a wrench in that, so I quit. Fortunately a week later, I got a new job at a pub called The Queens Head close to the Brighton train station (about a half hour commute from my house). We don’t serve food and nobody really orders cocktails, so I just pretty much pour beer and make mixed drinks all night. Additionally, we have a cleaning crew on hire to do the deeper cleaning overnight, so our cleaning is minimal. The pub is quite small so there’s only less than ten of us employed there, with no more than three working at a time. All my coworkers are great and welcoming and I fit right in!

Next month, I’ll be crunching down on coursework before heading to Egypt for ten days!

What I’m listening to: No Control by Bad Religion, The Process of Belief by Bad Religion, For Blood and Empire by Anti-Flag, Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa, Good Girl Gone Bad by Rihanna

What I’m watching: The Departed, Now You See Me, Now You See Me 2, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (seasons 4-5)

What I’m reading: How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee, Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

Music Monday: Travelling for Concerts

Over my six odd years of going to concerts regularly, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to see some of my favorite bands in other states and countries! For simplicity sake, I’ve excluded my regular trips from Tucson to Phoenix (or vice versa) (100 miles one way) and from Brighton to London (50 miles one way).

As you will be able to tell, for some of these, the band happened to be playing when I was in the area, but I still counted it!

My experiences are all well and good, but  if you’re reading this and travel long distances for concerts regularly, please consider carpooling, taking the train or coach, paying to offset the carbon emissions of flying or make a week of your time in a foreign land. Traveling by air, even short distances, is one of the single most environmentally devastating things you can do.

Rise Against | 08/04/11 | Tucson, Arizona → San Diego, California

  • Why?: My 16th birthday present with my best friend, Sydney!
  • Transport: My parents drove…
  • Distance travelled: 820 miles
  • Accommodation: We stayed with my aunt and uncle ten minutes from the venue
  • Gig summary: It was so amazing! I don’t remember terrible much as it was so long ago, but I racked my brain for memories in this post.

Foo Fighters and Royal Blood | 09/07/15 | London, Ontario → Toronto, Ontario

  • Why?: My (now ex) boyfriend’s birthday present.
  • Transport: His parents drove…
  • Distance travelled: 120 miles
  • Accommodation: I was dropped off at the airport after the concert for a flight early the next morning, so the airport I guess?
  • Gig summary: It was epic. Dave Grohl is a prophet. Even though he broke his leg earlier on the tour, he carried on playing the tour while sitting in a throne. They played a long set, we had great views and they still remained humble and relatable even though they’re one of the greatest rock bands of the last 20 years and everyone knows it. You can read more about it here.

Brand New | 16/08/15 | Yonkers, New York → Cooperstown, New York

Rise Against | 30/09/15 | Brighton, United Kingdom → Milan, Italy

  • Why?: Just because.
  • Transport: easyJet flight.
  • Distance travelled: 1160 miles
  • Accommodation: One of the best hostels I’ve stayed in, Ostello Bello.
  • Gig summary: So amazing! It was great to meet international fans, meet the band and experience it all with my good friend, Ben! You can read more about it in this post.

Continue reading “Music Monday: Travelling for Concerts”

My View: Animals in Captivity

Following my posts about trophy hunting and recreational hunting, I’ve decided to continue the conversation about conservation by talking about my view of animals in captivity.

Like most of these issues, I can talk until the cows come home about this topic, so I’ll narrow my scope to megafauna land mammals in zoos.

The general debate of animals in zoos is a hot one, with well thought out points on both sides. General arguments for zoos are that they provide funding for conservation (or even conservation programs and research in the zoos themselves) and they educate the public about animals they wouldn’t otherwise see. Main arguments against zoos include the concern of the well-being of the animals (especially the megafauna mammals), that the zoos are too patron-oriented in terms of both profit and experience and that perceived educational benefits  are relative. Since the release of the documentary Blackfish in 2013 that revealed the woes of orca whales in captivity, people are beginning to think twice about other megafauna mammals in captivity.

I wrote a short paper last year that explored: under what conditions is it acceptable to place animals in captivity based on biology, natural environment, and conservation status, particularly concerning the polar bear.

Continue reading “My View: Animals in Captivity”

This Week’s Recipes

Welcome back to a vegan version of my cooking!

Vegan blackberry basil and ricotta sandwich: This turned out pretty well! The “cheese” takes only a couple minutes to make and the sweet toppings of blackberries and syrup complement the cheese well! Such an easy lunchtime meal: I can just make a bunch of this and store it for the week to spread on a sandwich.

Vegan eggplant parmesan: Two words: A-MAZING! This is simple, quick and so, so tasty! I’ve made it twice more already and my non-vegan roommate loves it too!

Asian garlic tofu: So great and easy! I usually prefer my tofu a bit harder, this soft tofu is so succulent!

Peanut butter banana oatmeal cookies: Really great! Although at the grocery store, I couldn’t find any vegan chocolate chips, so I just went with normal ones.

Garlic mushroom quinoa: With me, you can’t go wrong with mushrooms, but this could have been more filling and a little better tasting.

Creamy asparagus pasta: I kind of messed up the sauce so it was pretty flavorless, but the simple ingredients added texture to the pasta and the asparagus complemented it well!

My View: #MeToo

Many women are coming forwardwith  sexual harassment and rape allegations against some of Hollywood’s biggest actors and directors over the last few months including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein. Not to mention the unfathomable amount of abusers in Hollywood with victims that have yet to come forward. It’s exhausting and depressing to think about, but am I surprised? Unfortunately not. Sexual harassment is a universal experience for all women* and femmes.

Sometimes, these allegations seem kind of far away, but it became especially real when Architects front man Sam Carter defended a known predator whose victims I share mutual friends with and Brand New front man Jesse Lacey was accused of soliciting nudes from a minor.

Not long ago, Sam Carter made headlines for calling out creepy men who grope women at gigs and was met with a lot of positive feedback. After exchanging a few interactions with a known abuser currently under investigation for rape, my friend Ty told Sam about the situation and he replied with “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I didn’t know anything about that but I’ll wait till proven by the courts [thumbs up emoji],” but quickly deleted his replies when they were met with contention. This is a prime example cognitive dissonance when it comes to sexual assault: when it’s strangers, it’s easy to assume the worst because it doesn’t effect you personally, but when it’s someone you know, it can’t possibly be true. Thankfully, Sam retracted what he said and stood with a victim that came forward, but he should have known better in the first place.

I got into Brand New about five years ago and saw them live three times in 2015: April (Arizona), August (New York) and September (London). A blessing in disguise, I’ve come off them a bit recently with their outrageous ticket prices and insufferable fans. Over the last few days, allegations against the front man Jesse Lacy have come forward, the most disturbing of them being soliciting nude photos from a minor. Jesse Lacey posted a largely incoherent and off-topic apology on the band’s Facebook page that didn’t even address the problem: he was on about how he is a serial cheater but hey, at least his wife still loves him. “Extremely bold move to try and shift the narrative from “Jesse Lacey had emotionally abusive, sexually motivated relationships with minors” to “Jesse Lacey is a serial cheater, please feel sorry for his wife.”

With these allegations, a lot of men will be quick to defend other men and themselves by saying the closest thing that sounds to nails on a chalkboard: “Not all men.” We aren’t here to point the finger at any individual man, but the culture that entitles them to women, enables them to get away with inappropriate relations and shames women into silence.

The #MeToo trend was created in solidarity with those who showed courage by coming forward with allegations that make them relive the horrible experiences, tolerating any backlash they might face and pursuing justice for months or years with, let’s face it, a grim chance of any sort of conviction against the perpetrator.

For the women who are forced to relive their experiences with every new viral allegation, I’m with you.

For all the unexposed predators out there, your time will come.

*Although I use gendered language in this article for simplicity sake, I understand there are more than two genders and acknowledge there are transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, intersex people as well as those who have yet to make up their minds.

Career Fair Tips

On Wednesday, my university (University of Sussex) held a careers fair to recruit students of all years from Sussex and the nearby University of Brighton. I really want a job in the United Kingdom upon graduation and I hope to stay local, so I thought checking out some of the exhibitors would be beneficial.

A few days before the event, I attended an event to help prepare for the career fair that I found really helpful. We were advised on how to prepare, what questions to ask, how to dress, what to bring and more. Here are the tips I found most useful and some of my own:

  • Review your CV. Most universities offer career services that will help polish up your CV in time to submit it to the exhibitors. However, bear in mind that not all exhibitors will be accepting CVs on the day of the career fair.
  • Research the exhibitors beforehand. Exhibitors will likely be sorted by subject, so I wouldn’t bother wasting time in areas where you aren’t likely going to get a job. For relevant companies, I toggled around their website for what they do, current vacancies and possible graduate schemes.
  • Have questions. Come prepared to ask exhibitors questions if you’re interested in their company.
  • Bring your questions, your CV, a notebook, pen and water. Water because it gets hot in there and a notebook and pen to write down any information you might gather from the exhibitors.
  • Dress smart casual, but not too warm. I was so cold riding my bike to the venue, but it was all worth it when I stepped inside in and it was hot. Don’t dress too warm because whatever layers you shed, you will have to carry around with you.
  • Know the lay of the land so you can make a beeline for your favorite exhibitors and you’re not doing the awkward, lost penguin waddle all the unprepared students are doing.
  • Arrive as soon as it starts so the exhibitors are fresh.
  • Take breaks. I know the stress of thinking about my future is enough to get me going, but when you place me in a crowded, hot room with other students with the same energy and make me talk to people, it gets overwhelming. Between talking to exhibitors, I stepped out into the hallway where it was cool and quiet to have a drink of water and refocus myself for the next exhibitor.
  • Write it down. The venue is likely to be loud and distracting so when you’re speaking to an exhibitor, write down anything important you hear because with all the background noise, it’s sure to leave your head in a matter of minutes.
  • They want you! The last thing to remember is that the exhibitors are there because they want you to work for them. If not, they wouldn’t waste their resources and time on being at the career fair. Ask them what they can do for you as much as what you can do for them. Don’t sell yourself short!

Finally, don’t forget to smile and thank the exhibitors, give them your CV if it’s appropriate and take down their contact information if necessary.

What I Wasn’t Told: Bank Account and National Insurance Number

Wow. As if applying for my program and visa, getting a house, looking for a job and so much more wasn’t enough, unlike my previous time abroad, I had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number since I’ll be working.

My visa permits me to work 20 hours a week and I landed a job as a cleaner (glamorous, I know) on campus. In order to work in the country, besides the legal credentials (i.e. the right to work provided by my visa), I also had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number.

Bank account

I knew I had to open a U.K. bank account before I applied for a job to make paying my rent easier. However, from being abroad last time, I remember you could only properly apply in person, so I waited until I arrived in the U.K. to start the process. Boy, was that a mistake.

The first step opening an account is filling out an application online that can be done at any time. Once you completed an application, you need to make an appointment to finalize the details and have some documents scanned. Once I filled out an application, the first available appointment was three weeks away. This is why I strongly advise starting an application before you arrive in the U.K. and book an appointment for a few days after you arrive.

After my documents were scanned, it was still about a business week before I had all my online login information and PIN number. Transferring money internationally can be quite expensive, so I didn’t bother transferring my money from my home bank accounts but rather start using money from my U.K. account once my paychecks started coming in. All in all, not too bad.

The card I got in the U.S. that I use in the U.K. is CapitalOne 360 debit card. It’s a pain to sign a receipt every time I use the card, but usually I take cash out so I don’t have to worry about it. The only other con is the customer service hours are business hours in the U.S., which leaves an undesirable window to call in and isn’t good for time sensitive issues. However, when I did get a hold of someone, they were very kind and helpful.

I recommend opening a U.K. bank account only if you have a job or will be in the U.K. for more than a semester. Other than that, find an alternative way of managing your finances based in the U.S. so you can easily return to your home banking situation after your time abroad.

National Insurance number

To apply for a National Insurance number (free social security-like scheme), you have to already be in the U.K. First, you call the number provided on the government website and wait on hold for nearly an hour before you speak to a representative. Then, you give basic information such as your name, date of birth and passport number simply to confirm you are, in fact, a real person. After that, you provide the representative with an address for the application to be mailed.

The application will arrive in about a business week. Once you fill it out, you post it back in the Freepost envelope provided with the application and you receive your number within about two business weeks. My job let me work without a National Insurance number provided that I had proof that I mailed out my application.

In retrospect, opening a bank account and getting a National Insurance number wasn’t that bad, but really stressful when you don’t know what to do and the clock to get a job to be able to pay rent for the month is not on your side.

So, let’s review:

  • Before you arrive: start a bank account application online and book an appointment to finalize your bank details
  • A.S.A.P. when you arrive: place a phone call to get the National Insurance application posted to you and attend your banking appointment
  • Within a business week: you receive 1) your National Insurance number application which you must fill out and return, 2) your card, PIN and online banking details
  • After two more business weeks: you will have your National Insurance number