Monday, January 7, 2013

2012: The Review.

I've never done any sort of review post before.  Not that I can remember, anyway.  A few people I follow and a few of my friends in general have done a '12 things of 2012' list.  It's nice because - should there have been a highlight a month - it's a fitting break down of a year.

So here's mine.  My top 12 things of 2012.  No particular order, because they're all great things.

1.  God.  I had a wonderful time getting to know God more.  This one is in order.  He's the most important person in my life.

This was a big event that really made my wifey and I move on in our faith.  Genesis Conference 2012.  Here's a picture I took during one of the worship sessions.  It was incredible being a part of something so big and so collective.  So one.

And this guy.  Man.  Josh Mayo.  An incredible leader and a wonderful guy.  Passionate about God and passionate about people.  He and his family actually moved to Atlanta a few months after this event to start a church out there.  Thoroughly nice people and one of the most loving families I've met.  He was a big inspiration to us over the past year, along with Greg Cultra and Aaron Bettencourt.

2.  My wifey.  This year has been incredible for us.  We celebrated our second anniversary in June - a lovely mid-point between living in the States and moving back to the UK for a while.  While obviously not all of these pictures are of the last year, they're some of my favourites.

Snuggling after my graduation ceremony.

Fashion shoot in Allonby.  (But not really).

Christmas in Fayetteville.  We like the mistletoe.

And this was either after a huge Thanksgiving meal or a huge Christmas meal.  Either way, we were full and happy and wanting a nap.

We've grown together this year and I can't wait for what's going to come.  This year is promising to be an adventure and I'm so excited and blessed to be able to make this journey of life with my best friend.

3.  Herps.  Yea, I was going to say 'America' but I figured it'd be nice to break it down into a few things that I particularly enjoyed.  Herps is one such thing.  Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians.  'Herps' for short, it encompasses snakes, turtles, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads and alligators.  They're all great and it's a fantastic laugh going out to catch whatever you can.

A common snapping turtle.  Tiny thing.  One of three small turtles I found within a square metre.

A plain-bellied water snake.  Not poisonous, but not afraid to bite.  With teeth that are designed to catch and hold onto fish, so not the most pleasant bite.

The prairie racerunner.  A fast thing.  This is the first herp I caught, so I was pretty stoked.  Lovely colours, too.

A scale photo with the common snapper before.  The penny is on top of a smooth softshell turtle and at the bottom right there, there's a musk turtle.

This is the musk turtle.  My favourite turtle.

As far as frogs go, this is a nice one.  Not all that big, it's the cricket frog.

And maybe my favourite frog, the treefrog.  There were a few under the pool covers this year, but not as many as I've seen in the past.

The midland brown snake.  This is about full grown at a foot, give or take an inch.  It was a cool morning, so I was able to get a few good shots of this sluggish fellow.

4.  Fishing.  I fished as a child and - to an extent - as a teenager.  It got all too expensive, though and I gave it up over here in the UK.  In America, though, it's amazing.  It's phenomenal.  Licenses in Arkansas are $10.50 and you can get a ready-to-fish setup from the supermarket for about $20.  Then you can fish on any public water you can get to for the year.  None of this joining an association lark or paying for permission to fish on a puddle that no-one knows who owns.  Bleh.  I got into fly fishing and I love it.

Here's a little firefly ... fly.  It's what we caught most of the smaller fish on.

This is my favourite.  A big ol' moth looking fly.  It's got a nice weight to it, so for me it's easier to feel and cast out a fair way.

Melissa wasn't ever really interested in fishing up until this year.  Now she's pretty excited about it.

I'm also fairly excited but my face shows it as disappointment.

Sometimes I'll show my excitement.  I saw this bass take the big moth fly next to some reeds and could barely contain myself.  I wanted to pluck it out of the water right then and there, but I had to wait for the hook to set and the fish to tire.  Good fun.

After first being somewhat squeamish at the thought of even holding a fish, Melissa eventually gained enough confidence to put her mouth this close to one.  I went one better and kissed the fish.  Then Melissa didn't kiss me for a week.  So it didn't really work out that well for me.

5.  Guns.  I know, I know.  Americans and their guns, etc.  Truth is, as horrific as it is to hear of killings and shootings, you need to know that what isn't reported in the news every day is safe gun ownership, clay pigeon shooting, hunting for meat to feed your family, popping cans off a log by a river.  Only the bad things are ever really reported in the news, so it's not a surprise that all we think of the States is that the people there are all armed and dangerous.  They're mostly armed and far from dangerous.  My parallel is the student/knife observation.  Americans have guns.  We have knives.  Over here, we don't hear about a student going to a shop, buying a bread knife and using it sensibly to slice up some tiger bread from Tesco.  We hear about stabbings and knife-point muggings.  If the view of our entire population was that we were knife-branding yobs who aren't afraid to cut someone for any reason, that'd be somewhat unfair, no?

Melissa's dad took us down to a river a few miles out of town and we spent hours shooting cans and bottles that we found there.  We had a .22 rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and a 30-30 rifle, I think.  Wonderful stuff.  The .22 is accurate over a fair distance but loses a bit of punch.  The shotgun is powerful and spready.  The 30-30 kicked like a mule but wasn't the most accurate gun in the world.

Ah, Dr Schilling's firearms.  A good friend of mine likes guns and took me to his gun club's firing range for a day with this sniper rifle, a few handguns and a brilliant semi-automatic shotgun.  What a day.

My 105-yard quarter.  The Doctor and I enjoyed a great afternoon of fun little shooting games.  A close battle, too.  Great fun.

7.  The small things.  I got a macro extension for my camera for Christmas and absolutely love it.  I went after anything that was small.  Ants, flies, spiders, you name it.

The Black Widow.  A terrifying sight.  But not as terrifying as losing sight of one.  Good grief.

Even though there was ample distance between us for me to feel safe, I was still on edge taking these.  Mostly because I didn't know they were under the rocks I flipped until they were almost on my fingers.

This dragonfly stayed so perfectly still as I wriggled my way through the wet grass to get to it.  I got a load of shots and it was so much fun.

Flies are so frustrating to photograph.  It's always a joy when you get a half-decent shot.  I was a happy bunny after getting this one.

Weevils are nice and slow.  I like weevils.

This moth was on the porch frame for a couple of days.  I got a good number of shots.  Such detail in so small a space.  Awesome.

While they are constantly moving, I do like to try and get some good shots of ants.  They're so hard working.  The Bible talks about them a lot.

Another ant shot.  Here, they're milking aphids.  They tenderly touch the back of the aphid with their antennae and the aphids produce a drop of honeydew which the ant picks up and takes back to the nest.

I'm going to have to come back and update this post at a later date with my other 5 highlights.  They'll include drawing, photography, dolls, my work in public and something else that I'll have to think about before then.  It's taken me two hours to compose this post as it is now and I'm going to go and meet my wifey for lunch.

I'M BACK.  Here's the rest!

Maybe something I'll need to do this year coming up is make sure I have enough time to make one long blog post instead of a couple of smaller ones...

Continuing from yeaterday (but with a slightly limited reservoir of photos, seeing as I'm updating now from uni and not my laptop in McDonald's):

8. Drawing. As with every year, I draw a whole lot. I improve and I get frustrated; I learn things and I stop drawing other things. It's a living process. I had a few drawings that I was particularly pleased with. In no particular order (because for some reason I can only upload pictures that are already on my blog):

My ant-headed monkey. A frightful beast. Four hands, a prehensile tail and a set of mandibles that'll rip your face off.

Dogsword the Demolisher. A redrawing of a character by one of my favourite artists, 'Jouste' - Jesse Turner. Really good fun to draw and nice to colour in, too.

A drawing in the looser sense. A mural I did for my friend Dr Schilling. It was fun to draw and paint and have single, straight lines.

A character design for the game I was working on in my third year. Unnamed, I believe. The idea is that although he's lost an arm, he has a load of attachments that enable him to do anything he needs.

A price chart that I came up with for my dolls.

Another character for my third year game. A shieldsmith. This guy helps out the main characters by forging shields for them. His four arms make him a lot quicker than the other, two-armed shieldsmiths.

And another character for my third year game. A fourth playable character, along with Qa'al, Tymm and Phyll. This guy is a hunter and a trap setter, relying on the stealth of his machines and his absence to catch and/or kill the creatures he is out to get.

The Grimions are the cannon fodder enemies - the innumerable, foot-tying critters that give you very little points for killing but are killed easily to make up for that. I came up last year with two more attachments for the Grimions - a big spike and a spine/spore shooter. The bigger one on the left is a King Grimion - larger than the usual Grimions and a little tougher to kill. They are generally armed a bit better, too and can attack from range and up close; whereas the normal Grimions tend to be able to do one or the other.

And another character for my third year game. My third year game is called Farmerarmageddon, so that's what I'll call it from hereon out. This character is a trainer. If there's a task you're required to do which needs a specific creature to help you achieve it, more often than not you'll have to find and catch that creature and then take it to this guy who can train it up to do whatever it is you need it to do. For a price. Usually that price is an item found at the end of a mission that this guy will set for you to complete.

My day at work/What I Wore Today. A while ago, I chronicled my clothing for a week. I really enjoyed it, so I thought I'd do it again here. I'm going to go ahead and say that I'll try and do another week again sometime soon.

My Monkey Janitor. He sweeps up messy corridoors during the day and fights crime with his monkey fighting skills every other night (he alternates between fighting crime and sleeping).

The yellow Angry Bird. The one that's good against wood.

A quickly doodled gladiator.

A drawing of me from a dream I had. It was pretty trippy and I still remember most of it. My wifey couldn't wrap her head around the idea when I showed her. I dreamt the dream in first person - as if it we me walking round and interacting with everything. Yet when I came to explain it to her I drew the dream map from a birds' eye view. I thought nothing of it. I think it's that spatial awareness and ability to mentally rotate 3D objects while keeping them (fairly) sound and unchanged. Guys find this easier to do than girls. It's to do with the space between our brain hemispheres.

The Rabbitfrogsquirrel. An unusual creature that feeds on insects, nuts and berries. Quick, good at swimming and better at climbing, it's a rarity that one would catch the beast. I could only draw this from a grainy, long-distance shot of the thing. Were I to even breathe heavily, it'd have scarpered.

9. Photography. I got given a wonderful camera just before Christmas in 2011 and I got a few extensions for the camera that Christmas; so I could say the highlight started in 2011 and grew all year. Here are some of my favourite photos - big and small:

The first photo I posted in 2012. A sunset over a very still (probably frozen) lake on the way home from Fort Smith.

A shot that took a long time to get right. A bird in a holly bush.

I can't remember taking this one, but I know that it's of the sun and a tree.

The Arkansas river runs between Arkansas and Oklahoma. On this river are pelicans and herons. Here is the latter. It stayed there for a while and I got a lot of nice shots; this one's my favourite.

Another sunset picture.

The inside of a dandelion. Another shot that took a while to get. This is when I was learning that my ISO has to be way down when I'm shooting something this close. A fact that I forgot every now and then - much to my frustration. I'd take a load of pictures and once the subject had gone, I'd look back and see that all I had from the shoot was two dozen white screens.

With one of the extention tubes on my camera, I simply put this leaf on the lens and aimed towards the sun. Lovely detail.

Unfortunately, this nest had been abandoned for some time, so the eggs here are most likely dead. There was just something so serene about the whole nest. Something so expectant.

The American toad.

I loved this shot. Another shot that was one of a load, but so, so much fun to get. It was pitch black - a lovely perk of living in the middle of nowhere. You can hear the crickets and frogs and see the stars and the Milky Way. Things you can't really do in a town or city. This toad was down in the corner of the garage. I shone a light on it to focus the camera, switched the light off, opened the shutter for 15-30 seconds and flashed the light on the toad from several different angles. The result was a fantastic light painting of this guy.

In Ohio, we went to a park that has been flooded. I liked the fact that this duck was making use of the bench when 1. he didn't need to because he can float and 2. we couldn't use the bench.

Back home in the garden I found the common frog. A lovely welcome back gift after not seeing one for years (because we'd been in America for a year and I can't remember the last time I went looking for one before that).

And a spider. It's nice to know that none of the spiders here will kill you for looking at them funny. A feeling that I can only wish Americans could feel.

10. Dolls. With making dolls, I'll also add other creations to the list. It's been a year of experimenting with ideas and materials that I've really enjoyed:

This is the lastest incarnation of me. As a doll. As a doll I have four arms and an odd skin tone. I'm well cool, though.

A couple of dolls I made for a creative display at church.

My Household Explorer. One of my favourite creations last year. Armed with a pin sword and strips of fabric to keep him warm, he adventures about the house when all are asleep. He can't do anything practical, like mend shoes or fix a gutter. That's for the bigger and more handy imps and gremlins. No; this guy fends off beetles and roaches and the occasional mouse.

I decided to learn origami using dollar bills. Origami is a bit of a novelty; as is the US currnecy. Ha. It started to look like normal money but then we moved back to the UK and I was slapped out of my delusion.

A doll with a tassled hat that I made for my Grandma. It sits next to her TV now.

I experimented with a two-tone design and loved it. This was the design that I did a number of dolls with. Uniform colour, with the under arms and inside legs a different colour.

The same doll sitting on the bookshelf of the guy I made it for.

A doll that I made a while ago. It's with a few others, now. I hear it's enjoying life.

The idea behind this doll was that I thought it'd be great to have a Dungeons and Dragons game created with dolls. I haven't played D&D, so this may or may not work. This guy was an ork. The regular players would have a regular-sized doll and would, at some point, encounter this ork and have to fight it. I scaled the templates up and made it nice and big. I actually went on to scale the templates up again after this and made my third size category. My dolls are now available in Regular, Large and Literal Baby-size.

The same doll on my table. I tried light painting again and I'm very happy with the result.

And a doll that I made for one of my best friends. A rabbit with four arms. Standard.

11. My work in the Public Eye. A few things I've done have been used in a way that makes then viewable by the public and that makes me feel warm inside. Not so much a pride thing to know that everyone can see what I've done, but that what I've done has been seen as good enough for someone to want to use it to represent an idea of theirs.

I only found this by chance. I'd jumped onto UCLan's Games Design site to see what work was there from the year before - what the third years and Masters students were working on. To my surprise and delight, I saw Qa'al jumping up at the side of the banner!

I'd drawn a big series of images of a house in various states of disrepair. The idea was that the series of photos of the house going from fine to broken and destroyed got played in reverse; from destroyed to restored - the title of the series at church.

Finally for the images I have on here, there's the ticket for the Bachelors' degree show for 2012. I sold this doll to a friend the previous year and he had been asked to bring it back in so that they could take a good picture of it for the ticket. Made me very happy.

As well as these images, there have been a few more things. At the moment, the series we're on at church is called 'Listen up' and I was asked to create an image for that. The first one wasn't that suitable, but is going to be used later this year. The one that is being used is of an ear with an arrow pointing to it.

Also, my dad used a few of my photos as backgrounds to the lyrics of some worship songs at Christ Church back in Southport.

12. Travel. I think that this is a pretty good one. My wifey and I did a fair bit over the past year. Obviously starting in 2011 when we went over to the States, 2012 saw us take many forms of transport to get to a lot of different places. All of them were fun.

This was the way over in 2011. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Marvellous place. A stop off on the 96-hour journey from Preston to Lavaca. That trip alone was worth documenting - which I think I may have done when I got the chance. Preston to London to Reykjavic to New York to Wisconsin to Kansas City to Lavaca. I'd do it all over again. But maybe without my own weight in luggage.

The AR/OK border. Pelicans chilling out. The first time I'd seen them in real life. I thought they were swans until one of them yawned and nearly swallowed everything in front of it.

This was a little lake that my wifey and I went camping by. We had some Tiki torches which were invaluable - keeping the mosquitos away the whole time. We caught a good few fish from this pond and had a wonderful night eating things we cooked with a camp fire and playing cards. In the morning, we were given this stunning sight of the mist rising off the water. It was beautiful.

A view of Fort Smith from a good distance away. Not the best picture, but one that holds a nice memory.

Cincinnati. We stopped off here on our way back home last year. The trip took us through Tennessee and Kentucky and (quite possibly) Mississippi before that; before coing to a stop in Cinci. There, we met a good friend, Rachel, and stayed with her about 20 minutes outside the city. After a week, we set off on our way back to England. We'd go through Pennsylvania before hitting up New York.

Just to reiterate our hitting up of the Empire State.

In Buffalo, NY, we went to the phenomenal Niagara Falls. We got on that little boat, too. Crazy stuff. The view was amazing, the experience, as a whole, is something that I just can't put into words. We saw incredible things. Even the rivers leading up to the falls were awesome, let alone the falls themselves.

After being there for a while, we went to Toronto, Canada. From there, we were to fly out back to Manchester and home again. Safe. It was a wonderful experience and one that we would love to do again and again. Albeit with less luggage.

So that's a highlight of 2012. It was a year that I can't quite describe. I need to learn new words in order to have enough of a descriptive vocabulary to chronicle any other sojourns. So learn I will.

The only thing left to do now is make a list of things that I want to in the coming year. Huzzah!


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