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Challenge 40 – completed

25 Mar

Life under lockdown is tough. I am managing to spend time on trying to complete challenges on my 40 Before 40 List. Of course, travelling is a no-no so I am concentrating on those that I can achieve by being locked in the house.

Last week I completed Challenge 40! The original challenge was to start and maintain my own travel website but I decided to change it to create a piece of art because I’ve done a bit of travel writing and I have to say I prefer travelling to writing about it. I made the change well before the Coronavirus outbreak!

So I made this:

In case you can’t tell, it’s a wolf. Okay, so it isn’t a painting by hand or something that I’ve conceived of myself. But I still think it’s impressive and you can’t say that it’s not art, even though I’m not sure what the exact definition of art is!

All of the materials were included in the pack that I ordered and then it was fairly simple to put together. The picture is made up of tiny squares, each with a symbol on them. You then have to look up on the key what colour needs to be glued into that square.

The squares are really tiny. I’m glad I didn’t order one that was bigger – I would have been doing it forever. This took me about a week to do. I did end up getting slightly addicted to it; just telling myself I will do another 10 minutes and still being hunched over the desk an hour and a half later. During this mad times, it provided a good distraction from everything going on in the world right now.

Incidentally, I have managed to almost destroy my left shoulder from leaning over it. I’ve had heat packs and all sorts on it trying to ease the pain. I have suffered for my art.

There are a lot of other challenges I can work on while I am house-bound. I am hoping to be able to tick off some more over the coming weeks. So stay tuned!

Challenge #16 – completed

9 Feb

I’ve completed another challenge!

Challenge number 16 on my list was to save money for a rainy day. I’ve always been good-ish with money but I’ve never really had a good amount of savings to draw on in case of an emergency.

I’ve read several sources that say it’s a good idea to have at least three months’ salary saved up. I have no idea why it’s 3 months rather than two and a half or even 5. It seems like an arbitrary amount without a lot of reasoning for it – a bit like the recommended 10’000 steps a day that are supposed to keep you fit!

As that’s what’s recommended that’s what I’ve done. I started saving last year after I started a new job and put away a little bit each month. If I’d been frugal during the month then I could save a bit more. It’s surprising how quickly an amount each month manages to grow into 3 months’ salary. Luckily I didn’t need to dip into these funds during the past year so it was just a case of save, save, save.

I’m hoping not to be forced into using these savings in the near future but we are in the middle of a restructuring process at work so I can’t honestly say for sure that this is what will happen. Perhaps I find myself out of work again, perhaps everything is business as usual. It’s hard to know or guess what the future will hold in the next few months but I do feel slightly better knowing I have something in reserve for a case like this.

If you don’t have money squirrelled away for the future, I would recommend doing it. Saving a little and often makes the whole process virtually pain free!

Update – Challenge #35

6 Feb

This is an update about the 40 non-fiction books that I am attempting read for my 40 Before 40 challenge. I have recently read 10 more which means I only have 10 more books to read before I finish the challenge.

Here are the books I recently read:

The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

This was only a short book but a fascinating read. The authors present fifty different models with illustrations. Some of the models I was familiar with from the economics that I studied for my accounting qualification but the majority of them were new. My favourite in the whole book was The Esquire Gift Model, which was explains how much you should spend on a gift for someone based on the number of years you have known the recipient combine with what type of occasion it is (engagement, anniversary etc). It is so simply explained and is something that people, myself included, agonised over.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

This is the second book on relationships by John Gray that I’ve read. Some parts of it are a bit outdated (it was written in the 90s) but a lot of the information and observations that he makes are valid and made sense to me. The problem with these books is that there is almost too much information to process. I think it is best to take a handful of advice and focus on these rather than trying to remember every single detail.

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

I was excited to read this book because I had heard a lot of good things about the first book by this author, which admittedly I haven’t read. It’s fairly obvious from the title that it is the diary of a bookseller. I was slightly disappointed. It wasn’t as funny as I was expecting – the recommendations on the cover made it sound like it was one of the funniest books ever written. But it gave a very interesting insight to the problems facing second-hand booksellers (Amazon, Kindles, unreasonable customers asking for discounts) and some of the methods that they need to employ to survive.

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman

Apart from banks in America failing and house prices going down, I didn’t know very much about the Crisis of 2008. Krugman is a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and manages to explain complex economic theories succinctly. He explains that the Crisis could have been predicted by inflation and currency valuation problems that happened prior to the crisis in South America and Asia. It was an interesting read, especially as many of the warning factors that he mentions are evident around the world today which may mean another depression is on its way.

Change Book: Fifty Models to Explain How Things Happen by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Decision Book (see above). The subject matter was a bit dry and the model were less applicable to daily life. It also covered a huge range of topics like explaining the world to aliens, why some people are unfaithful and climate change. One of the most interesting models was When Something Starts to be Uncool. It plots mainstream against the avant-garde to show how somethings remain cool but other things quickly become unpopular in modern society.

Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland

I went to Zimbabwe went Robert Mugabe was president and this was a fascinating read. I had no idea that he was very intelligent (he had 7 degrees) and he was a very religious man. The account in this book paints a different picture to what I imagined the man to be like. It presented a balanced view of him by looking at historical events and talking to people who knew him the best, while trying to pinpoint the reasons why such a shy and thoughtful man ended up becoming one of the world’s most famous dictators.

Man Alone with Himself by Friedrich Nietzsche 

The last time I read something by Nietzsche was under duress at university. This was a very short book but it had some really interesting idea in it. The first part of the book was a series of aphorisms (tidbits of philosophical insight). My favourite of these was about language: ‘he who speaks a bit of a foreign language has more delight than he who speaks it well; pleasure goes along with superficial knowledge’. After my struggle of learning German, I can say this is very true.

Run Faster: How to be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald

I have had this book gathering dust on my shelf for longer than I care to remember and, as I want to try to improve my running times this year, it’s about time I read it! The book was aimed at runner who are far more advanced and better than I am but I still found a lot of useful tips in the book that I will definitely try to incorporate into my running. I am super keen to beat one of my PBs this year and I hope this book has helped me to work out areas I can improve on to do that.

What to Do When You Become the Boss by Bob Seldon

I bought this book when I got a job as a manager for the first time. It didn’t work out and I left the job but I decided to read it anyway. There were a lot of interesting tips for people who aren’t managers and it gave a different perspective on working in a modern environment.

Some of the tips I don’t agree with, like only checking your email once a day. I guess it depends what your role is but, as my job is operational, it’s just not all that practical to do that. I do see how constant email checking can be addictive and a waste of time though!

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham

I don’t often read biographies but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. In my ignorance I had no idea about the struggles of Burma gaining independence nor about Aung San Suu Kyi and her and her family’s part in the fight for independence. It’s incredible that the book touches on points of history within my lifetime. It makes me want to read more about Buddhism, non violent struggles and the story of India’s independence which the author compares with Burma’s story throughout the book.

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Fitness Goals in 2020

11 Jan

Still on my 40 Before 40 are two challenges related to fitness and, if I am to have any chance of completing them, I need to get fit in 2020. Over the festive period I managed to put on weight just by looking at food and fester on the coach with a beer for the rest of it. So, I have set myself some fitness goals to change that.

Because of global warming, I have already managed to get outside and do some running this year even with my asthmatic lungs. In January I have ran 18km so far and I feel like I am getting back into a rhythm again. There is still a long way to go.

My main aim this year is to beat a personal best time in a race and to get myself in good shape so I am ready to take part in my first ultra marathon in 2021. I realised quite a few things about myself last year which I took into account when I was making these goals.

  • If I don’t have a clear goal in mind, I find it very hard to keep my fitness. Last year with netball trials and then a 10km to train for in August, I was very focused and found it easy to stick to, knowing I had a big event I needed to be ready for. For January I have promised myself that I will do at least 20 minutes of exercise 15 times during the month. That is basically doing something once every other day. I’m managing to stick to it but it is only the 11th January. I am going to set a small fitness goal each month to keep myself motivated.
  • I got myself into shape last year by doing little bits often. I didn’t do huge long runs or bike rides but a short run during lunch times for a couple of miles. Not completely tiring myself out meant I was motivated keep going the next day. I am convinced that, if I had completed two more longer runs before I did the 10km in Dublin, I would have beaten my personal best time. I was just lacking a bit more distance in my legs to keep me going over the final stages.
  • There is a running track close to where we live and I said before the Dublin 10km that I would go there to work on my speed and some different training. I never made it so this year I’m going to do it. Even if I go once a month that is better than nothing.
  • I have a book about running and how to coach yourself to train better. I dread to think how long I have had it gathering dust on my shelf – I’m going to read it this month to help me train better.
  • The most important thing I learnt came when I started with a colleague from work during lunchtime. When asked if I could join her she said she runs really slow. That wasn’t a problem for me. And the pace was slow, perhaps one and a half minutes per kilometer slower than I normally run but I loved it. I wasn’t covered in sweat, red faced and feeling exhausted by the end of it. It doesn’t matter how fast you run so long as you enjoy it. Now I try not to look at my watch as I’m running to see what pace I’m running. This is a lot easier in the colder months when I am wearing long sleeves; there’s no temptation to look down at my watch every five seconds. Of course, if I am training for a PB, I will need to focus on running quicker but at the moment my focus is on getting out there and losing some weight.

Looking at these goals it looks like a lot but the main thing is to enjoy exercising. I do enjoy running and exercise so it’s strange why I always end up stopping and not doing anything – as soon as I get back into the habit I wonder why I didn’t carry on in the first place.

Do you have any fitness goals for this year?

 

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Challenge #30 – completed!

4 Jan

In the dying hours of 2019, I completed the latest of my 40 Before 40 challenges. Okay, that is slightly over-dramatic. I completed it at about noon on the 31st December 2019 because I had the day off and I was feel guilty that I hadn’t really done anything productive. But I finally solved my Rubik’s cube.

I have tried it a few times in the past and got more and more frustrated with it. It seemed like I managed to get part of it completed but then ‘messed’ up another side that I had already completed. This time I sat down and and completed the whole thing in one sitting. If I ‘messed’ up parts that were finished, I took a deep breath and started again.

Back together again!

I probably sound like a genius but I’m not – I did use a guide to solve the cube that I found online. The chances of you winning the lottery is much, much more plausible that being able to solve it just by randomly turning the sides. In fact, it took Rubik (the Hungarian inventor of the puzzle) more than 6 months to solve it himself.

Even with instructions it was tricky and I had to concentrate to make sure I was doing the next step correctly. And there are certain steps that you need to do in order to complete it. First you need to start with getting a white cross in position and then getting the correct corner pieces in position. I didn’t know that the middle square in a 3×3 cube doesn’t move so that determines what ‘face’ it is. You can’t just complete the white face without the corner and edge pieces being in the right place.

A lot of the solving of the puzzle is based on algorithms. When you see people on TV solving them in a matter of seconds, they must have memorized all of the algorithms previously and then just move the pieces in accordance to the moves they have memorized. It took me ages longer than the person who has the world record for solving a Rubik’s cube (4.22 seconds in case you were wondering) but I did it. I can’t actually put into words how satisfying it was when I turned the side for one last time and realised that it was finished.

I had thought that this could be a party trick of mine. I could take a Rubik’s cube with me to parties to impress friends and family by magically solving the cube. Or even show strangers on the bus, after all it doesn’t take up that much room in my handbag. The reality is that I would probably produce the cube and then spend another hour sitting in a corner, swearing quietly to myself while everyone slowly loses interest. So my search for a part trick continues but there is one less challenge on my list…

Challenge #28 – completed

13 Dec

I have cashed in my Christmas present from last year and can also mark another one of my challenges as completed! This was a very enjoyable challenge but that might be because during its completion I go happier and happier. Over the past two weeks I have spent 6 hours learning about and tasting wine on a wine degustation course.

Both of the evenings began with a smell test. There were 12 different scents that we had to try to identify. It was incredibly difficult because you don’t have any context to place the smell. You convince yourself that you can smell X but when you are told that Y is the answer you instantly know that Y is correct. On the first evening I got one out of 12 correct and the second evening I got 3 out of 12. The lecturer told us that you can get better at identifying aromas but it takes a lot of practice. He also explained our recognition of smell and aromas is heavily linked to the environment that we grew up in. For example, if you always ate watermelon as a child on holiday, the smell is linked to your memories and is much more easy to recognise than someone who does have this smell linked to a memory. The weird thing was that both myself and my boyfriend were convinced one of the smells was rose but it was actually hay. I guess I will be getting a bunch of hay for Valentine’s Day because neither of us can tell the difference.

The first evening focused on the world of wine, what conditions were best for growing wine and how to assess wines with all of your senses. We were shown how you should taste the wines and what differences you can look out for in different wines: “Do you also get the heady scent of mushrooms and coffee, darling?” We blind tasted 8 different wines during this evening. Some of them I didn’t like at all. My favourite of the whole evening turned out to be a 7 CHF  (or 5 GBP) bottle. 

The second evening focused on wine and food. I knew that on food programmes that wine is paired with specific meals and ingredients but I never knew why. Depending on what wine you pair with which foods the whole flavour of the wine can change. We tried this out by drinking wine on its own, then after eating a dried tomato and then after eating salt. How our perception of the wine changed with each combination was incredible. There is no way that you would think the wine was the same. Last year we went to a independent wine fair in Strasbourg and ate some strong, stinky cheese in between tasting wine. We now know that this has a huge effect on how the wine tastes so we might have a shock when we come to drink some of those bottles and they taste completely different to what we thought.

This knowledge is good to know for future tasting and it means that even though we have different tastes in wines we can ‘alter’ the flavour of the wine with what we eat with it.

We were also shown how temperature effects wine, how long it is best to store wine and how the wine glass can also affect how a wine tastes. There was also an instructional video about how to open a sparkling wine bottle with a bread knife. I will be trying that outside in the summer with a very inexpensive bottle in case it goes wrong. There was a huge amount of information packed into both of the evenings. The course was in German so I also learnt some new words related to food and wine.

I’m so glad that I had this on my list. I’m far from being an expert in wine but I know that the most expensive wines are not always the best and what I can eat to make a wine more pleasant for my palette.

 

Challenge #26 – update

3 Dec

It’s been a long time since I sat down to learn more origami but I finally got round to it this week. I don’t feel stressed out at the moment even though Christmas is fast approaching but I have found it very calming. I thought maybe I would sit down and do two designs and then leave it there for another time but I was enjoying it so much that I ended up sitting down for a good hour and a half. It’s all rock and roll at my place!

I have also discovered the amazing world of inflatable origami where you make all the folds, blow into the paper and make the final reveal. My favourite and best creation this time is my amazing Pikachu. I could happily make hundreds of them. In fairness I should have made him (is he a he?) on yellower paper but it’s obvious who it is meant to be.

Here are the other things I made. Most of them are animals but I’ve made other cool things too.

In the top picture I made a paper cup (that holds water), a samurai hat, a boat, a goldfish a windmill and the world’s tiniest plane. On the bottom picture I made a butterfly, lion, bird, snail, elephant and a crane (that’s a bit drunk and wouldn’t stand up for the photo).

In the last photo is a flower that ended up being a lot bigger than I thought it would be!

That is not to say that it has all been plain sailing. I tried a few more complicated designs and failed in spectacular fashion. Like the dinosaur that I got part way through and lost hope with and the umbrella that didn’t go to plan. I think I will come back to them in the next round because they do look cool – I just have to make sure that I can make them. I have a feeling there might be frustrating times ahead.

I now only have 15 more designs to learn to finish this challenge.