Archive | Challenges RSS feed for this section

40 Before 40: Challenge #35 update

26 Oct

I am now half-way through my challenge to read 40 non-fiction books. Here are the latest 10 books that I’ve read for the challenge.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

This was such an interesting book about how the actress Leah Remini was raised by her parents in Scientology, how the religion controlled her life and how she was finally able to leave the religion behind. (I am, of course, using religion in a very loose sense of the word). I found it fascinating that she managed to leave the organisation. I have seen documentaries in which people discuss that they are completely trapped and, despite terrible circumstances, they aren’t able to escape. It was a very honest account but I can imagine that for legal reasons a lot of detail was left out.

My Liverpool Story  by Steven Gerrard

I actually bought this as a gift for my brother but then he told me I’d already given it to him for Christmas so I decided to read it myself. I thought that this book was also very honest – relationships with managers and fellow players were discussed, revealing not always happy memories. There were hundreds of good quality photos in the book as well which made the book about double the size that it could have been if it just contained text.

The Things I Talk About When I am Running by Haruki Murakami

This is a relatively short book about how the author decided to leave his successful business to become an author. He is also a very good amateur runner anf triathlete. The book is about how his success in both writing and running haven’t come naturally to him and he has had to find way for him to get better at both disciplines. He makes lots of comparision between running and writing that I really appreciated, as I don’t consider myself to be a natural runner (even though I enjoy it) and I am working hard at becoming a better writer.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

There is a lot of hype about this book, especially with the increased awareness of mental health issues. It looks at modern life and how social media and technology can make us feel more disconnected than connected. The book made me realise that I am probably not as affected by modern technology than other people. I am more than happy to not have internet for a week when I am on holiday and you will never find me more happy than when I have my head in a book and I’m blocking the rest of the world out.

The Krays: The Prison Years by David Meikle and Kate Beal Blyth

This book made me realise that I constantly mix up the Kray twins and Ronnie Briggs, one of the great train robbers. This book was meant to be able the time that the twins spent in prison but there was quite a lot about how they ending up getting caught and their background. It was interest and also quite depressing to hear how much “freedom” they had in prison because of who they were and their relationships with celebrities.

A Woman’s Guide to Triathlon: The Things Men Will Never Tell You About the Sport by Eva Mauer

I have been thinking about taking part in a triathlon. I’ve even signed up to a swimming course to help improve my front crawl technique. So I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t think it told me that much that I didn’t already know. I mainly wanted to know about how to practice the transistion phases but there wasn’t a great deal of information on that. I also didn’t understand why it was a woman’s guide to triatholon. There wasn’t anything in the book that would have been specific to a woman and not a man. A bit of a disappointment.

Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray

I’ve never been completely convinced that men and women do behave so differently from one another but after reading this I’ve changed my mind. It was a really interesting read and a lot of the examples were so recognisable that it was scary. The book was written in the mid-90s so it was a slightly outdated. I also have another couple of books by John Gray that I want to read for this challenge.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

This is a famous book and I don’t know what to think about it. It says that thinking positively can attract what you want to your life. I completely agree that the more positive you are, the more good things will happen to you. But then wouldn’t everyone have everything that they wanted if this was true. I do think some of the exercises are worth giving a go and seeing what happens. But I think to get the full benefit you need to 100% commit to that way of thinking.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

This was the funniest book I have read in a long, long time. I was roaring with laughter. It is also the most tragically heartbreak book that I have read in a long, long time as well. It is the diary of a junior doctor working on the maternity ward. You know from the start that the author ended up leaving the profession and in the penultimate chapter you find out why. I felt queasy when I read it. It was a sobering end to an account of how overworked and underpaid NHS staff are. I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.

Mindfulness Pocketbook by Gill Hasson

It was a book about how to become more mindful in daily life with exercises to help improve health, mood and attitudes among other things. I would say that 80% of the book wasn’t useful to me but there are definitely some tips and exercises that I will use.

knowledge-1052010__340

 

 

 

A weekend in Kiev

15 Oct

Over the weekend I was visited my 33rd European country – Ukraine. It seems that there are always political news stories about Ukraine and I confess that I don’t read enough to know 100% what all the implications are.

A few people gave me raised eyebrows when I mentioned where I was spending the weekend but that didn’t stop me from having a great weekend in Kiev.

Kiev city

Kiev is a very smart modern city. I loved the old style buildings from the Soviet era mixed in with the new. The city was vibrant and full of life. All of the churches we saw were incredibly stunning. We didn’t realise that it was the start of a long public holiday when we arrived and on Saturday the Main street was closed to traffic. Being able to stroll down the street of a European capitol city and enjoy music and fire-eaters is something special.

Monuments

I love that many Eastern European countries have lots of monuments and memorials to people and battles that we’re not so aware of in Western Europe. I think one of my favourite monuments was in Kiev. It was called the People’s Friendship Arch. It’s beautifully made and commemorates the 1’500th year since the city of Kiev was established.

Chernobyl

The highlight of the trip was a full day tour of Chernobyl. I haven’t seen the HBO series and before going I didn’t know a great deal about the disaster and what actually happened. The tragedy happened during my lifetime but I was only 4 so I don’t remember news reports at the time.

You can only visit Chernobyl if you have a guide because specific areas are still dangerous and there are no road signs so I can imagine it would be easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going.

We joined a group tour and our tour guide was fantastic. She could answer all the questions we put to her and had a great sense of humour which, in a case like this, must help to keep you sane.

The videos and photos that you have seen of creepy dolls, abandoned school buildings and former inhabited places overgrown by weeds and vegetation are true. I think my overwhelming feeling was of sadness. Not only did people leave a thriving new city which had the very first supermarket in the whole of the Ukraine but they thought that they would be coming back to their homes in a few days. The land we visited will never be inhabited again because, on a long-term basis, it’s not safe for human habitation.

We were regularly checked for radiation poisoning but I felt this was more a bit of entertainment than anything else. We had a dosimeter with us the whole time that told us how much radiation we had been exposed to. For the whole day we had been exposed to the same amount of radiation as you would be exposed to on a one hour flight. Also if you were contaminated, what could you do? You can’t take a pill to change it. What’s done is done.

 

 

Food and drink

No trip away is complete without sampling the local food and drink. We stumbled upon a local microbrewery and decided to have a beer tasting which included 6 beers.

We also tried borsch – a traditional beetroot soup, khachapuri – originally a Georgian dish and delicious dumplings! Now I’m back home it’s definitely time for a few salads to compensate for how much I ate.

img_7646

Passport Stamps

Of course, one of the most exciting things about visiting a country that isn’t in the EU is that I got another two stamps in my passport.

In November I will be heading to Tenerife for some winter sun and then to Nice and Monaco, which will become the 34th country I have visited in Europe.

Bonus Round – Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 – completed

29 Sep

I have officially finished the bonus round of the Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 after I completed the initial round last month.

Again I have managed to read some great books that I wouldn’t have read if I wasn’t taking part in the challenge. Here is a short breakdown of the 10 books I picked for the bonus round:

61086969_1609374305861904_1982975581540581376_n

Freebie (any book that is at least 200 pages long):

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This was a great book. I had no idea what this was about until I started reading it (I bought it last year when it was on offer in a bookshop). The theme of the book was very topical. It explores what it means to be a British Muslim and how conflict and betrayal can happen to anyone at any time. The characters were very believable and the ending was tragically beautiful

A book beginning with “F”:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

This is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. I’m still not sure exactly to make of the book. It is a completely barking mad story based in truth that tells the drug-addled of a journalist in the desert. Completely entertaining and very disconcerting at the same time!

A book with “rain”, “thunder” or “lightning” in the title:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I liked this book. I was quite an easy read, in that it was a book written for yound adults and was even a Newberry Award Winner. But in another sense, it was a hard read because of its themes of racism and how hard life was living in the southern US in the 1930s. The characters were realistic – some I hated, some I really liked because of how the author had described them.

A book with a building on the cover:

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The book started with a house on fire and the disappearance of the youngest daughter of the family, who is suspected of starting the fire. The rest of the book is an explanation about what happened before to get to this point of the story. The way the book was written was very clever. The author also explores a lot of ethical issues dealing with parenting, surrogacy and adoption. It was very thought provoking and I loved the characters and how relatable they were.

A book written by an author who has an initial in their name:

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

This is the type of book that I would love to be able to write. I only put it down to sleep and go to work. It was a page-turner! It is clear from the beginning that the narrator isn’t 100% reliable in what she is telling the read which made it intriguing from the very start. There were so many plot twists and turns that the book kept me guessing right until the very end. A great read.

A book with an item of clothing in the title:

One, Two Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

This is only the second Christie book that I have ever read – I read my first in the last reading challenge. I really enjoyed it. The book starts with a murder in a dentist practice and it soon transpires that the verdict of suicide that is given by the coronor isn’t correct. I had no idea who was responsible for the murders, which is always good in a murder mystery book.

A book set in India:

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

I love the Disney movie version of this book but the book is nothing like the film. I normally don’t like a film version to alter from the book version too much but in this case the film is far better than the book. If all of the details from the book were used, there is no way that Disney would have been able to release the film as child-friendly. Ïf you haven’t read the book I won’t spoil it for you by pointing out the differences!

A book shortlisted for the Booker Prize:

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

This was another book that I bought a while ago in a book sale and haven’t got round to reading. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book but it had my interest from the very beginning. The story begins with the author explaining that this is a true stroy about a relative of his and how he was tried and executed for murder. I still don’t know if this is actually true or was just included to make the story more believable. It was very originally written. The first part of the book is told via a diary and the read really gets to understand the character and his motives. The rest of the book is told via official sources, such as lawyers and psychiatrists. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  

A book with a character who has supernatural powers: 

Firestarter by Stephen King

In a lot of this ways, this book reminded me of Carrie that I read in the first round of this reading challenge. The girl in the book has superpowers that allows her to make fires. She got these superpowers because her father and mother took part in a drugs trial when they were college students. The drug that they were injected with produce hallocinogenic powers. After her mother is killed, her and her father are on the run because the US government are trying to capture them so that they can make experiments on them. I can’t say it was the best Stephen King novel I have ever read but I did like the tension and the action when they were on the run from the government.

A book with the same title as a book in another genre:

Emma by Jane Austen

It’s not my favourite Jane Austen book by a long way and I have read at least three of her books over the past 12 months. I liked the character of Emma but I just thought the book went on for too long considering how much happened in it. I felt it lacked the drama of Pride and Prejudice and it was predictable what was going to happen.

 

A long weekend in Belgrade

26 Sep

Last weekend I was experiencing the delights of Belgrade in Serbia with a group of friends. Serbia is the 32nd country that I have visited in Europe, which means that I am slowly inching towards my goal of visiting 40 countries in Europe before I turn 40.

I was expecting Belgrade to be similar to Bucharest, where we visited in February this year but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and clean. I would even argue that it is nicer than many cities in the UK. I was glad that we had a Serbian native in the group; it meant that it was easier to communicate (though I am sure it would be ok to visit even if you didn’t know any Serbian) and we went to some cool places that weren’t crowded with tourists.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Food

I felt like all we did was eat. Serbian cuisine is very hearty, full of meat, potatoes and general deliciousness. I was surprised that it was allowed to smoke in the restaurant that we ate in on the Friday night. It has been so long since I have eaten indoors at a place where smoking is allowed. The atmosphere was great, especially as there were musicians going from table to table throughout the evening. Luckily, they didn’t come and seranade our table! In Serbia there is a type of salad that is basically just cheese. So I am now a reformed salad dodger.

On Saturday morning we had a traditional Serbian breakfast which is savory pastries with spinach, cheese and meat, as well as a yoghurt drink. Somehow the breakfast didn’t fill us up and we decided to have a unlimited mezze-style lunch. The idea was that they bring you small plates of food until you tell them to stop. We managed to eat everything from the list and then ask them for more. It’s important to get your money’s worth on holiday.

We had an impressive all you can eat brunch on Sunday which left us completely stuffed and was, compared with Swiss standards, incredibly cheap. We definitely didn’t go hungry.

Drink

Serbian beer is very tasty and I was happy to try several different brands. We also managed to find a Serbian cider which was a bit too sweet for me. It reminded me of Kopparberg.

Schnapps are also popular but I’m not a fan of drinking schnapps in general so I avoided partaking whenever possible. We also did some late-night drinking in a couple of trendy places.

Churches and architecture

Churches seem to be everywhere in Belgrade. I love looking around churches and those that we saw at the weekend were some of the most ornately deocrated buildings that I have ever seen. One small chapel in the Belgrade fortress also sold bottled holy water, famed for its healing properties but I decided not to purchase one.

There are some incredible-looking administrative buildings in the capital and they are all lit up at night which I think makes them look even more stunning.

Markets

We visited a market, which was a fresh produce market but also incorporates a flea market. Thankfully, we had already eaten by the time we walked around the market so we weren’t tempted into buying anything. I found it interesting that there were meat stalls or butchers where you can order your meat and they will prepare it and cook it for you so it can be picked up later in the day. It seems like a really good idea.

Escape rooms

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I love an escape room. We managed to do two while we were in Belgrade. We finished the first one so quickly that we had time to do a second one. The employee was very impressed that we managed to solve both of the rooms so quickly. We almost beat the record for both of the rooms. She even suggested that we enter the Escape Room World Championships which I am sure would be great fun and would possibly be the only way I will be able to claim that I have competed in a World Championship! We’ll have to see if anything comes of that in the future.

The Beach

I was shocked that there was a beach in Belgrade but there is. Of course, the beach isn’t on the coastline to the sea because Serbia is a land-locked country. The beach is a man-made beach on a lake. The weather was beautiful and I would have definitely gone for a swim if time had allowed. It was just nice to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

Thanks to Stefan (translator and organiser extraordinaire), Mark, Araz and Markus for being great travel companions on this great weekend.

I will soon be visiting my 33rd country in Europe in two weeks when I go to Kiev for a long weekend.

Challenge #15 – completed!

11 Sep

I have just finished my fifteenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list – to have something that I have written published. I can now officially call myself a published author!

Unfortunately, I am not publishing my debut novel (but I hope that will be coming soon) but a book of travel tips. I found the job online through a freelancing website and applied for it. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to research and format the book but I finally handed it in last weekend. I got confirmation that the book has been accepted and will be published early this week.

I will get paid for the book, when it is released on Amazon in the next month or so. The amount of money won’t break the bank and that wasn’t the main motivation for doing it but it is a nice bonus.

Up until now, I have resisted marking this challenge as completed because I have had work published on other blogs, for example, but I have never been paid or rewarded in any way. I think part of being a published writer is that you get money for the work you have done.

It was interesting to take on a project like this because:

a) this type of writing was something completely new to me. I had a brief from the client that I needed to fulfil and a deadline when I had to submit by. A lot of the writing that I have done up until now has only been for me and, therefore, I haven’t had a hard deadline or a list of requirements to fulfil;

b) I was able to appreciate how much time and effort that goes into the researching, writing and editing process. These processes are very different from one another so you have to use different skills or learn them quite quickly;

c) my biggest problem with writing, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is that I find it hard to finish anything. I happily start writing about something but it soon goes downhill as I start thinking that what I’m writing makes no sense, isn’t good or both. I did want to stop this assignment. I was under no contractual obligation to complete it but I decided to push through and finally finish something. I am so glad that I did. I felt so satisfied that I had successfully completed the assignment. Plus, at the point in time when I thought about quitting I was about 75% of my way through. If I had’ve quit, it would’ve been a huge waste of effort.

I now feel more motivated to try and get some non-fiction writing projects and I seem to be gathering momentum with my fiction novel that has been parked out of sight and out of mind for a while.

If anyone would be interested in getting a copy of the book when it becomes available, please let me know. Though it will only be of use to you if you are planning on visiting a very specific place in Switzerland.

writing-828911_960_720

Update on #40Before40

1 Sep

It is now two years since I decided to start my 40 Before 40 challenge. Basically I set myself 40 challenges to do before I become 40-years-old.

Here is the second annual update about how things are progressing.

To date I have completed 11 out of the 40 challenges. It doesn’t sound like a lot but I have at least 10 of the longer challenges started and well under way. I do still have three years left to go but I know that this time will fly by.

Here are the six challenges that I have completed over the past year:

Challenge #3 – Go paragliding

Challenge #17 – Write a diary for a year

Challenge #25 – Cook every recipe from one cookbook

Challenge #29 – Read The 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read

Challenge #31 – Take up a new sport

Challange #39 – Downsize

Here are some of the challenges that are currently in progress:

Challenge #2 – Visit 40 countries in Europe

So far I have visited 31 countries so far but by the end of 2019 that total should be up to 33. I have already chalked off all of the main countries off the list. Now I am left with some of the harder to get to places to get to. I hope that I will be able to visit at least 3 more countries next year but I will have to see when is the best time to visit some of the places.

Challenge #8 – Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list

I have seen 168 films from the list, so there is still some work to be done. I haven’t watched anything since around June time. I think movie are the sort of thing you enjoy more in the winter time. As the nights are drawing in, it means that it won’t be long until I sitting watching films again.

Challenge #26 – Learn how to fold 40 origami designs

The designs actually take longer to make that I thought they would but I have enjoyed learnign the designs that I have made so far. This is one challenge that I hope to have completed before the end of 2019.

Challenge #27 – Read 40 novels in German and Challenge #35 – Read 40 non-fiction books

For most of this year I have been reading English non-fiction books and these two challenges have been forgotten about. I am planning on focusing on these challenges in the last three months of the year.

Challenge #37 – Have a haircut at least 4 times a year

I prefer going to the dentist that going to the hairdresser. I have been doing well on this challenge until my haridresser ghosted me and moved back to the UK. I am now not convinced that the replacement I have found is right for me but I will stick with her or find someone else to do this so that I keep on track.

I have also decided to make one change to my list. I am going to change my Challenge #40 from starting and maintaining my own travel website to create a piece of artwork. I never intended on changing any of the challenges that I had chosen but after trying to start writing for this website, I realise that writing about travel wasn’t giving me as much enjoyment as I thought it would. The whole point of the list was to make sure that there were things on the list that I would enjoy doing. So, sorry, but that challenge needs to be replaced.

overcoming-2127669__340

Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 – completed

28 Aug

I have officially finished the first round of the Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 that started on 1st July. The idea is to read a book from 10 different categories. This is the third time I have participated in the challenge and, once again, I have read some interesting books that I wouldn’t have read off my own back.

61086969_1609374305861904_1982975581540581376_n

Here is a short breakdown of the 10 books I read:

Freebie (any book that is at least 200 pages long):

Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

I bought this from a second hand book shop about six months ago and I had no idea what it was about but I liked the look of the front cover.  I found this book very funny and relatable. I love some of the descriptions in this book. The story takes place on the day that Elvis died and tells the stories of three friends writing for a music magazine.

A book beginning with “F”:

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was a long read, about 650 pages and the style of the writing took some getting used to. The book is about the Knight’s Templar and their alledged involvement in many historical events. The books centres on three bored editors at a publishing house who become obsessed by a theory that is put forward by a potential author. The plot is a complicated mix of history, religion and politics, which is right up my street. I absolutely loved this book, even though it was a challenging read at times.

A book with “rain”, “thunder” or “lightning” in the title:

The Rainmaker by John Grisham

I think this is the second Grisham novel that I have read. I like the style of writing – it is easy to read and the action flows at a good pace. This book was about insurance companies refusing to pay out on a policy. It was interesting to learn more about how these companies make their money and how the underdog can take on corporations. I wasn’t so keen on the ending. It seemed a little unrealistic to me but I won’t spoil the ending for people who want to read it themselves.

A book with a building on the cover:

The Last Tenant by Sarah Kisielowski

This is a book that was written by a friend of mine who goes to the same writing club as me. She has told me a lot about the plot and about the writing process and I am really interested to read the story for myself. The story centres around a man who has to go to Berlin to clear out the apartment of his maternal grandfather, who has passed away. He finds out about his family history through a series of recorded tapes that his grandfather has made. He is surprised to learn the truth about his family.

A book written by an author who has an initial in their name:

Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

I was slightly sceptical about how good this book was going to be. I mean I loved Harry Potter (when I finally got round to reading it) but not every one can right for children and adults with the same degree of success. However, it turns out that J. K. Rowling is the exception that proves the rule. The best thing about this book was that it was set in the countryside and it reminded me a lot about the village where I grew up. When a vacancy suddenly becomes available on the parish council when one of the councillors dies (that is what a causal vacancy is), there is competition to fill the role. The consequences are tragic and thought-provoking but there were part of the story that made me laugh out loud.

A book with an item of clothing in the title:

The Black Glove by Geoffrey Miller

I struggled to find a book for this category and I only found this one by searching the library catalogue. I read this book in one sitting. It was another easy read about the kidnapping of a man’s son who is then found murdered. The plot is complicated but the writing makes the action zip along at a good pace.

A book set in India:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never read anything by Rudyard Kipling, apart from a few poems, so I thought this might be a good book to read. Even though many people claim that this is Kipling’s best work, I wasn’t a big fan of it. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy growing up in India. I did like the descriptions of Indian culture and reading about how difference life is compared with living in Europe during modern times but the plot didn’t pull me in so that I wanted to read non-stop.

A book shortlisted for the Booker Prize:

Milkman by Anna Burns

This is a recent winner of the Booker Prize. I have heard quite a few bad reviews about it but I actually thought it was well-written. It took me a while (about 50 pages) to realise where the book was set – Ireland – because not much background detail or details to help the reader orientate himself to what is happening in the book. The narrator isn’t even mentioned by name (I don’t think). The narrative refers to “them” and “us” which, if you don’t realise where the book is set, it wouldn’t make any sense. I have heard people say that there is no plot to the book but I definitely thought there was enough things happening in the book to make it entertaining.

A book with a character who has supernatural powers: 

Carrie by Stephen King

I thought this book would keep me up all night. Even though it is a horror story, it wasn’t a blood-and-gore-type story. It’s about a girl with a very abnormal upbringing, who develops the ability to move things with her mind. I felt sorry for the title character because she is very misunderstood by her class mates and the people around her. The book ends with catastophic consequences for the whole town where she lives. I actually read this book very quickly and would recommend it to someone who wanted to read something that was a thriller without being too terrifying.

A book with the same title as a book in another genre:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

This book made me cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried while I read a book. The story is about a kid who has facial deformities and what happens when he joins a mainstream school. The book is a children’s novel but it is also interesting to read as an adult. Keep the tissues ready for the ending though!

As usual I have decided to tackle the bonus round as well. It has take me so long to get round to writing up the first round of the challenge that I have already finished five out of the ten books that I have picked for the bonus round. So it might not be too long before I’m writing about next ten books I have read for the challenge.